The Heart of Genuine Conversion (James 4:7-10)

The Heart of Genuine Conversion

Ten commands for drawing near to God in true salvation–James 4:7-10

Picture the scene . . . I am standing in a brand new college, in a brand new science building, high ceilings, cement walls–very cool. On the wall to the north, is a never seen before box with a TV screen above, buttons midway, a slot for a coin below, and the name on the box is PONG. There is a lunchroom with inexpensive good food, I have on my tray a French drip sandwich with au jus. While I was getting my food, I had been thinking, and as I step into the giant open science hall from the cafeteria, I stop and pause for a moment that I’ll never forget.

I had been going to church for four years–first against my will, then because the girls were really cute. But at this moment, I just finished sharing Christ with some friends. Girls were important, but no longer my life. I was excited about God’s Word. I wanted to obey the Lord Jesus Christ. Rebellion was no longer cool, church no longer boring, the Bible no longer a mystery, the Gospel no longer unknown. I didn’t want to sin–in fact I hated sinning, no excuses. I loved Christ and only wanted to live for Him. I stood there and realized I was saved. I’d been converted. I was no longer the same person. Then the scary thought . . . for four years, I’d been in the Church, but not saved.

Those are the people James is writing to. Some were complaining over their trials, blaming God for their temptations, struggling with doing the Word, battling with partiality, controlling their tongues, following earthly wisdom and loving the world. And in James 4:7 to 10, James finally calls his readers to turn from sin in repentance. He calls them to respond to Christ in faith. He commands them to convert to Christ–and in doing so, shows us the heart of true conversion.

What is in the heart of those who are truly saved? What kind of heart do Christians have? True conversion has a submissive, loyal, intimate, pure, focused, sin-hating, humble heart. These four verses contain ten commands that together make up one of the most direct calls to salvation in the Bible. There are some who interpret this passage as a call for Christians to stop living worldly and start living godly–but that’s not the main focus.

James writes professing church attenders to test their faith, to find out if it is genuine or phony. James is trying to help the tares know they are not wheat yet. So what drove James to call his readers to be converted? James just told his readers about unbelieving wisdom, which is natural and demonic. James just informed his readers that if they love the world, they are God’s enemy. And God never calls a Christian His enemy. So today James offers those make-believers an invitation to saving faith.

Now there are challenges in this passage for believers to put away all levels of worldliness and fire up their spiritual lives. But the primary goal of James is to expose those who claim to be saved, but are not. James is calling sinners to turn to Christ in verse 8. And “sinners” is a term only used to describe the non-believer, who must then turn from their sin in repentance and depend on Christ in faith for true salvation.

The Bible is clear–God sovereignly chooses His children to be saved before the foundation of the world. God also predestined them to adoption as sons. “All whom God foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.” Christ chose you, you didn’t choose him–John 15:16, “You did not choose Me but I chose you.” Yet the Bible is just as clear, that the Lord commands all men everywhere to repent. And He does not wish any to perish, but for all to come to repentance. And our Lord graciously desires all men to be saved and for all to come to the knowledge of the truth.

God is sovereign, but you are responsible. One more time, FBC–is Jesus God or man? Was the Bible written by God, or was it written by God’s chosen prophets and apostles? Did God choose you for salvation, or do you need to respond in repentance and faith? Consequently, throughout the Scriptures God gives repeated calls for sinful men and sinful women to repent of their sins and surrender to Him by faith. And today’s passage is one of the sweetest invitations to salvation in the New Testament.

James already attracted us last time with verse 6, as he affirms “God gives a greater grace.” That’s the incredible free gift of salvation–God’s grace freely bestowed on undeserving sinners who trust in Christ as a Savior and Lord. His redeeming grace is greater than the power of sin, the flesh, the world, and the power of Satan. No matter how sinful you are, no matter how deeply you are immersed in the world, no matter how enslaved to your fears you are, God’s grace has more than sufficient power to save, redeem, purify, and sanctify.

