The War Against Lust and Pride

Intro: Can you envision a world where there is no war or fighting? Every generation contemplates the end of fighting and the arrival of world peace. Yet there may no more elusive dream among us. It is as though fighting and conflict are in our nature.

  • One of the anticipated elements of the coming of God’s Kingdom in the OT was the arrival of peace – the end of war – Isa 2:4 – He shall judge between the nations, And rebuke many people; They shall beat their swords into plowshares, And their spears into pruning hooks; Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, Neither shall they learn war anymore. This is a true picture of God’s Kingdom. The Messiah brings true peace, through the solution of sin.

I. Why do people fight with each other? It would seem that if we could get to the answer of that question much of the world’s crisis would end. Why can’t people just get along? Since Cain killed his brother Abel, fighting and war have been with us and are the evidence of a world cursed by sin.

  • James 4:1-10 – here 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.” Humility Cures Worldliness 7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.

II. Blame it On Your Lust: Though there may be some philosophical considerations to why people fight, James places the blame squarely on me, and you.Wars come from “your desires for pleasure that war in your members. You lust and do not have.” Cain killed Abel because of something that Abel possessed that Cain wanted – the approval of God.

A. James uses the word lust or pleasures here. It is from the Greek word, heedonee – (hedonism – pursuit of pleasure) “…but it is commonly applied to the pleasures of sense, and thence denotes desire, appetite, lust. It may be applied to any desire of sensual gratification, and then to the indulgence of any corrupt propensity of the mind.” Barnes goes on to say… “the word would equally comprehend the spirit which leads to a brawl in the street, and that which prompted to the conquests of Alexander, Caesar, or Napoleon.” (from Barnes’ Notes)

1. Matthew Henry states, “Hereupon, our apostle informs them that the origin of their wars and fightings was not (as they pretended) a true zeal for their country, and for the honour of God, but that their prevailing lusts were the cause of all. Observe hence, What is sheltered and shrouded under a specious pretence of zeal for God and religion often comes from men’s pride, malice, covetousness, ambition, and revenge.

2. We can substitute ambition, or the pursuit of your rights here. John delineates the character of this spirit in 1 John 2:15-16Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world– the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life– is not of the Father but is of the world. This is the spirit of sin. James says that these desires “war in our members”, or they are resident in the struggle between our flesh (the desires generated by the body) and our spirit (what our mind knows is right). Romans 7:23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. To follow our desires and act in our own self interest is to live in the spirit of sin and create strife among ourselves.

II. Where Does Lust Lead Us? Notice the unmistakable language of James as he explains this divisive spirit: vs. 2 – 4 – You lust; You murder; you covet; you fight & war; yet you do not have. You ask only for that which you can spend on yourselves – You are friends of the world and enemies of God.

A. The propensity for fighting and war lies within each of us. The wording and meaning of verse 5 is variously disputed. James 4:5 – “Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”? (NKJ)

1. James refers to “the scripture” which is always used as an allusion to the O.T. scripture. But there is no O.T. scripture that fits the quotation of James here. It seems best to see this as a reference to the general tenor of the O.T. teaching.

2. “The spirit that dwells in us” – is this the Holy Spirit that dwells in the Christian, or the human spirit (mind)? Both thoughts may fit the context here:

a. The human spirit is prone to envy and lust. The spirit of man yearns for things it does not have. The O.T. clearly teaches this truth. Eccl 4:4 – Again, I saw that for all toil and every skillful work a man is envied by his neighbor. This also is vanity and grasping for the wind. Prov 14:30 – A sound heart is life to the body, but envy is rottenness to the bones. Prov 27:4 – Wrath is cruel and anger a torrent, but who is able to stand before jealousy?” Rachel envied her sister Leah, Joseph was envied by his brothers, Aaron & Miriam envied Moses. Gen 6:5 Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. In our time, this natural tendency toward jealousy is so pronounced and common that we have sanitized and institutionalized it into the pursuit of our individual rights and material wealth.

b. Some translations of verse 5 characterize God (Holy Spirit) as the one who is jealously yearning for our spirit (that He has placed within us). James 4:5 “Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? (NAS) “Or do you suppose it is in vain that the scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit which he has made to dwell in us”? (RSV) This presents God as a jealous God who demands that we not compromise on our commitment to Him alone. The O.T. certainly characterizes God with such jealousy.

