James has been talking about trials which everyone faces in life. He calls them various trials. That indicates that trials come in a variety of ways, in all sorts of difficulties. James says that a trial is a test of your faith. And we learned that God uses trials to refine our faith, to strengthen our faith, to prove our faith. He uses trials to conform us through suffering to the image of Jesus Christ. He uses trials to mature our faith and sanctify us.
But we have a response in trials. And there are two possible responses that we can make in trials. One is, by the wisdom which God gives us, to endure the trial without failing in our faith, to be obedient to God even when it seems difficult or not even wise to do so, trusting in Him completely. The other possible response is to give into the temptation to turn away from faith in God to act according to natural wisdom, or to act in a way that appeals to our carnal nature, to satisfy the lusts of our flesh.
And so we see that’s it’s possible for us to have a trial that turns into a temptation. A temptation differs from a trial only in the sense that we are induced to sin. James wants to make sure that we don’t fall into temptation. And to insure that he wants to make sure we understand the origin of temptation as opposed to trials. And so he says in vs 13, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.”
So trials come through the hand of God, but God doesn’t tempt us to sin. Because the nature of God cannot be tempted to sin. He is holy and pure and there is no evil in Him, and He cannot abide with evil. God does not give us trials so that we might fall into sin, but that we might persevere in faith and overcome temptation.
As 1Cor. 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”
So God sends trials, but we need to understand that temptation does not come from God. But rather God has provided a way to endure temptation without succumbing to it. Now James has been teaching us how we are to endure through trials, now he wants to tell us how we might overcome temptation. And to help us be able to overcome temptation, he will first describe for us the pathway to sin, and then he will show us the protection we have against temptation.
There are five steps on this path of temptation to sin. The first is what we might call attraction. And we see that attraction indicated in vs 14, as the word enticed. James says in vs14, “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.”
The source of temptation lies within the human heart. James calls it lust. Lust is a perversion of love, but it still comes from the heart. Desire comes from the heart. Jesus said in Matthew 15:19, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.” And the prophet Jeremiah said about the heart, that is is deceitful and desperately wicked, who can know it?” Or who can trust it?
So we see something that appeals to our heart, we are attracted to something that is wrong, to make a wrong choice. Our eyes see it, and our heart desires it. We find it attractive. Whatever it may be. There are two iconic illustrations of temptation in the Old Testament. One is Eve, who listened to the devil’s lie, and saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. She was attracted to the fruit, she was enticed by her own lusts. Satan certainly played a part in it, but it was her own lusts that enticed her.
The other illustration that comes to mind is that of David, who should have been leading his men in battle, but was home in his palace instead. And he looked out over the rooftop of his palace and saw Bathsheba, saw that she was beautiful, and he was attracted to her. He was enticed by his own lusts.
There is something to be learned here. And that is, you cannot sin without attraction. If you don’t find something enticing, attractive, then it’s going to be difficult to be induced to sin. That’s why we need to have the mind of Christ, we need to have our desires changed. And the simple way we do that is through the washing of the word. We renew our minds, our hearts, through constantly being washed by the water of the word. And in feeding upon the word of God, our thoughts are aligned with Christ, our hearts are aligned with Christ, so that we learn to love what He loves, and we hate what He hates. We have to get our attractions reprogrammed. Because we are tempted by what we are attracted to. We need to be careful about what we see, what we look at.
The second step in the temptation to sin is what we will call deception. We already alluded to it earlier in the case of Eve, when the devil deceived her. James says in vs 16, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.” The devil is a liar and the father of lies, Jesus told us. He is called the tempter in scripture. And his strategy is to lie and to deceive.
The idea of being deceived that James is referencing here in vs 16 really has it’s origins in the idea of a lure, or bait. A lure is designed to look good, to smell good, to even taste good. It has all the appearances of something that is great. Eve thought it was a delight to the eyes, and that it would make you wise, and I’m sure she imagined it would taste pretty good as well. And so she swallowed the lure, hook, line and sinker, and ended up condemning the human race in her sin.
