The Ease of Becoming God’s Enemy

The Ease of Becoming God’s Enemy

“The Ease of Becoming God’s Enemy”
(James 4:1-6)
Series: Living the Faith (James)

Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD

Henderson’s First Baptist Church, Henderson

•I invite you to take your Bibles and join me in James chapter 4 (page 813; YouVersion).

We have been preaching our way verse-by-verse through the book of James and we begin chapter 4 this morning. And it’s always helpful when we turn to a section of the Bible to remember that the original Scriptures did not contain chapter headings. The material at the beginning of chapter 4 follows directly on the heels of what we studied when we were last together in James’s letter.

When we were last together in James’s letter we studied verses 13 through 18 of chapter 3, a passage where James contrasts heavenly wisdom—a wisdom from above—with earthly wisdom, a wisdom from below, a wisdom James describes as “earthly, sensual, and demonic.” And James contrasts this earthly wisdom, a lifestyle of self-focus, with the beautiful life of a focus upon God and others, a focus that works for peace. So he has just been talking about peace and now describes the opposite of peace—and you’ll note that in verse 1 of chapter 4—James asks, “Where do wars and fights come from?” And then he addresses this matter of warring and fighting among Christians in the community of faith.

•Please stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word.

1 Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?
2 You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask.
3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.
4 Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
5 Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?
6 But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”



Many of us are familiar with the so-called boiling frog metaphor. It is a metaphor used often to describe political situations and it is also used in religious contexts. The boiling frog metaphor. And the idea is that, if you wish to cook a frog—and eat frog legs or something like that—you cannot do so by throwing the frog into a pot of boiling water. If you do that the frog will simply jump out of the hot water. So you place the frog in a pot of warm or tepid water and he’ll stay in the pot and then you slowly, gradually, turn up the heat and, over time, you will successfully cook the frog because the frog will have adjusted to its environment and will not have even noticed the change in temperature. And so by being exposed to smaller, more incremental and subtle changes over time, the frog is completely unaware that he is actually being cooked to death. That’s the boiling frog metaphor.

Whether this actually happens to frogs is a matter of debate. Contemporary biologists have challenged the accuracy of the anecdote but most agree that the metaphor itself is helpful if not powerful. Change to a person’s environment is easier to accept when introduced gradually, incrementally, or subtly, over time.

It reminds me of the way one of my seminary professors described the moral failure of a Christian. We often speak of a person’s “fall into sin” and this professor said, “No one really falls into sin. He slides into it.” It is gradual, it is subtle. It happens incrementally, over time. One compromise leads to another and to another still. Before long, like a frog in a pot of increasingly warmer water, before long, we are full-blown into a situation that may well end in death.

This is a helpful metaphor as we study the passage this morning. James warns us of the ease of becoming God’s enemy. We heard him say in this very passage—from verse 4—“friendship with the world is enmity with God.” Friendship with the world puts one in opposition to God. James adds in verse 4, “Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

James warns here of the ease of becoming God’s enemy, the ease of sliding into sin by embracing the ways of the world. The word “worldliness” describes a person who is more inclined to follow the ways of this fallen world rather than the ways of the Lord. Worldliness is a lifestyle James describes back in chapter 3 as earthly, sensual, and demonic.

There is a real warning here in this passage meant for every one of us. Few of us would willingly jump into sin like a frog into a pot of hot water and ruin our lives. I doubt any of us wakes up each day and thinks, “Gee, I think I’ll sin today and ruin my life. I think I’ll get arrested today. I think I’ll commit adultery today and bring shame upon the Lord and His church, ruin my Christian testimony, and lose my family.” On the other hand, giving into one “small” temptation and then another and yet another, and gradually, subtly giving in to smaller incremental changes over time, we allow ourselves to embrace the world and its ways and before we realize it, we have “cooked ourselves.” The ease of embracing worldliness and becoming God’s enemy.

Some of us may be in a pot of water right now and we don’t even know it. We don’t realize it. So, in an effort to help us recognize worldliness, and help us “jump out of the pot,” if you like, I want to share from this passage three warning signs of worldliness, three indicators that we may be far more comfortable with a world opposed to the things of Christ than we may even realize. First, worldliness is marked by:

I. Unhealthy Cravings (Self-Centeredness) [1]

Deep within each and every one of us are desires. And these desires can be either good or bad. Healthy or unhealthy. James describes in verse 1 cravings or desires that are unhealthy. He asks a question in verse 1, look at it there:

1 Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?

Put another way: “What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? (NLT)” Unhealthy desires, unhealthy cravings within. This is the source of our worldliness.

The word “pleasure” there in verse 1 is the word from which we get hedonism, a self-centered focus, an unhealthy craving for that which merely satisfies our self. And what James says is that when we have these unhealthy cravings or evil desires, when these passions lurk within us, they have the potential to work outside of us in such a way that we find ourselves at odds with other people, making war with other people in the church. So the cravings within lead to conflict without.

