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Lord Willing - Part 2

Tom Pennington • James 4:13-17

  • 2020-04-05 AM
  • Sermons


Turn with me to James chapter 4 as we finish our study of this wonderful paragraph that James wrote as the first book of the New Testament - the first letter that was written in New Testament times to the church.

You probably heard the tragic story of the first U.S. family to be truly devastated by the coronavirus. The Fusco family is a large Italian-American family from New Jersey. You read, as I did, about the fact that early in March the extended family gathered together with friends as they typically did each week at Grandma's house in order to have a large Italian meal together in the home of Grace Fusco for dinner. From that one gathering, the virus has wreaked utter devastation. They tell us that twenty of the family are in quarantine. Eight have been diagnosed with Covid-19 and four members of the family, including Grace herself, have died. That kind of story, I think, goes to our hearts because it's the kind of story that reminds us in a vivid way that life is short and that we are most certainly not in control of it. It's especially difficult to come to grips with that reality when we normally live our lives under the illusion that the opposite is true. Let's admit that before all of this has unfolded around us, we found ourselves thinking often about ourselves as being almost invincible, as If nothing could ever affect us and as if we were, in fact, in control. It's that illusion that James is really condemning, and confronting, and correcting in the text that we're studying together here in James chapter 4.

Again, I encourage you to take your Bibles and turn with me to James 4 and let's read again this wonderful paragraph. James chapter 4 beginning in verse 13:

Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit." Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that." But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.

The theme of these verses is obvious even on a first reading and we have already looked at it together. And so, I think you understand that James is encouraging us here to both acknowledge the reality of and to submit to the reality of God's control over our lives. You and I must understand the fact that God is in control. We must acknowledge that that is true and we must find ourselves joyfully submitting to that reality in the very practical details of our own lives.

Now, we've divided James exhortation here into three parts. We've already looked at two of them. Let me just remind you briefly.

First of all, we looked at the Biblical truth of God's sovereignty because the Old Testament truth that really underlies James 4 is the truth of God's sovereignty and His providence - those twin truths that the Jewish Christian readers of this letter would have understood all too well, that James would have taught them during the more than 10 years he served as their pastor before they were spread all over because of the persecution in Jerusalem. And now, they receive this letter from their beloved pastor. So, they understood God's sovereignty. God's sovereignty, as we've noted, is what He is. That's simply the reality of who He is as God. He is sovereign. They also understood God's providence, and this is what He does. God's sovereignty affirms the fact that God is in control of all things. God's providence explains exactly how God's sovereignty works itself out in all of the events and all of the details of life. Now, if you're going to understand the exhortation that James gives us here, then like his original readers, you have to also understand these great truths - these twin truths of God's sovereignty and His providence. You have to embrace the reality of God's character and His acts before you can apply those truths to yourself and your circumstances.

The second part of James exhortation here in this paragraph is found in Verses 13 and 14. We called it an unintentional denial of God's sovereignty. To help us see as believers how we can subtly, unintentionally deny the reality of God's sovereignty in our lives in a practical way - even while we affirm it theologically - James gives us a common example. Notice verse 13, "Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.'"

As I noted for you last week, here several Jewish Christian merchants who had been a part of James' church he describes them here as having a plan to expand their business into another city. And they had created what really has the potential to be a really effective business plan. Notice what verse 13 says, "today or tomorrow." They had selected a start date for this business. "We will go to such and such a city." They'd chosen a location for their expansion. We will, "spend a year there." They had calculated that it would take a year's time in order to build a sufficient customer base to make this business successful. We will "engage in business." Undoubtedly, they decided exactly what kind of business focus should be there in that community - what specific aspect of their business they would focus on. We will "make a profit." These businessmen were confident that with the excellence of their product or service, with the location that they had selected, the market that they had chosen, with the right amount of time that they would begin to make a profit. Now that's a good plan. That's a good business model.

