The narrative climax in John Milton’s Paradise Lost is the choice made first by Eve and then by Adam to give in to the serpent’s temptation and disobey God. In Milton’s Paradise Regained, the story’s climax is Jesus’ perfect resistance to the Devil’s temptations in the wilderness (Luke 4:1–13). Christ’s victory over temptation signaled that Adam and Eve’s fall to temptation was on the verge of being undone.
James 4, indeed the entire epistle, has been building a set of contrasts. On one side we find the Devil, selfish desires, worldliness, spiritual unfaithfulness, quarrels, pride, and enmity with God. On the other side we find God, love for our neighbor, a focus on eternal values, wholehearted worship, peacefulness, humility, and friendship with God.
We are to imitate Jesus in resisting temptation, which requires submission to God’s will and is the key to staying on the right side of this contrast (v. 7). Submission means obedience, which in turn means resisting the Devil and his temptations (see 1:13–15). Resisting the Devil will move us in the direction of drawing near to God, and God reciprocates the move toward a closer relationship (v. 8a).
Since we are not yet perfect, this all requires confession and repentance (v. 8b). Confession of sin is the opposite of pride, which never admits it’s wrong. The mourning referred to in verse 9 is grief over sin—the laughter and “joy” indicate a casual attitude to sin—and how it creates barriers in our relationship with the Lord (see Ps. 24:3–4). When we humble ourselves before God in this way for these reasons, He is always faithful to lift us up, that is, to forgive us and restore the relationship (v. 10).
The people of Nineveh dressed in sackcloth and called out to the Lord (Jonah 3:5–9). Peter wept bitterly over his three denials of Christ (Matt. 26:75). The tax collector “beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner’” (Luke 18:13). Take time to draw near to God through confession and repentance!