III. He Gives More Grace: Although the human spirit is easily turned toward envy, jealousy and war, there is hope. James 4:6“But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (NKJ)

A. The difficulties of living wholly for God in a wicked world are many, but James says that God “gives more grace” – which here seems to mean “gracious help.” We don’t deserve it or earn it but God helps us overcome this difficulty. This is found not only in the forgiveness of our sins (as grace) but also in our efforts to keep from practicing sin (such as envy & lust). The fight against worldliness is intense, but God is on our side.

B. This “gracious aid” God makes available, not to proud, self-sufficient persons, but to humble, dependent men. Prov 3:34 – Surely He scorns the scornful, but gives grace to the humble. (NKJ) or the NIV translates it as “He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble.”

1. We often seek after peace – we pray for it and do not see any results. What is the first prerequisite to receiving God’s help in this matter? It is not saying all the right words, or praying in the right building, or an association with the “right” group. It is humility. If you want peace with your brother you need to deal with your pride first. If you want peace in your marriage, start by addressing your self-centeredness. Then pray.

C. God “resists the proud – the term here is literally “sets Himself in battle array” against the proud. God is ready to go to war against the proud person – the rebel. He is the enemy of God.

1. “Proud” – Are you a proud person? This word literally means one who shows himself above other people. Even the Greeks hated this pride. Theophrastus described it as “a certain contempt for all other people.” Pride has been depicted as “the citadel and summit of all evils.”

2. The proud person may be difficult to spot. Especially if it is us. As a sin that lies in the heart, it is difficult to eradicate. A haughty man may appear to be walking in downcast humility, while in his heart he has a contempt for others. The Spirit described the church at Laodicea as “Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’–and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17) We fail to see ourselves as we really are.

            • William Barclay describes the elements of pride this way…. “This pride shuts itself off from God for three reasons. (i) It does not know its own need… It walks in proud self-sufficiency. (ii) It cherishes its own independence. It will be beholden to no man; it will not even be beholden to God… (iii) It does not recognize its own sin… A pride like that cannot receive help, because it does not know that it needs help, and, therefore, it cannot ask. It loves, not God, but itself.” (The Letters of James and Peter [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960], 124; emphasis in original)

D. But God is ready to go to battle for the humble – He gives grace to the humble– to provide aid against the flesh and provide a way for peace. How does God express His grace to the humble?

1. My answer to that question is “in the cross“.

a. It is in the effect of the cross that Jesus provides a solution to my prideful rebellion. He forgives my trespass. This is possible if I am willing to humble myself before Him, and be obedient.

b. It is in the example of Jesus on the cross that I am able to confront my pride (even after I have become a Christian). Phil 2:3-11 – Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. The Humbled and Exalted Christ 5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Conclusion: It would seem that humans suffer from two opposite views of themselves, both of them leading to conflict and war. We are either think too little of ourselves (discouraged) or we think too much of ourselves (Proud). The answer to each of these false views is the cross of Jesus.

1. “To know of God without knowing of man’s misery causes pride. To know of man’s misery without knowing of God causes despair” (Blaise Pascal).

2. One writer said… “Show a man his failures without Jesus, and the result will be found in the roadside gutter. Give a man religion without reminding him of his filth, and the result will be arrogance in a three-piece suit” (Max Lucado).

3. When Paul contemplated the war going on within the human heart as he struggled against sin and the condemnation of God’s law, He shouted… Rom 7:22-24 – For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? There is no place for pride. It is self righteous pride against which I am at war! But Paul’ answer comes gloriously… Rom 7:25 – I thank God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!

        • Rom 8:36-37 – “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” 37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.

Your pride is your enemy. God is seeking a contrite heart – a heart that is willing to deal honestly with its sin. The contemplation of the cross is God’s answer to our pride.

“When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the prince of glory died,

my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.”

Upon the cross of Jesus Mine eye it seems can see,

the very dying form of One who suffered there for me.

And from my smitten heart with tears, two wonders I confess,

The wonders of His glorious love, and my unworthiness.

Come to the cross and humble yourself at the sacrifice of Jesus through your obedience to His will.