5. How to Not Be Deceived While in Trials (James 1:16-18)Related Media
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. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
James 1:16-18 (NET)
How can we protect ourselves from being deceived about God when encountering trials? Trials are inevitable, and temptations always come with them. One of those temptations is to question and doubt God’s goodness. James writes to Jewish believers who were being persecuted for their faith. It’s clear that some of these believers were already starting to question God’s character because of their difficult circumstances. Some were even accusing God of tempting them to do evil (1:13). When James said, “Don’t be deceived,” it can be literally translated, “Stop being deceived” (1:16).1
People are especially vulnerable to this deception when going through trials. This is true both because of temptations from Satan and inclinations from our depraved nature (cf. Jam 1:14). When God allowed Job to encounter trials, God’s purpose was to test Job’s faith—to reveal that it was genuine—and to make his faith stronger. Satan’s purpose through Job’s trials was to tempt him to curse God (Job 1:11). Many of us have seen or experienced this in various ways. When going through a difficult problem at church—a pastor has a moral failure or there is church conflict—people often begin to attribute these failures to God, doubting his goodness, and some even his existence. Even after Adam sinned in the garden, his first inclination, stemming from his newly formed sin nature, was to blame God. He said, “The woman YOU gave me, gave me the food, and I ate!” Our unredeemed nature commonly tries to avoid responsibility for evil—blaming everybody, including God and sin itself (often calling it a disease).
Therefore, James seeks to equip and protect these believers from being deceived into doubting and blaming God and potentially turning away from him when experiencing trials. In James 1:16-18, we learn several principles about protecting ourselves (and others) from this deception.
Big Question: According to James 1:16-18, how can believers protect themselves from the deception of doubting, accusing, or even rejecting God because of trials?
To Not Be Deceived in Trials, We Must Recognize the Nature of God’s Gifts
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.
When James describes God’s gifts as “good” and “perfect,” these adjectives might simply be synonymous. In that case, the repetition is meant to emphasize that God is a “superb Giver.”2 But, “good” and “perfect” could also have different emphases. “Good” would then seem to refer to the character of the gift. God only gives things that are righteous and good and never evil. He only gives us good things like life, breath, friendship, opportunities to grow, etc. “Perfect” might then refer to how God gives us exactly what we need.3 Do we need love? He gives us family, friends, and church. Do we need discipline and patience? He puts us in situations to develop them. God’s gifts are always good in character and match perfectly what we need. Because God knows us individually, he is always giving us the unique gifts that we need for our development.
With that said, since the context of James’ comment is trials and how God uses them to mature us (1:2-4), it is clear that James even sees the trials we experience as God’s good and perfect gifts. This is important to recognize in order to keep us from getting angry at God or falling away from him when encountering difficulties. God is in control of our trials. He will never allow us to be tried beyond what we can bear (1 Cor 10:13), and he only gives what is good and perfect, so we can become more like Christ (Rom 8:28-29).
God being in control of trials and them being gifts is taught in other places in Scripture. When Paul wrote the Philippians, who were suffering persecution for the faith, he said, “For it has been granted to you not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for him” (Phil 1:29). The word “granted” was used of gifts. Both the ability to believe in Christ and suffer for Christ is a gift from God. Likewise, the author of Hebrews said this to suffering saints, “Endure your suffering as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline?” (cf. Heb 12:7; cf. 12:4, 13:3, 10:32-36). They were to consider all suffering as discipline—something God was using to make them holy (cf. Heb 12:11).
Therefore, if we are going to protect ourselves from deception in the midst of our trials—to think God doesn’t love us or that he’s rejected us—we must have a proper view of our trials. They are gifts from God meant to help us grow. When we view them as such, like Paul considering his thorn in the flesh which God wouldn’t take away, we can rejoice in them because we know God is using them for our good (2 Cor 12:9-10; cf. Jam 1:2). These trials include ones from Satan, from evil people, ones that come from our own mistakes, natural disasters, and even random events. All of these are somehow under God’s sovereign hand and being used for our temporal and eternal good (Rom 8:28-29).
No doubt, the greatest example of this truth—how even trials are God’s good gifts—is demonstrated in the cross. The murder of God’s Son by evil men is the worst thing that ever happened in the world; however, it is also the best thing that ever happened in the world. This trial—though horrible and undeserved—was under God’s control and was ultimately good and perfect, meant to bless the world. It paid the penalty for our sins and resulted in Christ’s exaltation (Phil 2:6-11) and our salvation (John 3:16).
If we are going to be protected from a wrong view of God in our trials, we must recognize the nature of God’s gifts. He will only give us good things—nothing evil. His gifts are perfect—perfect for us and meant to help us mature.
