Everyone needs a friend. Some people are friendlier than others and have many friends. Other people, like me when I was young and even now, generally have a few close friends.
When people don’t have any friends, we consider them antisocial. But people who have too many friends also have issues socially. What’s considered a friend? When you have thousands of them, wouldn’t most of them be acquaintances?
When I think of friendship I call it a close relationship. You can’t have that with 1000 people. A friendship is one in which you are involved with a person personally and regularly. You know what’s happening in their life, and they know what’s happening yours.
We’ve been talking about holiness for quite a while. Throughout these posts I have defined three areas of holiness. The first is separation from the world and consecration to God. The second is purity. Now we will talk about holiness in the frame of not choosing worldliness.
James is very hard on his congregation. At one point, he calls them sinners and tells them to purify their hearts (James 4:8). Now we don’t know if James is purposely overstating his case to his congregation. It certainly sounds like there are some Christians not living as they should.
He cites the war of the flash and the Spirit within us as one of the causes of worldliness (James 4:1). His description of murdering and coveting may be part of his overstatement (James 4:2). But Jesus referred to anger as the first step toward murder. So James may be speaking of their anger for one another.
He references quarrels and fighting among the Christians in his congregation (James 4:1). When there is strife between Christians, our fleshly desires are at the center. These Christians may be younger in the faith.
Jesus taught we can ask anything in his name (John 14:13-14). But when we ask with wrong motives, attached to our old fleshly desires instead of our desire for God, we don’t receive. This is what James says is happening in his congregation (James 4:2-3).
The harshness of his speech comes out again as he calls Christians “adulterous people” (James 4:4). Adultery here doesn’t refer to sexual immorality but to idolatry. Throughout the prophets we see this imagery used over and over to describe idolatry, spiritual adultery, choosing the world and other gods instead of Jesus.
James describes worldliness and idolatry in terms of friendship (James 4:4-6). We are either friends of the world or friends of God. We must choose. We cannot have both. Touching on purity, we can’t follow the world system and its rules part of the way and God’s the rest of the way. We must live according to God’s standards as Christians.
When we are friends with the world we are God’s enemies. When we are God’s friends, we will be enemies of the world. We’re not going to fit in. We have completely different values than the world. This is why the Bible calls us to “come out from among them” () and be, “In the world but not of the world” (John 17:11, 14-18).
In the Old Testament friendship with God is rare. Moses spoke to God face-to-face (Exodus 33:11). Abraham was a friend of God (James 2:21). These two men are part of an elite group. But in the New Testament, God’s friendship is extended to anyone who loves Jesus and follows him.
But we must be friends with God and enemies of the world. Falling away, which shows up in Scripture more than you might think, causes us to trample on Christ’s sacrifice (Hebrews 6:4-6). There is no middle ground.
I don’t believe we realize the danger of flirting with the world when we should be looking forward at Christ. When Peter stepped out of the boat and walked across the water to Jesus, he only began to sink when he took his eyes off of Jesus and focused on the storm (Matthew 14:29-31).
Worldliness is more than an act or thought process. The world seeks to steal our heart away from Jesus. If you think Satan stops chasing after you when you choose Christ, you deceive yourself. He will do everything he can to take you back into worldliness. One of my favorite books, The Screwtape Letters, depicts a demon who is learning how to get a Christian back to the dark side.
Deciding even in a small part with worldliness and temptation jettisons our faith and relationship with Jesus, betraying an infant-sized fear of the Lord. Looking at the green grass on the side of the fence makes us turn our back on Jesus.
Because we can’t be both light and darkness, righteous and wicked at the same time, we don’t realize the spiritual and psychological impact of floating from the world to God and back again. We must crucify our flesh () and stay in the light.
We have been trained by years and years of studying the legal effects of our sin that we forget how it affects God. Yes, there is the matter of justification, which is a word concerning the legal matters and ramifications of our sin.
But we often forget about the relational side. Sin separates us from God and others. It cuts off intimacy and makes us enemies of one another. Sinful thoughts, speech, and actions hurt God’s heart.
God described his relationship with Israel as spiritual adultery when they turned to idols because he saw them as his spiritual wife. The same principles of marriage, the man cleaving to his wife, the two becoming one flesh, apply to our spiritual relationship with God.
When we choose to sin against God, we’re not only putting ourselves in a legal problem, but we are spiritually divorcing God. Potiphar’s wife wanted Joseph to sleep with her because he was handsome, but Joseph understood the relational effects of sin. He replied, “How can I do this thing and upset the Lord” (Genesis 39:9).
Our decision to sin not only impacts legal relationship with God but our personal relationship with him. We enter into a heavenly marriage with God when we follow and obey him. He designed our relationship to become deeper and more intimate, not ride the fence between the world and him.
Fear of the Lord
One of my church members once asked me to define the fear of the Lord. I may have surprised him when I said, “To be absolutely scared of what God can and will do in his judgment of sin.” Most people define the fear of the Lord as reverence for God.
That is the classic definition of the fear of the Lord. As we grow closer to God, we love and revere him. He has done great things in our lives, beginning with our salvation. So to revere him, to worship him, is our proper response.
But my point in my definition is to first remind us as Christians that God judges and punishes sin. There are still consequences for sin. God’s grace makes us his children, not objects of his wrath (Ephesians 2:3). But when we become lax in our relationship with him and flirt with the world, sin’s effects are still in place.
Just as the world is afraid of God and his judgment, if we choose to follow the world again with our thoughts, speech, and actions, we are subject to the spiritual rule of the effects of sin. We must be running toward God instead of the world.
If we feared God’s wrath against sin we would never commit premeditated sin. We wouldn’t even test the waters. We’ve seen what living in the world is like. And we left our sinful and worldly desires behind to love and serve the living God.
The fear the Lord has two aspects. We are first afraid of the Lord and what he will do if we turn away from him toward the world. As the beavers said in the Chronicles of Narnia, “Safe? He’s not safe. But he’s good.” God is dangerous if we live in sin. But he is also good to us. He wants to have a relationship with us.
As we turn away from sin and live for him, we grow to love him as we know him more. Our relationship deepens with Jesus and we love and respect him, revere and worship him.
As we live for God and grow closer to him, we must realize the dangerous effects of worldliness and its lure. Fighting the flesh is a daily battle we must keep control of. We must not allow our old desires to rule over us.
When we fix our eyes on Jesus we stay the course. God designed our relationship to become more intimate. But we can’t do that if we still harbor feelings for our old wife, the world and sinful desires. We are dead to sin and we must not allow it to draw us away from our First Love.
Let us live for God with every fiber of our being. Let us grow closer to him every day. We are in a love relationship with Jesus. He is our Lord and Savior, but our Friend and Confidant. We must be running to him instead of the world. Leave a comment and describe how your relationship with Jesus has changed as you follow him.