The way we act on the outside is driven by the way we think on the inside. Unhealthy cravings within lead to conflict without. Self-centeredness leads to divisiveness. Self-centeredness leads people to “make war against each other in the church.”

Now the King James Version translates verse 1 this way: “From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?”

When we hear the word “lusts” we often think only of sexual lust. And, to be sure, sexual lust is one of the unhealthy cravings within that leads to conflict without.

You have an unhealthy desire to satisfy yourself and that unhealthy desire makes you look at others in an unhealthy way. In the sexual realm an extreme obsession with selfish and self-centered gratification can lead to a physical “warring and fighting” of rape or abuse. It begins with unhealthy cravings. Cravings within lead to conflict without.

But James has in mind more than mere sexual lusts here. Think about your personal cravings or lusts, whether sexual, or lust for power, or position, or wealth, or evil desire for status, or recognition.

A bitter, resentful inward focus, for example can turn one into a hater of mankind. Bitter people are often given to narcissism, an unhealthy focus on the pride of self and an expectation that others should regard them as superior. When others do not, we may expect “wars and fights” of shunning, finger-pointing, whispering, etc.

All of this, says James, is driven by “desires for pleasure that war in your members,” desires for the pleasure of self satisfaction, self amusement, self importance, self gratification, and so on. Unhealthy cravings within lead to conflict without.

So if the first warning sign of worldliness are unhealthy cravings, marked by self-centeredness then the second warning sign of worldliness is:
II. Ungodly Conduct (Divisiveness) [2-3]

Self-centeredness leads to divisiveness. Look at the first part of verse 2:

2 You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war.

We noted earlier that the original New Testament Scriptures contain no chapter divisions. The original New Testament also contains no punctuation. That’s a helpful reminder here because these short statements in verse 2 can be a bit confusing given whatever English translation we may be using. I think verse 2 may be better translated this way:

“You lust and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain so you fight and war.”

James is showing us how unhealthy cravings within lead to ungodly conduct without. You lust and do not have (within), so you murder (without). You covet and cannot obtain (craving on the inside), so you fight and war (conduct on the outside). Unhealthy cravings within lead to ungodly conduct without.

William Barclay puts it this way:

The craving for pleasure drives men to shameful deeds. It drives them to envy and to enmity; and even to murder. Before a man can arrive at a deed there must be a certain driving emotion in his heart. He may restrain himself from the things that the desire for pleasure incites him to do; but so long as that desire is in his heart he is not safe. It may at any time explode into ruinous action.

I read in Thursday’s edition of the New York Times an article about the discovery of a bomb in Germany that led to the evacuation of 20,000 people in Berlin. The people were evacuated so that the bomb could be disarmed. The bomb was discovered along the Rhine River during excavations for a pipeline. It was a bomb that had been dropped seven decades earlier by the allies during World War II. Turns out there are many of these bombs lurking beneath the surface of places all over Germany. Last year in the most populace state of Germany, bomb squads defused nearly 1,000 bombs in that place alone, to say nothing of the defusing of old grenades and land mines, as well.

In a similar way, every person has lurking within themselves the potential of an explosion without. The Christian has been liberated from the power of sin, but not the presence of sin. While sin no longer reigns, it remains. To grow in Christlikeness, to grow in holiness, Christians must correctly deal with sin every day of our lives. If we don’t regularly confess our sin and turn from our sin we may “go off” like a bomb that was lying dormant and has suddenly found ignition.

The key to keeping these bombs from going off is to defuse them regularly by finding satisfaction in healthy ways rather than unhealthy ways, by finding ultimate satisfaction in Christ and His perfect will for our lives.

So where a person is divisive in the church, this is a person who is not well on the inside. This is a person who has issues on the inside, issues of self-centeredness, or an overblown sense of self-importance. This is a person who craves for the fulfillment of self-recognition and ego and, because he or she does not get this satisfaction for his unhealthy cravings, he acts out in divisive ways. Unhealthy cravings within lead to ungodly conduct without.

Last part of verse 2, James says:

Yet you do not have because you do not ask.

Here is a reminder that Christians should ask God for the things they seek rather than allowing their unhealthy cravings to lead them into sin. Of course, James is not teaching that God grants our selfish desires. That is clear based upon what he says right after this in verse 3:

3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.

Don’t ask God for things to satisfy your unhealthy cravings. Don’t treat God as a divine “to-go window,” like you pull up to the thing at the fast food restaurant: “Yeah, give me a number one, large and a number 3, too.”

Someone said that’s using God as a means to your ends rather than seeing God as the end itself.

