♬Have we trials and temptations♪. James responds, You bet we do!
Last week I began a series on handling some of the pressures of life. Some days, life feels like a pressure cooker. We looked at the pressure of trials last week. Today we’re going to look at the pressure of temptations, because we all have temptation. We sometimes treat them lightly and find ourselves humored by them, and I suppose that’s okay. For instance, when we eat a meal, someone comes in with a second helping and asks, Can I tempt you within another helping? Or we’re at a restaurant and the waitress comes out with a delicious looking dessert tray and says, Can I tempt you with one of our desserts? which I typically give into and regret later on.
However, some temptations can be very serious and dark and dangerous. They can, as we dabble with them, damage our souls when we cave in. For instance, we find sexual temptations, ambition, vanity, greed, the lust for power and fame. These things have the potential to really mess up one’s life. James acts as a life coach and gives us some basic facts about the pressure of temptation and how to handle it.
First of all, he reminds us that temptation is inevitable, so expect it. It’s not if they will come, but when temptations will come. Jesus wasn’t immune or sheltered from temptations; why would we expect anything different?
Then he gives us a second bit of instruction. He tells us, when temptations do come your way, don’t blame God. He never sends them, and He is not responsible for them. God is not tempted nor does He tempt anyone. The real problem lies elsewhere Ð the one who wants to destroy our life and is constantly tempting us. James could have had in mind the book of Genesis where God asks Adam if he gave into temptation and ate from the fruit of the tree, and Adam blames someone else. He first points his finger at Eve and then at God “that YOU gave me.” Don’t excuse yourself for giving in to a moral lapse or for a bad temper or whatever it is by reasoning that God made you that way and you can’t help yourself. Don’t blame God. God is above all that. God is holy. God is good. He has no interest in getting us to do things against His will. “He can’t be tempted by evil,” James says. Therefore, God tempting us would be totally inconsistent with His character.
In verse 14, James tells us temptation begins within us. Our own desires (or as other versions of the Bible call it, our lusts) which are constantly inducing or inciting us to sin against God. Theologians of old used to refer to this as the carnal mind. We are prompted by our own impulses, which might be sexual, material, or relational. It could be a lust for power, or recognition, or greed or ambition Ð a natural appetite of some sort that works within us.
Jesus talked about it when the Pharisees questioned him about allowing His disciples to eat from unclean utensils. Jesus said, “Whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, . . . It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:18-23).
I saw T-shirt one time that read, “Lead me not into temptation. I can find it all by myself.” How true that is!
A businessman decided he was getting too heavy and needed to lose some pounds. Part of his discipline was to avoid driving by his favorite bakery. One morning, however, he showed up at work carrying in a wonderful looking coffeecake. Everyone in the office scolded him. He said, “Wait a minute! This is a very special coffeecake! I accidentally drove by the bakery this morning, and there in the window was a host of goodies; I just knew it wasn’t an accident. So I said to God, ÔIf you want me to have this coffeecake, let me have a parking place directly in front of the bakery.’ And sure enough, the eighth time around the block, there it was!”
Temptation Ð it works within us. James tells us that it works in a very predictable pattern. It lures and entices us. That is imagery is to remind us of fishing or hunting, putting your bait on the hook or on your lure, putting the lure out there or setting a snare as a hunter to lure your prey out from safety and getting it to move toward the bait.
John Ortberg, one of my favorite Christian writers, tells a little story. He says, “Recently my wife and I went flyfishing for the first time, and our guides told us that to catch a fish you have to think like a fish. They said that to a fish, life is about maximum gratification of appetite at the minimum expenditure of energy. To a fish, life is: see a fly, want a fly, eat a fly. A rainbow trout never really reflects on where his life is headed. A girl carp rarely says to a boy carp, ÔI don’t feel you are as committed to our relationship as I am.’ The fish are just a collection of appetites. A fish is a stomach, a mouth, and a pair of eyes.
“Well, while we were on the water, I was struck by how dumb these fish are! As we throw out our line, ÔHey, swallow this!’ we seem to be saying. ÔIt’s not the real thing; it’s just a lure. You think it will feed you, but it won’t. It will trap you. If you would look closely, fish, you would see the hook. You would know that once you were hooked, it’s just a matter of time before the enemy reels you in.’
