It is sin that keeps us at a distance. Dr. Tony Evans says confessing our sin is the first step to drawing closer to God. And when you deal with sin as sin, then God will be free to draw near to you as you return to Him. Celebrating 40 years of faithfulness, this is the alternative with Dr. Tony Evans, author, speaker, senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas, and president of the Urban Alliance.
The Declaration of Independence talks about the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But pursuing something is no guarantee we'll find it. Today, Dr. Evans comments on how to make our pursuit of God more successful. Let's turn to James chapter 4 as we join him.
Submit therefore to God, resist the devil, and he will flee from you. The first thing you must do, not to be a worldly Christian, is to submit to God. It was a military term and it meant to get yourself in your proper ranking. It meant to surrender yourself to your legitimate authority, to get in the proper package. This word submit is used throughout the Bible. Christians, for example, are told to submit to government. That is, to submit or place themselves under their government to the degree that the government is legitimate.
And it is requiring legitimate things. A wife is told to submit to the authority of her husband, to the degree that he has submitted himself to the authority of Christ. Children are told to submit to parents as long as the parental authority is not requiring rebellion against God. So, submitting had to do with alignment, realigning your life under God. The first thing you need, which many of us need with our cars, is an alignment. Now, all of us here have had alignments in our cars. When our car is out of alignment, you don't always see it. You don't always feel it. But one of the sure ways to know that your car needs an alignment is to have your front tires.
Check. Because when they check your front tires, they can look at the wear and tear, the uneven distribution of the wearing of the tread, to determine that you do not have a tire problem per se. You have an alignment problem that is the cause of the uneven wear of the tread, particularly on your front tires. Many of us today are looking at our lives, and we are seeing our tread wear fast. We are seeing the lines of our lives unbalanced, out of kilter, and uneven.
We are seeing more defeat than we are victory. Many of our marriages are being worn down, and you think you've got a tread problem when there is an alignment problem. Many of our personal lives are being worn down. And you want to change tires. You want to change churches. You want to change environments. But you may have an alignment problem. He says, realign, or to put it in the exact interpretation of the meaning of the word, reorient your ranking under God. You have displaced yourself from the authority of God.
What does that mean practically? It means to say on a day-by-day basis, not my will. But thy will be done.
It is to say I am willing to subject my desire to your desire, my dreams to your dreams, my purposes to your purposes, my plans to your plans, my hopes to your hopes. It is to utterly abandon oneself to God. Until that happens, we will not be aligned properly to be able to do the second phase of this, which is to resist the devil. What he calls us to is to a decision to leave the world and come under the ranking of God.
Now God will help you. God will empower you to make the decision. But what God will not do is to make the decision for you. To stand against the world.
Let me say that again. To submit to God is a conscious decision to stand against the world. That this world order that leaves God out no longer will have dominating influence over my life anymore. You must decide that as a believer in Jesus Christ. God will help you do it, but he will not make the decision to do it for you. One of the things we need to know about the devil is he is not invincible.
Okay? The death of Jesus Christ solved that. He has been rendered, Hebrews 2 says, powerless. So now he must whip you by deception because he no longer can whip you by power. Once you come to Jesus Christ, the devil can no longer make you do anything. He can trick you into doing it. He can tempt you to want to do it, but as a believer in Jesus Christ, he can no longer make you do anything. So that's why you cannot blame the devil for what you do.
Okay? Secondly, draw near to God. Drawing near has to do with increasing intimacy. If you're going to beat the world and become a vibrant, strong Christian, you cannot have a long-distance relationship with God. You cannot be a part-time Christian. You cannot be a small, Sunday morning only saint.
That this must be a lifestyle occupation. It must be an orientation whereby you draw near. The Apostle John's word for drawing near was to abide, come close to. The closer you get to God, the more God rubs off on you, like being in a hot sun.
The longer you're in the sun, the more the sun will rub off on you, and you're going to sweat, and you don't have to make the sun make you sweat. You just have to be close to it, and the closer you are to the sun, it's going to rub off on you. He says, draw near. Well, what does it mean?
What do I have to do to draw near? Look at the second half of verse 8. It is sin that keeps us at a distance. Cleanse your hands, you sinners. He's talking about Christians here, because non-Christians can't cleanse their hands. They need to be cleansed by the blood of Christ.
