This is part 2 in a 7-part series on the book of James. Below is a modified transcript of the audio lesson.
We are in a study in the book of James. How many of you have read The Purpose Driven Life? I was thinking of doing it next if not many of you have. Oh, lots of you have! I got to hear Paul Harvey the other day and as he was going through his news and points of interest he talked about an interesting phenomenon in the state of California. In a penitentiary system where the worst of the worst criminals go, last year they had something like 121 riots, over 100 lockdowns and the majority of inmates in solitary confinement at some point. This year when they did the statistics the lockdowns, the riots and the solitary confinements had been cut by two thirds. Now they still had some of those things but they had dramatically decreased. When they went back to see what had changed, the only thing that was different from the year before was that every inmate had been given a copy of The Purpose Driven Life by Pastor Rick Warren. Isn’t that something? The other day I was getting my haircut and I was watching Oprah on the television. Wynona Judd was on there talking about losing weight and do you know what she said? She said, I can get through the day, get my thoughts straight if I can just have my reading. That’s how she said it, my reading. Oprah said what reading is that? Wynona responded, I have my reading in The Purpose Driven Life to find out what my purpose is and why God made me. I just marveled. Here is a singing star to inmates in prison and then to FOCUS for women! We’re more like Wynona of course! Everybody wants to know there’s a purpose to life don’t they? There’s something about that book and that message that has really struck a chord with people. If you haven’t read that book and aren’t familiar with it, it’d be an excellent one to get. I was thinking along those lines because in the book of James last week, we talked about trials and today we’re going to talk about temptations. There is a purpose in those trials and temptations. God has something He is working within us when we have to go through those things.
If you remember when we read in verses 2 and 3, the beginning of chapter one, he said- Consider it all joy when you fall into trials and temptations. When you first read that you’re like of course that’s not joy, that’s terrible, that’s a problem or that’s sad or difficult. But he said the reason we could consider it joy is because it is producing something in us that nothing else could do. It produces patience and endurance in us and we are a better person for it. Can you not look at a serious trial or trouble you’ve been through and if you’ve walked through it with the Lord’s help, do you not look back and say, I’m a different person now? I do that in my life. There are so many things that have happened to me or my family and I hate to think that we had to go through that but I’m a different and better person for it. I am. You probably are too. You become a better person through your trials if you will let God lead you through them.
That brings us to our second point. It is wisdom. God’s wisdom gets us through those trials, making the right choices, knowing what advice to take, knowing how to persevere, knowing the right decisions to make and keeping the right attitude. Pray and seek the Lord. Do all of those things. God’s wisdom enables us to get through the trials.
Now in the book of James not everything is in chronological order. He frequently talks about wisdom, the tongue and favoritism. We have to go to different chapters of the book and in chapter 3 he talks about earthly and heavenly wisdom. He contrasts the two. He says, “If you are wise and understand God’s ways, live a life of steady goodness so that only good deeds will pour forth. And if you don’t brag about the good you do, you will truly be wise! But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your hearts, don’t brag about being wise. That’s the worse kind of lie. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual and motivated by the devil. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and every kind of evil” (James 3:13-16).
I looked at this verse in one of my older bibles, another translation, and out to side I had written Washington, D.C.!
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It shows no partiality and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of goodness (James 3:17-18). I love that last line- and reap a harvest of goodness. Wouldn’t you love to reap a harvest of goodness in you life? Good things happen to people you love, good things happen at work and good things happen in your family if you will ask God for heavenly wisdom that comes from above. He will give it to you and we will reap a harvest of goodness. Last week, remember, we said that God does not reproach us. He does not hold back. He doesn’t say well you finally decided that you need some help! No. He does not do that. He will not do that to you. You can ask and He will give it to you. So heavenly, godly wisdom enables us to walk through trials and temptations.
