How to Handle Temptation
James 1:13 - 18
How to Handle Temptation
I don’t know if you’ve ever read someone else’s mail.
You’re not supposed to, are you?! But every now and then we’ll knock on our neighbours’ door rather sheepishly, or they’ll knock on our door, and say, “sorry we accidentally opened your mail.” Maybe the Amazon delivery person left the package on our doorstep because no one was home next door, and maybe because we always seem to be waiting on something from Amazon, it gets opened without paying too much attention,
And all of a sudden you realise you’ve got someone else’s mail!
My only consolation is that it happens about as often the other way, with the neighbours reading our mail!
We started in this book of James last week, a letter written by James, the brother of Jesus, to Christians, who he describes as the twelve tribes scattered among the nations, chapter 1 verse 1.
And it might feel a little like we’re reading someone else’s mail, we probably don’t think of ourselves as tribes scattered among the nation.
But “the twelve tribes” was a way that, previously people had spoken about God’s people, Israel, in the Old Testament people.
But by the time James is writing, in about 64 AD, it’s a Jewish way of talking about Christians.
And since historically the twelve tribes meant all of the nation of Israel 2 tribes, when James uses it, he means it to refer to all of God’s people today.
This isn’t someone else’s mail, this is for us.
We’re not the original recipients of this letter, but it’s intended for us.
As we saw last week, this is a letter to Christian people who are finding it hard to live whole-heartedly and publicly as followers of Jesus.
See, living single-mindedly for Christ,
Fighting the temptation to compartmentalise different parts of our life off from God and his purposes,
That’s not a London problem,
That’s not a 21st Century problem,
That’s always been hard work for God’s people.
James is written to Christian people, to encourage us not to live a double life, but to live openly and whole-heartedly as a follower of Jesus, without saying “this bit of my life over here is separate from my faith.
The first part of chapter one was about being single-minded, even if trials and hardships come, because we know that persevering through trials makes us mature and more like Jesus, and also because Jesus promises an eternal reward, “the crown of life” to those who press on through hardship for his sake.
Now we find ourselves in the middle few verses, where we’re urged to be single-minded when we face temptation, and not to think that dialling back our trust in God for a little bit, is the way to respond when we’re tempted to sin.
Don’t blame God when we’re tempted to sin (v 13 – 15)
So let’s have a look at it. And first of all, this kind of single-mindedness means we can’t blame God when we’re tempted to sin.
Have a look at verse 13.
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;
There’s a new film coming out this year, based on a 1981 murder trial, when the accused man tried to escape punishment by claiming, “the devil made me do it.”
We’ve heard people jokingly say the same sort of thing, no doubt, but I suspect the reality is that, for us, even Christian people, we’re much more likely to blame God
when we’re tempted to sin.
But we can never say “God is tempting me,
God is causing me to sin,
I didn’t have a choice because of the situation that God put me in.”
no one should say, “God is tempting me.”
I don’t think we necessarily say this out loud, like that person’s guilty plea; “the devil made me do it.”
But I do think this is how, internally, in our thinking, we explain away or justify our sin;
“God put me in this position, therefore I don’t bear any responsibility,
God should have known that I would sin in this way, so I don’t need to worry too much about my sin.
But we can’t blame God, because God doesn’t tempt people.
God doesn’t lead us into sin,
God doesn’t want us to sin.
God hates sin and evil and is diametrically opposed to it,
He is not going to cause us to sin.
God does use people’s sinful choices, including our own,
He uses evil, the very things he hates, for our good, such is his sovereign control over everything in creation.
So sometimes, God will put us in a particular situation in order to strengthen our faith,
He will test us in the sense that he seeks to refine our faith.
Remember in the first part of chapter one, we talked about the kind of test which is intended to come up positive;,
Testing the paintings on Fake or Fortune because we want them to be valuable.
Or gold that goes into a fire. It goes in impure, but because of the fire, it comes out perfected, with the impurities and things of lesser value taken away.
We know God will use trials to remove our dependence on other things,
To teach us those lessons that we will only learn when we have no other choice.
But God does not tempt us to sin.
He never wills us to sin,
He never puts us in a situation where we have no choice but to sin.
And I wonder if we need to be particularly aware of this, when we’ve asked for God’s help, or God’s guidance, or provision, if, when he’s answered our prayer, we find ourselves facing temptation regarding that issue.
You pray for a relationship,
Someone comes along,
And then you’re tempted to take the relationship in a direction that’s not honouring to God.
Easy to say in that situation, “Well, God, You brought this person along, why are you tempting me like this?
Or maybe you pray for a new job. And you get one.
Soon you’re working long hours and earning lots of money, no time for church, or reading the Bible,
But this is the job God gave you, right?