What's wrong with it? We noted that there was a fatal flaw in their plan. They completely ignored the sovereignty of God. They didn't recognize and they didn't express, in any way, their dependence on God for this plan, for their future. As these Christian merchants plan their daily activity and even their future, they did so in total disregard of God. Now don't miss this. James' point is this is a very real temptation for every Christian. It's a temptation for you as it is for me. And it is an irrational mindset. James tells us here that this sort of thinking is irrational. To make our plans without respect to God and His sovereignty and his providence is irrational for two reasons.

First of all, because life is uncertain. Verse 14, "Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow." James says: listen, you don't even know what life is going to be like tomorrow - much less a year from now as you unfold this plan.

It's also irrational because life is short. Verse 14 says, "you are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away." James says: listen, you don't even know if you're going to be alive tomorrow. And so, you shouldn't plan without respect to God.

Now, once we understand those realities it helps us come to grips, then, with the third part of James exhortation here. We've examined the biblical truth of God's sovereignty. We've examined the unintentional denial of God's sovereignty that's a temptation for every one of us. So, this morning I want us to look, finally, at the personal response to God's sovereignty.

The personal response to God's sovereignty. This is the message of verses 15 to 17. If the thinking of verse 13 is flawed and, obviously, James is saying that it is, what is the right response? What's the Biblical response to the reality of God's sovereignty as we think about it intersecting with our plans and with our future?

Well, James here shows us specifically what our response to God and to God's sovereignty should look like in real life. You'll notice in verse 15, he explains how to respond and then in verses 16 and 17 he explains why. So, let's look, first of all, at how.

How should we respond to the knowledge of God's sovereignty? James tells us that we should respond in two ways.

First of all, we should respond in humble acceptance of God's providence, humble acceptance of God's providence in our lives. Verse 15, "Instead, you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.'" James insists that we add this crucial caveat to our plans, "if the Lord wills."

Now notice that little word "will," the Lord's will. When scripture speaks of God's will, it's always referring to one, or I should say, primarily referring to one of two Biblical concepts. The first of those concepts is God's moral will. That is also called His will of precept or will of command. God's moral will encompasses the commands and laws, which God has prescribed for all of us as His creation to follow, to obey. God's moral will is contained in the Scripture that you have there in your lap, that you hold in your hands. But there's a second concept when we talk about God's will that's contained in the Scripture and that is God's sovereign will. It's also called by theologians His will of decree. This is the eternal, unchangeable plan of God that is always carried out. You see God's moral will is what He has commanded but it is not always done. In fact, it's never done perfectly. God's sovereign will, on the other hand, is always done perfectly down to the dotted "I" and the crossed "t" in every detail of every part of the universe.

It's this second kind of will that James has in mind here in our text. It's really the eternal decree. It's the reality that God has determined all things. This is how both the Westminster Confession and Second London Baptist confession of 1689 puts it: God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass. Whatever happens, it's God's sovereign will. John MacArthur, in his Systematic Theology Biblical Doctrine defines this aspect of God's will like this: "His decree of will," that is, His will of decree, "is God's good pleasure, His eternal, unchangeable Counselor decree in which He has foreordained all things."

Now, James says you need to acknowledge God's sovereign will, "if the Lord wills." His point here is that it is not enough to recognize the brevity and the uncertainty of our lives. Many unbelievers acknowledge those truths. Instead, as Christians, we must understand the Biblical truths of sovereignty and providence. We must acknowledge that God's sovereignty working through His providence is accomplishing all the details of our lives. And thirdly, we must joyfully submit to God's sovereign plan. So, we must understand, we must acknowledge, and we must submit. We must humbly accept the specific circumstances and the specific events that God, in His providence, brings into our lives. Those are part of His great plan.

