10 Steps To Come Back To God (And Grace For Each One) James 4:1-12

I love action plans.


Give me 5 steps for organizing my closet or 8 ways to keep the kids happy on a road trip and I’m all over it. It feels great to write them down and check them off one by one. The high point comes  comes when I finish and step back to enjoy the final product. What a sense of accomplishment!

I especially love it when someone takes a messy problem and breaks it down into doable steps. That what James seems to do in this week’s study.

Seeing the Mess

There’s nothing messier than fights between siblings. You hear one break out and you come running. Some toy has become a battlefield, that much is clear. But who started it? And what part did the other person play? And what is a fair settlement? Calling a cease fire is hard enough, but getting the parties to sign a peace treaty is nearly impossible.

That’s the problem James encounters among the believers–fights and quarrels (James 4:1). But instead of trying to settle it, he starts probing to find the cause. Why are you fighting? What do you want? Why do you want it so much?

His questions uncover the core problem–passionate, selfish desires that drive our quarrels.

OK. No problem, we might say. Let’s get on with it. Give us an action plan.

But James isn’t ready to tell us what to do, because it’s worse than we think. The problem isn’t just that we’re quarreling, it’s that we’re running. We’re chasing our passionate desires and they’re leading us away from the One who loves us and has called us his friend.

Adulteresses. Enemies. That’s what we’ve become.

Now Do This and This and This

This devastating news stops us in our tracks. What a mess we’ve made! Now what can we do?

Ever practical, James gives us an action plan. And it looks like we’re going to be busy, because there are no fewer than 10 steps.

  1. Submit to God
  2. Resist the devil
  3. Draw near to God
  4. Cleanse your hands
  5. Purify your hearts
  6. Be wretched
  7. Mourn
  8. Weep
  9. Let you laughter be turned to mourning
  10. Let your joy be turned to gloom

It’s tough, but we roll up our sleeves and get started. Submit–check. Resist–check. Draw near–check. Cleanse, purify…

I’m half way down the list when I stop. Wait a minute. I might be able to cleanse my hands, but purify my heart? I thought that was God’s work.

This is above my pay grade. Where is God’s grace in all this? Then I notice this little sentence:

But he gives more grace. James 4:6

More grace? What does that mean?

Steps in the Dance

We believe that God’s grace comes first in our salvation–that he is at work in us long before we believe in him.

But once we are his, is it all up to us? James’ series of commands can make it sound that way–a 10 step action plan for coming back to God.

However, he doesn’t hand us the list and wish us good luck. He gives us these commands in the context of “more grace.” Now that we are his, God invites us into a partnership of grace. A give and take. A dance, if you will.

Each step of obedient action is like a step in a dance. As we take it, he partners us, supplying his gracious help for that very step.

So we take step 1–submit to God, and as we begin to move our foot, he helps us. We take step 2–resist the devil, and grace empowers us to move again.

Our steps aren’t a list of accomplishments we perform solo, they’re steps in the dance of his grace. Why would he do that? Because as one commentator observes:

God is tirelessly on our side. ~Alec Motyer

And when we return to him, he sweeps us up in his dance again.



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