Now we come to the second part of chapter one starting in verse 12 where he talks about temptations or testing. Trials and temptations are very closely related because one can lead to the other. If you’re in a trial, you’re very often tempted to get out of it in the wrong way. Do you agree with that? Yes, of course you do! I can answer for you! Trials and temptations are very closely related. In fact they have the same root word. In Greek temptation is used as an adjective and trial is used more as a noun. “God blesses the people who patiently endure testing. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him. And remember, now one who wants to do wrong should never say, ”God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else either. Temptation comes from the lure of our own evil desires. These evil desires lead to evil actions, and evil actions lead to death. So don’t be deceived my dear brothers and sisters” (James 1:12-16). This passage is so rich and full of truth on how we are to go through temptation.
Let’s look at the whole break down or the whole idea and nature of temptation. First of all in verse 13 he says that God does not tempt us. He says in here- No one should say God is tempting me. God is never tempted to do wrong and He never tempts anyone else to do wrong either (James 1:13). God does not want you to do wrong. God does not tempt you. Who tempts you? Satan, your enemy, tempts you. In Luke 4 you can read the account of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness. It says that the Spirit led Him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Now the Spirit may allow you to be in a position or place where temptation occurs. But neither God nor Jesus nor the Holy Spirit ever tempts anyone to do wrong. They want you to obey God and never do anything wrong. I want that to be clear. Satan tempts us.
Secondly, it is important to note here that temptation in itself is not a sin. It is not a sin to be tempted. In Hebrews 4 we are told that Jesus was tempted in all points as we are and yet He did not sin. So when you are tempted to do wrong, maybe at work to cook the books a little bit, to do something deceptive because it would be easier on you or a co-worker, when you’re tempted at home and you’re tempted to do something you know in your heart is not right that in itself is not a sin. That’s not the sin. The sin is when you act on it.
One of the best books, everyone who teaches a bible study should have this in their library, is The Myth of the Greener Grass by Eugene Peterson. He wrote it years ago. He is the same man that wrote The Message. It’s about the dangers couples face in sexual immorality. It’s the myth of the greener grass and why so many people fall for it. They fall into that temptation and that sin and find out it’s just not so great after all. This book is so full of truth and I wanted to read a couple of things because he says it so much better than I could. He says the temptation is one thing and our choice to obey the temptation is where sin comes in. That’s where the problem comes in. He draws the distinction in understanding the nature of temptation. He says you can’t stop temptations from coming but you can decide what you’re going to do with each one. You can’t stop the birds from flying in the sky but you can stop them from nesting in your hair. You can’t stop the devil from singing his bewitching songs in your ear but you don’t have to join him and sing a duet. You can’t stop the devil from displaying his wares in the shop window and urging you to buy but you don’t have to make a purchase. You can’t stop the devil from dropping his brats on your doorstep and beating incessantly on your door but you don’t have to open the door, take them in, warm them, clothe them and feed them. Now I think those illustrations succinctly tell us of the nature of temptation. Yes, we’re all very tempted but we don’t have to give in. That’s why we need the Holy Spirit who gives us the power and the strength to withstand the temptation and to obey God and to do what is right.
