“Submit yourselves therefore unto God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” James 4:7
That’s quite a verse isn’t it? Fourteen power-packed words, each one pregnant with promise. I love this verse. But like so many, I had memorized it and claimed it, yet failed to experience its reality. Temptations came my way. I quoted the verse. I resisted with all my might. And I fell straight into the web the enemy weaved for me. Until I understood the order of victory.
We’re assured in 2 Timothy 3:16 that all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness, meaning that James 4:7 is not only true, but it has meaning in our lives and has no shortcomings. It is written.
So why do we not always see victory? How do we submit to God? What is the “therefore” there for? What does it mean to resist? What happens when the devil flees? And how does all this change our situation? Well, let’s look at this verse piece by piece and find out!
The book of James was written by Jesus’ brother to Jewish Christians scattered among the nations after the stoning of Stephen. James wrote to encourage these Christians to grow in and exhibit a living faith through obedience. He emphasizes that good works and right actions will flow naturally from those who are filled with the Spirit. This book is where faith and reality meet in practical application.
In chapter four, James combats worldliness and its effect on relationships. Quarrels and fights have broken out among the Jewish Christians, and James directly points to bitter envy and selfish ambition as the cause. His prescription? Repentance.
Since we know that all Scripture is for our instruction (2 Tim.3:16; Romans 15:4), let’s look at James’ directives as they apply to us.
“Submit yourselves therefore to God”
Any time you see the word therefore in a verse, it’s important to look at the preceding verse[s] to find out what it’s there for!
We’re told in verse four that friendship with the world is enmity with God, and James specifically lists unbridled passion, envy, and pride. In verse six, James tells us that God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble. Therefore! Submit yourselves to God.
This is the crux of the verse. This is where we choose to win or lose the battle against temptation. Without this beginning, the end will not turn out as we hope. It is, however, the very thing often forgotten when we get to the more exciting idea that the devil must flee. But this is the order in which we find freedom.
The Greek word for submit is hupotasso, and it’s a verb. It means to rank under, to be subject to, to obey, and put yourself under God’s arrangement. If you’re fighting a specific temptation, go to God’s Word. Ask God to direct your search and open your heart and mind. Find verses that directly deal with that particular thought or behavior. Discover what God says to do, how He wants you to act, and think. Commit them to memory.
Then submit yourself – your will, your mind, your heart – to God through worship and obedience. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you (Ja. 4:8). If you don’t submit to God, you can’t and you won’t resist the devil. And he doesn’t have to flee. This is the order of victory: Submit yourself therefore to God. Daily. For daily temptations will surely come our way.
“Resist the Devil”
This entire verse is written in battle language. While hupatasso, or submit, means to rank under, the Greek word for resist is anthistemi, and means to take a stand against, oppose, and to ardently withstand without giving up. Anthistemi was a classical Greek military term meaning to take a contrary position, push back, and hold your ground, refusing to be moved.
This word is an imperative to winning the battle against the devil and his temptations. But we must resist fully. There’s no point in expecting victory over temptation if we’re not willing to make a prior commitment to submit to God and say no to the temptation. We cannot take a complete stand against the enemy if we’re standing in any measure of agreement with him. This is the order of victory: Submit yourselves therefore to God, resist the devil. Daily. For daily temptations will surely come our way.
“And he will flee”
The Greek word used here, phuego, is a fascinating one and means to escape, to seek safety by flight. When the devil is ardently resisted by a fully submitted Christ-follower, he flees in fear, in search of a safe place away from the dangerous threat of God’s protected one! This is the order of victory: Submit yourselves therefore unto God, resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Daily. For daily temptations will surely come our way.
This verse is in direct reference to the temptation to willful sin, and is not talking about spiritual oppression or physical imbalances that cause depression and anxiety. Though the elements in this verse are crucial to fighting those battles, too, they’re not what are being discussed in James 4.
It’s also important to understand that temptation itself is not sin. “Temptations are the normal lot of man,” LJ Radcliffe writes. “They are not sins, not even imperfections. We cannot prevent them coming to us, but with God’s help we can and must resist them.”
Putting it all together
Ladies, temptations come to us. We’ve all experienced them, and will continue to. We’ve all had times of succumbing to them, too. But though previously defeated, never give up! 1 John 2:1 explains that if we do sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the Righteous.
Sisters, I don’t know about you, but I’ve gotten this backward so many times! I’ve submitted to the devil and resisted God. I’ve sinned then run away from my Advocate. Can you relate? Well, it’s time to put the enemy to flight! And this is the order of victory: Submit yourselves therefore unto God, resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
In His name and for His glory, Jodi Greene
* The Bible fits together as a whole, so when looking at one verse of the Bible, it’s important to know and understand the context in which it fits. When you have that understanding, you are able to take one verse, rightly divide it, glean its interpretation, and discern a proper application within your life.