He's talking about Christians here who are functioning like sinners. He says, cleanse your hands. Now, this was a ceremonial phrase in the Old Testament. The priests, before they could offer sacrifice, had to cleanse their hands.
It meant to get rid of dirt or defilement. He means, make a decision to change your external actions. Make the decision, since this is dirty, I'm going to stop. I'm going to call sin, sin.
God will only deal with you if you deal with sins. And some of us, you know what? Some of us don't really want to be worldly. We don't want to get out there and sin, sin. We just want the souvenirs of sin. Just something to put on the mantelpiece so I can look at every now and then. So we're worldly by souvenirs.
That is, we set things up to give us déjà vu. God says, uh-uh, clean the attic. Clean the attic. Don't put up the souvenirs to remind you of days gone by. Remove the souvenirs.
Remove the reminders of the world. Don't be duly aligned, double-mindedness. And when you deal with sin as sin, then God will be free to draw near to you as you return to Him. God is near to all who call upon Him. 2nd Chronicles 15 2 says, if you seek Him, He will let you find Him. Jeremiah 29 13 says, you shall seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart. Hebrews 4 16 10 22 says, draw near. Draw near.
How intense is this kind of drawing near? Look at it. Verse 9, be miserable and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned in a morning and your joy to gloom. Oh, you hate it when something serious is going wrong and somebody who should be treating it as serious as you is laughing and playing it off like a it's no big thing. God says, don't play it off like it's no big thing.
It's a big thing. Now, everybody sins. I'm not talking about that.
I'm talking about drawing near. When it comes to drawing near to God, you have to treat sin seriously. He says, stop laughing and start crying. When Peter denied the Lord, we know he was serious because guess what? The Bible says, he went outside and wept bitterly. He was in agony over it.
This was no joke. God says to take it seriously and when you and I take sin seriously, God says, then I'll take you seriously. I will deal with the infection.
I will give you spiritual peroxide to clean the wound. Sin must be taken seriously. We must wail, not laugh.
We must holler, not joke. We must feel a sense of dread and gloom because we have hurt the heart of a holy God. But because we don't feel that deep about sin, God is not free to draw near. So the second thing is draw near.
Come close. Dr. Evans will explain why people who think Christians shouldn't be judging each other may have missed the point when he returns in a moment to continue this message from his brand-new CD compilation, Tony Evans Top 40, a collection of the most hard-hitting, life-changing sermons in his 40-year ministry history. It includes messages on our authority as believers, praying and waiting for God's timing, the importance of spiritual armor, sharing the good news, and much more.
These messages can literally change your life or the life of someone you love. So right now, we're offering Volumes 1 and 2 of this powerful new compilation as our thank-you gift when you make a contribution to help us keep Tony's teaching on this station. Please visit TonyEvans.org while the special offer is still available. Make your donation and you'll receive all 20 lessons in Volumes 1 and 2 of Tony Evans Top 40, along with his booklet on fasting, which explains how this often-overlooked spiritual discipline will lead to the breakthrough you've been praying for. All the details are waiting for you at TonyEvans.org.
Again, that's TonyEvans.org. Or call our Resource Center at 1-800-800-3222. I'll repeat our contact information later on after Part 2 of today's lesson, coming up right after this. We're looking at our most valuable spiritual resource. Grace is available, but only at the throne.
And you can only approach the throne through prayer. You can deepen your connection with the Lord through our in-depth course on Kingdom Prayer at the Tony Evans Training Center. You'll discover how God has wired the world to work by prayer and experience for yourself how it connects heaven with earth and time with eternity.
You'll not only gain a new understanding and appreciation for prayer, but also the prayer, you'll actually pray in transforming ways you've never experienced before. The course is intense, but you can work through it at your own pace and get all the help you need through our online forum. And of course, there's custom content from Tony not available anywhere else. Connect with the Tony Evans Training Center at tonyevans.org.
It's like having a seminary on your smartphone or other device. Start today, tonyevans.org. There's a third thing you must do. Humble yourself before God, verse 10. Humble yourself in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.
Here's another great promise. If you submit, you'll be able to resist. If you draw near, He'll draw near to you. If you humble yourself under Him, which brings back the concept of submission, guess what? He will lift you up. You see, some of our problem is we've been too busy lifting ourselves up. And if you're going to lift yourself up, why must God do any lifting?
