Pastor Craig Carter
Last week we looked at the opening verses of the letter of James where he writes… “My brothers and sisters, when you have many kinds of troubles, you should be full of joy…” (James 1:2 NCV)
The Greek word translated “troubles” literally means “trials, tests or temptations.”
Another translation puts it this way: My brothers and sisters, be very happy when you are tested in different ways. (James 1:2 GWT)
While most students aren’t very fond of tests, they can and do serve a useful purpose: They assess where we are in our grasp of the subject matter. When we pass a test, we are happy and know we’re making progress.
That’s why James says “tests” or “troubles” are a cause for joy. As we discussed last week, they help us become who God intends for us to be.
In the first chapter of his letter, James describes how life’s tests are administered. They take two primary forms: trials and temptations.
Let’s look at each category as they are given by different parties for entirely different purposes.
God tests us through various kinds of trials or troubles. He doesn’t necessarily cause these difficulties to occur, but He certainly allows them. And they provide some wonderful benefits…
As we learned last week, they teach us patience, which is a godly attribute.
They force us to trust God, rather than rely on our own abilities.
They give us an eternal perspective (tough times don’t last, but tough people do).
They make us stronger as we develop resilience and perseverance.
They prepare us to help others facing similar trials.
Ultimately, when we patiently endure difficulties and depend on God to get us through them, we become “mature and complete, and [don’t] need anything” (James 1:4 GWT).
So these types of “tests” help us grow and develop as Christians, similar to how academic tests enable us to increase our proficiency as students.
Satan also tests us through a wide variety of temptations. He does so…
To throw us off-course.
To get us to abandon our faith.
To keep us from living godly, holy lives.
To make us feel weak through shame and guilt.
To isolate us from other believers.
Ultimately, the Devil’s purpose is “to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10 NLT) because “like a roaring lion, [he is] looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8 NLT).
So his tests, given in the form of temptations, are designed to trip us up and weed us out of the program called Christianity. It’s like a chemistry test for an engineering major.
Here’s a key thing to remember about the tests we face in life: Satan wants us to fail every one of them, but God wants us to pass them all – both the trials and the temptations.
“God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. When they pass the test, they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12 NLT, GWT)
We are to live with patience and endure all types of testing – both trials and temptations. When we do, we are blessed by God and given “the crown of life.”
The “crown” being described is not a sign of royalty like a king would wear. Instead, it is the “crown” a victor was given in ancient athletic competitions. But rather than being made of olive leaves, this one brings life. In other words, God blesses those who endure troubles and temptations with abundant and eternal life.
So, we are intended to pass every test and live victorious Christian lives. Last week we learned how to live in patience in times of trouble – in difficult circumstances and with difficult people. Today James is going to teach us how to live in victory in times of temptation when Satan puts us to the test.
According to James, here’s how to live in victory over temptation…
Remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. (James 1:13-16 NLT)
From this passage we learn three important truths about temptation:
1) The Certainty of Temptation
“When you are being tempted…” (James 1:13a NLT) As it is with times of trouble, notice it is not if, but when.
Temptation is inevitable. To be human is to experience temptation.
Most of us have more temptation than we want or need. Temptation begins when we are small children and continues until we die. It comes in a variety of shapes and sizes at various ages and stages of life.
As children, it may take the form of disobeying our parents or taking something that doesn’t belong to us.
Surveys of teenagers reveal the “big four” temptations: cheating, lying, drinking alcohol or using drugs, and sexual immorality. As adults, it may mean being tempted to cheat on our taxes or spouse, to gossip about someone, or to become greedy or selfish.
There is no doubt temptation is a many-splendored thing and a certainty in life. And being a follower of Christ does not exempt us from it. Jesus faced it and we shouldn’t expect anything less.
It’s interesting that Christ’s temptation in the wilderness came right after His baptism.
I once heard someone say, “Baptism does not drown the devil.” As believers, we shouldn’t expect less temptation, but more. That’s because, as God’s people, we are threats to Satan. He has limited “bullets” in his arsenal so he uses them where they will cause the greatest harm.
It’s important to remember what James points out – that temptation comes from Satan, not God: Remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. (James 1:13 NLT)
Since this kind of test is designed to cause us to do evil, its source is not God. But He does allow it to occur because the Lord always gives freedom of choice and He knows, that when resisted, it develops Christ-like character in it.
Without question, temptation is a reality we all face on a daily basis. And it doesn’t get any easier as we get older or as we mature as Christians. As a matter of fact, the more you resist, the more Satan turns up the intensity.
Given the certainty of temptation, what are its consequences?
2) The Consequences of Temptation
Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. (James 1:14-15 NLT)
First of all, please notice that temptation is NOT sin. So there is no reason to feel guilty about having been tempted.
Instead, temptation is a choice. Our response determines whether it becomes sin or not. Temptation sets in motion a process which, left unchecked, leads to sin.
