Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12 NIV)
James writes this book to strength the faith of believers who are experiencing trials. James has instructed us to let perseverance finish its work so that we can be mature and complete, lacking nothing. God is using trials to transform us so that we are mature and complete. God does not want his children to lack anything. So let the trial do its work. James has also instructed to ask God for wisdom because he gives wisdom generously and without reproach. Life instability does not come from the trial but shows that we are not trusting God as our life anchor. James now sums up this teaching in James 1:12. You are blessed for persevering under trials because you will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. Those who love the Lord persevere under trial and they will receive the crown of life because they have stood the test.
Now James wants to continue to bolster our faith in trials. James wants us to have a real faith that will endure during hardships. One issue that arises during trials are strong temptations. There are so many temptations that come at us during trials. We have temptations in life during any season. But temptations can be particularly difficult when we are being crushed under the weight of our trials. So James wants to give us some proper thinking about these temptations and how to overcome temptations, especially when crushed. Look at James 1:13-18.
God Is Doing You Good
I want you to see that in this paragraph James is proving to his audience that God is doing you good, even in the midst of trials. James begins in verse 13, telling us not to think that God is tempting us. This continues to affirm the character of God in the trial, which we began to consider in the last message. God is not against you in trials. God is not giving you temptations to wreck your faith. God is not destroying you. God is not tempted to do evil and God does not tempt anyone. God is not tempted to do evil toward you. James tells us this so that we will not lie to ourselves. What is happening is not God standing against you. Do not look at temptations in that light. Instead, we should look at God in the opposite light.
Look at verse 17. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights. God gives good gifts. In fact, all good gifts come from God. Please think about the importance of this teaching. God is the reason for every good thing in your life. Do we think about life in this way? Everything we have is from God. God is so good that he gives good gifts to all. Jesus even made this point in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said, “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). Whatever good you have and whatever good you experience in life is because of God.
Now notice what James says next in the rest of verse 17. This character of God does not change. God is not wishy-washy. God does not wake up on the wrong side of the bed. God does not have a bad day and take it out on the world. God gives good gifts and he does not change like shifting shadows. There is no variation with him. You do not have to wonder what kind of God you are getting today. He does not change. He is for you and is the giver of good gifts. He is not even tempted to do evil.
Then you will notice the final proof of God’s character in verse 18. God gave us a new birth by the word of truth by his own will. It was God’s choice to save us. It was God’s choice to rescue us and give us a new birth. So why would God do evil against us and stand against us when he is the whole reason we have life at all?
So James is driving this point into our hearts: God is doing good toward you. Do not blame God for temptations and sins. God tempts no one. God is the giver of every good and perfect gift. God must not be the focal point of our angst or anger. God is good. God is for you. So you can trust him.
The Problem Is In Us
Now James is going to answer what our next question would be. If temptations do not come from God and God is for us, then where are temptations coming from? Look at verse 14.
Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desires and enticed. James says that the problem ultimately lies inside of us. Our hearts are the problem. Our desires are the problem. James says that we are lured and enticed by our own desires. This is an easy truth to prove. I am not tempted to eat Brussels sprouts. It does not matter how you prepare it, I am not tempted to eat it. Why not? The reason is because I have no desire for it. I have no taste for it. My heart does not want it. So it does not matter if you put it on the table, I do not want it. It does not matter if you pry my eyes open and make me look at it, I do not want it. It does not matter if you make me watch you eat it and make “mmm” sounds, I do not want to eat it. I do not have the heart or desire for it.
We are tempted because there are desires in us. The devil would have nothing to tempt us with if we did not have those desires in our hearts. Let me make an important point here that is an important way of thinking. Let me use a couple of examples. If you are angry, it is not the other person’s fault. The problem is not what people say to you. The problem is the anger problem in your heart. The problem is not what other people do to you. The problem is in your heart. You need to practice self-control and deal with the desires in the heart that want to lash out at other people. Now this does not mean I have the right to try to make you angry. But you still have the problem and need to exercise control.