You're good enough to take care of you. What does it mean to humble yourself? It means to remove all fragments of pride.
It is to remove all fragments of pride. In the Bible, the great men of God who were taken up were always taken down first. Joseph was taken down to Egypt, put in jail, and then he became king of Egypt. Moses was put out in the wilderness, and then he became leader of Israel.
On and on and on and on and on. David had to hang out with the sheep before he could be king. They had to have experience down before God could trust them to lift them up. The greatest Bible teacher in the Bible, Paul the Apostle, had to spend three years in the desert, humbled before God, before God would lift him up. If you want God to raise you up in usefulness, raise you up in power, raise you up in victory, raise you up in strength, you have to go low.
Why? Because there's not room for two gods in this universe, that's why. See, if you can raise yourself up, then go be God all by yourself. But if you can't raise yourself up and you're in desperate need of God, then what you do is you go low.
You go low. See, when you need mercy, you say please. When you need mercy, you say please. You humble yourself. There is no place for arrogance when sinful men approach a holy God and say come near. It's come near, please, mister, won't you? There must be humility. If God is going to raise you up, and that means the eradication of pride, God's elevator to the top always starts going down. You say that's vague.
Give me something I can put my teeth into. He knew you were going to ask that question. That's why he wrote verses 10 and 11.
Let me read them. Do not speak against one another, brethren. He's talking to Christians. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother speaks against the law and judges the law, but if you judge the law, you're not a doer of the law, but you're a judge of the law.
There is only one lawgiver and judge, the one who is able to save and destroy, but who are you to judge a neighbor? He says, okay, let me give you an illustration of what humility means. You will always discover humility in how you talk, especially how you talk about somebody else. He says because one of the ways we play God is with our tongue. One of the ways we act like we think we're God is with our tongue, because he says we use our tongues to destroy one another. He raises the sin of slander as an illustration of his point of humility.
These verses are not unrelated to what's gone before. He is saying humble yourself, and that's going to show up in how you speak, because instead of you having a malicious tongue that drags people down because you yourself have already gone down and recognized if it wasn't for the grace of God, you'd be stomped out. You don't use your tongue to drag other people down because you're already down there with them. How can you use your tongue and say John Doe is worth nothing.
He's no good. I'm going to tear him down when God says you can't even draw near to me because of the sin in your own life. If you would spend more time with the sin in your life, you'd have less time to be talking about sin in somebody else's life. It is to tear down another person's reputation in a destructive or non-constructive way.
Now let me clarify something very quickly here. The Bible says you ought to deal with sin. The Bible says in Titus 3.10 that we ought to deal with sin. First Corinthians 5, we ought to confront brothers who are sinning. That's not slander. Slander is talking to everybody else but that brother. Slander is saying John Doe is messed up and John Doe never gets to hear from you that you love him enough and care for him enough to try to help him out of the mess. I want 300 other people to know that John Doe is going to the dogs so that John Doe will look bad in front of those other people.
You say, well, people still do it and I don't see the big deal. Well, now you've broken the law because the law is that you love God with all your heart, mind, might and soul and love your neighbor as yourself. That's what the law is summed up in too. In fact, the whole 10 commandments are really commandments of love. No other God. Well, that means love can't be fickle.
It must be single-minded. Commandment number two, no idols. That means love must be loyal in its practice. Commandment number three, do not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. That means love must be respectful and not use things in an empty way. Commandment number four, remember the Sabbath keep it holy. That means love must be devoted with its affections. Commandment number five, honor your father and mother. That means love must be submissive to a legitimate authority. Commandment number six, you shall not murder.
That means love should value other people and not try to see their demise. Commandment number seven, do not commit adultery. Love is to be pure and not defile. Commandment number eight, do not steal. That means love is not to be selfish and take from others what belongs to them. Commandment number nine, do not bear false witness.
Love must be truthful and not tell lies. Commandment number 10, thou shalt not let covet. Commandment must be content and thankful for what you have. Love is built into the 10 commandments. It is the commandments of love stated in a negative way. Turn your Bibles very quickly to Matthew chapter seven. This gives you the proper balance about judging people because you've heard people say, well, the Bible says don't judge.
Well, not quite. Do not judge lest you be judged for in the way you judge, you will be judged and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. And why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, let me take the speck out of your eye and behold the log is in your own eye, you hypocrite.
