You should not use James’ encouragement to “Submit yourselves to God and resist the devil, and he will flee from you,” as if it were a formula for exorcism. Some have tried, and missed the first part of the verse completely. Check out the seven sons of Sceva in Acts 19. Their idea of “submitting to God” was to just get familiar with Jesus-speak. They found a good prospect, one who really was possessed, and went to work with their words, throwing their Jesus-speak at the demon and expecting it to flee. One of the seven sons, maybe the oldest and most cocky, said, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” You know what happened next? You can’t make this stuff up. The demon said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” Then the demon-possessed man whooped those boys seven ways to Sunday, until the seven would-be exorcists ran out of the house naked and wounded. I’d say their little formula didn’t work. The demon was unimpressed.
This text is not a formula for exorcism, but it is a powerful encouragement to live in such a way that the enemy will continually flee from you. Walking in submission to God includes ongoing and deliberate resistance to the devil. We know how he operates, as we have a picture of it in Genesis. He told Eve that if she ate the fruit she would not die. You will be like God, he said. You will finally have access to all that God is keeping from you, he intimated. These were lies, but Eve fell into his trap because she disregarded what God had said. She submitted to the devil, and resisted God, which is always a recipe for disaster. How can we reverse that in our own lives?
It starts with bowing our will to His. This is the defining characteristic of humility. The word for submission finds its roots in the military, and it means to “be placed under the authority of another.” This is counter to the culture, right? Everything in society is telling us to go big or go home. Be your own boss. Don’t let anybody tell you what to do. In fact you can sign up for hundreds of seminars that will teach you to look out for number one, learn to assert yourself, make a name for yourself, and build your personal brand. People sign up for these seminars in droves. I wonder how many would sign up for a seminar on “Submitting to God.” The brochure would say something like, “Learn to be the least, the last and the lowest. Learn to be a servant of all.” What do you think? Good seminar idea? Not by the world’s standards. Submitting to God is counter to the culture. But even worse, submitting to God is counter to our own nature. Our souls crave attention and yearn for the spotlight. That’s why the Bible is filled with admonitions like, “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth.” Or, “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” Or, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Count others more important than me? That hurts, but mainly because it forces me out of my narcissistic tendencies. And don’t confuse humility with self-hatred. Someone said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”
Submit yourself to God, and let him handle the demons.