Throughout his treatise on practical, everyday Christianity, James' golden thread is godly wisdom versus worldly wisdom.
Everyone makes decisions everyday. James imperatively stresses that these decisions must be made in light of heavenly wisdom, not earthly.
After outlining the process of temptation, James tells early Christians, "Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 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" (James 1:16-17).
What wisdom is found in these two verses? Specifically, he warns Christians about the danger of deception. The power of a lie lies not in its telling, but in its receiving. False statements are hurled toward our hearts and minds daily. Our responsibility rests not so much in not hearing lies as it does in not believing them. James makes it clear that Christians bear the responsibility to not fall prey to deceptive schemes.
In the context of this passage, he's specifically reminding the brethren about the danger of blaming their difficulties on God. He shows temptation and deception are against God's very nature in verse 13; he then outlines the starring role our personal desires play in the temptation drama in verses 14 and 15. Verse 16 serves as a bookend to this section of thought. "God tempts us with evil" is as bold and dangerous a lie that we will ever hear.
We cannot believe it.
But James isn't finished. Not only does God not tempt us with evil, but he is the ultimate source of everything good. The Psalmist said, "You have multiplied, O LORD my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told" (Ps 40:5).
God is not the villian, and is indeed the ultimate hero.
To cast blame for bad upon God and his grandiose goodness is blasphemous to his nature. Falling prey to the lie that he is responsible for our misfortunes is disastrous to our souls.
What we commonly label "birth control" is more correctly "conception control." The goal is to prevent the joining of the male and female sex cells, which always creates life. (Thus, to destroy an already-joined-pairing, whether it's as a fertilized egg, an embryo, or a 24-week-in utero-fetus, is destroying life, and thus, murder.)
Married couples use any number of forms of "conception control" to morally and ethically control the number and timing of children they bear.
We would do well to look at this common practice when we analyze the temptation process as outlined by James in chapter 1:14-15. There, he says, "But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death."
In verse 15, he turns toward one of the most natural processes known to man: conception and birth. When the two sex cells join in a mother's womb, barring rare circumstances or man's heinous crimes, it creates an embryo, which is eventually born into the world as a baby human being.
It is a divinely-designed and naturally-occurring process.
James says the same about our desires, which lead to temptations, which lead to sin, which leads to death.
We can, and should constantly try to, improve and replace our sinful desires with good attitudes and the supreme concerns of our Creator. But we will never eradicate all of our fleshly desires. This begs a legitimate, and concerning, question.
If our desires are within us, and the process of sin is as dependable as the child-bearing process, how can we successfully resist sin?
Though we all sin and fall short of God's glory (Rom. 3:23), we don't always have to sin. James himself says in chapter 4, verse 7, "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you."
The answer to our alarming question lies in the same neighborhood as our modern practice of "birth control." Once an embryo is conceived, a mother gives birth. Once our desires conceive, they give birth to sin. We cannot rest all of our hope upon controlling or changing our desires. But we can keep our desires from conceiving!
If we continually allow our desires and external opportunities to sin meet, we're doomed to lose the battle with sin. But if we intentionally control our environments, in order to limit and eliminate opportunities, then we begin to win.
One of my professors at FHU counseled a Christian gentlemen who was fighting a losing battle with alcoholism. During one session, the man said something to the effect, "Every day when I come home from work, I convince myself I'm not going to stop and pick up some booze. Then I see that Big Dog liquor store and I just can't resist. It happens almost every day."
So my professor, in his direct, matter-of-fact, country-boy ways, said, "Son, sounds like it's about time you find another route home."
Change the environment.
The process of temptation and sin is frightening, but only if we allow our desires to conceive with opportunity, thus leading to sinful action. Because of James' detailed and nature-based illustration, we can highlight the course of victory over sin and temptation.
May we lean upon God as we practice spiritual "conception control."
Humanity shares several "common lots." All human beings require food and water for physical nourishment. Every person desires love, affection, and companionship for emotional health. Everyone suffers pain, disappointment, and heartache.
Spiritually, all mankind faces--and gives in to--temptation.
James says, "But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed."
Paul says in Romans 3:23, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."
We face plenty of uncertainties in life, but we are certain to face temptation and sin.
Temptation's certainty is sobering. And knowing we are drawn away from within our own hearts, much like a fish is lured by its belly toward a dangling worm, can be discouraging as well. But these revelations must not drive us to guilt. Harboring guilt for being human can be dangerous. We can attempt to ease the pain through ungodly, selfish, or fleshly pursuits.
