Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8a NRSV). Some time ago I heard the expression, “If you feel distant from God or can’t sense His presence, then guess who moved!” There is some truth in that as we believe implicitly in the sovereignty of God and his universal presence, he is quite literally everywhere. Omnipresence is the technical word that describes God’s presence in all of creation. We cannot hide from God. But do not make the mistake of attributing the same ability to satan as he is only a created being and is limited, as we are.
Stronger now than in his previous chapters James clearly condemns a follower of Christ who dabbles in worldly and sinful activities. To call such a person an “adulterer” (v. 4) demonstrates how strongly he feels. Our relationship with the Lord cannot be tainted in any way, an attitude that James finds totally unacceptable. He suggests that this kind of behaviour is the cause of conflict and envy between believers, wrong motives and gross indulgence (v. 1-3). It is inconceivable that a child of God can behave like this.
That sets the bar pretty high but really no different to what Jesus expected of his followers. To “take up your cross” not only means to follow Christ completely but also means turning our backs on the worldly pleasures that tend to become sin. Denying ourselves means putting sin behind us and going the direction Jesus wants us to go, walking in his Spirit.
James seems to be very practical and thoroughly abhors any association with sin, or even perhaps questionable behaviour, by a follower of Christ “… whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” (v. 4)
James consistently throughout his letter is describing the lifestyle that characterises the walk of a follower of Jesus. It is amazing that so early in the history of the Church that he crystallises so much of Jesus’ teaching and reflects the great sermons of Jesus such as the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). It would be a good exercise to read these chapters each day for a week and ask yourself this question, “What would it take for my life to be consistent with Jesus’ teaching?” “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:7-8).