Obey God. Oppose the Devil.

Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.

—James 4:7

What a great word of encouragement from James! The word submit here simply means “to obey.” So, “obey God” is how this great exhortation begins. Next we are told to resist the devil. Too often we see this as some sort of passive resistance similar to just not doing what the devil tempts us to do. But that’s not the meaning at all.

The Greek word for resist is anthistēmi (anth-is’-tay-mee), and it means “to stand against” or “to oppose.” It is not passive at all, but rather an active offensive position of opposing the devil. The word for flee means “to shun.” We can understand the clear meaning, then, if we think of the verse as “Obey God. Actively oppose the devil and he will shun you.”

I remind you again that the Christian life is a battleground, not a campground. We are at war with principalities and powers, and the Christian life is not to be spent in a foxhole, but in putting the enemy on the run by obeying the commands of God. Obedience keeps us usable and powerful, and that is why James opened this short exhortation with the great reminder to obey God. Disobedience, on the other hand, weakens us and makes us vulnerable to enemy fire. But when we obey God by the power of the Spirit and actively resist the enemy, he will shun us, or run away from us.

It is also important to remember the enemy does not really run away from us, but from God in us. That is why unregenerate people are simply pawns in the enemy’s hands and subject to his will; there is nothing in them to hinder the enemy’s advances. As a result, they are powerless against his devices. It is impossible to obey God without first being indwelt by God the Holy Spirit, and when we are indwelt by God, we are then able to resist the devil, to fight back and even cause him to run away from us.

If there is one area I would single out as a major failure in the church today, I believe it would be the impression that we are just here on earth trying to survive this life rather than engaging in active spiritual warfare. It is also important to understand that resisting the devil is far different from rebuking or binding him, as many seek to do today. If the devil could be bound, then this world would be a far better place. He is going to be bound someday, to be sure, but by God. Our call is not to bind, but to resist; our call is not to rebuke, but to oppose. And it all begins with the power that is in us to obey the commands of God and therefore remain battle ready at all times.

Obey God. Actively oppose the devil and he will run away from you!

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