Listen: Simon Manchester presents Christian Growth. Photo credit: Jony Ariadi
In this episode, Part 2 of a 9-part series on the book of James, Simon explores what the book of James teaches about staying strong when tempted.
Well dear friends, we’ve come to the second morning in the New Testament Letter of James. This is a letter which, we discovered last week, is written by Jesus’ half-brother – and he is obviously writing to help people to think well, and to draw good conclusions and not bad conclusions.
There is such a lot of stuff that is coming at us and it’s important to process things well. What do you do when something difficult comes at you? What do you do when something tempting comes at you? James wants us to think and process well.
I was reading this week that there has been a report from the UK that huge numbers of people are now medicating themselves by first ‘Googling’ their symptoms, their physical symptoms – and then working out from the internet what’s the matter with them, and then going and working out what medication what is needed, which turns out to be the wrong medication and they are making themselves worse by doing it. Now if you can do this by false assessment of your physical problems, imagine how difficult it is to work out your spiritual problems and to get those properly diagnosed and properly treated. That’s why God has given to us a very wonderful book in the Scriptures so that we might be able to interpret things correctly and be helped and treated correctly, and James is part of that Biblical information.
Perseverance in Tests and Trials
You will find the section this morning in James chapter 1 and we are looking at 7 verses, and if you were here last week you may remember we looked at the first 11 verses, and we saw that life is full of tests or trials.
But James is eager to say to us that since no test or trial comes to you except by God’s decree (it doesn’t mean that it’s his delight that it has come, but it is his decree that it has come), and because he is going to use these tests or trials in the lives of Christian people, just as a carpenter would use a hammer or a saw, not to wreck your life but to make your life, so James is urging us in the face of trials to assess them or to evaluate them well, and see them as instruments of good.
Now it seems to me that we can ignore this – I find it easier to ignore this – just to go on as though life is not as good as it should be – and why have I got these miserable occasional circumstances? And it’s easy for us to ignore this advice or, says James, we can observe things as coming from a good and great God and we can even lift up our voice in prayer and ask Him for wisdom so that we’ll know how to cope and how to respond and how to live and we will receive, says James in those earlier verses, help from on high.
Now the first verse we are looking at today is James chapter 1 verse 12 which says “Blessed is the man who perseveres” because the end of your road to perseverance is the crown of life – the crown which is eternal life.
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You may remember last week I said that there were many comparisons between the famous Sermon on the Mount and this letter of James. You will know if you read the Sermon on the Mount, especially the first 12 verses, that the word “blessed” comes up again and again and again and again – may be 11 times. And here it is in James 1:12 “Blessed” is the one who perseveres under trials. And what it means – blessed is not happy feelings – blessed means favoured by God – you are looked on by God in a favourable position, a privileged position. And a great deal of our perseverance when things are difficult is going to be done by Biblical thinking, but not just quick emotional reactions.
I want to say therefore to some of you, for whom we give huge thanks, that you are persevering through your trials. God says to you: you are objectively, truly, genuinely, profoundly blessed by Him. He regards you as favoured, and we are privileged of course to see your witness as you keep going through difficulties.
So remember last week that James says in verses 9-11 it’s often difficult even to work out how your finances are to be assessed. We need Biblical wisdom to know whether we are wealthy or not. Think of the financially poor Christian who is trying to work out whether there is anything to set aside at the beginning of the week for the offertory, and James says “I want you to remember that you are incredibly, spiritually rich”. And then there are some in our own congregation who are financially very rich and James says “I want you to remember that the houses and the dollars and the shares and the cars and the holiday houses that you have are all going to fade away, but your spiritual riches are incredibly valuable and they are the ones for your priority”.
Well now in chapter 1 verse 13 James is going to help us to get another section of life on its feet and no longer upside-down and that is he is going to help us to work out what to make of evil and good. We need this because we live in a world which credits God with the evil and us with the good. If something evil happens – that’s God again. If something good happens – that’s us. James says “I am going to put this on its feet; you’ve got it all upside-down”. “The evil”, says James, “well you can trace that to yourself and the good you can trace to God”.
So we’ll look at this under two headings this morning –
- Verses 13-15 – Recognise sin’s evil process
2. Verses 16-18 – Recognise God’s good process (that’s going to be much briefer).
Recognise the Process of Evil
First of all, verse 13 “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me’. For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone”. So when trouble comes at you, says James, when trials come at, when tests come at you, assess them well. It may be that God is kindly sifting, purifying or changing you. But when temptations come at you, says James, assess them well as well because when the temptations come at you they may well be just from evil, not from God at all.
