This past Memorial Day Sue and I were discussing options as to how to spend our holiday and I was about to suggest that we visit one of the local Civil War battlefields or perhaps Lee’s mansion at Arlington. I’ve never been there. But then I realized this would not be a good idea because on Memorial Day whichever Civil War battlefield or site we visited would certainly be very crowded. So instead we just spent a quiet day working in our yard topped off with a wonderful meal of grilled kielbasa and baked potato and squash eaten on our deck.
But the truth is, even if we wait to visit one of the civil war battlefields on a non-holiday, we will still have had to deal with crowds. I say this because some of our nation’s most visited national parks are those that contain the battlefields of the Civil War. They are pretty much always full of visitors.
Now—why do you think this is true? I mean, why would Civil War battlefields be popular? There must be many factors but I believe one of the main reasons has to do with the fact that subconsciously people can IDENTIFY with this particular war—a war fought not BETWEEN nations—but WITHIN one. The REASON we identify with this conflict is because each of us wages a constant CIVIL WAR within ourselves in which we battle against an unseen but powerful foe known as TEMPTATION. Like the inevitable trials James mentions in the opening verses of his little book, temptation is an unavoidable thing that everyone deals with all the time. I mean, there is no “spiritual vaccine” against temptation…no “get out of temptation free card.” No one is immune or innocent. We all deal with it. Swindoll writes, “The aging monk in the monastery is no more safe from temptation than the young man at the mall. The saint in prayer wrestles with temptation just as much as the salesman in his Porsche.” So—it’s a good thing that the next portion of James’ “ultimate how-to manual” deals with this subject because as I said there is a sense in which each of us ARE INDEED walking battlegrounds. All Christians engage in a constant mental wrestling match between our two natures…the old nature that fights God and the new nature that wants to serve Him. The Apostle Paul talks about this in Romans 7:21 and following where he writes, “When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law, but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.”
We all know exactly what Paul is talking about here, don’t we? Sometimes we’re tempted to act on feelings of JEALOUSY or ENVY. Some days our struggle is with a desire to get REVENGE on someone who has hurt us. Other days we resist feelings of HATRED or LUST—but ALL of us are at war in this sense. I mean, if I were to ask a show of hands from all of those present today who are ever tempted to sin each of us would have to raise our hands even though doing so would involve our winning a struggle with the temptation to lie so as not to look bad to our fellow worshipers.
The fact is we all deal with temptation. It’s part of this package we call be “being human.” I’m reminded of the young Catholic priest who served in the confessional for the first time, accompanied by an older senior priest. At the end of the day the older priest took him aside and said, “My boy, when a person finishes with confession, you have got to learn to say something other than, ‘WOW!’” There’s no “WOW” about it. Everyone faces the temptation to sin. So the question is not, “WILL we face potentially destructive desires but HOW—how will we win this inner civil war?” And, as the young priest learned, the sad truth is that not only do we all FIGHT this battle, but as Romans 3:23 teaches—all of us LOSE on a regular basis. We all succumb to temptation and engage in sinful behavior. We are like the boy whose Sunday School teacher asked, “What are sins of omission?” and he said, “Omission? They’re the sins we should have committed but didn’t get around to.”
Another thing—this inner struggle with temptation is NOTHING NEW. Since the day Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, all mankind has been tempted to follow in their footsteps and disobey our Heavenly Father. As 1st Corinthians 10:13 says—temptation is something that always has been “common” to man.
Take your Bibles now and turn to James 1:13-18 and let’s see what practical guidance James gives us when it comes to this issue.
13 – When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone;
14 – but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.
15 – Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
16 – Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers.
17 – Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, Who does not change like shifting shadows.
18 – He chose to give us birth through the word of Truth, that we might be a kind of first-fruits of all He created.
Even back in Civil War days any general worth his stars knew that the key to winning any war is gathering accurate information about your enemy and that’s what I’d like us to do this morning—gather information about this enemy we all face. In fact let’s keep this military motif and look at today’s message as a sort of military briefing because I want to “hang” the information I’ve gathered this week on four questions that have to do with this issue and the first one is this:
(1) What exactly is temptation?