Satan may not always verbally lure you to sin. But the Bible teaches that he has certainly engineered the world system to entice you, to attract you, and ultimately to hook you. That’s why James told us in the previous passage that we needed wisdom when we are faced with trials, and that God would willingly give us wisdom so that we might know the way which we should go. Because if we listen to our natural inclinations, if we listen to the wisdom of the world, then we will find ourselves headed on a path to destruction.
There is another step on the path to sin which I call preoccupation. That idea is expressed in vs 14, James says when he is carried away and enticed by his own lusts. The idea of preoccupation is expressed by carried away. It simply means you become obsessed by something. I have to admit I have an obsessive nature. If I become interested in something, I get on a roll where it’s all I think about. If you look at the history of my you tube viewing, you will quickly find out about my obsessions. And many times, I find that I eventually act on those obsessions and buy something or do something, that I probably would have been better off not doing. Hopefully, my obsessions are not sinful, but I understand that they can be counter productive.
However, I think James indicates that lusts start in the heart, are fueled by attraction, and then obsessed over to the point where we think about it over and over again. We visualize it. We dream about it. And then one day we actualize that which was first only thought of. The attraction becomes affection. We love what we have seen, what we have obsessed over. But as James indicates, it’s not really love, it’s lust. It’s become an affection that we think we can’t live without.
We need to guard our affections. John said in 1 John, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.” As I said earlier we need to hate the things God hates and love the things God loves. We need to loathe sin, recognizing it for what it is, an affront to God, an insult to Jesus Christ, and a lie of the devil that leads to destruction.
And acting upon our desires is the next step in the progression. We might call that next step conception. James says in vs 15, “Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” That sounds like a summary of David’s sin with Bathsheba.
James says when lust has conceived. That’s the point where it goes from merely thinking about it to being acted upon. We act on our desire. Maybe we say it was impulse. Maybe we make the excuse that we did it without thinking. But those are just excuses. We were attracted to it, we thought about it, we became preoccupied with it, and then we became carried away in our lusts and acted upon it.
That’s why Paul tells us in 2Cor. 10:5 “[We are] destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and [we are] taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” If we renew our minds, and change our thinking, then we will never get to the point of conception. Paul says we must control our thoughts. If we control our thoughts, we may be tempted, yet not sin.
Final step on the path to sin is subjection. We come in bondage to that sin. When sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. That sin now has control over you. You are no longer living for Christ, but living for the flesh. To be frank, you have become subjugated to the devil. You become in bondage to your sin.
David neglected his duty as commander in chief of the Israel army. He put himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, and he made the wrong decision. Listen, the Lord has given us commandments that we might obey them, that He might preserve us from sin. When we are obedient to what God has commanded us it keeps us from the path of sin. His commandments aren’t meant to be a burden to us, but a preservation. Just like we tell our children, whom we love, who we want to see grow up healthy and wise, we say, don’t play near the road, don’t put that in your mouth, don’t disrespect your elders. We tell them not because we want to restrict them so they can’t have any fun, so they don’t have any liberty, but because we know that the path to sin is paved with good intentions. It’s a slippery slope that once you step out on it you find it hard to stop.
Paul said in Titus 2:11-12 “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.” Literally, the word instructing us is better rendered, disciplining us. God gives us his commandments to discipline us, to keep us from sin and we need to obey them because we respect our Father in heaven and we love Him and for our own good.
Well, thankfully, James does not leave us with only his analysis of the pathway to sin, but he shows us the protection that we have from sin through Christ. And the first thing though we need to know and be familiar with is the steps of temptation which we just reviewed. As we study this passage, we need to be able to recognize the pattern of Satan’s strategy. And as we recognize it, we are better able to resist it. James says in chapter 4 vs 7, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” And Paul says we are not to be ignorant of the devil’s schemes. So recognizing the steps to temptation is the first means by which we resist temptation.
Then secondly, James reminds us of the unchangeable goodness of God as a protection against the temptation to sin. He really doesn’t introduce this next idea, he just presents it in contrast to the conflict that we have in our natures. In contrast to that, James gives us the nature of God.