“You’d think fish would wise up and notice the hook or see the line. You’d think fish would look around at all their fish friends who go for a lure and fly off into space and never return. But they don’t. It’s ironic! We say fish swim together in a school, but they never learn. Aren’t you glad we’re smarter?”
And James would say to that sarcastic remark, But are we? Are we smarter than fish?
Well then James changes the image a bit. He personifies it to look like a harlot standing on a street corner getting your attention and getting you stirred up. She’s named desire. She conceives and gives birth to sin, which eventually leads to death. It is dangerous. Deadness and emptiness set in within yourself. You’re a mess. You’ve hurt yourself and others around you. You find your moral compass is lost.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the bright minds of the past century, wrote in his little writing called Temptations, “In our members Ð our body Ð there is a slumbering inclination toward desire, which is both sudden and fierce. With irresistible power, desire seizes mastery over the flesh. All at once a secret, smoldering fire is kindled. The flesh burns into flames.
“It makes no difference whether it is sexual desire or ambition or vanity or desire for revenge or love of fame and power, or greed for money. At this moment God is quite unreal to us. He loses all reality and only desire for the creature is real. The powers of clear discrimination and of decision are taken from us.”
That is the process James describes for us as the bait is thrown out in our direction.
James continues in verse 16, “Don’t be deceived, my beloved.” He is speaking with a pastor’s heart: “My beloved”. Be careful, keep your head on straight. Be responsible with your life and your soul. Don’t be tricked. Manage your mind. Wake up and stay awake. Be smart. How do we do that? James gives us the answer in verse 17. He points us upward to God. God doesn’t tempt! Instead, He is there for you in your time of temptation, and He is for you. He provides the gift you need to handle temptation. Listen to this passage verse 17: “Every generous act of giving with every perfect gift is from above.” You see, God doesn’t send temptations; He sends gifts, perfect gifts, “coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of His own purpose, He gave His birth by the word of truth so that we would become the kind of first fruit of His creatures.”
That is our good news! We have a good God who gives good gifts from above, and He never changes. His love for you never changes. His concern for you never changes. His character never changes. And you belong to Him. You are the first fruits of His creatures. He saved you, and He doesn’t want to lose you.
Through the power of His Word, it says “in fulfillment of his own purpose,” to give you a life, a rescued life, He gave you birth, a new birth by the word of truth, which is the Gospel. The Gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus died for our sins and paid the penalty so we could have a new life with God, a restored relationship with Him. We are reborn. He has a plan for you to continue to be the showcase, the first fruits of all His creatures, an offering belonging to Him.
We are basically told that we have a God who gives gifts, who is for us, who is with us. We can use the gifts He gives as we face temptation.
What are those gifts? The first gift is the word of truth, Scripture. It is a powerful sword for doing battle with temptation. It contains wise counsel when temptations come our way. This is no ordinary book, dear friends. This is Spirit-filled. It is God-breathed.
James goes on to tell us, therefore rid yourselves of all sortedness and rank growth of wickedness and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls but be doers of the word, not merely hearers who deceive themselves. When Jesus was out in the wilderness, what did He say as satan threw temptations His way? “It is written. It is written.” It was His standard by which to live. Let the Word of God be your standard. Know it, study it, and apply it. Let it be the standard by which you live.
The second gift is this: God promises us a way of escape. The Apostle Paul tells us, “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it” (I Cor. 10:13). As you keep your eyes on God and your ears open, as you give yourself over in prayer during times of temptation, God will provide a way of escape. Maybe it’s going to be a ringing telephone or a whisper in your conscience, maybe a friend will help keep you accountable. Perhaps a vision of a boarded-up, sordid picture of the future this temptation might bring into your life that will help you to escape and walk away from that possibility. God does not want you to fall.
Finally, the gift of the Holy Spirit that was in Jesus as He went through temptation in the wilderness is in you. He has breathed His Spirit in you. You are not on your own; you are empowered as you plug into Him. As you live in the Word and live amongst the community of faith, He empowers you to overcome temptations.
You are not on your own. God is for you. He is with you. He is a God who offers you His gifts as you face temptations in your life.
I want to leave you with a promise to hang onto, a promise from James himself where he says, “Blessed (which means happy) is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”
What a great promise to hang onto Ð that crown of life is waiting me as I endure the temptations of life.
Temptations? You bet! They are a major pressure. But dear friend, you are not on your own. God is with you. God is for you.