James 1:13-18

Sermon: September 16, 2108

How to Face Temptation

Last week we considered what James had to say about enduring trials.  This week we consider what he has to say about facing temptation.  Trials and temptations are very similar.  In fact, James uses the same Greek word to describe them both in this first chapter (verses 2, 12, 13, 14) .  We can think about trials as those things that come to us from the outside and temptation as those things that come to us from the inside.  And how are we to face those temptations that arise from within ourselves?  This is the subject we will consider this week.  We’ll see that James explains first how temptation works and then how grace works.

#1 How Temptation Works (v. 13-15)

James begins by locating the problem. He wants us to see that temptation does not come from God.  Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God” (v.13).  We can’t blame our temptation on God.  Neither can we blame it on others.  James is very clear: temptation does not come from out there but from within ourselves.  He breaks temptation down into four progressive steps we take.  Each step is worse than the one before it.

-1- Desire

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire (v.14).  The path that will in the end lead to death begins with desire.  Notice that ground zero is located within each of us.  The problem is not external but rather internal. It is not the fault of our circumstances, our parents, or our genetic predispositions.  The problem is our own evil desires. Now desire in itself is not bad.  Desire is a good gift given to us by God.  But as Augustine famously explains in his Confessions, our desires easily become disordered.  For instance, God has given us a good desire for rest but when that desire is disordered it becomes sloth.  A desire for food isn’t bad, but gluttony is.

-2- Deception

We are then deceived as we are lured and enticed (v.14) by these desires.  We fool ourselves thinking we can dabble in sin.  We tell ourselves it’s no big deal.  I’ve got this!  I can stop whenever I want!  I am just having a little fun!  Or have you ever tried to fight evil desires by simply giving in?  We think we can just “get it out of our system” if we give in and move on.  The problem is we don’t move on.  Giving in to temptation is like cleaning a window with a dirty rag.  The more you work at it, the dirtier it will get.  We don’t fight desire by giving into it.  Don’t be deceived!

-3- Disobedience

Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin (v.15)Sin is disobedience.  Desire and deception are often unseen by others but when we allow ourselves to be lured away, we fall into sin.  Notice here that James says we are both the instigator and the victim of our desires.  We are the instigator in that the desires come from us but then we become the victim of our own desires as those desires wage a war for control of our heart.  We fall into sin.  We think, or speak, or do that which is contrary to what God has revealed to us in his law.

-4- Death

Sin when it is fully grown brings forth death (v.15). Notice that each step along the way — desire, deception, disobedience, death — is worse than the one that comes before it.   And the end of it all is death.  Sin leads to death.  This is exactly what God told Adam in the Garden, “For in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die (Genesis 2:17).”  This is what Paul says in Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death.”

A couple of years ago there was a headline that read “Circus Trainer Mauled to Death by Lion During Live Show.”  The incident took place in Egypt and the trainer had worked with lions for at least 10  years.  People were shocked.  How could this happen?!  But we do know how this happened, right?  He was messing around with a wild beast.  It’s not the lion’s fault!  This is what lion’s do!  They hunt and kill.  It’s their nature.  This is a good analogy for how sin works.  We have a little wild beast that we’ve raised since it was a baby.  It seemed cute at first and we’ve fooled ourselves into thinking we can keep it under control.  And perhaps we can — for a little bit.  But that wild beast will keep growing.  And in the end it will destroy you.

James implores his readers, do not be deceived, my beloved brothers (v.16).  Don’t fall into this trap!  The way to break this endless of cycle of desire, deception, disobedience, and death is to enter into another cycle.

#2 How Grace Works (v.16-18)

James turns from helping us to understand the human nature to helping us understand the divine nature.  The problem with our corrupted human nature is that we have wrong desires that lead eventually to death.  James shows us how to escape from that destructive cycle by turning to God.  I want to call your attention to four words in these verses to understand how this works.