Don’t ask God for things to satisfy your unhealthy cravings. Rather, come to God in humility, asking for things consistent with His will, asking for things that bring glory to Him, asking for things that He believes are best for you. Ask in accordance to God’s perfect will for your life. That’s the kind of prayer that God honors. That’s the kind of prayer God delights to answer.

See, James is not teaching that all pleasures are wrong. He is not teaching that. Only pleasures inconsistent with His will are wrong. Only pleasures that do not glorify God are wrong.

The very last verse of the opening chapter of the Bible, Genesis chapter one, verse 31, “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.” Everything God created “was very good.”

For example, sex is not inherently wrong. Sex is a pleasure given by God to be enjoyed within the sole context of biblical marriage, the union of one man to one woman. The pleasure of sex is wrong only when used in any other context other than that of biblical marriage.

So we come to God asking for things that are consistent with His will. We come to God with our requests and, the very act of prayer itself has a sort of purifying effect upon us. It calls into question the health of our desires. Are these healthy cravings or unhealthy cravings?

Three warning signs of worldliness. Worldliness is marked by unhealthy cravings (self-centeredness), ungodly conduct (divisiveness), and thirdly:

III. Unholy Compromise (Unfaithfulness) [4-6]

James teaches that worldliness is, in essence, spiritual adultery. Verse 4:

4 Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

James’ teaching here comes from the familiar Old Testament concept of God as the husband of Israel and Israel as God’s bride. To be unfaithful to God is to commit spiritual adultery.

It’s the same thing Jesus taught when he said in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other…” You can’t be faithful to both God and the world. You can’t have two spouses.

You who are married imagine your spouse taking a few hours of each day to go over to another person’s home, a person of the opposite sex, and spending a few hours alone in intimacy with that person. He or she comes back to you each day and says, “Oh, we’re just friends.” You protest, “Yes, but you are with that person and you expect me to just be okay with it?!” Nearly every one of us understands just how wrong that would be. This sort of “friendship” with others is nothing less than infidelity and unfaithfulness.

Look at the first few words of verse 4: “Adulterers and adulteresses!”

You see? God regards our friendship with the world as infidelity to Him. When we are worldly, we are adulterers and adulteresses. We are prostituting ourselves. We are sleeping around. We are unfaithful to the One True God.

This truth is developed in the next verse, verse 5:

5 Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit (I think this is spirit with a little ‘s’) who dwells in us yearns jealously”?

The idea here is that God places within us a spirit that is satisfied rightly only when we are reconciled to God and only when we find complete satisfaction in God Himself. The NLT has: “God is passionate that the spirit he has placed within us should be faithful to Him.”

James appears to be summarizing the teachings of the Bible on this matter when he refers to “the Scripture.” It’s as though he is asking, “Do you believe the teaching of the Bible to be wrong here—the idea that God has created us for relationship with Him and that we should be faithful?”

When we compromise our convictions, and we allow ourselves to be pulled away from God by the tug of the world, then we are committing spiritual adultery. We are allowing the spirit within us to find satisfaction in other “spouses,” other things than God Himself.

Verse 6 points us to the cure for worldliness, a cure, or correction to be developed more fully when we study it in greater depth in the future. For now, verse 6:

6 But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

God is always ready to give grace to those who come to Him in humility. In context here, when we come before God with a desire to be faithful to Him and to grow in Him, and to find satisfaction in Him, He gives us the ability to live in a way that pleases Him and to live in a way that is helpful to us.

When we come to God and ask for His help to be disentangled from the ways of the world, He gives us the grace to be disentangled. We have to be honest, however, with whether we really want to be disentangled from ways of the world.

It’s easy to get comfortable. It’s easy to get complacent. It’s easy to allow the world to dictate the kind of relationship you have with God. It’s really easy to become God’s enemy. What a convicting prospect! God’s enemy.

Do you really desire Him more than anyone or anything? Is that why you are here this morning? Is that why you will return this evening? Is that why you tithe? Why you pray? Why you witness? Is He really “Number One” in your life?

Or do you want it both ways? Do you want a little of God and a little of the world. We want a relationship with God, but we’d like to “sleep around a bit.” You’re glad to drink from the living water, but you’d also like to drink occasionally from the broken cisterns of muddy water. Oh, the ease of becoming God’s enemy! Don’t settle for cheap substitutes for the One True God.

You will never go wrong putting Jesus first in your life. Never.

•Lets stand for prayer.

An old SS chorus:

Cleanse me from my sin, Lord,
Put Thy power within, Lord;
Take me as I am, Lord, & make me all Thine own.
Keep me day by day, Lord;
Underneath Thy sway, Lord;
Make my heart Thy palace & Thy royal throne.

COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER: The text contained in this sermon is solely owned by its author. The reproduction, or distribution of this message, or any portion of it, should include the author’s name. The author intends to provide free resources in order to inspire believers and to assist preachers and teachers in Kingdom work.