We read a text in Scripture like:
“Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” James 4:7
Q: What does it mean that a Christian submits to God, resists the devil, but the devil doesn’t leave?
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It likely means that submission to God is being misunderstood or mistakenly undertaken. The immediate context in James is one of friendship with the world equated to enmity with God which brings about worldly lust, division, improper judgement, and evil speaking:
From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up. Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another? - James 4:1-12
We are told quite clearly that if we draw nigh to God He will draw nigh unto us and that God gives grace to the humble. We may draw nigh to God only through the Lord Jesus Christ. And this Lord Jesus must be confessed as the very Son of God, not as a created being nor as a realized notion. Then we receive the Spirit of God within us and the battle begins.
This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. - Galatians 5:16-17
Resisting the devil, then, is resisting the inward and outward compulsion to obey the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. We do so by submitting ourselves to God to walk according to the Spirit He has given us and not fulfill the desires of the flesh.
1 Peter has similar language in the context of Church eldership:
The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. - 1 Peter 5:5-11
Elders (of which Peter is one) are to oversee the flock of God by example and not by "lording it over them". The younger are to submit to the Elder (as they so lead) and all of them are to be in subjection to one another. This is the humility which God graces and is very similar to the tenor in James. Peter goes on to say that the devil prowls around looking to devour us, that we should resist him steadfast in the faith, that all of the brethren in the world are afflicted similarly, and that after we have suffered a little while we shall be delivered in due time.
God is not like a vending machine...something in/something out. Submitting to God is resisting the devil and it is a process that is accomplished through suffering.
Keep the faith in the suffering. Humble yourself under God's mighty hand, the hand that sovereignly allows the devils machinations in order to make you perfect through suffering. Do not resort to the old ways or the world's way in order to alleviate your suffering; this is enmity with God.
Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil. It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones. Honour the LORD with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase: So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine. My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD; neither be weary of his correction: For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth. - Proverbs 3:5-12
Cling to the Lord Jesus Christ, continue to humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, and He will lift you up in due time.
What does it mean that a Christian submits to God, resists the devil, but the devil doesn’t leave?
Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. - James 4:7
Of course he flees, but the Devil is persistent and will most likely return to try over and over again. He wants to wear us down and drop our guard, so to speak.
He may leave, but he most likely returns to tempt us all over again. Thus we must remain on our toes in Oder to be alert against the snares and traps of the Devil.
St. Matthew show that the unclean spirits will return to try to repossess a victim of possession. The Tempter will also return. Criminals after return to the scene of their crime. Thus we must be constantly on our toes.
43 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. 45 Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.” - Matthew 12:43-45
St. Peter exhorts us to be vigilant in this domain for the Devil is constantly looking for victims to bring down.
Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the Devil walketh about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. - 1 PETER 5:8
In order to be vigilant, we must put on the Armor of God.
13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, … - Ephesians 6:13-18
We should strengthen ourselves in this spiritual warfare against evil.
The phrase “resist the devil” is found in James 4:7 where the apostle James exhorts believers to resist the devil in order to cause him to flee or “run away” from us. To resist means to withstand, strive against, or oppose in some manner. Resistance can be a defensive maneuver on our part, such as resisting or withstanding the temptation to sin. Or it can be an action we take to use the only offensive weapon in the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:13-18), the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. Using the Scriptures to expose Satan’s lies and temptations is the most effective way to strive against and defeat them.
It is important to read the whole verse: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Resisting the devil must be accompanied by submitting to God. A disobedient or unsubmissive believer will not see victory.
The apostle John records Jesus saying about Satan, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). As Christians, we have full life when we are aware of the reality of the presence of evil. As we struggle to stand firm in our faith, we must realize that the enemies we are up against are not merely human ideas, but real forces that come from the powers of darkness. The Bible says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
Why will resistance cause the devil to flee? Because he knows he cannot have victory over us if we are prepared to do battle against him. As mentioned before, the Bible assures us that we need only put on the full armor of God to be fully protected from evil and to actively resist it. There is nothing more frightening to Satan than a believer who is fully equipped with spiritual armor, beginning with the “helmet of salvation,” which protects our minds, and the “breastplate of righteousness,” which protects our hearts because it is the righteousness of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). Only a true believer wears these because only those who have received God’s forgiveness by grace through faith have eternal salvation and the righteousness of Christ imputed to them.
Once fitted with the helmet and breastplate (literally, “chest protector”), we are then to take up other defensive weapons with which to battle Satan: truth, the readiness to proclaim the gospel, and the faith that shields us from all the flaming arrows of the evil one. The final piece of armor is prayer. We pray for strength to resist evil and to actively battle against it. We pray for wisdom in the conflict, and most of all, we remain steadfast in our prayers, both for the ability to resist the devil and also for other believers who struggle in the same battle. When the church, the body of Christ, stands united against evil, fully equipped with the armor of God, we present a formidable foe to the evil one and we will see God get the glory for the victory.
As a side note, the Bible never gives Christians the authority to “rebuke” the devil, only to resist him. Zechariah 3:2 tells us that it is the Lord who rebukes Satan. Even Michael, one of the most powerful of the angels, did not dare to accuse Satan, but rather said, "The Lord rebuke you" (Jude 1:9). In response to Satan’s attacks, Christians should redouble our efforts to clothe ourselves in the spiritual armor, wield the Word of God, and rely on His power through prayer. Instead of focusing on “rebuking” the devil, we should focus on resisting him with the full armor of God. - What does it mean to resist the devil?
Ways is strengthen our faith and holiness are essential to this spiritual warfare with evil.