Is he the one tempting you?
If we’ve asked God to give us something, if that something becomes a context in which we face temptation, it’s so easy to say “This is God’s doing,
God tempted me, by giving me that role,
He should have known I couldn’t handle that,
He’s tempting me, and therefore my sin’s not my fault,
I’m not to blame,
I don’t need to deal with it.
No, James says, God is not tempting you.
That goes against the very character of God.
Trials often mean we face temptation
We’ll see in just a moment who does lead us into sin, but it’s worth noting that what James says here about temptation is true of temptation in general, like those kinds of examples I’ve just given, but James seems to be thinking especially of the kinds of temptations we face, in the midst of, trial and hardship.
The words for trial in the earlier section and temptation in these verses, come from the same word in James’ original language.
And verse 13 seems to be where he changes how he’s using it. In fact some Bible translations begin verse 13 by saying, 13 No one, undergoing a trial should say, “I am being tempted by God”
First and foremost he wants us to be alert to the temptation to sin we face when life is hard.
And I think we’d probably all agree that anytime life gets hard, we face new and different temptations.
The opportunity to go on in maturity through persevering in hardship is often accompanied by an occasion to slide backwards into sin.
Often, I think we face a trial of, whatever kind.
It’s unpleasant, hurtful, maybe it goes on for a long time, and, somewhat understandably, it’s the trial itself that captures our attention, that’s all we can see.
But if all we see is the particular hardship, we’ll leave ourselves wide open and unprepared for the fact that with a trial, often comes a temptation to sin,
That is the temptation to put myself in control, seeking out what I want, rather than what God says is best for me.
That’s not always the case, but difficult times often create opportunities for us to be tempted to sin.
So the trial of losing a loved one, is a desperately sad time. I stood at the graveside as we buried a member of our church family just this past Friday.
But that kind of personal tragedy might mean I’m tempted to blame God.
The heartache of a broken relationship might give rise to the temptation to drown my sorrows in whatever possible relationship comes along, whoever that’s with, and regardless of whether that’s honouring to God,
And I might then blame God, and think he’s the one who’s led me into that, he’s tempting me, because he allowed me to go through that hard time.
Financial hardship, might be the context in which I’m tempted to become greedy with what I still have, instead of being generous,
I might imagine that God has tempted me by taking away what I had.
Being let down by others, and that’s a hurtful trial, isn’t it? That might mean I’m tempted me to think I can only depend on me, and no-one else, I can’t even depend on God.
There’s a danger in being so aware of the trial, the hardship, that we’re blind to the temptation that might easily follow.
But here’s where God’s wisdom applies when we face temptation.
If we think God is tempting us, we’re showing that we lack wisdom, we clearly don’t understand God’s will, since God would never will that we sin.
But also, the person without God’s wisdom can’t see any difference between the trial, and the temptation that might come in the midst of it;, “It’s all God’s fault, they say.”
Somebody once said “to err is human, to blame it on God is even more human!”
If we have this problem of double-mindedness, partly committed to God, partly not,
Part of me thinking God wants what’s best for me, part of me doubting his goodness, if that’s what we’re like, we won’t be able to spot the difference between the trial and the temptation, and we’ll think God, who wants to grow us through our trials, is leading us into sin.
Friends, let’s prepare ourselves now, for trial and hardship, whatever they might be, by asking God for his wisdom, to spot the temptation that might come within our trial, and to resist it, knowing that God does not want us to sin.
God will never lead us into sin, but we may face temptation in the midst of our trial or hardship, because, well, because, we’re sinful!
And in verses 14 and 15 we’re confronted with the grim reality, that we sin because we want to sin.
We sin because we want to sin (v 14 – 15)
Why don’t you read it with me? each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
It’s a snapshot of the life-cycle of sin.
And if the previous section was about employing God’s wisdom to handle what life throws at us,
These verses are about employing God’s wisdom for what we throw at ourselves!
We sin because we want to sin.
We can’t blame God, and we can’t even try the “the devil made me do it” line,
No says James, we sin because we want to sin,
We want what sin offers, or claims to offer.
We’re enticed by our own desires
Each person, verse 4, is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.
It’s quite a dramatic image.
Think of the worm on the fisherman’s hook that entices the fish, which is then dragged away.
But in our case it’s not some cosmic fisherman who’s put the bait in front of us,
We put the bait in front of ourselves!
Obviously that’s where the fishing illustration falls down! The fish doesn’t go round baiting its own hook!
But we do.
We sin because we want to.
The temptations we face, are things we desire, things that we want.
If we didn’t desire them, they wouldn’t be tempting to us.
