Have you ever made a choice to do something and later you said to yourself, “What was I thinking?” Or have you ever found yourself in a situation that was sinful and you said to yourself, “How did I get to this place?” If we are being honest, all of us have experienced those questions at some point in our lives. When these questions do arise, especially as Christ followers, we tend to believe that our sinful actions came out of nowhere or that we were ambushed suddenly by a choice to sin.
In actuality, that rarely happens. Remember that as Christ followers, we have the Holy Spirit that indwells us and therefore we are provided with the desire and the enablement to live the Christian life. Furthermore, we have the Scriptures that provide us with sufficient knowledge on what it means to live the Christian life. You see, before our conversion to Christ we sinned because of our nature but when we were converted by Christ our relationship to sin has radically changed. Sinfulness is no longer our nature and therefore sin becomes a choice. This is why there is an actual process or a rationalization that occurs when sin enters into our lives as Christ followers. Therefore, temptation can be described as the “on ramp” toward outright sinful thinking or acting out.
The half brother of Jesus addressed this specific issue thousands of years ago to Christ followers who had come out of a highly Jewish background. These Christians were under much scrutiny and many faced persecution for their allegiance to Jesus. As one might imagine, there, arose a vulnerability for many Christians to compromise their faith in various ways. That compromise could come in the form of diminishing the Deity and supremacy of Jesus or the outright renouncement of their faith. It’s in this situation whereby this half brother, James, provides Christ followers a blueprint on dealing with temptation.
James writes the following words that outline this blueprint:
13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. (James 1:13-18)
In these pastoral words, James provides simple but deeply needed principles regarding temptation. Important reminder: every follower of Jesus is faced with temptation and unfortunately we can give into temptation far too often. But it does not have to be this way and there is hope because of the finished work of Jesus Christ. It is in that hope that James provides the following principles regarding dealing with temptation.
First, do not rationalize temptation by making God complicit in the temptation (vs 13). This principle seems so obvious because simple logic would ask, “Why would the Lord tempt us with what His Son died for?” As logical as that may sound we actually do this a lot in our decision making. Do any of these statements sound familiar?
“I know this person is not a Christ follower but I believe Jesus wants me to date him or her so I can be a Gospel influence.”
“This lifestyle choice may be against what is in Scripture but I believe that God wants me to be happy.”
“This purchase is really expensive but I believe God wants us to be comfortable.”
“I am going to take part in (you fill in the blank). Though it’s controversial, I can do it because I live out of God’s grace and not His law.
Do these statements sound familiar? You can probably think about even more ways that we subtly but surely bring God onto our on-ramp toward sin. Let us remember that the cross of Christ has given His children a way out of acting in sin and not a permission slip to indulge in sin.
Secondly, the genesis of temptation begins inside of you not outside of you (vs 14). One easy way of rationalizing sin and temptation is to immediately blame it on our circumstances and other people. This type of belief will cause us to use escape strategies that solely involve altering relationships or changing our surroundings but in the end this will be fruitless. Why? Because ground zero for our temptations is our own heart. The famous Christian apologist and writer G.K
Chesterton was once asked, “What is wrong with the world?” Chesterton simply replied, “I am.”
This is not to say that there will not be situations whereby we wisely address difficult circumstances and relationships. We can address those but still be hitched to the promise that God will use “all things” for the good of those who love Him (Rom 8:28). Prayer, courageous vulnerability, and relationships that continually point us to truth are absolutely vital in uncovering the sinful vulnerabilities within us.
Thirdly, be very aware of the deadly mechanism of sin (vs 15). Temptation itself never wants to stay as a temptation. It is desperate for growth. James details this growth pattern by saying that sin:
- begins in the gravitational pull of our desires
- proceeds to the commission of sin
- continues until it kills
As you can see, James isn’t playing word games here. Just like coaches who scout the opposing team to learn of their strategies, we must be aware of the basic strategy of temptation so we can continually vigilant in fighting it. The nature of sin is to kill and unrepented sin in the life of the believers can kill your witness.. can kill your relationships.. can kill your conscience.. And tragically, can kill any notion of assurance of your redemption.
Lastly, self-deception about sin is extinguished by fixating on the true nature of the God who has redeemed us from our sin (vs 16-18). Just as important as being aware of the basic mechanism of sin and temptation, it’s as important to be constantly immersed in the knowledge of the nature of God. The more we are steeped in the light of the knowledge of God, the more accurately we are able to see our sin, even at its most embryonic stages. James also reminds us that God does not tempt us but He does provide for what is good for us. God is a Father who is not moody or prone to change but rather constant in His character and love for His children. In fact, just as God simply spoke creation into existence He also spoke our adoption into existence.
That my friends is simply called “grace.” God sent His his definitive Word in His Son who was tempted in every way as we are but was without sin. This is why His sacrifice was a perfect sacrifice for sin and affirmed through His resurrection. This victory of Jesus over temptation and sin and temptation gives His children constant hope and perseverance in their own fight against temptation and sin.