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Don't Forget the Other Half of the Verse!

Don't Forget the Other Half of the Verse!

Most Christians (even non-Christians, for that matter) are familiar with James 4:7: "Resist the devil, and he will flee." We've all heard it somewhere, and it was most likely spoken out of context. Just like the cartoon image of the devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other, this concept is right up there with the non-biblical concept that "God helps those who help themselves."

Both are simply wrong.

How can a scriptural requirement to resist the devil be wrong? Clearly there is no problem with the advice that we should resist the devil. In fact it is very good advice! The problem here is that it is only half of the advice.

Look at all of James 4:7. With both halves attached, we find there is something that must be done before any attempt is made to resist the devil:

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

The all-important prerequisite James gives before calling believers to resist the devil is to first submit to God.  If that verse is not taken in full context, in the order it is written, it will fail to hold any true effective meaning.  

Below are some examples of other passages that we tend to cut in half.  

Ephesians 6:4: "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord."

Judges 6:25-26: "Now on the same night the LORD said to him (Gideon), “Take your father’s bull and a second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal which belongs to your father, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it; and build an altar to the LORD your God on the top of this stronghold in an orderly manner, and take a second bull and offer a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah which you shall cut down."

Acts 1:8: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."

What is the common denominator?

The half we typically forget about tends to be the most important half.

Think about it; Christians tend to be familiar with the parts that require avoiding negative behavior in our own strength. We latch onto this "don't do bad stuff" mentality because it allows us to check the box and feel like we are trying our best...

  • Resist the devil...
  • Stop being mean to your kids...
  • Tear down your idols...
  • Talk more about Jesus...

Check. Done.

However, the reason we often find ourselves going back to every idol, addiction, bad habit and negative behavior that has haunted and shamed us in the past is because we don't replace it with that which is of God. We become legalistic and proud about what we aren't doing, while quietly struggling along, trying to do the things of God without the power of God.

Which, by definition, can't be done.

Essentially, we have forgotten the most important half of the verse.

We forget the part about leading our family in the instruction and discipline of the Lord, and instead just try really hard not to yell at the kids as often.

We forget the part about submitting to God, and instead just try really hard to resist the devil on our own because that's what good boys and girls are supposed to do, right?

We forget the part about Gideon completely destroying the old altar of idolatry and replacing it with the new one to God, and instead just try really hard to keep that empty altar-shaped hole in our heart empty for as long as is humanly possible, which usually ends up not being very long.

We forget the part about witnessing in the power of the Holy Spirit, and instead just try really hard to proclaim Christ out of our own strength and intellect.

And it leaves us wondering what is going wrong, because we are honestly trying. And honestly failing.

We so often find ourselves missing out because the truth and the strength we need are found in the other half of the verse that tells us to stop trying. The other half of the verse tells us to submit ourselves to God, to tear down every idol and immediately replace them with the discipline and instruction of the Lord, and then watch what happens when we live as witnesses through the power of the Holy Spirit within us.

It is time for believers to stop reading our self-created "glass-half-empty" version of the Bible, with the list of half-verses and well-meaning rules that Christians have been trying really hard to live out, and trading it in for the "my cup runs over" version that places hope, strength and trust in Almighty God above what we can do in our own strength.

As a writer and musician, Jason Soroski strives to communicate in a way that is insightful, meaningful, relevant, and mindful of the small things that we may otherwise overlook in our everyday lives. He effectively taps into his experiences as a worship pastor, classroom teacher, husband, and homeschooling father of five to relate poignant stories from real-life experiences. Jason holds an M.Ed. from Missouri Baptist University, has been featured in various print and web publications, and currently resides in Houston, TX. Read more from Jason at his blog The Way I See It.

Publication date: January 26, 2016