Lesson Three: The War Within
In the New Testament, the word temptation can have either a positive or negative meaning. When used in a positive sense, it means to test or prove. This is the result of outward pressures and problems. This kind of temptation tests our faith. It is allowed by God to prove that He is real and that we can rely upon Him to meet our every need.
When used in a negative sense, temptation means to lure or entice. It is the result of an appeal to inward feelings or desires. The aim of this kind of temptation is to lure us into sin – to entice us to satisfy God-given needs or desires in our own way instead of His way. It is a tool used by Satan to disrupt our fellowship with God and destroy our lives.
One of the things made clear by James is that neither kind of temptation can be avoided. We are going to experience trials of faith and temptations to sin. However, this doesn’t mean that we are to throw up our hands in defeat and adopt a "whatever will be, will be" attitude. To do this is to forfeit the profit that we can receive from our trials and the prize that God has for those who endure temptation.
I. A Prize to be Won – Verse 12
- Our battle with temptation
- It requires endurance.
- The opposite of enduring is to yield to the temptation, to give in.
- This produces guilt
- It causes us to doubt God’s ability to give us victory over sin
- It makes it easier to repeat the sin the next time the temptation is offered
- The fact that James speaks of those who endure tells us that the Christian can overcome every temptation. See 1 Corinthians 10:13
- God will not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to endure
- With every temptation there is also a way of escape – an alternative to the enticement that has been offered.
- It involves an examination – "when he is tried"
The next verse states that temptations never originate with God. However, that doesn’t mean that God is completely out of the picture. God uses our struggles against sin to help us grow strong in our faith and identify areas in our Christian lives that still need development.
That is the concept behind the word tried. Satan designs temptations to defeat us, but God uses those same temptations to develop more of His character into our lives. Temptation, then, becomes a testing ground, a place where the quality of our faith is examined outside the sterile environment of the church.
Charles Stanley gives the illustration of a man going through the turbulent waters of a white-water river in a Kayak. As the man paddles through the potentially destructive force of the river, the rapids are actually helping him to test and improve his skill. When he passes the test of a lesser river, he will be ready for the challenge of a greater set of rapids. However, if in the middle of his test he gives up and quits trying to fight his way out of the rapids, they will overcome him.
So it is with the power of sin. As long as we take a stand against temptation, even if we fall momentarily, God will use the struggle to make us into the men and women He wants us to be. But once we … give up and allow the forces of sin to dictate our behavior, it will only be a matter of time until we are swept away and our lives destroyed. (Temptation by Charles Stanley, pages 18-19, published by Oliver-Nelson)
- The blessing of endurance
- The promise of reward – "the crown of life"
- The New Testament mentions a number of crowns that can be earned by the believer. Each refers to future rewards for those who qualify to receive them.
- Knowing about these crowns encourages us and motivates us in our struggle against sin and our service to the Lord.
- The prerequisite for this reward – to them that love Him
- If we are not careful, Satan can use temptation to create resentment in our heart towards the Lord, causing us to doubt His goodness and question His motives.
- Once resentment enters a relationship, it becomes easier to do that which violates it.
- Thus, endurance is in part a by-product of maintaining our love for the Lord.
II. A Problem to be Faced – Verses 13-15
- The source of temptation – Verses 13-14
- God is not responsible (13)
Blaming God for our failures goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. There, when Adam was confronted with his disobedience, he tried to blame God. He responded, "The woman whom THOU GAVEST to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat." He was implying that if God had not brought Eve into his life, he wouldn’t have sinned.
James points out the foolishness of this argument. First, God cannot be tempted. Temptation has no effect on Him. It is powerless against Him. Second, God doesn’t tempt anyone. He hates evil, He loves us, and He would never bring something into our lives designed to corrupt us.
- We are held accountable (14)
- Satan’s immediate goal in temptation is to entice us to satisfy God-given needs or desires in our own way instead of God’s way.
The word lust simply means desires. God has created within us desires designed to help us survive in the world, enjoy our relationships with others, and recognize our need for God. For example, if God had not given us the desire for food, we would all starve to death. Because of our desires for love and acceptance, we seek to engage in relationships with God and other people.
