We must understand ourselves correctly from Scripture. We are not mostly the good we hope to be, but mostly the evil that exists in our sinful nature. When we were saved we were made into a new creation with the ability to choose to do good, not the inability to do wrong. It still takes work to be able to do good, but before our justification we had no ability to do so.
Our sinful nature is what comes out by default in us. It takes work to overcome it. James tells us this in his epistle over and over again. Chapter 4 is his treatise against fights in the church. As Paul says in Philippians 2:21, “All seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus,” it is hard to find even a believer who is not in this life for themselves. Paul could only think of one: Timothy. And James tells us that all the fights and wars within the church are because of covetousness and jealousy. By default, our nature will fight and kick and scream to get what we want.
James tells us that the things we want are available to us if only we ask, but that a good amount of time that even when we do that we ask with wrong motives. He’s speaking primarily about material goods when he says, “so you can spend it on your pleasures.” We can have confidence that God will gently correct us if our prayers are asked amiss if we truly submit our heart to His will, but often we are like the thousands who, during Jesus’ ministry, only came to hear Him because they heard He fed the multitudes.
James calls all this what it really is: friendship with the world, our old nature in other words. As much as we give in to our old nature, we make ourselves enemies of God. But like James says, “He gives more grace.” If we humble ourselves before God, He will give us MORE grace than we already operate under to overcome our old nature that rises up in us.
If we submit to God and resist the devil, God will draw near to us. How do we do this? Through devotion. Only through spending time with God, daily, can we hope to overcome this fallen nature. By spending time in prayer and reading scripture can we draw our hearts nearer to God so that He will draw nearer to us. He can purify us!
James tells us that one key to truly drawing near to God in this way is to willingly submit ourselves to mourning and weeping. When we ask God to show us our frailty, our weakness and our miserable state of sinfulness can we attain to understand how to overcome. If we willingly take on sorrow and mourning for ourselves and others will we begin to understand our state. That’s a state God can work with. He won’t leave us in that mournful state, but He will fill us with true joy instead of the helpless substitute we so often settle for. When we give up the joys we think we have and submit our hearts humbly to God we will learn new joys that we never could have imagined.
So we must give ourselves to greater humility. And there’s no greater way to embrace humility than to give up our fake joy and embrace the weakness and wretchedness of our sin. When we do so, we have nothing to be proud of anymore.
Such a state of humility is one that God will reward with more of His presence.