He says, in vs 17 “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” Now at first that may seem unrelated to what he has been talking about. But the issue with temptation is that we tend to become dissatisfied with what God has given us. That was the problem with Eve, that was the problem with David, and it’s usually in some way or another, the problem with us. We think that there has to be something better for me. We start to doubt the goodness of God.
When Satan tempted Eve, he not only maligned God’s word, but he maligned God’s character. He inferred that God wasn’t good because God had kept something good from her. And that is still Satan’s strategy today. But James reminds us that God is good all the time. He has a good plan for us. He has made good promises to us concerning our new life in Christ. His motives are good. His thoughts towards us are good. And we must be on guard in temptation against the lie of the devil that God has withheld something good from us.
I’ve read that verse a many times and never really thought about the title of God that James uses there. But my son was reading this text in anticipation of hearing today’s sermon, and he asked what does it mean, the Father of Lights? I had to think about it for a minute or two. I tried to say something about Jesus is the light of the world, hoping that would assuage his interest and sound like I knew what I was talking about.
But after thinking about it for a while, I think it means that God is the source of light, the source of truth, and it’s a constant light, it’s a consistent light. There is no darkness in Him at all. There is no changing of His mind. There is no wavering of HIs love towards us. He cannot intend good towards us one minute and then later intend evil towards us. He can only be good, and what comes from Him is good. And we need to be confident of that and assured of that, so that Satan cannot tempt us to think that God is holding back something from us that actually is good, but He just doesn’t want us to enjoy it. Or that God doesn’t care about us, and that’s why we are going through such a trial. God’s ways are good, and He gives good gifts to His children.
There is a third thing you need to know to be protected against temptation, and that is you need to be aware of the significance of the new birth. It’s not just that we need to push back against temptation, but we need what someone has called, the expulsive power of a new affection. We need the transformation of the new birth that we might have new desires and new attitudes and a new spirit. We need to be sanctified by the Spirit of Truth. Sanctification is not just sweeping the house clean, but sanctification is sweeping the house clean and putting in the new furniture. It’s a new way of living, brought about by the new birth and the indwelling power of the Spirit of God.
James speaks of this new birth in vs18, “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.” We have seen how temptation works, that there is a kind of conception that takes place and brings forth sin and death. But there is another conception that James speaks of which brings forth new life, and new affections. And that new life brings forth fruit as a new creation of God. We are born again with new affections, with new desires, a new heart. We take on the nature of our heavenly Father.
As the children of God we actually have His Spirit living in us. And as we walk in the Spirit, we are not tempted by the lusts of the flesh. As we yield to the Spirit, we will have power over sin. Sin no longer has control over us. Paul said in Gal 5:16 “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.”
Paul goes on to show the contrast between the lusts of the flesh and walking by the Spirit. He says, Gal. 5:17-25 “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 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 walk by the Spirit.”
I don’t have the time this morning to unpack all that Paul has said there. But it’s pretty obvious, that if we walk by the Spirit, we will bear the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. If we walk in the flesh, we will do the works of the flesh. When we walk in the Spirit according to the word of truth it is the means by which we are protected from temptation. We have a resource through Christ Jesus, that will give us the power to overcome temptation. And that resource is the presence of the Spirit of Christ within us.
And we come to know Him through the word of truth. James says He brought us forth, we were conceived and given birth, by the word of truth. David said, “your word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” We cannot separate the work of the Spirit from the word of the Spirit. Hebrews 4:12 says that “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Haven’t we learned that temptation begins at the level of the heart? Then the only way to deal with temptation is to deal with it at it’s origin. And nothing else can reach the heart like the word of God.
We cannot walk in the Spirit apart from the word of God. David said, “your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” And we cannot be protected from temptation without the Spirit working in us through His word, strengthening us, equipping us, and preserving us from evil. Let us pray as Jesus instructed us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” The protection from temptation we need is to be found in following where the Spirit leads us.