Application Question: How can we remember that our trials are good and perfect gifts from God when they are so difficult? In what ways have certain trials turned out to be God’s special gifts in your life?
To Not Be Deceived in Trials, We Must Know God’s Character
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
One of the greatest protections against an accusation directed toward someone is that person having godly character. When someone gossips against a person whose life is above reproach, people are less likely to listen and will commonly give the accused the benefit of the doubt. In their mind, they would assume, most likely, there must be a misunderstanding or that it was a false accusation. Likewise, one of our greatest protections against wrong thoughts and accusations against God is knowing his true character.
In trials, Satan is quick to attack our view of God. When he tempted Eve, he told her that God knew that if she ate of the forbidden tree she would be like God. Essentially, he attacked God’s character—wanting her to believe he was holding back the best from her. Satan does the same with us, and unfortunately, our unredeemed flesh is prone to accept those lies. Therefore, to protect ourselves from being deceived about God, we must know and be convinced of God’s character.
For that reason, James tells these suffering believers several things about God in order to increase their knowledge and trust in him.
Observation Question: In James 1:17, what does James tell these believers about God’s character?
1. God is good. This is done by implication. When James says that God only gives good and perfect gifts, the implication is that God’s character is good. God is good, and therefore, he only gives good and perfect gifts to his people. James had already told these believers that it was impossible for God to tempt or be tempted (1:13). Why? It’s because God is holy and good. He won’t do anything that contradicts his holy character. When tempted to doubt God or become angry with him in trials, we must recognize that God’s character is good, and he only does what is good, including how he gives gifts.
2. God is the Creator. James calls God the “Father of the heavenly lights” (v. 17). In this, he referred back to Genesis 1 when God created the solar system including the sun, moon, and stars through his spoken word. The lights themselves were actually some of God’s good gifts to humanity. They were given to chart times and seasons. The sun in particular provides heat and light—enabling life to grow and prosper on the earth. God created light, and he also created humanity. He is our good Father. The implication is, if God created humanity and gave them good gifts like the sun so they could live, then God’s desire is to bless humanity—not hurt them. Just as he gave us light, he gives us many other good things.
3. God does not change. When James says God “does not change like shifting shadows” (v. 17), he compares God to our experience with the sun, moon, and stars. Though the sun, moon, and stars don’t change, from our earthly viewpoint, it seems like they do. For example, with the sun, we have cloudy days when we don’t see the sun at all. The movement of the clouds affects our ability to receive light. Also, the movement of the earth affects our ability to feel heat. Though the sun appears to change from our earthly perspective, in reality, it’s the same. Likewise, our relationship with God is similar. He doesn’t change. He stays the same at all times. There are times when he feels distant, but that is based on us changing—not him. Unlike the clouds, God doesn’t shift or change.
Understanding God’s unchangeableness or immutability, which is the term scholars use, is very important. This means that he was holy thousands of years ago, and he is holy now. He was merciful thousands of years ago, and he is merciful now. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8). People are always changing which makes it difficult to truly get to know them. They like a specific meal, get sick from it one time, and now they don’t eat it anymore. People are always changing, but our God stays the same. We don’t have to worry about his character being changed by some circumstance—for instance, him becoming evil or not keeping his promises. Though there are times in Scripture that says God repented or changed his mind (cf. Gen 6:6), that doesn’t refer to his character changing. It refers to him responding to people’s change in character.
He judges when we are in unrepentant sin and, yet, forgives when we confess. These are a reflection of his immutability—he is always just and at the same time merciful. Essentially, James said to these suffering Christians, “God has not changed! He is still good. Only your circumstances have changed which is affecting your view of him! Trust what Scripture says about God because he is unchanging.”
If we are to protect ourselves from deception about God, we must know his character. We learn more about his character by studying his Word and considering his works such as creation. Jesus told the disciples to look at the lilies of the field to learn about God’s care for creation and, therefore, help them stop worrying (Matt 6:25-34). We also learn about God’s character by walking faithfully with him both in good times and bad times—developing a history with God. Then, we can look back at times of God’s faithfulness to encourage us when tempted to doubt. We can remember times he delivered us from Egypt, split the Red Sea, provided manna in the wilderness, and provided fire by night and clouds by day to guide us. As we faithfully walk with God, we develop a history with him, which can encourage us in the various seasons of life. Even when not walking faithfully with God, we’ll find that he is still faithful to his character. He will faithfully discipline us to turn us back to himself (Heb 12:6-8), and when we return, he will graciously forgive (1 John 1:9).
God is good. He is the Creator, and he is immutable—meaning he always stays the same. Understanding these realities will protect us when tempted to doubt, accuse, or turn away from God when experiencing difficult things. These difficulties are just clouds, which affect our view of God. However, God has not changed; he is still good like he’s always been.