Now, notice in verse 15 that James identifies two areas in which we especially need to submit to God's providence. The New American Standard captures the Greek text very well here, "if the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that." We need to submit to God's providence (did you notice it?) in two ways. First of all, our continuing existence: "if the Lord wills, we will live." And, secondly, all of our future activities: "if the Lord wills… we will do this or that." Both our continued living and our future plans and activities are conditioned on whether or not God wills - whether it's part of God's sovereign will, that eternal plan that He has established. It's solely God's will, think about this for a moment - even as you think about this Covid-19 crisis - it is solely God's will that keeps us alive another second. And when He decides, our lives here on this planet will be done. It is also solely God's will that determines whether every single decision that we make, every plan that we put in place, every event that happens in our future lives, whether it will happen or not. Now, this is not just a New Testament concept. This is exactly how Daniel described our God to Belshazzar, you remember. In Daniel chapter 5 verse 23, he says, "God is the one," he says this to King Belshazzar who was a pagan of the highest order, "in whose hands are your life-breath and all your ways." In God's hands, that is, God is in complete control of your "life-breath," that is, your life itself - your continued existence. And, "your ways," that is, all of your patterns of behavior, all of your normal patterns and activities. They're all in God's hands. They're in God's control. This is what believers throughout the centuries have embraced, and acknowledged, and accepted.

In fact, scripture is filled with examples of believers submitting to God's sovereign will. Let me just give you a couple of examples - a couple that may not be quite as familiar to you.

Turn back to 2 Samuel, 2 Samuel and chapter 15. Let me just set the context for you here. This chapter is about the rebellion of Absalom, David's son. David, because of that rebellion, is forced to leave Jerusalem and the verses I want to point out to you happen when David is having to leave because of these unprecedented circumstances. He's the king and he is being pursued by his own son who has rebelled against him and the priests who are with David want to encourage him by taking the Ark of the Covenant with them as they leave the city. That's the context.

Now, look at what David says in 2 Samuel 15:25: "The king said to Zadok," (so David says to Zadok, the priest) "'Return the ark of God to the city.'" I don't want you to bring it. I don't want you to bring it with us as we're forced to flee the city. "If I find favor in the sight of the LORD, then He will bring me back again and show me both it and His habitation." That's His temple, His tabernacle, in this case. "But if He should say thus, 'I have no delight in you,' behold, here I am, let Him do to me as seems good to Him." David says: listen, I'm in a terrible circumstance. My son, in part because of my own sin and because of what I did with Bathsheba, my son is now rebelled against me. I'm forced to flee the city. But I am going to submit my future to the will of God. If God wills for me to come back and be here and seated again as king, then He's able to do that. And if that's not His will, then I accept, and acknowledge, and receive that humbly as well. That's the spirit we're all to exercise.

Turn over to Lamentations for another. May be a less familiar passage where this concept occurs. Lamentations chapter 3. This is the lament of Jeremiah over the destruction of the city of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. And, in that context is the absolute worst thing that could have ever happened to Jeremiah has happened. Notice what he writes. Jeremiah 3:37: "Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, unless the LORD has commanded it?" In other words, the Babylonians weren't powerful enough to pull this off. This is God's doing. And even the evil that comes into our lives, God has allowed it. He doesn't cause evil. He doesn't generate evil. But He has directed it here for His purposes. Verse 38: "Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that is from His command that both good and ill," that is difficulty and trouble, "go forth?" And if He should choose to do so, Jeremiah says (and, of course, in Jeremiah's case He had, the whole nation, had been destroyed carried off into captivity, Jerusalem destroyed and he says this in verse 39), "why should any living mortal or any man offer complaint in view of his sins?" I haven't been treated unfairly. Jeremiah says God hasn't treated the people who experience this devastation unfairly. Nor has God, in our day, through the coronavirus acted unfairly. We have to accept God's providence for good when He brings good into our lives and when He allows difficulty and trouble to come as well.

Our Lord, of course, as the perfect man perfectly demonstrated this humble acceptance of God's will. You remember, you're going to read about it this week in the Passion Week readings. On Thursday night as He was there in the Garden of Gethsemane, in Matthew 26:42, "He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, "My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it," (that is the cup of Your wrath), "Your will be done." That's the spirit that we're to have as well.