Read aloud with me verses 7 to 10 on your outline. “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. 10Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord; and He will exalt you” (James 4:7 to 10).

True conversion has a submissive, loyal, intimate, pure, focused, sin-hating, humble heart. Did you notice the connection between verses 6 and 10? Verse 6 says, “But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’” Then verse 10 says, “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” Verse 6 “humble” is connected to verse 10 “humble”. The context demands that this paragraph is about humbling yourself before the Lord–humbling yourself in order to become the recipient of God’s greater grace. James is calling his readers to turn to Christ in salvation to receive God’s grace.

James 4:1 to 6 just described those in the Church who love this world. James has a great burden for self-deceived make-believers. So James is attempting to expose the hearts of those who appear to be Christians, but actually aren’t saved. Remember James 4:4, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” The solution for those who are in the Church but are still God’s enemy is verses 7 to 10. The tare, the make-believer—humble themselves before the Lord.

Now if you were to look at the Greek text here, it is pretty dramatic. In verses 7 to 10, James commands these same phony believers ten times. There are ten commands in these verses, calling his readers to conversion. True conversion has a submissive, loyal, intimate, pure, sin-hating, humble heart. These are truths every true believer will desire to pursue and hunger after. They are the elements of conversion that exist in every testimony here. If you are a Christian, then this was your experience to some degree.

If you are not a believer, then this is God’s call for you to cry out for genuine salvation. You need, verse 6, God’s greater grace. So now James reveals how to get saving grace. These verses describe the right response to God’s gracious offer of salvation. James will show, God’s offer will require your dependent faith upon Christ and His work. God’s offer will also involve you turning from sin in repentance and loyally follow Christ. True salvation involves faith and repentance, Acts 20:21, “Solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” You need both. How does James say it? I see general descriptions to faith and repentance in these verses.

#1  Like DEPENDENT FAITH  Verses 7 to 8a

In verses 7 to 8a, James gives three commands which all declare dependence, loyalty, submission, and intimacy with Christ in salvation. This communicates faith in Christ, what He has done with His death, burial and resurrection and reliance upon Him alone. Read verse 7 and 8, “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” And the first expression of conversion is to . . .

First  Come under God’s AUTHORITY  Verse 7a

Verse 7a is the first command. “Submit therefore to God”—literally, come under God in submission, be subjected to God, embrace God’s authority. In the New Testament, “submit” describes Jesus’ submission to His parents’ authority in Luke 2, submission to human government in Romans 13, the church’s submission to Christ in Ephesians 5, and a servant’s submission to their master in Titus 2. James uses submit to describe a willing, conscious compliance to God’s authority as the sovereign ruler of the entire universe and each event in everyday life.

This word submit is a military term, meaning to get into your proper rank, to line up under. Submission is the willingness to embrace the orders or desires of others. You don’t give the orders, Christ does. There is one general, the rest privates. One master, the rest slaves. If there is any area you are keeping from Him, you might not be His. A true Christian will give his allegiance to God, obey His commands, and follow His leadership.

No one can be saved without submitting himself to God, willingly coming under His sovereign authority as Lord to follow His will, no matter what. Matthew 16:24, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” Matthew 10:39, “He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.”

Contrary to what is taught in some circles today, there simply is no such thing as trusting Christ as Savior, without at the same moment submitting to Him as Lord. If I am truly converted, if I am a genuine Christian, I’ll want His answers over my answers, His ways over my ways, His wisdom over my wisdom, His best over my best, His priorities over my wants, His mission over my life, His Church over my friends, His joy over my happiness, His will over my choices. I will be coming under His authority with all of my life, all of my purchases, all of my relationships, all my family, all my free time, all my money, over everything. He is God and I submit to Him. Plus, I . . .

Second  Choose SIDES  Verse 7b

Verse 7b, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” To resist is to take your stand against, to be opposed to. Salvation brings a change of masters, a change of allegiance, a change of family, a change of armies and a change of teams. All people are either under the lordship of Christ or the lordship of Satan–there is no middle ground. The real believer’s life has turned from serving the devil to serving God, and from being a slave of sin and Satan, to being a slave of righteousness and Christ.