Jesus, the Son of God, was tempted while on earth, and yet never sinned (Heb. 4:15). While sin is born from temptation, temptation is not sinful. When Satan tempted Jesus in Matthew 4:1-11, he used the very things Jesus wanted and was sent to earth to accomplish. Satan tempted Jesus to do good things in ways contrary to God's ways.
We also cannot allow our missteps into sin to fuel our temptations. Though we can never be perfect, we must be aware that sin creates new temptations more powerful and destructive than we anticipate. For example, resisting the temptation to drink after 20 years of alcoholism is more difficult than resisting the first drink. If we feed temptations with the flesh, they grow into gigantic beasts.
Reality. Knowing sin's deceptive and deadly power helps us develop healthy fears of temptation. Though we all face it, we must never grow comfortable with it nor welcome it. The price for playing with temptation is steep. James follows verse 14 with this, "Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death" (1:15).
This harmonizes with Paul's words in Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Water, carbon monoxide, and other natural compounds are abundant on earth. But we must always respect their power to destroy humanity. Temptation is no different.
Replacement. Knowing that temptation results from our own desires can be discouraging if we're not careful. We must be intentional to continually replace our wants with God's desires. When the two compete, we must always submit to God's will.
But over time, we can also develop the heart and attitude that above all longs for God's will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. The more we try to be like God from the inside out, the less power we give to our human desires and tendencies.
The Psalmist once said, "With my whole heart I have sought you; Oh, let me not wander from your commandments! Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You" (Ps. 119:10-11).
The truth about temptation may be discouraging at the surface. But a complete appreciation for God's forgiveness (1 Jn. 1:7) and continual providence in the face of temptation (Jas. 4:7) gives us every motivation and all strength to resist.
Blame is funny.
We're often tempted to blame someone or something else for our shortcomings and mistakes. We hope, that by successfully shifting blame, to avoid punishment and accountability.
Not only is the "blame game" deceptive--because no one or nothing is responsible for our lives except ourselves--but it cripples progress. Once we convince ourselves we've shifted the blame, we've also given up control to fix the problem. Those who rely on blame instead of responsibility create a prison where improvement is impossible.
We can attempt to blame other people at every turn, but we always face the truth that we can't change others. We can try to blame external circumstances, but then we find out we can't change those either.
Courageously accepting responsibility grants the possibility of freedom. Only those grounded in responsibility and accountability make great strides of improvement and growth.
It's sad that many would rather wallow in negative situations than accept responsibility and thus be empowered to improve them. As Christians, we should not allow this attitude to thrive.
And we cannot allow it to exist when it comes to temptation and sin.
James 1:12 says, "Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him." I almost think James anticipated a response to that statement something like this, "Well, it'd sure be a lot easier to endure temptation if that same Lord would stop tempting us to get us to give up!"
So James says in verses 13 and 14, "Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed."
It is impossible to blame God for temptation and sin. Just as it is impossible for God to lie (Heb. 6:18; Titus 1:2), it is impossible for God to be tempted, and thus to tempt us. Not only is it futile to cast blame at God's feet, how dare us do so in light of all he has done and all he promises!
God wants the best for us. We must develop a trusting attitude toward him and his word that dares not blame him for shortcomings, mistakes, and sin.
It is impossible to blame anyone or anything else. Instead of listing everyone or everything we cannot blame, James tells us the source of temptation: our own desires. You and I cannot successfully blame anyone or anything else for sin because it all starts in our own hearts. We are "tempted" to sin because it, in some way, appeals to us individually. Temptation, and thus sin, are controlled and guided by our own selfish desires.
Bummer? Maybe, if we're lazy. But not if we truly want to change things.
Jesus' power has defeated the strangling power of sin and death (1 Cor. 15:56-57). And he gives us the opportunity to obey him instead of our own desires. If we destroy, suppress, and manage our earthly desires, we can successfully navigate the labyrinth of temptation in this life. It will never be easy. But it will always be possible; provided we accept responsibility and cut out the blame.
Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. (James 1:9-11)
In addition to writing his book full of imperative statements, James also relies heavily upon contrasting elements. In 1:9-11, he contrasts the "lowly" against the "rich." He challenges them with action in the present, but does so by previewing the future.
We must take note that James' emphasis is not upon their bank accounts; it's upon their attitudes. The lowly (humble, 4:1-10) brother acknowledges the utmost importance of God in all that he does. He will be exalted in the life to come. The rich are not necessarily all who are financially blessed, but those whose pride and boasting are founded upon their possessions--and the status in life they provide (cf, 5:1-6).
When Jesus came to earth, he turned it upside down--especially for the Jews. He didn't come with the purpose of doing away with rich and poor designations while on earth. He came to show that man will not be judged by their political, socio-economic, or even religious status. He will judge all men by their hearts (Matt. 5:8).