The apostles modeled the same submission to God's will. Turn with me to the New Testament. Look at the book of Acts. Acts chapter 18. I'll show you several passages. This concept absolutely permeates what they say and how they respond. Acts 18 and notice verse 21. Here Paul is saying goodbye to Ephesus and the elders there and he's taking leave of them. He said, "I will return to you again, if God wills," and he set sail from Ephesus. Turn over to chapter 21, Acts 21:14. Here Paul has just announced he's going to Jerusalem. The prophecy comes that he's going to be bound there. The people are begging him, verse 12, not to go up to Jerusalem. Paul says: this is what the Lord wants me to do. Verse 13 and then verse 14, "since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent," Luke writes, "remarking, "The will of the Lord be done!" Whatever God wants, let that be done. That's the spirit we are to take for our entire lives.

Look at Romans chapter 1:10. He says, I'm always praying for you, "in my prayers making requests to perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you." He ends his letter to the Romans the same way. Look at Romans 15:32. He says, I'm hoping to come to you in joy, "by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company." 1 Corinthian, just over a few pages, 1 Corinthians 4:19, "but I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills." And then he finishes the letter to, the first letter to the Corinthians this way: 1 Corinthians 16 :7, "I do not wish to see you now just in passing for I hope to remain with you for some time, if the Lord permits." This is the attitude that James is encouraging all of us to have.

Now, don't misunderstand him. He's not saying that you should somehow pick up saying this phrase as a kind of rabbit's foot. This is not some superstitious mantra that you should say every time you verbalize a plan, just in case. In fact, John Calvin notes that Paul often says things that sound a whole lot like the Christian businessman in our text. For example, in Acts 19:21, "Paul purposed in the Spirit to go to Jerusalem after he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, saying, 'After I have been there, I must also see Rome.'" In Romans 15:28, "therefore, when I have finished this…I will go by way of you to Spain." 1 Corinthians 16:5, "but I will come to you after I go through Macedonia, for I am going through Macedonia." So, Paul sometimes said and pronounced his plans without saying, "if the Lord wills." So, don't just start saying these words kind of superstitiously in the same way that, you know, Major League Baseball managers avoid stepping on the baseline as they go out to the pitcher's mound. It's not saying this that matters, it's truly acknowledging the reality. It's okay to say it, but you don't have to say these words every time you speak of the future. What scripture is really demanding here is that our thoughts, and our words, and our decisions, and our plans, and our expectations of the future all be permeated by an acknowledgement of and a submission to God's sovereign will. We should see our entire lives through the lens of "if the Lord wills."

As we saw last weekend, verse 13 reminds us of several specific categories where we ought to affirm God's sovereign will: in our decisions and plans, "The ones who say we will go," in our daily schedule, "today or tomorrow," in our future, "we will be there a year," in our major life changes, "we will go," in our location, "to such and such a city," in our occupation, "we will go and engage in business," and even the results of our decisions, plans, and activities, "we will make a profit." In every one of those categories, in all of life, James is calling us to humbly accept God's sovereign providence.

How can you know if that's true in your life? Let me give you a little three question test. See how you do with these three questions.

Number one: do you understand in your heart of hearts the Biblical truths of God's sovereignty and His providence? Do you understand, as Psalm 103:19 says, that His sovereignty rules over all? Do you really believe that? Do you embrace that as true? That's the first question.

Here's the second question on my little test: do you acknowledge the fact that in His sovereign providence, God is working out His perfect eternal plan in all the details of your circumstances? Do you acknowledge that reality? I want you to think right now, for a moment about the specific circumstances in which you find yourself. Obviously, the world at large is on lock down in the middle of the Covid-19 crisis - the pandemic that's rocked our world but think about your own circumstances. Think about how this has left you at home. Maybe you're having to teach your children - which you've never done before. Maybe you're at risk of losing your job or maybe already have. Maybe the Lord in His providence has given you all that you need and you find yourself just enjoying God's goodness. Maybe somebody you know is sick, maybe a loved one. Think about your circumstances. Have you taken the time to truly acknowledge that every one of those details of your life in which you find yourself right now falls under God's providence? That He has either directed those things or allowed them in every detail and He will do the same in the future? Have you truly acknowledged, in other words, have you intersected your theology with your life?