Resist the devil–James chooses to use this name for our great enemy, to remind you that the great enemy is behind all slander and accusations. Anyone, John 8:44, who does not belong to Christ is a child of the devil, and 1 John 3:8, “the one who practices sin, is of the devil.” Resist slander and accusation–how? Resist by standing firm on God’s truth–like the Lord resisted by quoting Scripture in His temptation. In spiritual warfare the Scripture is your weapon, your sword. You resist by following, obeying and standing firm upon God’s Word. Those who are converted in genuine salvation will resist the devil and he will flee from them as a defeated foe.

Will flee means to run away, avoid, give flight and escape. This highest, wisest, oldest, most powerful created being cannot defeat those Christ has redeemed. The master of deception cannot undo the power of God’s Truth. The devil cannot possess or control the same body the Holy Spirit does. When you submit to Christ, you determine which army you belong to. You choose sides, you pick teams and you fight for Christ and oppose the devil. True conversion has a submissive, loyal, intimate, pure, sin-hating, humble heart. Plus you will . . .

Third  Desire RELATIONSHIP  Verse 8a

Verse 8a, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” This is the heart of a believer who is pursuing a love relationship with Christ as their first love. The idea of drawing near to God was associated originally with the Levitical priests in Exodus 19, but eventually described anyone’s approach to God. Salvation definitely involves more than submitting to God or resisting the devil–the redeemed heart longs for intimate communion with God, a relationship with Christ.

The Greek draw means to get close, to come near, to move towards relationship. Do you remember when you wanted to get close to your future spouse? You’d find out what they like, how they are made, so you could grow close to them. Jean liked animals, birds, dogs and cats (certain things had to be overlooked). She liked honeycomb candy, certain kind of flowers and loved sportscars. That’s why AW Tozer calls nearness likeness–the more we are like God, the nearer we are to God. John 17:3, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” Getting to know Christ personally, intimately, relationally–knowing all about Him.

Conversion involves the gift of faith–Ephesians 2:8 and 9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Faith has a side choosing dependence which desires intimacy with Christ. It also involves that which is . . .

#2  Like DIRECTIONAL REPENTANCE  Verses 8b to 9

The Bible emphasizes the need for repentance–it is required for genuine salvation. Repentance is a change of mind, which always results in a change of direction. Repentance is turning from sin and turning to God, like Acts 26:20 kept declaring, “that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.”

Second Timothy 2:25, “With gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth.” Second Corinthians 7:10 and 11, “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, …11For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong.” Repentance is a part of genuine conversion and it always shows itself by . . .

First  Cleaning up your LIFESTYLE outwardly  Verse 8b

Verse 8b, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners.” Cleanse your hands originally described ceremonial cleansing–the ritual washing with water which made a man ceremonially fit to approach the worship of God. The priests had to wash and bathe themselves before they entered service. Then the orthodox Jew had to ceremonially wash his hands before he ate. But eventually men came to see that God required much more than an outward washing, so the phrase “cleanse your hands” came to stand for moral purity, and James is saying to unbelievers, you must turn from your sin to come to Christ. To know God, you must recognize, confess and repent of sin. Sinners are those who violate God’s Word and miss living out God’s perfect character.

James appeals to sinners, telling us these are churchgoers who are unbelievers. This Greek word “sinner” is only used in the New Testament of unbelievers–and here, not just any kind of unbeliever. This is a hardened sinner, a person whose sin is obvious and notorious. James is reminding you, the deepest moral degenerate can be forgiven and cleansed. And those who are born again (the cleansed), will now want to clean up their lifestyle.

In conversion, you turn from external sins. “Cleanse your hands” is about stopping external behavior and ending outward conduct which is sinful. You are continually repenting, stopping those outward behaviors that you know the Lord is not pleased with. Stopping those external actions that violate His law and are contrary to His character.