Just this week I heard of a pastor working in SoHo here in London in the 70s and 80s when that area was perhaps at its worst, And he said there were some parts of SoHo he wouldn’t go to alone at night, not because he was afraid of what someone would do to him, but because he knew what he might do.
I’ve never been tempted to steal a plane and pilot it across the Mediterranean! That holds no appeal to me!
But I read a story the other week around the VE Day commemorations of a man who did exactly that!
Why? Because he wanted to! He wanted to fly, and he wanted to be away from the war in Europe.
Sin starts with us wanting things, Mostly things that are less than what God wants for us.
We set our hearts on lesser things;,
On material wealth instead of treasures in heaven,
On the illusion of security now, rather than the promise of a crown of life, James 1:12,
We long to hear the praise of others, in the place of God’s “well done, good and faithful servant.”
We desire to get even, or get back, instead of following the example of Jesus.
We go round baiting our own hook, as we desire things that are less than what God longs for, for us.
And what a tragic picture,
To bait your own hook,
To be dragged off, and we already know where this ends, in death, how tragic to be dragged to death because of our own desire?
Certainly for me, my temptations are often a re-run of previous temptations, and quite often it’s a re-run of a temptation to which I’ve given in.
It’s absolutely about what I desire.
Now, the word evil is not actually there in verse 14. The Bible translators add it, to remind us that Satan is still in the picture,
He stands ultimately behind all sin and evil. Think of Jesus’ rebuke of Peter when he suggested a path to glory that didn’t involve suffering and death, “Get behind me, Satan!” Matthew 16:23.
Satan is the ultimate source of sin, but the responsibility for what happens when we face temptation is ours.
We can’t pass the buck, or share the blame.
Though we might often imagine our temptations to be the result of some outside force acting upon us, we’re responsible.
It’s our own evil desire that entices us and drags us away.
So that’s the first step;, We’re enticed by what we already want.
Desire leads to sin
The second step in this terrible cycle is, that desire leads to sin.
Verse 15, 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin;,
There are some things that as a Christian person, we shouldn’t desire, aren’t there?,
We shouldn’t want harm to come others, for example.
And most of the time, this word desire in the New Testament does have negative connotations.
But there are desires which we might say are neutral.
Some in our 6:30 desire to move into positions of leadership in church. That’s great.
Others have a real desire to be helpful to people.
But perhaps it’s other kinds of desire that we’re more aware are likely to give birth to sin.
Perhaps if we desire influence, or wealth, or a particular relationship.
But all of those desires can still lead to sin.
Let’s say I desire, I want people to like me.
Nothing intrinsically wrong with that, The Apostle Paul tells Timothy that the men he appoints to lead the church, must have a good reputation with outsiders.
So I want people to like me,
Better than everyone who meets me thinking I’m a total jerk!
And so far, in this hypothetical, in my desire for people to like me, I haven’t yet sinned, have I?
But after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin
My desire, “I want people to like me”, can conceive and give birth, and, well, produce off-spring, can’t it?
My desire, can change the way I talk to people;,
I’d never challenge people,
I’d never ask someone to repent.
I’d never speak up about injustice, certainly not those who benefit from the status quo.
My desire conceives, and changes the way I serve in our church, “never going to preach on anything that people might find confronting, ”
My desire conceives, and changes the way I parent my children, “I’ll give them everything they want, just so they’ll like me.”
after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin;
No desire, however Christ-honouring it is to start with, is immune from this
We need to ask for God’s wisdom so we’re not double-minded.
If we separate some area of our life off, no longer being shaped and influenced God’s Word and his Spirit, that’s when our desires can conceive and give, birth to sin.
It may be that we need to discipline ourselves, and ask God to change our desires.
Or perhaps we need to keep examining our desires in the light of God’s Word, ‘till we really understand them, and how they might lead us to sin.
To ask ourselves; “Even if my desire was honouring to God in the first instance, what is the action my desire conceives, that is sinful.”
That’s benefitting from God’s wisdom
If we never think about our desires like that, we’ll never know at which point they’ll cause us to sin.
I mean, I wonder who even knows what you really desire? Are we willing to be honest like this, maybe with one or two others in our KG Group.
So that’s the second step;, our desires lead to sin.
Sin leads to death
The final step, is the tragic end;, sin leads to death.
See the end of verse 15, sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death
Friends, let’s not be under any misunderstanding.
Sin leads to death.
It is just not worth it.
That’s not how sin advertises itself! Sin advertises itself as “sin leads to fun.”
But since we know that sin is essentially to reject God, to separate ourselves away from him, then it can only lead to death, because we cut ourselves off from the source of life.
It was the warning God gave to Adam and Eve in the very beginning;, you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.
Sin, gives birth to death.