The first thing I would say is that whereas temptation can lead to SIN—it is not itself a sin. Temptation is the INVITATION to do something wrong but sin doesn’t take place until we accept that invitation and ACT. The greatest proof text of this is seen in the Gospels’ account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Do you remember our study of it a few months back in The Story? Our Lord was tempted by the devil three times but He did not yield—He did not ACT—and so the Bible says He did not sin and it is the same for us. We don’t sin until we give in to temptation.
Another thing—we tend to think of temptation and sin as a single act but God knows that it is more of a PROCESS, which is why James mentions three steps in this process.
(A) The first is DESIRE.
As verse 14 puts it, “each one is tempted, by his own evil desire.” Now, if we’re going to win this battle we need to realize that the normal desires of life were given to us by God and of themselves they are not sinful. In fact without desires we could not function. For example: unless we felt hunger and thirst we would never eat or drink and we would die. Without fatigue and the desire to rest that comes with it our bodies would wear out a lot quicker. So—in and of themselves desires are not necessarily wrong. It is when we satisfy these natural desires in ways outside God’s will that we get into trouble. I mean, eating is normal—but gluttony is sin. Sleep is normal—but laziness is sin. Marriage between a man and a woman is honorable in the eyes of God. The marriage bed is undefiled but Hebrews as 13:4 says, “God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” Warren Weirsbe puts it this way, “Temptation is an opportunity to accomplish a GOOD thing in a BAD way—outside of the will of God.” And I would agree. I mean—it is not wrong to WANT to pass an algebra test. But if you CHEAT to do so, then you have sinned. Cheating is accomplishing a GOOD thing—like passing a test—in a BAD way. In any case, the first stage in which temptation proceeds to sin is DESIRE—or more specifically, wanting to satisfy a desire in a sinful way.
(B) James says the second part of temptation is DECEPTION.
Look at verse 14 again where it says, “each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is DRAGGED AWAY and ENTICED.” Now, in this verse God is warning us that temptation never APPEARS as temptation. It always LOOKS good because temptation is a DECEPTIVE thing. It is set up to trick you. It always allures us with promises that are not true. Sin always looks far better than it really is. And James used two illustrations from the world of hunting and fishing to help us understand this. You see, in James’ day the Greek word that we translate as, “dragged away” carried with it the idea of baiting a trap and the word for “enticed” meant to bait a hook.
Hunting and fishing have not changed that much since then because hunters and fishermen still use bait to attract and catch their prey—knowing that no animal will deliberately go into a trap and no fish will knowingly bite a hook.
I mean, any fisherman will tell you that you don’t just throw the worms in the water because your goal is not to FEED the fish. It’s to catch them and FEED yourself! So you HIDE the hook inside a worm or lure—to make the hook look like something else—something appealing. Temptation is like this because it always carries with it some bait that appeals to our natural desires. And the “bait” not only attracts us, but it also hides the fact that yielding to the desire will eventually bring pain, sorrow, and punishment. I don’t think David would have decided to commit adultery with his neighbor’s wife after watching her take a bath if he could have seen the horrible outcome of his passion. You see temptation is DECEPTIVE. Sin’s bait always keeps us from seeing the consequences of our actions. Sin always deceives.
(C) James says the third and final step in the process of yielding to temptation is…DISOBEDIENCE.
Look at verse 15 where it says, “after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin.” The point James is making here is that eventually we move from the emotions—DESIRE—to the intellect—DECEPTION—and finally to the will through our DISOBEDIENCE. And, at this point James changes the word picture from hunting and fishing to the birth of a baby. He says that DESIRE “conceives” a method for taking the bait. The will approves and acts; and the result is the birth of a sinful act. Understand—James is saying that victorious Christian living is a matter of the WILL. As I said, all of us are tempted. But we don’t have to give in. We can exert our will and say “NO!”
In fact, James’ wording shows how childish and immature it really is for adults to sin. I mean children operate on the basis of feeling. Without the guidance of their parents they would sleep when they feel like it and eat when they feel like it. We adults are supposed to be more mature than that. We are supposed to operate on the basis of the will. We should be mature enough to act in Godly ways because we know it is right to do so, no matter how we feel. And the truth is the more we exercise our will in saying a decisive “NO” to temptation, the easier it will be to do so in the future because we learn that when we say NO—God helps us. As Philippians 2:13 says, “It is God Who works in you both to WILL and to do His good pleasure.”
