Can a True Christian Be an Enemy of God? Debunking Corrupt Interpretations of James 4:4
Updated: Jun 18
James 4:4 reads,
“Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.”
Many preachers twist the book of James into what they prefer it to mean, non-contextually, and passages in particular such as Jam. 4:4, claiming that it speaks of worldly Christians seeing God as their enemy, or they are the enemies of God because they haven’t separated themselves from the world (for instance, Buddy Smith, a missionary to Australia stated after quoting Jam 4:4: “God can become an enemy even to His own children when they love the world”). That is actually not even what the passage is saying, and thus misinterpreted right from the get-go. It is not speaking of man’s perspective but God’s: "whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world IS THE enemy of God." It's not how God appears to this specific person but how this person appears to God — as “the enemy of God.” And God does not ever appear as an enemy of the truly regenerate, even when He chastens them, which He does in love and not hate (Pr. 3:11-12; Heb. 12:5-11). Saved people know that; the unsaved don't.
Furthermore, the passage is used as credibility to alleged Christians living like the world, but that is not who James has in mind there. They are not saved people but people professing to be Christian. Their worldliness, spiritual adultery, gives them away, and actually exposes them as enemies of God. They are not saved. That is what James is attempting to communicate.
Try as I might, I cannot find any place in Scripture where a born again believer is ever referred to as an enemy of God or even one believer towards another but I have found plenty where the lost are referred to as such: Nah 1:2; Matt. 5:43-45; 13:25-30, 38-43; 22:44; Pr. 27:6; Lk. 1:71; Ac. 13:10; Rom. 11:28; 12:20; 1 Cor. 15:25; Phil. 3:18; Col. 1:21; Heb. 10:13; Rev. 11:12; etc. Of the 380 times it is found in Scripture, not one even remotely hints at a saved person ever having this title or label.
Unsaved People or Satan and his Minions are the Enemies of God
Let's consider some of the reasons why enemies are unsaved people, not saved people:
1. Lost people are referred to as the "enemies of all righteousness" (Ac. 13:10). In Matt. 5:43-45 they are called enemies to the people of God; so how much the more are these the enemies of the God of Heaven.
2. When a professing brother is to be separated from because he is walking in disobedience, he is still not to be considered our enemy: "And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother." (2 Th. 3:14-15). So Jam. 4:4 applies to the unsaved, not to the saved. We see the actual contrast being made in this passage in 2 Th. 3, between the “enemy” (lost) and the “brother” (professing to be saved). If he is to be separated from because he is walking disobediently, he is not to be counted as one would count an enemy (a lost person, a heathen) but admonished as a saved person. It's only after rejecting the reproof of the local church (a true local church according to Scripture and following the pattern of what the Bible says concerning reproof and discipline), is he to be counted as a lost person, a heathen, thus an enemy (Matt. 18:15-17). If he is not our enemy (at this point), then he wouldn't be God’s enemy either (unless he is actually unsaved, which we might know).
3. On the other hand, the lost Christ-rejecting Jews, "concerning the gospel, . . . are enemies for your sakes:" (Rom. 11:28).
4. Lost people are God enemies because they reject the Lordship of Christ over them (Lk. 19:27). To be saved, you must surrender to Jesus Christ as Lord: read Salvation Requires Surrendering to Jesus Christ as Lord. Here in Lk 19 Jesus says that His "enemies" which hate His authority ("would not that I should reign over them"), are commanded to be brought "hither, and slay them before me."
5. Col. 1:21 makes it further clear that only the lost are enemies of God: "And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled".
6. Before salvation we were Gods enemies but no more after salvation, at which point we are reconciled to Him (2 Cor. 5:17-21) and become workers together with Him (2 Cor. 6:1).
7. The word “enemy” is actually a very strong repudiation of someone that God hates. It's one whom God has reserved His wrath for: "God is jealous, and the Lord revengeth; the Lord revengeth, and is furious; the Lord will take vengeance on his adversaries, and he reserveth wrath for his enemies." (Nah. 1:2).
8. We read the same in the NT, that before conversion “we are enemies” of God and under His wrath (Rom. 5:9-10; Jn. 3:36; 1 Th. 1:9-10).
9. The actual definition of “enemy” translated from the Greek "echthros" which is a most terrible word, further reveals it be true that Jam 4:4 is referring to lost people: "A foe; an adversary. A private enemy is one who hates another and wishes him injury, or attempts to do him injury to gratify his own malice or ill will. A public enemy or foe, is one who belongs to a nation or party, at war with another. . . . One who hates or dislikes; as an enemy to truth or falsehood. In theology, and by way of eminence, the enemy is the Devil; the archfiend." (Webster’s Dictionary, 1828).
10. A major evidence of salvation is love for the brethren (1 Jn. 2:9-11; 3:10-16; 4:7-12, 16-21; 5:2). Those that hate their brethren are the enemies of God: “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now.” (1 Jn. 2:9).
11. The Devil, whose been at enmity with God and mankind since the beginning (Gen. 3:1), is the true master enemy of God (1 Pet. 5:8; Rev. 12:9-10), and all the lost are children of the devil and thus enemies of God (Ac. 13:10; Eph. 2:1-2; Jn. 8:44). It's the enemy, the devil, that sows evil seed of tares among the good seed (Matt. 13:38-43).
12. I can't imagine such an awful word being used by God to describe His beloved children, His saints. Even when David sinned as grievously as he did, never do we see such extreme language used by the Lord in His dealings with him. Rather, we see sharp reproof of his sin, and then post-repentance, "The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die." (2 Sam 12:13). Fast forward to Heb. 11, we see David (v. 32) in the "so great a cloud of witnesses" (Heb. 12:1).
Saved People are the Friends of God
Born again believers are the friends of Christ (Jn. 15:14). Abraham was the friend of God from the time of his justification by faith (Jam. 2:23; Gen. 15:1-6; Is. 41:8), and all who repentantly believe like Abraham (Rom. 4:1-25) are a friend of God (Jn. 15:14-15; Jam. 2:19-26) and come to act like Abraham did in Gen. 22; Jam. 2:21-23, instead of being the friend of the world and adulterous enemy of God (Jam. 4:4).
Enemy is the very antonym of a friend of God. Not even once ever is the child of God referred to as an “enemy of God” (Jam. 4:4). Quite the opposite indeed, having been reconciled to God we become the beloved children of God the Father, friends and brethren of Christ, saints, adopted into that great and eternal family of God with whom we are already sitting in the heavenlies, having been justified, sanctified and regenerated and so many other incredible and rich things (e.g. Rom. 8:28-38; Eph. 1–3; I Cor. 6:11; etc).
"He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. . . . Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" (Rom. 8:32-33, 35a)
That sounds quite different then the language of enemy. That applies to all truly saved people, even those under God's chastisement (Heb 12:5-11; Pr 3:11-12). Even when disobedient and/or sinning, the child of God is not hated or considered God’s enemy, but rather is chastened in love (Pr. 3:11-12; Heb. 12:5-11).
There is coming a very soon day where Gods enemies will "be made [Christ's] footstool" (Heb. 1:13; 10:13), which is a fulfilment of prophecy (Matt. 22:44), for the Lord Jesus Christ "must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death." (1 Cor. 15:25-26). Surely Gods children would not be counted as enemies and put under His feet as a footstool.
Are you an enemy of God (unregenerate) or a friend of God (regenerate)?