Well what is happening here, I suspect, is that somebody James is writing to, or perhaps most people, are saying to themselves when temptation comes along: “God is cruel, he’s bringing evil into my life, and he’s not helping me”.
And there are some, who may be saying “I blame God for my sins, it’s not my fault; this is the way God has made me, I am lazy because of God, I am lustful because of God, I am dishonest because of God” (if it were possible to talk like that).
But James is not going to have any of this – he knows how false the accusation is. I wonder whether he grew up making these sorts of accusations against his half-brother Jesus: “It’s all your fault”.
Now he wants to show the process of evil and this is how evil works. If you want to know the process of evil, James 1:13-15 will give you the clues.
First of all, when you are tempted, says James, don’t say ‘this is God’ and there are two reasons we are not to say ‘this is God’. First verse 13 – God cannot himself be tempted – you can’t tempt God. He has now desire for evil – it doesn’t impact him – it doesn’t get into him – it doesn’t appeal to him – he’s not drawn to it.
As one old Puritan wrote, “The sun may shine on a sewer without being smeared”. And God may understand evil – he may even illuminate it – he may expose it – but it doesn’t affect him, and it doesn’t impact him except the desire that it be removed, that it one day be destroyed.
The second reason that we are not to blame God when we are tempted is that God doesn’t tempt – he is not a tempter – he doesn’t desire evil for himself and he doesn’t desire evil for you.
Testing is Different to Tempting
So we need to distinguish testing from tempting. When testing comes along (that’s a difficulty or a trial which by definition is usually going to throw you in the deep end and you are going to say to yourself – why is this so difficult, I’d love to be able to solve this in seconds or minutes but it’s not happening – that’s the definition of a test or a trial) and these sort of things come from a good God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and the aim of this is to strengthen your faith or to purify it or to bless you. We could say crassly it’s to help you succeed in the Christian life.
But when temptation comes, temptation comes from evil, it comes from the world of flesh and the devil and the aim of evil is to ruin, destroy and kill. It’s to make your Christian faith fail. Now these can be a little bit of an overlap between testing and tempting.
You might get a trial which also tempts you:
- You might lose a spouse and fall into the great temptation of doubt.
- You might inherit a lot of money or win a lot of money and suddenly fall into the temptation or worldliness or greed or pride.
- You might experience sickness and find yourself in the temptation of despair, self pre-occupation.
But this is how you know that evil is at work, says James, it’s having a ruinous affect on your faith in Christ – it’s destroying your confidence in his faithfulness – it’s tempting you to ruin you or to wreck you. This is how you know God is at work by his grace – he’s fanning the flames of faith in Christ – he is drawing you back in prayer – he’s causing you to seek Christ and depend on Christ – he’s testing you so that you’ll make progress so that you will have lasting treasure.
And therefore, says James, when the temptation comes, rule God out of the causal equation. If you are being drawn to evil, he’s not part of that.
When Temptation Turns Into Sin
But this is how temptation does work, says James (verse 14) and there are 3 parts to the process. It starts with what he calls “evil desire” – you see that in verse 14. Inside us are evil desires whether we are Christian or non-Christian, we have evil desires and just let me mention a few of them – you’ll identify with them probably all.
- One is the desire for autonomy – to be free from God and everybody.
- There is the desire for control – to take charge of everything, to call the shots.
- There is the desire for independence – to be free – nobody telling us what to do.
- There is the desire for self-gratification
- There is the desire for self-indulgence
- There is the desire for self-promotion
We could go on and on listing all the evil desires that are in us and when the desire which is inside us meets an opportunity which is outside us, or gets dragged or gets enticed, or gets lured away, then what is inside and what is outside come together and they, like two parents, says James, create a child called ‘sin’. The inward desire gets an outside opportunity, the two come together and they produce a child called ‘sin’.
This is where the desire moves into action.
Somebody has said “the thought which the imagination develops until the feelings take pleasure and the mind gives a scent to action”.
Now all of us understand this; think of the area which plagues you:
The thought – then the imagination develops this – and the feelings take some sort of pleasure, you can feel the rising pleasure – and then the mind says “Go for it – I give you permission – go into action”.
And James says when that action takes control so that we basically hand ourselves over to it and say, “We are not just going to do this once but this is going to be my life – this is going to be my lifestyle – this is what I am going to do – I am going to be happy to do this – I give permission for this.
You’ve got a new lord, you’ve got a new lord called ‘sin’ and that lord says James will take you to death (verse 15). The decision is made from the desire to action which when full blown says ‘you are in charge – I’ll do this – I’ll do what you want’ and full blown sin, says James, is death. And what we mean by death is not just expiring and going in to the coffin but separation from God, which will be forever. So there is the sketch of the real evil process.