In contrast to the crown of life, verse 12 that the Lord has promised to those who love him, if instead of loving God we’re double minded, partially committed, and we allow our desires to lead us away from him, only death and separation from God can result.
And here’s the, the bitter irony of sin.
We choose it thinking we’ll have life to the full, when in fact the very opposite is true.
Sin gives birth to death.
Here’s another way God’s wisdom helps us in temptation, because we can see sin as it really is.
God’s wisdom, revealed to us in his Word, is like those X-ray glasses you always wished you had as a kid;, see straight through the wrapping to the Christmas presents.
God’s wisdom enables us to see through the wrapping, to what sin really is;
The road to death.
God’s wisdom also enables us to see that that it may be a very long time until we experience the deadly consequences of our sin. Sin must become full-grown as James says in verse 15.
The person without God’s wisdom, when faced with temptation, says, “I did it once before.
Nothing bad happened.
I’ll do it again.”
The person who’s prayed and asked for God’s wisdom, knows exactly where sin leads,
They see through the false promise, and they understand that sin leads to death;,
sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
Ask for God’s wisdom, so that in the moment of temptation, you can say to yourself, “sin leads to death.”
Did you notice though, in that cycle, at which point sin occurred?
It’s important we realise that to face temptation, is not equated with sinning.
It’s not sinful to be tempted.
Whether that’s the temptation to doubt God’s goodness because of a painful trial,
Temptation to blame God, and say it’s his fault when I sin,
Or temptation to sin sexually,
The temptation to be greedy.
Simply being faced with temptation doesn’t mean we’ve sinned.
Sin occurs when we follow where our desire entices us.
Follow in our minds,
Follow with our actions,
Follow with our words,
Follow when we choose not to speak up when we ought.
That choice, to follow the enticement of our desire, that’s the point of sin.
There may be things you can do to remove yourself from temptation, that would be God’s wisdom at work in you,
But just because you’re tempted doesn’t mean you’re a failure, or that you’re sinning.
And as we come back to where we started, it doesn’t mean that God’s leading you into sin.
God will not tempt you to sin,
He wants so much better for you than that.
Every good gift comes from God (16 – 18)
In fact James rounds out this section by making sure we’ve got a right picture of God;
Far from tempting us to sin, which brings death, God is the source of very good gift.
Let’s read. Verse 16.
16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
When we’re facing trials and temptation, it’s possible to be deceived, as James says, to have a flawed picture of who God is and how we acts towards us.
But God is the source of every good and perfect gift, most especially the new birth, verse 19, that we receive through the gospel.
Everything that is good in our lives, comes from God.
He may use our family, or friends, or church, or even the British government to deliver it! but every good gift comes from God.
That glimmer of goodness you find in the midst of your terrible trial, that comes from God,
The ability to consider it pure joy when you face trial of many kinds, that comes from God,
The wisdom to resist temptation, and the clarity to see where sin leads, they come from God.
When we understand this, isn’t it even more galling to blame God when we face temptation, or when we succumb to temptation?
When in fact everything God does for us is for our good, and is perfect, verse 17.
No, God didn’t make me do it,
God didn’t make me sin,
God didn’t make me fall into temptation.
But God did make me this;, alive, through the word of truth, a kind of firstfruits of all he created
Sin leads to death, life comes from God.
Verses 16 to 18 almost seem like a bit of a garnish!
Up until this point it’s been quite sombre;, sin, temptation, death,
And then 3 verses of just a really nice picture of who God is!
It feels a bit like sticking a smiley face on the end of an awkward email to try and balance it out a bit! So much so that there are a few scholars who think that this bit was added in later.
But what have we said is the over-arching theme of James? Don’t be double-minded.
Don’t be compartmentalised in your life as a Christian because of the cost, or because of how hard it gets.
And so isn’t this kind of picture, God who is the source of everything good you’ve ever known or ever will know,
God who doesn’t change, and so who stands the same today as he did in James’ day,
Isn’t this picture what we need, to encourage us to be single-minded,
To trust that God knows what’s best,
To ask for his wisdom so we’ll see trials and temptations rightly?
The more we’re convinced that this is who God is and how he acts, most of all that he chose to give us birth through the gospel of Jesus,
The more we’re able to bring our desires in line with his wisdom,
And we will bait our own hook less and less,
And less and less, we will fall into the temptation to sin.
Let me pray
Our loving Father, give us your wisdom we pray, to know our own hearts and desires, that we might learn at which points our desires will conceive and lead us to sin.
Guard us from buying the lie of sin’s appeal. Enable us, we pray, to see it as it truly is; a pattern that leads to death. But please give us also such an understanding of your goodness and love, to spur us on to single-minded living for Jesus, as your people, scatted in this world.