To illustrate this reversal of standing, James turns to nature in a way where first century Palestinians could not misunderstand him. He compares those who are rich to the grass and flowers of the land. Though beautiful, they don't last forever. Though beautiful, they don't withstand the elements of heat. Likewise, he says, the rich man will perish "in the midst of his pursuits."
These few verses are not James' final word on proper attitudes, partiality, riches, and the brevity of life. He further develops those themes throughout his letter. But we cannot gloss over these specific instructions. Humble and lowly Christians should take courage from their relationship with the Creator of the universe; Christians who choose to build their lives on possessions should repent. Soon, there will be a day when those possessions are nothing but dust.
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it. (Matt. 7:24-27)
- 1 box Butter Cake Mix
- 1 small box chocolate instant pudding mix
- 4 eggs
- 1 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract
- 1/4 Cup Water
- 1 Cup Canola/Vegetable Oil
- 8 oz sour cream
- 6 oz chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Grease and lightly dust bundt pan with flour
- Mix first 7 ingredients until combined. Stir in chocolate chips.
- Bake for 1 hour, or until toothpick is clean when inserted in center of cake.
James tells us, "Count it all joy...when you meet trials of various kinds." It's difficult to "label" tough times, tragedies, and discouragement as anything that's good. Yet James tells us to consider those opportunities as "joy."
Though difficult, he does not expect us to do something this extreme without any assurance about future results. In fact, the very reason he says we should "count it all joy" is that we "know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness" (Jas 1:3). He points to the foundational principle that testing and proving our faith will always lead to strengthening it into faith that lasts. He then instructs Christians to, "let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (Jas 1:4).
We can know with certainty about the connection between trials and steadfastness, but we must let it take place. This is the second of James' imperative statements in this letter; yet it is one that we must allow to happen in our own lives. We can't force it to happen. We can't fast forward to a time where it's already happened. We can't negotiate the length of time in which it happens. We can't eliminate the pain accompanied with the trial itself while it happens. But we can--and James says we must--target our attitudes in a godly direction because of our conviction and the assurance that it does happen.
Enduring trials will never be easy. They rarely, if ever, taste good on their own. We must continually mix them with healthy attitudes and heavy doses of God's promises. Then, despite our skepticism and short-sightedness, we must allow the oven of time, faith, and God's providence to deliver the sweet steadfastness of trusting Him. Delicious.
Over the summer, we carried 25 young people & adults (and met up with 25 more from Northport and 9th Ave in Haleyville) to Climb Nashville for an indoor rock climbing lock-in. Teens typically get excited for lock-ins of any kind. But we had a particularly fun time climbing and “hanging” out together.
All 50 of us got together around 2AM and sang a few songs, then discussed what things we witnessed throughout the night that could help us in our spiritual lives. Here are five of the things we talked about as a group:
1) We need others to do difficult things. The only way I’m remotely safe high up on a wall (with no padding below) is if someone else is below belaying for me. A belayer uses a clip that utilizes gravity as a brake in case the climber slips off the wall. He or she just hangs there until they start climbing again or are let down slowly by the belayer. So, first of all, we need someone else to make sure we don’t fall. Next, we need the encouragement provided by the belayer and others on the ground. We heard the sound of “you can do it” and “hang in there” throughout the night. Hearing positive words of praise helps us reach the top. Finally, we need others to help us find ways out. It’s easy to get so focused on everything going around you that you don’t see the next hand or foot grip. But the person below—who has a different perspective—can see things you don’t see. He or she can help you navigate out of a difficult situation.
Similarly, God has never intended for Christians to navigate through life alone. There are times we need one another to keep us from falling, “whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death” (James 5:20). We also need encouragement daily from one another, “exhort one another every day...that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). Finally, we often need the advice of others because they can see thigns we don’t see, “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future” (Proverbs 19:20).
2) The best time for distractions is not while you’re on the wall. One of our teen girls was climbing while her older sister belayed for her (I won’t mention names). When the younger sister was almost to the top, her older sister below screamed, “Did you remember to get the cooler off the bus?” When you’re confronting fears and reaching new heights, the last thing on your mind is whether or not you “remembered the cooler.” It’s easy for us to get distracted spiritually. We can’t afford to get distracted by criticism, hypocrisy by others, frustrations, or fun as we work in the kingdom. Nehemiah recognized this when he told Sanballat and Tobiah, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” (Nehemiah 6:3). How many times have we abandoned the work of the Lord to check if we “got the cooler off the bus?”