Trials and temptations are very closely related. An example of this would be the book of Job in the Old Testament. He was a very wealthy man who had everything. Now we are kind of given a glimpse into heaven where Satan came to God and said, your servant Job of course loves You. He has everything. Let me mess with him and we’ll just see what happens. Well, Job lost everything, his money, his family and wealth. The whole book, 41 chapters, is about Job’s struggles and his trying to make sense of God and why He had done this. Job was tempted in this great trial. Of course Job doesn’t know what is happening in the heavenly courts. He just knows that he was just minding his own business obeying God and then one day he lost everything. We know what’s going on because we’re given a view into heaven. Job was tempted. What was he tempted to do? He was tempted to blame God and give up. His counselors started out good by just sitting by his side and not saying anything. Which is the best way to comfort someone I think. They did very well until they tried to explain to Job why it all happened and how it was really all his fault. Don’t you love people, you know, who try to comfort you in your affliction and tell you that it’s your own fault! The whole book is about these men trying to explain everything and Job trying to reason through it and the famous line by Job’s wife! What if you were a great wife and one day you were in a bad mood and you said something you shouldn’t of said and that got put in the bible?! She could’ve been a great lady and was in a bad mood that day! Maybe she was just mean! You probably won’t hear that anywhere but here! But she said to Job, why don’t you just curse God and die? Just be done with it you know? Your life is so miserable and you’re making me miserable, let’s just finish this whole thing. And yet, Job withstood the temptation to do that. Just think if he had, the victory that would’ve given Satan. Satan could’ve said to God, “See, I told you.” Job didn’t do it and spoke some of the most profound words in scripture, “ I know that my Redeemer liveth. Though He slay me, yet I will still trust Him”(Job 19:25). Some of the great mountaintops of scripture are found in Job who was tempted to give up.
I mentioned to you that James was writing to Christians who had been dispersed throughout the world because of persecution in Jerusalem and all over the Roman Empire. Many of them were tempted to renounce their faith. It was too hard. The Jewish Christians were tempted to move back into Jewish life and not be a part of this new faith, this new walk of following after Christ. It was a huge temptation. We often read of the martyrs but there were many, many what we would call lapsed Christians. Many Christians under persecution renounced their faith. It was a big, big problem after Constantine declared the empire Christian. What do you do with lapsed Christians? Do you take them back or say sorry you rejected Christ, you’re not coming in. It was a big controversy. The church at the time of James’ writing was very tempted to just give up and give in because it was too hard to follow Christ. I think we can say the same thing today.
Secondly, God will provide a way of escape from temptations. If you have not memorized 1st Corinthians 10:13 you need to. If you have teenagers you must write this verse on huge freezer paper and put it on their wall! “Remember that the temptations that come into your life are no different from what others experience. God is faithful and He will keep the temptation from becoming so strong that you can’t stand up against it. When you are tempted He will show you a way out”(I Corinthians 10:13). God has promised you a way out. Now you need to take Him up on that promise. We all need it. In other words we can’t just say, I’m stuck here, I don’t have anything else I can do. God will provide a way out. Let’s look at a few examples. First, when Jesus was tempted in the Garden of Gethsemane by Satan to not go to the cross. I believe every demon of hell was unleashed against Christ. And when he sweat drops of blood it was literally blood vessels bursting in His head. I believe He was clawing the ground in agony, fighting off the demons of hell, He was tempted and He said if there’s another way, I’d like to take it. Let this cup pass from Me. Then He said, not my will but Thine be done. The book of Luke said that angels came and ministered to Him, to strengthen Him. Wouldn’t you love to know what happened? But God provided a way for Him to withstand temptation. Now I would like an angel to come to me when I’m in temptation. Wouldn’t you love that! But you know, a lot of times God does do that and we don’t even know it. But more often than not, God will provide a way out in a very simple and practical way. We can take another very famous story about temptation in the book of Genesis when Joseph was a handsome young man and had been taken into bondage in Egypt. He had shown his administrative abilities and had become very, very high in the Pharaoh’s court in the house of Potiphar who was like the vice president of Egypt. Joseph was extremely good-looking, wise, smart and powerful and Potiphar’s wife decided she would like to go to bed with him. She came on to him and he kept saying no, no and no. One day she finally threw herself at him and made her desires extremely well known. Joseph was obviously tempted. He was a man and she’s a woman etc… How did he withstand this temptation? God provided a door! There was a door in the room! Joseph ran and fled through the door. He was falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife and all that, but here is where he made such a classic statement. I could not sin against my Lord or master by doing that. He understood what was at stake here. He did not let his hormones get the best of him. God provided a door. Now listen, sometimes God provides a very practical thing to get you out of temptation especially when it comes to sexual immorality. Paul said to flee sexual immorality and I think that means literally as well as metaphorically! Sometimes God provides a very spiritual way- dreams, sermons, scripture, songs or brilliant bible studies like FOCUS! But so often He provides just a simple way to withstand the temptation right in front of your face if you will just see it.