Let me give you a third question in my little test here: do you understand the Biblical truth? Do you acknowledge that God's sovereign providence is working out the details of your life? And, number three (and this is really where James is taking us), do you willingly and joyfully submit to God's sovereignty? In other words, do you humbly and with joy accept exactly what God is doing in your life right now?

How can you know? How can you know if you're truly submitting with joy to God's plan? Here's a really good test. I've had to ask myself this question. I asked you to take this little quiz with me. Have you thanked the Lord for the details of the circumstances in which you find yourself right now? This is the test of whether we have joyfully submitted our circumstances to God, that is, the circumstances that God has placed us in. 1 Thessalonians chapter 5:18 puts it this way, "in everything" (that is, in every circumstance) "give thanks." That doesn't mean you thank God for death and disease. Those are part of the fall. It means, in the circumstances, you thank God that He is going to use them for your good. In everything, give thanks for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

Here's the test of whether you really have applied your theology to your life: whether you are joyfully submitting and accepting, humbly accepting, God's providence. Have you thanked Him? Can you thank Him for every detail of your life right now knowing that He's good, and He's wise, and He's in control? That's what it means to say, "if the Lord wills."

Now there's another implication here behind this expression, "if the Lord wills." Not only does it mean humble acceptance of God's providence, but it also means humble obedience to God's word. While that's not explicitly said here in our text, it certainly is implied because, think of it this way, it's impossible to sincerely say about your plans, "if the Lord wills," if you are, at the same time, planning to do something that is outside of God's moral will - that is, His will as revealed in the Scripture. It was God's moral will that our Lord had in mind in the third petition of the Lord's Prayer when He taught us to pray, "Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven." God's sovereign will is done on Earth as it is in heaven, but God's moral will, His revealed will, what He has revealed to us in the scripture is not yet done on Earth as it is in Heaven. It will be one day when our Lord rules, but not now and that's what we pray for. So, if we really want God's will, we must humbly obey God's revealed will in His word. This is how we have to respond. So, the biblical response to God's sovereignty is to humbly acknowledge and submit to the events and the circumstances of our lives and, secondly, to humbly obey His revealed will in His word.

Now, in verses 16 and 17, James brings us to a second question and provides an answer to it. And that is: why should we respond to the knowledge of God's sovereignty like this? In verses 16 and 17, he gives us two reasons.

First of all, because to refuse to do so is cosmic arrogance. Here James identifies the real problem. It's an attitude. Look at verse 16, "but as it is, you boast in your arrogance." The Greek word "boast" here is a neutral word. It can mean, "to rejoice in something"- good or bad. It can mean, "to put your confidence in something: - good or bad. It's good or bad depending on what you take pride in or where you put your confidence. Now, here James says that these first century Jewish Christians took pride in and placed their confidence in their arrogance. What does that mean? It means they put their confidence in themselves. That's the point. In fact, the only other place in the New Testament where this Greek word translated "arrogance" here occurs is in 1 John 2:16 where it is translated as "the pride of life." So, what James is talking about here is an arrogant sense of self-confidence. Not the kind of self-confidence that says, "the Lord will enable me to do what He said before me as long as my confidence is not in myself but in God and who He is." That's not what he's talking about here. Instead, it is an arrogant sense of self-confidence and self-sufficiency based, not on God, but on me. Do you understand how profound what James is saying here truly is? He's saying that when we are tempted to leave God out of our lives, out of our plans, it's always because we are, in some degree, filled with the kind of pride that is completely self-confident and independent.

Phillips in his paraphrase of this text renders it this way, "you get a certain pride in yourself in planning your future with such confidence." So, do you boast (now, think about this and you've got to ask yourself this question as I've had to ask myself) do you boast in either to yourself ( lot of times our boasting is internal, we would never voice it), do you boast either to yourself or, perhaps, to others about your independence, your self-control, your self confidence? Is that how you think? Verse 16 says, "all such boasting is evil." All such boasting is evil when we are filled with self-confidence and self-reliance as opposed to reliance on God to enable us to do what He's called us to do, it is evil. Alec Motyer, I should say Alec Motyer says this, "we might consider it a small thing, a passing feature of life," that is this the sin, "if we forget how dependent we are and act in mere self-will. James sees it as the hard chore of wanting pride which is the mark and curse of fallen man." That's exactly right. We excuse our self-reliance, our independence, our self-confidence, our self-sufficiency and James says, "it is evil." It's the mark of fallen man himself. We cannot allow this in our lives.

