God’s Word for You
James 4:10 He will lift you up
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, August 18, 2020
10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
We discussed repentance with the previous verses. Verse ten comes as a summary with a gospel promise attached: “The Lord will lift you up.” The scene is any ancient throne room. The subjects of the King come and kneel before their Sovereign, and he reaches out to lift each of them up, bringing them from their kneeling position to a standing position before him, one by one. An arrogant king, a busy king, or a disinterested king might just wave them up and say, “Rise,” but not God our exalted King. He lifts each of us up personally.
Notice how Jesus gives a warning that is similar to what James says: “Whoever lifts himself up will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be lifted up” (Matthew 23:12). Self-exaltation (lifting yourself up to a position apart from the will of God) is a bloated and grotesque sin before God. Professor Lenski says: “It has produced the great pope, a large number of little popes, and men and woman ‘bosses’ in congregations. But all self-exalted men shall be humbled” (Matthew p. 902). Lifting myself up is a sin of the flesh, a lust for power and authority, and it tries to steal from God who is above all (Psalm 95:3) and who is all in all (1 Corinthians 15:28). It is to follow the path that was attempted by Satan and that brought about his downfall.
To be exalted or lifted up by God is to be given a new status by God. It does not always mean that someone is given a place of authority (such as Joshua, Joshua 4:14), but it can mean that God exalts his people the church for the sake of giving evidence as to the truth of his word, as when he exalted all of Israel after David conquered Jerusalem (2 Samuel 5:12). Among us, the change of status is nothing else than the conversion from sinner to forgiven saint. We are continually exalted by God as we repent and put our trust in his promise of forgiveness, so that we are constantly restored and returned to our baptismal state of grace day by day. When we describe baptism, we should be careful to use the imagery of baptism, which is washing. This is God’s intended meaning of baptism. Long ago, the church father St. Jerome caused all manner of mischief when he completely changed the imagery of baptism into a plank floating in the water following a shipwreck to which we cling. After doing this, he tried to make repentance into a “second plank” with which we somehow swim to shore. In Jerome’s flawed analogy, why would I give up the “first plank” (baptism) in the first place? This has caused the Catholic Church and others to think that baptism only saved us from some sins, or as the great majority of Protestants claim, no sins at all, since for them it is a symbol and not a sacrament. But let’s let Jerome’s planks sink into the sea and restore our understanding of baptism as a washing, which is what it truly is. Through baptism, God washes away our sins. “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word” (Ephesians 5:25-26).
Why spend so much time on baptism, a doctrine we all should know so well? Because if we let go it this teaching and assume it is known, it will become forgotten like a book missing from the library. We recognize by experience that the saying is true: “When a man has finished, he is just beginning.” We teach and teach again so that we will never forget.
Baptism restores us to having a clean and clear conscience before God (1 Peter 3:21), and it places us in a humble status before God alongside the angels and all authorities of creation, seen and unseen (1 Peter 3:22). We humble ourselves daily through contrition and repentance, and God lifts us up daily to the very same status we had during the act of our baptism, which is a saved and forgiven sinner with no outstanding or old sins still on our record. To be forgiven by God is to be completely forgiven by God. O Cherished Daughter or Son of the Living God, there is nothing in your past that still festers like some forgotten, unwashed dish molding on the kitchen counter or lying unseen behind the couch. All sins are covered by Christ; all sins have been washed away by your baptism. The sins you repent of today need only be today’s sins. Forget about the rest; God already has. Be the baptized saint that God has lifted you up to be.
Baptized into your name most holy,
O Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
I claim a place, though weak and lowly,
Among your saints, your chosen host,
Buried with Christ and dead to sin.
Your Spirit now shall live within.
My faithful God, you fail me never;
Your promise surely will endure.
Oh, cast me not away forever
If words and deeds become impure.
Have mercy when I come defiled;
Forgive, lift up, restore your child.
All that I am and love most dearly—
Receive it all, O Lord, from me.
Let me confess my faith sincerely
And help me your own child to be!
Let nothing that I am or own
Serve any will but yours alone. (Christian Worship 294:1, 3-4)
Pastor Timothy Smith