Second  Loyal internal SINGLEMINDEDNESS  Verse 8c

Verse8c, “and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” Cleansing the hands points to external behavior. This phrase, “purify your hearts”, describes the inner thoughts, inner motives, and inner desires of the heart. Jeremiah proclaimed in Jeremiah 4:14, “Wash your heart from evil, O Jerusalem that you may be saved.” The Greek purify is holy, chastity, purification and sincerity–and hearts is who you are, the focus on your thoughts, mind, will, emotions and knowledge. Your heart is the center of your spiritual life, the core of your being. God doesn’t merely clean up your external behavior, He cleans up your inner person.

Listen to my modified quote of George Whitefield, “Every man by his own natural will, hates God. But when he is turned to the Lord by repentance, then his will is changed; his conscience becomes quickened; his hard heart is melted, and his unruly affections are crucified. Through repentance, his entire soul is transformed, he will have new inclinations, new desires, and new habits.” Internally purified.

James says those who were lost were the doubleminded–wanting two things that are in opposition to each other, This is a Greek expression describing one’s soul divided between God and the world. This man is the hypocrite who occasionally believes in God, but fails to trust Him when trials come. Doubleminded means unstable. The Lord Himself made clear in Matthew 6:24 that, “no one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.” And then in Matthew 12:30 that, “He who is not with Me is against Me.” A doubleminded person therefore cannot possibly be a Christian. Stop vacillating between this world and the next, between God’s Word and your thinking, between affection for Christ and affection for this world–be internally pure and . . .

Third  HATING your sin  Verse 9

Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.” Be miserable is the state of a newborn saint, truly broken over their sin. To mourn is to be sad, grieve, and feel sorrow over sin. God will not turn away a heart broken over sin, and mourning is the inner response to such brokenness. To weep is to shed tears–the outward manifestation of inner sorrow over sin. Laughter is used only here in the New Testament. The word signifies the flippant laughter of those foolishly enslaved to the world’s pleasures. The picture is of people who give little thought of God, their death or the certainty of judgment over sin.

James calls on such people to mourn over their sin to the point of dejection or gloom. Sin is serious, and one mark of true humility is dealing with the seriousness of sin with repentance. So James says, “Cleanse your hands [stop doing evil], purify your hearts [stop thinking evil], be miserable and mourn and weep [feel remorse for your sin], let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom [don’t make a joke out of your wickedness]”–why? Psalm 51:17, “A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”

James is not removing or denying the joy of the Christian life. James is not demanding that men should live gloomy lives in this depressing world of sin. James is saying, when it comes to gaining true salvation and turning from your sin in genuine repentance, then be sober about your sin, not frivolous. Leading to . . .

#3  Like DEVOTED OBEDIENCE  Verse 10

The conclusion in verse 10, “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” To humble is to make oneself low–not in self-putdowns many people use in order to induce others to build them up, but in the realization of your complete unworthiness and lostness because of sin. To humble is to take on the role of the slave to a master. Notice in verse 10, James clarifies that Jesus Christ is the Lord–the Master.

To humble yourself is to lose yourself and to think only of Christ and His labors. Like Jesus said in Mark 8:35, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Losing your life includes . . .

First  Dependent SERVICE  Verse 10a

Verse 10a, “Humble yourselves”–the Greek word humble means to become reduced in rank, to make oneself low. Like a slave who serves, you take the lowest position and do the dirtiest job. Humility is to serve everyone at your surprise birthday party. You don’t deserve anything, but because you’ve been given such incredible grace, love mercy, forgiveness, transformation–in your heart, Christ deserves everything.

You realize that you’re nothing and Christ is everything. You comprehend that no one will remember you two generations after you die. Your life is like putting your hand in a bucket of water, then pulling it out again–the water goes back to exactly as it was before. The humble embrace, Galatians 6:3, “For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” Missionary CT Studd said it so well, “Only one life, ’twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.”

Those who are overwhelmed by their own sinfulness will serve the one who is sinless. The one who has been forgiven for their sins will worship the one who forgave. The one who gave nothing to their salvation will be devoted to the one who gave everything. They will also pursue . . .