The second reason that we have to humbly acknowledge and submit to God's providence is in verse 17 -to refuse to do so is deliberate sin. "Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin." Now, we often quote this verse out of its context to define the nature of sin and that's okay, it certainly does that, but we can never forget that it has a context. James has just commanded us here to humbly acknowledge God's control over all the details of our lives, to acknowledge Him in our planning, and then he says, verse 17, therefore, he says, we know what's right to do. You've just learned what's right to do. To fail to do it is sin.

This is a sin of omission. You see, we can sin against God by the sin of omission just as clearly as we can by the sin of commission. What's the sin of omission? The Catechism defines it this way, "it is failing to do anything God requires." And here, we are required to acknowledge God's sovereignty, His providence in our lives. We are to bathe our entire lives under the understanding the acknowledgement the acceptance, "if the Lord wills." And if we failed to do that, it is just as serious to God as any sin of commission. Now, think about this: when we confess our sins, what do we typically confess? We confess things that we have done. We have done what God forbids in His word - and those are clearly sins - but here James wants us to know that failing to do what God requires, including this acknowledgement of His sovereignty is just as serious to God. Why does that matter? Because it brings us back to the gospel. It brings us back to our need of grace. You see, for a short time you and I can avoid doing what God forbids - not for a long time but for a short time with the right people around us. If we desire to, we can avoid, for a short time, doing what God forbids. But only Christ has perfectly done all that God requires. Which one of us can honestly say before the Lord, "I have loved God perfectly and I have loved my neighbor as myself?" Not a single one of us. Only Christ can say that.

You know what that means? It means our only hope, your only hope of ever being right before God has to be outside of yourself. Because, you and I, we have both committed countless sins of commission. We have many times done what God has forbidden. But we have spent our entire lives in the sin of omission failing to do what God requires and failing to do what we know God requires, James says, is sin. There's no hope for us in ourselves. Our only hope is if God, in grace, treats us not like we deserve to be treated but Christ deserves to be treated. And that is exactly what happens in the gospel.

I love the way Paul puts it as he gives us a thumbnail sketch of this message in 2 Corinthians 5:21. Think about what he says there. He says, "He," that is God the Father, "made Him," that is Christ. So, it was at the initiative of God that this plan unfolded. God made Christ, His Son, His only begotten Son who had eternally existed equal with Him, but whom He sent into the world and gave Him full and complete humanity to add to His divine nature and He walked and lived among us. He lived the perfect life. He lived a life where He never failed to do what God required. Not one moment. Think about that. Not one second in Jesus' life did He fail to do what God required, did He fail to love God with all of His heart, mind, soul, and strength. Not one moment did He fail to love others as Himself. And it's because of that, Paul goes on to say, "God made," Christ, "who knew no sin." There it is - no sins of commission, no sins of omission. "Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf." That doesn't mean Jesus became a sinner. He what? "He knew no sin." What it means is that God treated Him as if He were us. He treated Jesus on the cross as if He had lived the sinful lives, as if He had committed all the individual sins of all of those who would ever believe in Him. "He made Him to be sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." That is, now God treats us as if we were righteous, like Christ. In other words, on the cross, God credited the sins of all who would believe in Jesus to Jesus. And, for those hours, God the Father treated Jesus as if He had committed those sins. And He completely exhausted the justice and wrath the sins of all of those who believe in Jesus deserved. And then, He takes the righteousness of Jesus, those 33 years of perfection, and He credits them into the account of the one who believes in Jesus. And now He treats us as if we had lived that life. This is called justification.