If you are lusting, that is not the other person’s fault. The problem is not what others wear. The problem is in you. The problem is not the computer. The problem is in you. We want to blame everyone else for our temptations and sinning. But the problem is in you. You need to deal with those desires. You need to either change those desires or fulfill those desires in godly ways so that you are not sinning. We are called to self-control. Now this does not mean I have the right to wear whatever I want or try to make you sin. But you still have the need to exercise control. Do not blame God. Do not blame others. Do not even blame the devil. He could not tempt us if we did not have the desire. James says we are drawn away by our own desires.
But even more is happening within us when temptations come against us. Not only is the problem the desire that is within us, but it is what we do with that desire. You will notice in verse 15 that James says the desire gives birth to sin. We do not have to act on our desires. This is an important truth that we need to hear today. You have the power to say no to your desires. You must say no to those sinful desires and passions of the flesh. You have the power to say no. The problem is that we often do not do this. We justify our desires and fulfill them in ungodly ways. We allow our desires to give birth to sin.
Now we need to note something important that James is showing us. James is showing us that sin is a process. You do not fall into sin. Sin does not just happen. There is a process that begins from the desires in our heart being entertained in our minds and carried out by our actions. There is a process that is happening and we need to be aware of that so we can stop the sin process. We can see this very clearly in the sin of David with Bathsheba. There were so many ways for that sin to be avoided. David just has to go back into his palace and move on. But he kept looking. Then he asked about her. Then he sent for her. Then he committed sin with her. There were so many decisions and actions after the desire that he chose to carry out. Sin is a process.
But there is even more happening. If we continue to give into our desires which leads us to act in sin, the continuation of sin gives birth to death. James is telling us that the reason we lose our faith is not because of God, but because you are giving into your desires, which leads to a practice of sin, which leads to our complete separation from God. God is not destroying you. You are destroying you. You are destroying your life when you sinfully fulfill your desires. Separation from God all begins with us excusing our sinning and caving into our desires. Do not be deceived. Your desires are the problem. Your desires need to be changed or fulfilled in godly ways.
So what are some of the important messages that James is teaching us in this paragraph? How can we strengthen our faith when tempted? First, the goodness of God is to be a weapon we use against temptation. Friends, we do not need what temptation is offering. God gives us everything we need. God gives us every good thing. God is the satisfier of our needs. We do not need to fulfill our desires through ungodly means. Greater joy and greater fulfillment are found in having our needs met by God and in God’s ways. God is not against you. God is not keep you from joy and happiness. God gives all things that are good. So listen to his way to find joy, not Satan. Listen to his way to find joy, not yourself. Doubting God’s goodness makes us open to temptation and sin.
Second, since our desires are the problem when it comes to temptations, we need to listen to God’s instructions about our desires.
Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:24–25 CSB)
We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. (Ephesians 2:3 CSB)
Let us walk with decency, as in the daytime: not in carousing and drunkenness; not in sexual impurity and promiscuity; not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:13–14 CSB)
The apostle Paul tells us that carrying out our fleshly desires and thoughts is what made us children of wrath, separated from God. Following our desires is not getting us closer to God. So those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. In short, we say no to those desires. We have the choice to say no to those desires and allow God to transform those desires toward righteousness. Further, we need to not be thinking about how to carry out the desires of the flesh. Grab hold of those desires and consider what is underneath those desires. What are you really wanting? What do you really need? You are not really wanting this temporary moment of sin. There is something more. So do not think about fulfilling the desires of the flesh. Think about what you are really needing. Think about what you are really seeking and look to find that in the Lord.
Finally, our desires are what lead to death. The reason why we need to deal with our desires is because they are the root of the problem. The picture James gives is powerful because it is a fishing image where the fish is lured and enticed. The fish does not see the hook. The fish only sees the bait. We need to see the hook in the temptation. The hook is death. The hook is our completely separation from God. The hook is losing our eternal life. See the hook and stop looking at the bait. The bait is leading to death. Deal with your internal desires and let God transform your heart to move you away from your sins and toward him. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and do not consider ways to gratify the flesh.