-1- Firstfruits

Through Jesus we are made to be the firstfruits of his creatures (v.18). God’s good creation was corrupted when sin entered the world through our first parents Adam and Eve.  God’s response to sin and death was to send his Son.  Jesus took on himself the curse of sin at the cross and now through the resurrection, God’s creation is being renewed.  It’s a fresh start.  And where is God beginning this work?  You and I!  We are the firstfruits of all the good that is yet to come. In this way God’s people who have received his Holy Spirit and have been made new, are a picture to the world of the future that is to come.  We are the firstfruits.  Praise God!  Do you understand what this means?!  It means we have a fresh start through Jesus.  Whereas our corrupted human nature is full of evil desires that in the end leads to death, God’s grace to us in Jesus leads to life.

-2- Above

We are told that every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and that it is coming down from the Father of lights (v.17).  Our help comes from God.  This is an important point.  Most people tend to locate their problem outside of themselves.  Their lives are messed up because of a bad set of circumstances, poor parenting, or faulty genes.  And where do they turn for help?  They answer, they say, is inside of themselves.   We must find our Inner Light and try to discover the hidden strengths of our soul.  James turns this thinking on it’s head.  The problem, says James, is not outside of yourselves but inside of yourselves.  It’s your evil desires that lead you astray.  And the solution?  It’s not from from within but from without.  Our help comes from above. “I lift up my eyes to the hills, ” the psalmist sings, “From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth (Psalm 121:1-2).”  God does not leave us to our own devices.  Help comes down from the Father of lights.

-3- Variation

As in no variation and no change.  James tells us that God is the Father of lights, which whom there is no variation or shadow due to change (v.17).  He is the Father, or the the Creator, of light but he is not entirely like those marvelous lights which he fashioned.  The sun, the moon, the stars — they change.  Shifting light causes shadows to grow tall and then short and soon disappear.  But God does not change.  By this we understand that our generous God who gives good gifts, is faithful.  In contrast with the man who can be like a wave of the sea tossed to and fro (1:6) or like the grass that withers away (1:11), God does not change.  We can count on him to continue to act according to his nature.  We can find true rest and lasting hope in him.

-4- Word of Truth

So how does God disrupt that destructive cycle of sin and death?  I’ve already alluded to it but see here the clarity with which James presents it: of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth (v.18).  God brings us forth.  This is the language of birth.  By his own mercy, out of his own good will, he caused us to be born again into a new hope.  How does this new birth work?  It comes from the word of truth which is another way of saying the gospel.  So once again we see that our own desires bring death but the gospel brings life.  The gospel is the work of Jesus on the cross who gave himself up to pay the penalty for the evil desires that are within us.  Through his resurrection from the grave, he stands in victory over sin and death.  When we place our faith in Him, we are given his Holy Spirit which makes us new.  Or to use the language of James, we become a firstfruit of his creatures.  With God’s help, we choose to live out of this nature that he has put within us.  This is the only way that sin will be put to death in our lives.  We walk in continual repentance as our old way of life rises to the surface and at the same time we make a conscious decision to put on the new self and to live according to that nature.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why might some people think that temptation comes from God (v.13)?  How does James respond?
  2. In the sermon, Pastor Billy presented the 4 D’s of “How Temptation Works.”  What are they?  Explain where you see each in the passage.
  3. How does James show that these 4 D’s are progressive (that one leads to another and that each one is worse than the one before it)?
  4. We tend to think that temptation comes from an external source but James says it comes from an internal source.  What does he call this internal source (v.14)? What does this reveal about the nature of our problem?
  5. Are all desires bad?  How can we tell the difference between good desires and bad desires?
  6. How are people “lured and enticed” by their own desires?  In other words, how do our desires deceive us?
  7. What do you think James means when he says that sin in the end “brings forth death” (v.14)?  What is this death?
  8. What kinds of temptations do you regularly face?
  9. What do we learn about God in verses 17 and 18 that should give us hope in facing these temptations?
  10. What is one thing you want to be sure to remember from this passage?





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