First take the log out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. The issue in the Bible is not don't judge, it is watch how you judge. You see, because how you judge will be the basis of how you will be judged. If you destroy somebody else destructively, guess what? God says what goes around comes around, that you're going to get it.
And you know what? Many things we're going through is God paying us back for the very thing we're doing with others. And we never made the connection that God is getting after me because of what I'm doing over there with them. And while they may need to be corrected for wrong, which we should do, while they should be condemned for wrong, the judging should always be to build up and they should be with the log removed from your eye.
Because if you have a tree trunk sitting outside your optics, there is no way you can see a speck in somebody else's eye. So fix you first before you judge, because when you judge, it will be measured to you. Now, what's the problem with wrong judgment? He tells you, verse 12, there is only one lawgiver, the judge, and one who is able to kill and to keep alive. And who are you to judge your late neighbor? In other words, there's only one God and you're not He.
You're not He. He is dealing with righteous judgment, biblical judgment, clear judgment, judgment that is humble. That's why the Bible says, take heed, he who thinks he stands, lest he falls. See, when you say, look at what John Doe did, God says, watch it, watch it, because don't you know that that's a possibility in you too? When you look at the prostitute, don't you know if you were born in the right side of town, under the right set of circumstances, that could be you. And when you understand that could be you, you humble yourself.
In the Bible, the story is told by way of application of two Jews who went to the temple. The Pharisees said, I thank you I'm not like other men. Luke 18, I'm thanking you I'm not immoral. I thank you that I'm not a thief. I thank you that I'm not like them dogs out there.
I just want to thank you that I'm not like everybody else. Then the publican, the thief came in and beat his chest, the Bible says, and said, oh God, have mercy on me. I am a sinful man. Have mercy on me. I have done all of those things and I need mercy. And Jesus says, I tell you what, that evil publican went away justified. But that Pharisee went away condemned, even though he hadn't done any of those things, because the man who thinks he's high will be brought low, but the man who goes low will be lifted high. You say, wait a minute pastor, I haven't drawn me, I haven't submitted, and I've been a little bit too proud.
Is it too late? You know, in football they have halftime. You know what you do at halftime?
You go in and get the thing straight. You find out what's been causing you to lose, and you readjust your strategy. No matter how many points the other team has scored in halftime, you can always come out of halftime with hope. You know why? Because it means at least that many points can be scored in one half. It's just now your turn to score. Your home team may have booed you because the other team got up on you. But let me tell you something about halftime. At halftime you don't listen to the crowd, you listen to the coach. And no matter what anybody else is saying about you, the coach is saying, let's go back out on the field and win this game. Jesus Christ is calling you to the second half.
Let's live the second half for God and not for this world. Dr. Tony Evans, encouraging us to choose the team we're committed to as we pursue God. Today's lesson was part of Tony's new audio compilation called Tony Evans Top 40. There's lots of bonus content in this collection, including entire messages we won't have time to present on the air. But we'll send you volumes one and two of this four-volume set as our gift if you can help us keep Tony's teaching on this station by making a contribution. Along with it, we'll include the booklet on fasting I told you about earlier, but only if we hear from you before this limited-time offer runs out. Make the arrangements today at tonyevans.org or let one of our team members help you by calling 1-800-800-3222.
That's 1-800-800-3222. A lot of people think God's offer to be close to us is too good to be true. Next time, Dr. Evans will explain how the devil perpetuates that attitude and what you can do about it. Right now, though, we'll wrap up our time together with this quick shout-out we received from Dr. Ed Young in celebration of 40 years of God's faithfulness to the ministry of the Urban Alternative. It's my privilege to say a word of congratulations for 40 years of service to none other than my brother and my friend, Dr. Tony Evans. He rightly divides the word of truth day by day and weekend by weekend, not only to his church, but really he's a spokesman for Christ around the world. Tony, what a ministry. What a blessing you've been to countless millions of people in these 40 years. And I'll tell you a secret, the best is yet to be. Congratulations. I'm thrilled to be your brother and I'm thrilled to just follow in your wake as you make a wide swarf for the kingdom of God throughout this world. God bless you and your terrific family. The Alternative with Dr. Tony Evans is brought to you by the Urban Alternative and is celebrating 40 years of faithfulness thanks to the generous contributions of listeners like you.
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