3) We learn best by doing. The Climb Nashville staff taught the group of belayers in about 20-30 minutes. They utilized a hands-on approach and made the students put into practice what they learned in order to be certified to belay. In a more traditional classroom setting, it may have taken much longer to instruct that group of people about procedures and potential problems. We do a good thing by emphasizing Biblical learning; we need to teach the Bible in a classroom setting. Many who neglect this opportunity weekly should re-evaluate their decision. But we must also never forget that we grow most and best by daily doing what our God teaches. “But the one who looks into the perfect law,the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts,he will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:25).
4) It’s not the real thing. Indoor rock climbing is an exciting thing to do. The night we spent doing it allowed us to challenge ourselves and have fun doing so. It’s a great way to learn and gain experience in a controlled and safe environment. But it’s not real rock climbing. We don’t actually go anywhere. We get to the top, then turn around and slide back down. Likewise, some of the things we do within the church and especially in “youth ministry” are intended to train young people and families in a controlled and safer environment. They’re still very real experiences, but they’re not intended to be the end in and of themselves. We should pray for opportunities to put the spiritual habits we build into practice in the world around us. “Pray also for us, that God mayopen to us a door for the word,to declare the mystery of Christ” (Colossians 4:3).
In John 5:34, Jesus says, "Not that the testimony I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved."
Jesus spoke and taught during his ministry on earth so that we all might be saved (Luke 19:10). Because it leads to salvation, we must obey all he taught. The following are not a trite formula, but rather the simple truths spoken by Jesus:
1) Believe Him.
"I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins" (John 8:24).
The foundation of obedience is faith in Jesus as the Son of God. He is the only one through whom man is saved (Acts 4:12).
2) Repent of sin.
"No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3).
"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23).
Believing Jesus illuminates our sinful state. A life of complete change from sin is the only life that can follow Jesus. We must put our old lives to death daily, or we'll experience death in the life beyond.
3) Confess Him before others.
"So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 10:32-33).
Followers of Jesus must acknowledge him as the Son of God. This commitment is expected when we obey Christ and every day thereafter. The pull to deny him is strong at times, but we must always confess our discipleship (John 12:42-43).
4) Be immersed.
"Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:15-16).
The gospel is for all. Thus, the need for baptism is for all as well. We meet Christ at his death (Rom. 6:3-4) and are born again through immersion for the forgiveness of sins (John 3:3-5).
Many well-meaning souls claim, "all we need is Jesus" to be saved. They don't want to exclude or offend others by specifics and difficult commands. Yet, the honest reading of scripture guides us to the expectations of salvation, straight from the Savior.
Excuses for sin are as universal and as old as sin itself. When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, they blamed one another and subtly blamed God. Thousands of years later, we spend immeasurable time, money, and energy to defend, justify, and deflect attention our spiritual and moral shortcomings. Even if we don’t intentionally think we’re creating excuses, we can easily fall into the trap of justifying our decisions quicker than we realize. In addition to sin itself, we can use excuses to keep us from gaining forgiveness of our sins through obedience to God’s will. There are three common excuses we use to keep us from being obedient to the Lord:
Sometime. James says in James 4:13-16, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” One of Satan’s most successful weapons is “later” or “tomorrow.” But we’re not guaranteed either. Multitudes of people have stepped into eternity thinking they had a little more time in which repent of sin. Let’s stop living in sin immediately. Let’s come to the Lord in obedience today. “Sometime else” never comes.
Someone. In chapter one, James emphasizes that temptations to sin arise from within, not around us. “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (1:14-15). The seeds of sin come from within our own hearts. When we choose our selfish desires over the will of God, we sin. When discussing our conflicts in 4:1-4, James uses a form of the word “you” 14 times. Though James makes it clear we are the source of our own sin, we do our best to turn the focus on how others. We argue that others cause us to sin; we say others hurt us in such a way to cause us to respond with sinful behavior; we expect others to fix themselves before we correct our sinfulness. Let’s stop minimizing our personal responsibility to our own sin. Let’s not use others as a crutch keeping us from living faithfully to the Lord.
Somewhat. One of James’ major themes in his letter on “practical faith” is “complete obedience.” At least seven passages emphasize the principle of obeying the Lord in every way. One such passage is 2:14-17, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled’; without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Faith is obviously a good thing; yet James is emphatic that faith alone isn’t enough to please God. There’s no room for somewhat believing, somewhat obeying, somewhat loving. Let’s stop thinking partial obedience is enough. Let’s obey the Lord totally.
Let’s commit to the Lord and His will. And to avoid using these and other excuses for sin.