James outlines the steps in the process:
DESIRE: It begins in the individual (“Temptation comes from our own desires…”). Satan uses God-given needs as the starting point.
Satan tempted Christ by suggesting that He turn stones into bread (to ease His hunger having not eaten for 40 days/nights) and that He throw Himself off the temple (to confirm Christ’s identity as God’s Son and trust in God’s help to save Him).
Temptations that we face always address a legitimate need in our lives. For example, teenagers are tempted to cheat to fulfill their desire to excel, to lie to avoid discipline, use drugs or alcohol out of a desire to feel good, or engage in sexual promiscuity because they desire to be accepted.
DECEPTION: We are attracted to the temptation (“…which entice us and drag us away.”)
“Entice” is a fishing term which means “to bait” or “lure.”
Satan knows how we think (what attracts us). He then sets the appropriate trap. Temptations are uniquely suited for each individual.
I’m not tempted to smoke crack or steal cars, but I am tempted to be prideful or trust my own abilities rather than relying on God.
Be careful lest you be deceived, enticed, and dragged away into…
DISOBEDIENCE: Sin occurs when we yield to temptation (“These desires give birth to sinful actions.”)
Most sins are never “intended” to be committed. Instead, the plan is simply to keep ungodly desires confined to the mind.
Unfortunately, these tempting thoughts tend to take on a life of their own. “Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin.” (1:15a NIV)
Picture a 3-year-old on top of a bar stool eating cookies: “I just climbed up to smell them, and my tooth got caught!”
DEATH: Sin results in tragic consequences (“And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.”)
Here’s the formula: Temptation + Sin = Death.
Here are a few examples: Cheating leads to a lack of knowledge or getting kicked out of school, lying brings a lack of trust and broken relationships, pornography results in a lack of intimacy in marriage, vulgar language causes death in our ability to witness.
Even more dangerous is the fact that sin leads to spiritual death: “The wages (the price you pay for) of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23a NLT)
Sin may bring temporary pleasure, but eternal death. That’s because it separates us from the holiness of God.
Here’s the message for those who want to live in victory: If we are being tempted in some area, we shouldn’t ignore the warning signs. We need to deal decisively with it; otherwise we may find ourselves in the grip of sin, far removed from God and His will.
And the sooner we deal with it, the better. The earlier in the process we short-circuit temptation, the more likely we are to be victorious over sin.
Given that temptation, left unchecked, leads to sin and death, we must ask ourselves, “How can it be stopped?”
3) The Conquest of Temptation
Scripture affirms that overcoming temptation is possible:
“God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12 NLT)
“The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” (1 Corinthians 10:13 NLT)
God always provides us a way to endure temptation and even escape from it. How does He do that? What can we do to endure and stand up under the weight of temptation?
Here are a few suggestions James gives for how to live in victory over temptation:
1) FRIENDS. Fourteen times James uses the phrase, “brothers and sisters.” That’s because the Christian life is intended to be lived in community, not in isolation. And Paul reminds us, “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience.” (1 Corinthians 10:13a)
There is no need to fight temptation alone as we can draw strength from others. However, we do need to carefully choose our friends or associates. We need to place ourselves in a safe environment where sin does not reign.
The reason parents are concerned about who their children hang around with is because it’s important who you hang around with. And that’s true, not just for young people, but for all people, especially God’s people.
This is a good place to put James 1:5 into practice: “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you.” (NLT)
Ask God for wisdom in choosing good Christian friends and He will give it (and them) to you.
2) FLEE! “Get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives…” (James 1:21a NLT) In other words, some things have got to go!
Paul talks about providing a “way out” of sin and temptation. Earlier in his first letter to the Corinthians, he simply states, “Flee immorality.” (1 Corinthians 6:18a NASB) In other words, “Run from sin!”
There’s a time when enough is enough and there are some places to be avoided. There’s plenty of situations you and I need to avoid if we are going to be victorious over temptation and sin.
3) FIND POWER IN SCRIPTURE AND PRAYER. How did Jesus respond to Satan’s temptations in the wilderness? He quoted Old Testament Scriptures.
James closes this section of his letter saying, “God decided to give us life through the Word of truth…” (James 1:18a NCV)
Remember: God gives “the crown of life” to those who endure testing and temptation. That life comes through His Word.
But we also receive power to overcome temptation through prayer.
James closes out his letter by saying, “Pray for one another…[Prayer] has a powerful effect.” (James 5:16 GNT)
And that’s especially true when we ask Christ to help us overcome temptation.
“Because [Jesus] was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted…We have a [high priest] who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 2:18; 4:15-16 NIV)
Jesus, present through His Holy Spirit, is the ultimate defense against sin and temptation. To paraphrase Paul: “Thank God! He gives us the victory over sin and [temptation] through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57 NLT)
Do you want to pass the test and learn how to live in victory over temptation?
Understand the steps that lead to sin and overcome them with the tools God has provided.