Application Question: Why should God’s immutability (unchangeableness) encourage us, especially when in trials? What other aspects of God’s character encourage you most when going through hard times and why? Are there certain verses or stories about God and his faithfulness which commonly encourage you when going through difficulties? If so, which?
To Not Be Deceived in Trials, We Must Recognize God as Our Father
He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
After talking about God’s good and generous character, James provides another example of his goodness in the believers’ new birth. Salvation is the best gift one can receive from God. The implication is if God did everything to save us eternally, won’t he take care of us in the meantime, especially when encountering trials?
Observation Question: How does James describe the new birth?
1. The new birth begins with God’s decision—not people’s.
Though experientially with believers, we all came to a place in our life where we heard the gospel, repented of our sins, and chose to follow God, Scripture tells us this work began with God, even before the foundation of the earth. Ephesians 1:4-5 says,
For he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we may be holy and unblemished in his sight in love. He did this by predestining us to adoption as his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the pleasure of his will
Some believe that God doesn’t really choose believers; he simply looks into time and recognizes that we would eventually choose him. So he chooses us before time because he knew we would choose him. However, that really is no choice on God’s part at all, and it is inconsistent with the rest of Scripture.
Scripture teaches that even our ability to believe is a gift of God. Philippians 1:29 says, “For it has been granted to you not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for him.” Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast.” We couldn’t choose God unless he first chose us and gave us faith.
If this were not enough, Scripture teaches something called human inability—or others call it human depravity. Romans 8:7 says, “because the outlook of the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to the law of God, nor is it able to do so.” Also, 1 Corinthians 2:14 says, “The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” When sin came into the world, it affected people in such a way that they reject God, cannot understand his Word, and cannot obey him. This is why God had to choose some before time. If he didn’t, nobody would choose him. In God’s justice, he judges those who willingly choose to reject him, but in his mercy, he chooses a remnant and gives them grace to believe. Therefore, no one can boast about their salvation (Eph 2:8-9)—it was all a work of God, a gift of his grace to evil people.
This is a mystery, but Scripture teaches it. Humanity left on their own will always reject God. That’s how sin affected their nature. For example, the lion will always choose meat over salad—it’s his nature. That’s how our sin nature is—it will always reject God, apart from grace. Therefore, to save some, God had to elect them, give them faith at some point in time, and then give them a new nature which could understand God’s Word, obey it, and faithfully follow him.
With that said, again this is a mystery. Though God chose some before time—Scripture says the gospel is open to all, and all are urged to receive it. It teaches people will not be saved if believers don’t pray for them and share the gospel (cf. Ez 22:30, 1 Tim 2:1-4). The means of God saving some is through the faithful work of believers. Romans 10:14 says, “…And how are they to believe in one they have not heard of? And how are they to hear without someone preaching to them?”
And when unbelievers repent and believe, they later learn the mystery that they were elected before time, and that their ability to repent and believe was a gift of grace. The gospel call and election are often described as one door: In the front, it says, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” However, when walking through the door and looking back, it says, “Elect! Chosen before time!” It is truly a mystery! Though this mystery is controversial in the contemporary church—often causing debate and conflict—for the early church, it was their great boast. They called each other elect (cf. 1 Pet 1:2, 2 John 1:1) and worshiped God for his wisdom and mercy in election (Rom 11:33-36; cf. Matt 11:25-30 where Christ worships God for election).
2. The new birth happens through the gospel.
“The word of truth” is used generally to refer to all of the Bible; however, in this text, it refers specifically to the gospel. Ephesians 1:13 uses the phrase in the same way: “And when you heard the word of truth (the gospel of your salvation)—when you believed in Christ—you were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit.” The way God saves someone starts before time with election. Then, there is a moment in time when they hear the gospel—that they were separated from God and under judgment because of their sins, that Christ died on the cross to pay the penalty for their sins and rose from the dead, and that they must believe in Christ’s work and follow him. Then, by God’s grace, they believe and are saved. At that moment, they are born again—God gives them a new nature and the Holy Spirit. They find that they have new desires—a desire to worship God, pray, read God’s Word, obey God, go to church, share their faith with others, and the like. They become new creations in Christ (2 Cor 5:17).
