Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.
James 4:13-17 (NIV)
What James is talking about in these verses (13-17) is the wilful ignoring of God’s will by presuming our plans don’t need to be checked to see if they are in his will or not. James equates this attitude to boasting. He also talks about ‘arrogant schemes’. If we presume our schemes (plans) don’t need to be given God’s approval, then we are demonstrating the same arrogance that James accuses his readers of.
These verses from James come after a section in the letter to do with submission. James says in 4:7: Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Many people are willing to follow this verse when facing temptation. They seek to resist the devil perhaps by quoting scripture when faced with temptation. However, they may not be willing to submit to God in all aspects of their lives.
Wilfully following after such things as career, status, marriage or personal happiness, in neglect of submitting to God and seeking his will, demonstrates a level of arrogance that needs God’s forgiveness. James tells us that this attitude is evil. The final part of the quote from James 4 only makes sense within the context of the preceding verses. Having talked about submitting to God and not following our own arrogant schemes, James goes on to say that knowing what is right to do, yet not doing it, leads a person into sin – the sin of not submitting to God.
Why do we need to resist the devil? Because the devil will tell you that whatever you do is fine and if God doesn’t want you to do something he will close the door firmly in your face. Because you have freedom in Christ, there is an element of truth in this, but not the whole truth. Being in God’s will must start with willing submission, not just doing what you like presuming God will intervene to stop you.