So—the first bit of information we need to grasp in order to win our inner struggle is that TEMPTATION is a process.
Let’s continue our briefing now, by moving on to a SECOND question James deals with when it comes to temptation, namely:
(2) Who is responsible?
I mean, to defeat this enemy we need to understand whose fault it is…who’s behind it all. This is a very important question to answer because from the dawn of human history people have tended to blame others for the temptation that leads them to sin. When Eve ate from the forbidden fruit, she said it was satan’s fault. Adam said it was Eve’s fault. Adam even went so far as to blame God Himself saying that He gave him a flawed helpmate in the first place. And things haven’t changed much since. We still point the finger of blame when it comes to the temptations of life. In fact, human beings have become experts at evasion. We blame everyone but ourselves: God, other human beings, heredity, too much caffeine, or the trend of the times. Well is it God’s fault? I mean, He did make us after all—and He made us with a free will, so is it God’s fault when we sin? James says NO, God is not to blame—and in verse 13 he explains, “For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone…” And of course James is right. God cannot be tempted—He cannot be moved by any inducement to wrongdoing—and one reason this is true is because of His complete sufficiency. You see temptation appeals to our needs and cravings. It holds out the promise to satisfy them. God has no needs to be satisfied. His happiness is complete and absolute so temptation has no hold on Him.
But His divine sufficiency, is not the only thing that puts God beyond the reach of temptation. In fact, it is mainly His perfect holiness that makes Him un-temptable. The Greek here literally says, “God is UNVERSED in evil.” In other words He has no experience in it—is entirely set apart from it. He is HOLY. Now as sinful beings you and I ARE versed in evil—well-versed. We have a propensity to evil in our nature. We are born that way—born in sin. But, God has no such propensity—no weakness or bias on which evil may lay hold and act. Because of His holiness—His absolute perfection—He is invulnerable to temptation. And, the perfection that makes it impossible for Him to be tempted, makes it impossible for Him to tempt anyone else. This in itself would be evil and contrary to His perfect holy nature. So, the answer is “NO!” God is not at fault when it comes to our yielding to temptation. While God uses trials and troubles in life to bring about His work of maturing us, God is never the author of temptation—NEVER.
Okay, is satan to blame then? After all he is the great tempter—so is it his fault when we sin? Well, James doesn’t even mention that as a possibility. And I think he doesn’t because the truth is we tend to give satan too much credit when it comes to sin. Yes—he is our enemy. Yes—he is all-evil but not all-powerful. You see, he is a defeated enemy and can’t MAKE us do anything. No, whatever we do, we do because WE choose to do it. James says that when we yield to temptation, we have no one to blame but OURSELVES. Satan might PROVIDE temptation. God might ALLOW it. Circumstances may make temptation more APPEALING. But SIN happens when a person, “is drawn away and trapped by HIS OWN evil desire.” So, if you and I want to look for someone to blame, all we need do is look in the mirror. WE are responsible. The problem with temptation lies in the nature of MAN, not the nature of God.
And then a third question I think we should deal with is this:
(3) What are the results of yielding to temptation?
Well, at the onset we need to understand that the results are always bad. Sin always hurts. Now our culture would not agree. It says that SIN is fun—that it brings great pleasure to our lives—that we are denying ourselves when we choose not to engage in sinful acts. I’m reminded of the story of the minister who preached on this subject and announced to his congregation that a person could sin in 375 specific ways. After the service one of his parishioners asked for a copy of his list because he wanted to make sure he wasn’t missing anything. Well the only thing we miss when we don’t sin is death—because as James says, when sin is full-grown that’s what it GIVES BIRTH TO: “DEATH.” Just as the implantation of the seed in the uterus will eventually lead to birth—LIFE, the implantation of sin on the uterus of the soul will eventually lead to DEATH.
Let’s dwell on that word “death” in verse 15 for a few moments. What is James talking about here? Well, sometimes people can die physically as a result of sin, like those who are infected with disease through sexual sin or those whose alcoholism or drug addiction leads to a premature death. However James 1:15 cannot refer PRIMARILY to physical death because if it did, all of us would be corpses within days. We wouldn’t be able to live through it. And, James doesn’t mean SPIRITUAL death either. Our good works don’t save us, nor do our bad works condemn us. As Paul says, we are saved by grace through faith APART from works. So James is not talking about physical death or spiritual death as a result of sin.
