To live as a Christian is to engage in a battle: “Fight the good fight of the faith,” Paul admonished Timothy (1 Timothy 6:12). But the Bible’s way for waging this warfare differs markedly from the way ordinary warfare is carried on. Only armies that keep their attention on every move the enemy makes can wage war successfully. But while Christians are certainly aware of their enemies—their own hearts, so vulnerable to the deceitfulness of sin; the world around them, whose forces are predominantly contrary to God; and the devil—yet the Bible teaches that we triumph in our spiritual struggles by directing our attention primarily to God, rather than to these enemies.
Indeed, we see the command in James 4:7 to “resist the devil.” This command, however, is bracketed by two others: “Submit yourselves to God,” and “Draw near to God.” In other words, we triumph in the Christian life by focusing attention on the Lord rather than on our spiritual enemies. Thus, submitting to God, and drawing near to him so that we enjoy fellowship with him, is how to resist the devil so that he will soon flee from us.
What it means to submit ourselves to God is vividly depicted by Psalm 123:2—“As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master or mistress … so our eyes look to the Eternal, our God, till he be gracious to us.” The psalmist goes on to describe how embattled God’s people had been. But whereas constant attention to our enemies and their movements is vital for victory in earthly warfare, the psalmist draws an illustration not from military life but from how servants are attentive to their master to show how to gain victory in our spiritual struggles.
The striking thing about this illustration is that whereas servants in ordinary life keep their eyes focused on their master to pick up any indication of how they may render service to the master, yet the servants of Psalm 123:2 keep their attention focused on the master so that they, the servants, might receive great help from the Lord. “So our eyes look to the Eternal, our God, till he be gracious to us.”
Such attentiveness involves a confidence that the Lord will work to bring us great blessing. But just as confidence in a doctor’s ability to heal an ailment must also include a willingness to follow his instructions, so this confidence (or submission to God, as James calls it) must also involve a readiness to do what God wants us to do as we go through each day. In this way God will lead us in triumph and spread the sweet fragrance of knowing him in every place (2 Corinthians 2:14).
Daniel P. Fuller