How is one justified? How is one made right with God in this way? Well, Romans 3 says we are justified, we're declared right with God, as a gift. It's not something you can earn. It's not something you can accomplish. It's a gift by His grace. That is, God's grace - His goodness to those who deserve exactly the opposite as what accomplishes it. But how was it accomplished? "Through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus." You and I can be justified. We can be declared right with God because of what Jesus accomplished in His redemption. How did he do that? Romans 3:25 says, it's when, "God publicly displayed Jesus on the cross as the propitiation," that is, the satisfaction of His wrath against sin. So, it's ultimately the Passion Week - what our Lord accomplished on Friday on the cross that makes our justification possible.

All of that we're reminded of in this wonderful text here in James chapter 4. We must humble ourselves before God. In fact, look at James chapter 4:10, there we're told that very thing. We must humble ourselves before God. "Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you." That is a condition to be saved. You have to humble yourself and plead with God for His forgiveness based on the work of Jesus Christ. But, it's also what we must do as we live day after day. To live each day as a christian, we must humble ourselves before God by accepting His providence in our lives. Again, listen to Alec Motyer. He writes this, "all this can be lost, however, if once outside the doors of our private room, we take the reins of life into our own hands, we forget our ignorance, frailty, and dependence and plan our day, our week, and next year as if we were lords of Earth, time, and there was no God in heaven." So, we not only have to affirm these truths theologically, we have to live them out practically. We must acknowledge God. We must submit to His providence.

In the year 1812, Napoleon Bonaparte attacked Russia. It was June of that year that he decided to attack Russia with 600,000 troops. He went against the Russian army of less than 200,000 troops. The Russians, obviously, couldn't stand against Bonaparte's army of 600,000 and so, they were in constant retreat but they never allowed Napoleon's army to gain a decisive victory. Eventually, they even retreated from the city of Moscow itself setting much of the city on fire as they departed. Napoleon kept pursuing and he kept waiting for the Tsar to seek terms of peace, but the request never came. He began in June. In mid-October of that year, with winter approaching and no way for him to supply his troops, Napoleon was left with no option but to begin the long retreat from Moscow back across Europe but between the snow storms that came, the freezing temperatures, and the Russian Cossacks who killed stragglers from his army given every opportunity, this invasion was the most devastating loss of Napoleon's career. Think about this: he went to Russia with 600,000 men, he returned to France with 100,000. 500,000 of his men died, deserted, or were captured. It's reported that when Napoleon was considering the invasion of Russia, a friend tried to dissuade him by saying, "man proposes but God disposes." In other words, Napoleon, you need to acknowledge that God's plans will be accomplished, not yours. To which, its reported, that Napoleon's reply was this, "I dispose as well as propose." In other words, I am in control. I don't need to acknowledge that reality. A Christian who heard this exchange or of this exchange at the time said this, "I set that down as the turning point of Bonaparte's fortunes. God will not suffer a creature with impunity thus to usurp His prerogatives." And it was true. Moscow and the defeat that he suffered there marked the beginning of the end for Napoleon. May we, as believers, never express that kind of spirit, that kind of attitude. If we tolerate that same attitude in our hearts, James says, it will be cosmic arrogance. And it will be deliberate sin.

"Instead," look again at verse 15, "you ought to say, 'if the Lord wills we will live or do this or that.'" You must understand the truth of God's sovereignty and His providence. You must acknowledge that His sovereignty and providence intersect with all the details of your life. And thirdly, you must joyfully, willingly submit yourself to the circumstances God has brought into your life - even giving Him thanks for how He will bring good from them. That's the response that we are urged to make here. May God help us, even in these days, to think like this. Let's pray together.

Father, thank you for these great truths. Seal them to our hearts. Lord, may we not simply understand the truth about You, but may we apply that truth day-to-day in the detailed circumstances of our lives today and even as we anticipate the future. Lord, I pray for those who may have listened today who don't know Your Son, Lord, help them to see their only hope is in Christ. That You, "made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." May they repent and believe. May they humble themselves before You today calling out for Your forgiveness in Christ. We pray in Jesus name. Amen.