Not only has God created our desires, he has also designed appropriate ways for them to be satisfied. There is nothing wrong with having desires. The error is in seeking to fulfill them in our own way.
- Temptation has no power over us except as we respond to some inner enticement and find the thing that is offered in some way desirable.
The word enticed literally means to lure with bait. It conjures up a picture of a worm dangling from a hook or a piece of cheese fixed to a mousetrap. James is reminding us that temptation is always offered in some form that appeals to our natural desires. If we didn’t find the thing desirable, then we wouldn’t be tempted. That is why we are held accountable. We respond to the lure dangled before us, choosing to satisfy a desire in a way that we know is not permitted.
- The seriousness of temptation (15)
- Yielding to temptation always results in sin.
- The Bible has many ways of describing sin.
- It is going our own way (acting independent of God). Isaiah 53:6
- It is missing the mark. Romans 3:23
- It is the violation of God’s laws. 1 John 3:4
- When we act upon our lust and satisfy a need or desire in the wrong way, we have sinned (gone our own way, missed the mark, and broken God’s law).
- The end result of sin is always death.
- Initially, sin brought spiritual death. This meant that man was separated from the life of God and could no longer fellowship with Him.
- Sin is also responsible for physical death. Many people die premature deaths because of their sin or the sin of others.
- Sin always results in "death" of some kind – "death" to relationships, to dreams and goals, to self-respect, and any number of things. When sin is allowed to continue, something is always destroyed.
It is not a sin to be tempted, but it is dangerous to dwell upon the temptation. Every moment we entertain the thought of satisfying a desire the wrong way, the potential for yielding increases. The moment we yield and take the bait, we have sinned and invited death in some form into our lives. That is why temptation must be recognized and rejected as quickly as possible.
III. Principles to be Remembered – Verses 16-18
- The Nature of God (16-17)
- God’s provisions are good
- God has not only created in us desires, He has provided good things to satisfy every one.
- The "gifts" Satan offers in temptation are destructive, leading to sin and death.
- Many people have been sorry that they yielded to temptation, but no one has ever regretted waiting upon God and satisfying their desires with His gifts alone.
- God’s purposes do not change
- The sun, moon, and stars are always turning, causing the sun to cast constantly changing shadows and the moon and stars to undergo variations.
- James refers to God as the Father of Lights who, unlike the heavenly bodies, never changes.
- God is reliable. There is no flaw in His character, no variation in his purposes. He always desires the best for us and will give whatever we need to have His best.
- The New Birth (18)
- It’s divine origin – of His own will begat He us with the word of truth
- The Bible consistently declares that salvation is all of grace and all of God. He planned it, accomplished it, and offers it freely as a gift to whosoever believeth.
- If God had not "willed" to provide salvation, then we could not be born again. For this and many other reasons, the New Birth is the greatest of God’s good gifts.
- It’s significance – that we should be a kind of firstfruits.
The New Testament gives us many benefits of the New Birth, but James used an illustration from the Old Testament that would be familiar with his Jewish readers. The firstfruits were holy and belonged to the Lord (Eze. 48:14). By calling us a kind of firstfruits because of the New Birth, James was reminding us that as children of God we are holy and belong to the Lord. We have been offered to God and accepted of Him. Our lives are dedicated to Him and we no longer have any obligation to fulfill the sinful desires of the flesh. Having been born of God, sin and Satan no longer have any authority over our lives. We can be tempted, but we don’t have to yield.
This section ought to cause us to examine our response to temptation. Have you been excusing your behavior saying, "I can’t help it," "It’s only natural," or "We live in a polluted world and it’s inevitable that some of its dirt will stick to us?" Have you been minimizing the consequences, shrugging off your behavior as a "little" sin? Have you allowed a wedge of resentment to be driven between you and God, making it easier to give in? Or are you enduring – fighting, struggling, standing, refusing to be swept away by sinful passions – looking to receive the crown of life at God’s rewarding stand?