It’s got a beginning in the evil desire; it’s got a middle where it steps into action and when that action becomes dominant by our permission, the end result of that is death.
The Implications of Evil
Now this friends, this has to have huge application for us. I mean don’t miss the big picture of what James is saying. He is basically saying – would you like to have a discussion about evil today? “Yes”, says the world, “I would like to have a discussion about evil and I am going to blame someone out there. I am going to blame my family, I am going to blame the institution, I am going to blame the lack of education, I am going to blame the lack of Police, I am going to blame God.”
And James says, “Let’s talk about YOU – let’s talk about the human heart – let’s talk about what’s inside us”. Jesus did exactly the same thing. Mark chapter 7, remember the Pharisees were there washing their hands thinking if they went through the ceremonial washing that God would somehow see them as fine and Jesus says “Don’t you understand the problem is in the heart?” There is a factory of evil inside each one of us producing this self-indulgence and self pre-occupation.
The other thing about this whole process that James is describing is that we live in a world which has now re-defined temptation to be 100% positive. So one person says that if you ‘Google’ the word ‘temptation’ you just get whole lots of happy solutions and happy answers.
You get Temptation Island, you get Temptation Cake Shop, you get Temptation Jewellery Shop, you get Temptation Food Shop, you get Temptation Clothes Shop, you get The Temptations music group. It’s all become positive and attractive.
What to Do About Temptation
Now what happens to the Christian who wants to be godly? What happens to the Christian who has worked out the temptation which is sin in the short term is very clever and often quite good fun, but is actually deceitful and in the long term is cruel and is out to kill? What does a Christian do then? A Christian who wants to be holy and knows the temptation is very real? You’ll notice that James doesn’t say “if you get tempted” – he says “when you get tempted”. We are all going to be tempted and friends, there is a sense in which there is nothing wrong with being tempted – Jesus was tempted – he was tempted continually and he was tempted in what we often call “upper temptation”: major, God-denying, kingdom-denying temptation. Not just “lower temptation”: immorality, greed, pride, anger or envy. He was tempted continuously with upper temptation – and, no doubt lower temptation.
So we mustn’t fall into the trap of thinking that when we are tempted that somehow we are a failure. Jesus himself was tempted. You are going to be tempted. I am going to be tempted. Temptation just means that you are in a spiritual battle. The question is not ‘am I being tempted’? The question is ‘what comes next?’ What is the Christian going to do who wants to be godly?
Well the first thing I think is that we ought to be realistic about ourselves and that’s one of the best things about being in church. We’ve confessed our sins together – if you are a visitor here today please don’t think that any real Christian has come into this building with the pretence that they are great and that we are playing a bias-game called “I’m better than other people”.
We’ve come in to say “we are sinful and we have a wonderful Saviour and he not only forgives us but he welcomes and adopts us and keeps us forever – that’s why we are so thankful”. We are clear about ourselves – we are clear about Jesus – we’ve got them both clear. Therefore we should be realists together.
We’ve got a sinful nature, I’ve got a sinful nature, I’m capable of anything and everything and you are the same – let’s be honest together. We’ve also by the grace of God got the Holy Spirit working in us and there is a kind of a battle that goes on inside the Christian which is the will of God verses the will of self.
C.S. Lewis said once in writing to somebody who was battling with sin, “It is the devil’s lie that the only escape from the tension is to yield”. “Actually”, said C.S. Lewis, “Temptations go away and what seemed yesterday impossible will today be utterly unenchanting, insipid and tedious”. Have you found that? Temptation surges and then another day it looks very ordinary.
We mustn’t be fooled and just remember that there is something which is much more costly than taking up your cross and following Jesus. That is the terrible cost of ending up in death. The Christian who says, “Well, I’ve got this desire and I’ve found somebody who says I can indulge myself and I can do whatever I like”, that person may well have handed over the leadership of their life to sin, and that will lead, says James, to death, that will lead to separation. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?
And if you are in the grip of
- your money,
- or your career path,
- or you worship your family,
- or you worship your timetable,
- or your personal self rule,
if any of these things have you in their grip so that you cannot walk away from them or give them up, well James says that will take you to death. You need the Saviour. You need the Saviour to save you, you need the Saviour to deliver you, you need the Saviour to help you and strengthen you and to lead you into paths of great joy.
That’s what James is saying – let’s make sure the blame goes where it should go and not to God, because when you face the reality about self and desire and action and the consequences, you’ll really appreciate Jesus Christ.