Second  Intimate SUBMISSION  Verse 10b

Verse 10b, “in the presence of the Lord”–the true believer lives intimately in the presence of Christ, who is Lord and Master. Converted Christians follow Christ as their intimate personal Master. Christians do not take orders via text or email, but from one who loves you so much He died for you and wants to direct your life so that you are the most blessed. True Christians submit to Christ as Lord, but do so relationally, intimately and joyously, relying on a . . .

Third  Trusting FUTURE  Verse 10c

Verse 10c, “and He will exalt you”–for me, salvation was enough, but not for Christ. He desires to exalt His children. James says, “He will raise you up,” meaning lift you above all heights. The prodigal son is the perfect example of contrite humility which is then exalted. When he came to his senses in the far country, he said to himself, Luke 15:18 to 19, “I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.’”

But when he returned home and expressed his sincere repentance in verses 22 to 24, the father restored him as his son, exalted him back into the family, and celebrated. Verses 7 to 10 is a call to salvation. And verse 10 is a picture of God giving His James 4:6, “greater grace”, to those who come to the Lord in faith, repentance and humility. Christ will exalt the repentant lavishly.


A  Be motivated to turn to Christ by your horrific SIN and shortcomings

Only when you realize your own ignorance will you ask for God’s guidance. Only when you realize your own poverty in what really matters will you pray for the riches of God’s grace. Only when you realize your weakness in salvation will you draw upon God’s strength. Only when you realize your own sin will you realize your need for a Savior and forgiveness. True humility only begins when you embrace your helplessness and hopelessness. Self-sufficiency, self-reliance, self-confidence will keep you from salvation and forgiveness. Isolation, independence, and indifference will keep you from Christ and eternal life in Heaven.

Those are each manifestations of the worst sin of all—pride. Only by coming to Christ broken, with nothing to offer, in desperation, utter surrender, and total submission of heart will you gain salvation. You say, “Chris, that’s not biblical.” Yes, it is, my friends–that’s what Jesus meant in Matthew 16:24 to 25, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 25For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” The only path to forgiveness, is losing your life and gaining Christ’s. True conversion has a submissive, intimate, sin-hating, humble heart.

B  Be motivated to turn to Christ by the PROMISES of being IN Christ

In this passage, there are not only ten commands, but there are three future promises–promises that result from coming to Christ. Did you see them? The future tense is listed three times, telling us these three truths will happen. The devil will flee from you, God will draw near to you, and the Master will elevate you. You’ll be freed from evil control, you will be intimate with Christ, and you will be rewarded and exalted by God. When you submit to Christ, God promises to bless you.

Listen to the Lord’s compassionate invitation to you in Matthew 11:28 to 29, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Are you hungry and thirsty of soul? Is your inner person crying out for real life? Then respond to this final New Testament appeal made to you, the unsaved, in Revelation 22:17, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.” Come–be motivated to turn to Christ by the promises of being in Christ.

C  Be motivated to live for Christ by God’s abundant grace toward the REPENTANT

When you came to Christ, like the prodigal son, in humility, repentance, and brokenness over your sin—your heavenly Father said to you, in effect, what that earthly father said to his son in Luke 15:22–24. “The father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; 23and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.”

I stand here this morning, affirming what my life would be like without Christ. I was outwardly successful, I was poised to be a massive success in my career, I had the best-looking, most popular friends, I had all the fun and entertainment life can offer—yet I was internally empty and desperate. And God in His grace awakened me to my need to be intimate with Christ by being forgiven, transformed, and given a new mission in life. What was that? To call everyone to come to Christ, become like Christ, live for Christ and long for Christ. As a result, my empty life became abundant, and my eternal life is going to be full, sinless, purposeful and 100% pure joy.

Will you, right now, ask Christ to do the same for you today? James 4:6, “But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’”

About Chris Mueller

Chris is the teaching pastor at Faith Bible Church - Murrieta.

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