Then what death is he referring to? Well, remember, James was writing to JEWISH Christians…and in Jewish thinking death was often seen as a TRAJECTORY more than a DESTINATION. In their way of thinking to be “dead” was often a description of the poor quality of life rather than the cessation of being. Deuteronomy 30:15 talks about this when it says, “See I have set before you today LIFE and PROSPERITY, and DEATH and ADVERSITY.” We all face this this choice between “life existence” and “death existence.” As it says in Proverbs 12:28, “In the way of righteousness is life, and in its pathway there is no death.” So, Jewish Christians saw people as either traveling the path of life (walking with Christ by the Spirit) or the path of death (walking apart from Christ in the flesh), This “death-like existence” is the opposite of the “abundant life” Christ promised in John 10. No longer can the sinner, walking in death, live out the true life in the Spirit. He or she can’t enjoy the “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentle ness, self-control” that comes from those who live in obedience to God. For those walking in death, gone are the signs of spiritual vitality like fading memories of estranged friends. That’s the kind of death James has in mind. In short, their existence is more death than life. That’s the choice we make when we give in to the temptation to sin. When we do, in a very real sense we cease to live—really live. Okay, with all this information about the enemy at our disposal, there is only one other thing we need and that is a BATTLE PLAN.
(4) So, what is it? How can we win this civil war that we all fight?
Well, God’s Word gives us several such strategies.
(A) First, it says we must stay away from enemy LINES.
In other words we need to avoid places where we know we are sure to be tempted. I mean if you’re trying to lose weight, it only makes sense to stay away from Dunkin’ Donuts and if you are trying to avoid sin, stay away from places where you know you will be tempted. In a skit on the old classic TV show “Hee Haw” Doc Campbell was once confronted by a patient who said that he broke his arm in two places. The Doc replied by saying, “Well then, stay out of them places.”
To win our battle with temptation we must do exactly that—stay away from tempting places. As 1st Corinthians 6:18 says we are to “flee immorality.” And you know, since—as James says—temptation is a process it only makes sense that the earlier in the process we determine to flee, the greater the likelihood we will avoid the sin. The further we go in the process, the more likely we will succumb. So one thing you can do to win this inner battle is to stop the process immediately—even at the DESIRE point—by staying away from places where your desires are sure to be aroused. Proverbs 4:14 says, “Do not set your foot on the path of the wicked.” In other words don’t even go near the path that leads to sin. Instead turn from it and go the other direction.
(B) Second, God’s Word says we should stay close to fellow SOLDIERS.
In other words, hang around other Christians who themselves are skilled at beating temptation.
Solicit the help of trusted, maturing believers. Tell them your weakness and ask for their support. This is why Hebrews 10:24-5 says we should not, “give up the habit of meeting together as some are in the habit of doing but we should get together and…consider how to spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” You see, when we share our struggles with others, it brings our sins out into the light and helps us to say “no.” We are less likely to yield when we know others are watching. As someone has once said, “Temptation plus isolation leads to sin.”
(C) Third, God’s Word says we must learn to use our weapon: the Sword of TRUTH.
This is important because the more Scripture we know, the more we will be able to see through the deception of temptation and the more power we will experience. Psalm 119:9 & 11 says, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to Your Word…I have hidden Your Word in my heart that I might not sin against You.” Remember, this was Jesus’ tactic when He faced temptation in the desert. Every time satan enticed Him to do something, He counter-attacked with the written Word of God. It is the same with us—as we memorize Scripture, it becomes part of our programing—our way of thinking and perceiving and deciding.
So do that—memorize and learn to use the Bible. In fact, I meant it last week when I said you could memorize the book of James. It’s only 100 verses but think of the powerful benefit the practical wisdom of those verses would have if you “fed” them into your thinking day to day!
If you’ve ever read The Odyssey, then you should remember Ulysses and his encounter with the Sirens. He had been warned that their music was so beautiful that it would control him. He wanted to hear their music but he didn’t want to be controlled so he put wax in the other sailors’ ears and had them tie him to the ship’s mast. Greek mythology tells us that Orpheus handled the problem another way. When he sailed by the Sirens’ island they sang their sweetest music, but his sailors never turned their heads to listen because they had Orpheus on board and he sang a sweeter song than the Sirens’ music. In the same way, we can make ourselves less likely to yield to sin’s pull, if we learn to listen to the “sweeter song” that is found in God’s Word.