What you have to ask yourself, though, is do I really want to overcome this temptation? Do you really want to overcome it? If you decide you’re on the path to obey God and walk with Him, that decision is already made. It’s like deciding to go on a diet. You don’t decide as you walk into El Phoenix on the special enchilada day. That’s not the time to decide. You know what you’re going to do! The time to decide that you are going to eat right that day is at 6:30 am when you’re standing over your little bowl of Special K. You have to decide beforehand that you are going to be true to God and ask Him to show you the way out of temptation in your life. You have a much better chance to overcome it than just waiting to see if it looks like a decent temptation or not and then decide. Most likely you‘re not going to overcome it that way.
Now James gets a little more specific and talks about the anatomy of temptation. Starting with verse 15- These evil desires lead to evil actions and evil actions lead to death. So don’t be deceived. Now the very thing he is saying here is, do not be deceived by temptations. Temptations deceive us, do they not? It promises us something that it cannot deliver. First of all he says temptation comes from the lure of our own evil desires. These evil desires lead to evil actions. The conception of sin , the cause of a temptation, is we are drawn away by our own desires, fleshly nature and appetites. I have heard many times people say they sinned or fell into temptation because Satan really got them. Or Satan set a trap and he won him over or he deceived them. More or less blaming a person’s failure on Satan. Now listen my friends, this is not biblical. This is not biblical. Satan cannot make you do anything. He couldn’t make Job sin. Believe me if anybody had the right and opportunity, it was Job. Satan couldn’t make him do it against his will. We simply cooperate with Satan when we give into temptation. I agree there is warfare. I know he can unleash all kinds of difficulties in our life. God can allow him to do that. But you cannot sin without agreeing to do it. OK. James says it right here. It is our own evil fleshly desires. The bible says in our flesh is no good thing. Right?
I was at a pregnancy center dinner, a pro-life event, when the speaker was asking for an offering. He said, “ People always say just let your heart lead you. I don’t know about you but my heart is deceitfully wicked, the bible tells me. When I ask my heart how much to give, it said I couldn’t afford it, move on. Don’t listen to your heart, listen to God and do what He tells you.” I think that man is right on track. He knows what he is talking about.
Secondly, James says the evil desire leads to evil actions. It leads to the development of sin and that brings the consequence. Sin when it is full grown brings death. That means spiritual death. That means separation from God. Now granted we can ask for forgiveness, we know that. But that’s kind of the way it falls out.
When I was a kid we would go to the lake in the summer. A couple of weeks in the summer we would spend the nights with my grandmother who rented a cabin on Lake Austin. She had a sister named Aunt Lois. She was very athletic. We would get up early in the morning and go out on the dock when the lake was so smooth and we’d fish. We had bamboo poles, little red and white sinkers, the big hook and white bread. We’d sit there real quiet and wait for the perch to come up and bite it. Of course once the perch would bite it, she’d jerk it out of the water. I would never touch something as nasty as a fish and so she would take it off the hook and throw it back in. This was a game. I remember sitting there seeing that perch come up to it and then it’d back off. It’d come up again and maybe take a little nibble. And you’re like come on, come on. You want it to bite the hook. That is the word picture I have in my mind when it comes to our evil desires. Satan lures us just like we used the fishing lures. Sometimes it could be a little perch he wants to catch. Sometimes it could be a big sailfish with a highly technological lure. He puts the bait out there. But he cannot make us bite anymore than I could’ve made that little fish in Lake Austin bite. That is that person or entity’s decision. When that happens there is a consequence. This is expressed, this whole pattern in 1 John 2 by the apostle John when he talks about the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. This whole pattern is seen in Genesis 3. All these passages fall into this same pattern.