With that said, there are different views on when exactly the new birth begins: Some believe that it precedes faith. (This is probably the most common Reformed view.) In the new birth, God takes somebody who is dead in their trespasses and sins, gives them new life so they can believe and be saved (cf. Eph 2:1-6). Others believe that the new birth succeeds faith—happens after it. The ability to believe is still a gift from God (cf. Eph 2:8-9, Phil 1:29) since people do not have the ability to believe apart from grace. However, the new birth is the imparting of the new nature after belief, instead of it being given so one can believe. There are good arguments on both sides. Crucial to deciding is considering how Jesus talks about the new birth to Nicodemus in John 3:1-8. There, he talks about the need to be born again to enter the kingdom of God. He compares this experience to the wind. We can’t see the act of someone being born again, but we can see the effects, even as we can tell when the wind is moving something. Since Nicodemus asks Christ, “How can these things be?” when trying to understand what being born again meant and then Christ responds with the need for people to believe in Christ to have eternal life (3:9, 15-16), it seems that the actual act of being born again happens after God imparts faith to believe the gospel. Also, John 1:12 says, “But to all who have received him—those who believe in his name—he has given the right to become God’s children.” Again, it seems that becoming children (being born again) comes after receiving Christ. With that said, the choice ultimately resides with God, which happened before time (cf. John 1:13, Jam 1:18, Eph 1:4).
But either way, James’ point is that salvation is a gift from a good God. God chose us before time, ensures that we encounter the gospel and believe, then gives us his own nature so we can serve him (2 Pet 1:4). The whole salvation process is from God. Salvation testifies to how good God really is.
3. The new birth is meant to glorify God through a redeemed remnant.
Finally, James describes God’s purpose in the new birth—that believers would be the firstfruits of all creation.
Interpretation Question: What does James mean by calling believers firstfruits?
According to the Mosaic law, when the harvest came, the firstfruits were given to God (Ex 23:19). They were to be the best and typically were indicators of the future harvest.4 (1) Likewise, believers have been chosen out of the world to be God’s possession and especially devoted to him. Believers are to be holy, continually seek to be righteous like God. Believers are to be salt and light to the world (Matt 5:13-16)—doing good works and teaching God’s Word to help the world know God. (2) In addition, believers are just a foretaste of God’s future work on the earth. Eventually, God is going to break the curse on creation (Rom 8:19-20)—no more earthquakes, typhoons, famines, droughts, or other natural disasters. There will be perfect peace in the eco-system, including among animals. God will renew the heavens and the earth and rid it of all evil (Rev 21-22)—including people who won’t repent of their sins and follow Christ. Believers are just the beginning of the great harvest to come, when God renews creation and makes it perfect.
Therefore, when believers go through trials, they should remember, “This is not it! There is more to come. One day, there will be no more trials, no more tears, and no more pain!” What God is doing in us slowly through sanctification—as he makes us into his image, which will be fully complete at Christ’s coming when he renews our bodies—is just a picture of how he will one day renew all of creation. The curse on creation will be removed and only God’s blessing will remain. This reality would have encouraged the believers who were suffering persecution, and it should encourage us as well. Our trials and temptations are only temporary—a great harvest in the world is coming, of which we are the firstfruits.
With that said, again James’ primary purpose seems to be to remind believers that God is their Father. If God chose us before time, gave us the new birth, and made us his children, won’t he as our Father provide for all our needs? Won’t he take care of us, especially in the midst of trials and difficult times? Likewise, in Romans 8:31-32, Paul said this:
What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? Indeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things?
If God gave us his best—his Son—to save us—won’t he give us everything else we need? Why worry about the future? Why doubt God’s goodness and love during trials? He proved his love 2000 years ago. Believe it. God’s gifts are good, even if they come in the form of trials, and the best is yet to come!
Application Question: Share your testimony. How did you come to a saving knowledge of God? In considering being born again, does it precede faith or succeed it? Why should God’s saving us encourage us about his providing future provisions—both on earth and throughout eternity? Do you ever get excited about eternity? If so, why? If not, why not?
How can we protect ourselves from being deceived about God—doubting, accusing, or even rejecting him—when encountering trials?
- To Not Be Deceived in Trials, We Must Recognize the Nature of God’s Gifts
- To Not Be Deceived in Trials, We Must Know God’s Character
- To Not Be Deceived in Trials, We Must Recognize God as Our Father
- Thank God for all his gifts—life, family, friends, church, opportunities to serve, our salvation, and even our trials.
- Pray that God would protect us from temptations to doubt God or fall away from him during our trials.
- Pray that God would reveal more of himself to us through his Word, creation, and others.
- Pray that others would be saved and experience the new birth.
Copyright © 2021 Gregory Brown
Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.
Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.
All emphases in Scripture quotations have been added.
BTG Publishing all rights reserved.
1 Accessed 9/29/20 from https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-5-avoiding-deception-trials-james-116-18
2 Motyer, J. A. (1985). The message of James: the tests of faith (p. 55). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.
Related Topics: Christian Life