(D) But there is another battle tactic we must employ and James advises it. He says we must get to know our COMMANDER in Chief.
And James helps us with this in verses 16-18 by “introducing” us to God in three ways.
(1) First of all James says He is GOOD.
Look at verse 17,“ every good and perfect gift is from above coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.” James reminds us here God is the source of everything good in life. And this is important to remember because we are less likely to yield to temptation when we know that out of His goodness, God always more than meets our needs, that He is the only source of everything that is GOOD and PERFECT. One little boy captured this idea in his nightly prayer when he said, “Lord, thank You for all You’ve done and keep up the good work.” When God works in our lives it is always GOOD.
(2) James also said that God is DEPENDABLE.
We see this in verse 17 again where it says God “…does not change like shifting shadows.” J. B. PHILLIPS translates this verse like this: “There is never the slightest variation or shadow of inconsistency” in God. James uses words here that describe the sun and the sun is a brilliant light but there are variations in its brightness. I mean it’s not as bright at 4PM as it is at 2PM. Plus, there are shadows cast by clouds. We see change, variation, and inconsistency in the lights of the sky. You can’t depend on the weather. Not so with God. He is dependable. He is consistent. He’s not good some of the time and evil at other times. He is not loving at some times and hateful at others. He is not honest on some occasions and deceptive at others. He’s not powerful some times and weak at other times. He is ALWAYS loving, ALWAYS beneficent, ALWAYS truthful, and ALWAYS ALL-powerful. He is dependable.
Referring to God, an old country preacher put it like this: “Sometimes I trembles on the Rock, but the Rock never trembles under me.” Stocks go up and down. Sometimes friends let us down. But James says God is utterly dependable. There is no variation or shifting shadow in Him. So—we can depend on Him to help us when it comes to this struggle with temptation. As 1st Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up to it.” Romans 8:26 says that God’s Spirit, “…helps us in our weaknesses.” I like the old hymn text that says, “Yield not to temptation for yielding is sin; each victory will help you some other to win. Fight manfully onward, dark passions subdue; Look ever to Jesus, He’ll carry you through.” He will—Depend on it!
(3) The third thing James says to describe God is that He is REDEMPTIVE.
Look at verse 18. “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first-fruits of all He created.” Now, the word “redemption,” in its religious sense, literally means to make new or to make over. And this is what God does with us. When we confess our sins—when we admit to Him that of our own free will we yielded to temptation—God forgives us, cleans us and restores us. He REDEEMS us and makes us new.
Charles Studd, a successful businessman in England in the 18th century provides a beautiful illustration of redemption. Studd was completely unconcerned about spiritual matters. However, when he lost a bet to a man one day, Studd had to go listen to an American revivalist in town named Dwight L. Moody as a payment for his bet.When Studd arrived at the meeting place, the crowds were so great he had to sit right in front of the platform. Studd never took his eyes off Moody. After it was over he said to his friend, “That fellow has just told me everything I have ever done.” He went back the next night and then the next until finally he decided to turn his life over to Jesus Christ. Charles Studd lived only about two years after that, but it was said at his funeral that he did more in those two years than most Christians do in twenty. He turned his great mansion into a meeting place for studying the Bible. He witnessed to everyone he knew.
His driver said, “All I can say, is that though there’s the same skin, there’s a new man on the inside.” When we let Him God does this to us. He redeems us for, as it says in 2nd Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone. The new has come.”
Okay—the briefing is over and as is our custom, we are about to conclude our service by singing a song to give you an opportunity to consider all we have talked about and then respond as God leads. Some of you may need to ask God’s help in dealing with some particular temptation. Others may need to follow His leading and join this church. Some of you may not be Christians and if that is true then you need to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Now, as this time of invitation begins I know that many of us are wrestling with temptation—the temptation NOT to respond. A voice inside your head may be saying something like, “This doesn’t apply to me. I don’t need to respond. I’m doing fine when it comes to temptation.” or “Sure, you need to respond, but do so later—another week—another Sunday would be just as good as this one.”
If that describes what is going on in your head right now then let me pray for you.