Recognise God’s Good Process
Now the last 3 verses which I would love to spend all of our time on but we needed to look at those first 3 verses. The last 3 verses are very wonderful and this is recognising God’s good process, God’s good process. James says there is something which you can credit to God (verse 17) and that is every good and perfect gift. Evil, says James, well you can trace a lot of that to the human heart but good you can trace to the divine heart because God, says James in chapter 1 verse 17, is the Father of Heavenly Lights.
This is a very unique phrase in the New Testament. Nobody else talks about God like this – the Father of Heavenly Lights – but James has 63 original terms in his letter. He is an original thinker and I presume what this means is that he is the Father of the planets, Father of the sun and moon, and everything which illuminates our world comes from him.
But he is also the Father of intellectual lights, and he is also the Father of spiritual light, and he shines down on the world unstoppably and wonderfully and freely, and that’s what he is like. He shines down on the believer, and he shines down on the unbeliever and he gives to everybody in the world, gifts of crops, and family life, and restful days, and sunsets, and happy playing children, and feasts for all five of our senses – all sorts of happy things come down from God to his people and to the unbelievers as well. So many blessings, and so many more blessings than we can list this morning, even if we spent all morning trying to write them all on a piece of paper.
This is the process of God’s goodness – it begins with a very generous, radiant God who thinks about giving good gifts all the time. That is what he is like and James says “He is perfect” in personality and character. There is no shiftiness, he has no shadows, he is perfect and he is not moody. You don’t find him friendly one day and unfriendly the next day like somebody in your family.
Is there anybody in your family like that? Just not sure what they are going to be like on Tuesday, they were good on Monday – Tuesday they could be ….who knows?
Is there somebody at work, friendly on Tuesday but unbearable Wednesday – and God, says James, is not like that – no shadows, no shiftiness, no changing or no turning.
A friend of my who was converted as a Hindu was, almost immediately after his conversion, put into hospital for a very long back surgery. And he took the Bible into the hospital ward with him and he started at Genesis to read the whole Bible. When a friend of mine went to visit he called out across the room, “this God of the Bible – he’s not like any of the Hindu gods”. He said “the Hindu gods are as evil as us but this God is perfect and good”.
And that’s what James is saying. His gifts are good. The greatest gift (verse 18) is the gift which he chooses to give which is called “new birth”. This is where God’s word comes into your ears and you hear it and you believe it and you receive it and you rejoice in it, that Jesus came, and that he lives, and that he died for you, and that he rose again, and he offers you – at his expense – eternal life, and that brings the new birth and that’s the greatest gift you can get in this world. Because it’s a new birth into eternal life which will never end, and you’ll become, as James says in verse 18 “a part of the first fruits” – part of the harvest of God’s plans.
Don’t Blame God for Your Sin; Credit Him for His Goodness
So dear friends, do you see what James is saying in this section this morning? We are going to be face-to-face with evil all the time. We need to think accurately about this – don’t blame God – face up to the human heart – face up when you see people on the television who do dreadful things and say to yourself, “you know I’d be capable of that given the right circumstances, that’s the sort of thing I am capable of doing – it’s only the kindness of God that is protecting me”.
And for those who believe in Jesus, it’s only the kindness of God that has put in me a brand new nature. And when it comes to all the good things in life – let’s not keep applauding Australia and self, and congratulating self: “See the harbour we made – what a great harbour we have – we made that”!
Let’s credit our God. The world is upside-down isn’t it? It’s blaming God and it’s crediting self and James says it’s time to credit God and blame self. God who gave up his own son to death in order that we might have life. And we who turn from our evil (which is very real) to salvation (which is very real and wonderful) and we receive a brand new life inside which will never die, and a new desire that God be honoured and credited, because he is the unsung hero in this country and in this world.
So I ask you as we close this morning, please will you be alert to evil this week? Will you seek his help in the process to kill the process? Asking, ‘lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil’. Don’t settle down with your sins. And will you be alert to the goodness of God? Will you see it all over the place, the goodness of God and give him thanks and credit for it and want others to see where it’s come from – especially the new birth which leads into eternity.
Let’s pray – Our loving God, thank you for revealing to us this morning from your Word that you are a God of perfect beauty and radiance. That there are no shadows in your character and you delight to do good. We pray that you would have mercy on us and all those in your world who will credit you with the evil and then take the credit for the good ourselves.
Please enable us, our Father, to be grateful, clear headed, faithful and where we can give honour to you. Give us opportunity. We pray for your gracious help.
In Jesus’ Name – Amen.