Passing the Test
Paul is back next week and we’ve finished our mini-series on lost things. So we’ve 1 week before Paul starts his new series on Jeremiah.
So today, we’re going to look at what James has to say about temptation - because this is something that affects ALL of us, so it’s good to look at this.
Because we all get tempted. I get tempted on a daily basis, and so do all of you - so there’s no one here who can say, “I don’t need to hear this, because I never get tempted.”
But it’s what we do when we’re tempted that we’re going to look at today. And I’ve gotta say I was helped by the teaching of Jonathan Rue on some of the aspects of temptation that we’re going to look at today.
James is writing to a group of people who have been dispersed across the known world due to their belief in Jesus. They are running for their lives and James is writing to encourage them. But he also doesn’t pull any punches. He’s straight up with them.
But because these guys have been scattered, what that’s done is it has served to spread the gospel even further and even quicker. It’s a more effective way of getting the word out, because people are scattered around the place.
And James is writing to tell them how their faith in Jesus should make a difference to their every day life.
Because there’s a disconnect between what happens on a Sunday and what happens the rest of the week.
[How does your faith in Jesus make any difference to the way you live your life?]
And James’ letter is useful to us, because it helps us to examine they way we live and our attitudes and really assess ourselves and see if we really truly are living our lives as Christ would want us to live our lives.
James jumps right into his letter in verse 2. After he say, ‘hi’ he’s straight in with...
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
And then he moves from there into temptation. And there’s a connection between the two.
Because often times, temptations are hidden in the trials. And it’s in the middle of the trials that an easy way out seems SO attractive.
For example, if things aren’t going well in a relationship, then that the girl or guy who’s been giving you attention at work seems SO MUCH more appealing, because they aren’t giving you grief about stuff. And they look prettier and they laugh at your jokes and they’re not giving you grief about housework…and next thing you know you’re tempted to do so much more than have a civil relationship with this person - your brain is going into overdrive with imagination and that leads down a slippery slope into sexville.
And that’s one example, but in many cases, the temptation comes out of the hard times.
Another example is when you’re up against it financially, and money is tight and times are tough, it can be very TEMPTING to do the lottery. It’s happened to me before - and after I’ve bought that piece of paper I’ve felt guilty that I’ve taken my trust off God to provide for me and I’ve put it on the lottery, and I’m putting my hope in the lottery over and above putting my hope in Jesus to bless and provide for me. But, once again, the temptation is hidden within the trial.
And it’s easy to see why…because in the trials and the hard times, that’s when you’re at your lowest... and when you’re at your lowest that’s when the Devil will try to derail your train.
So James talks about trials or tests, and temptations. What’s the difference? Think of it like this...
Trials or tests, demonstrate the quality of our faith. It’s like taking an exam - it’s why the same word is used. Exams are tests - they are TESTING, because they are testing how well we know our stuff.
When you’re at school you have class tests - what’s the reason for them? The reason for the class test is not to trick you. It’s to show you where you are lacking in your understanding.
And those questions that you get wrong are areas where you need to spend some more time and put in more time into learning that part of the subject. We think tests are a bad thing when we’re in school, but it’s because we don’t understand the purpose…they are to IMPROVE us - to make us understand our subject better by pointing out where we are lacking.
So, according to James, if we say we have faith in God, the trial will test how much have faith in God we actually DO have. And it shows us the areas of our faith where we are lacking and where need the Spirit to come in and help us.
Temptations, on the other hand, are the Devil’s way to bring you down - to take those trials and show you an easy way out and bring your whole life tumbling down.
Think about it - if the purpose of the trials are to make us into better, more faith-filled Christians, that’s the OPPOSITE of what Satan wants. Hence, he uses your weakness in the trials to bring temptations to you in the hope that you’ll give in and screw up your life and your effectiveness for Jesus.
That’s what he did with Jesus - when Jesus was in the wilderness, and weak, and hungry, the Devil used that - he capitalised on Jesus’ weakness to TEMPT him into turning stones into bread.
Here’s the thing - everyone gets tempted. And James doesn’t say, if you get tempted. Look at verse 13 - James says, WHEN you get tempted.
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.
So everyone gets tempted, but we assign temptation to sin - that temptation means sinning. But it doesn’t. Temptation doesn’t mean sinning...It CAN’T, because Jesus was tempted and he didn’t sin.
I get tempted all the time. I’m trying to lose weight and every night I’m tempted to stuff my face with crisps or chocolate or kebabs. Kebabs are my downfall. I love them and I’m tempted to have one right now! In fact, if there was the opportunity I’d stop right now and have one.
And on my birthday, Kate got me a big box of Ferro Rocher - not the 2-teir one (that only holds 16) - she got me the big square one that holds about 27. And I ate every single one of them in one night. In fact, this year, I’ve told Kate to buy me the square one for my birthday and a 16 box one for the rest of the house so I don’t have to share my 27 box.
See, I love Fererro Rocher - and when it comes to them, I’ve no self-control. It’s temptation on speed - I just KNOW that I can’t pass them by. And I can’t just have one - once I have 1 and there are others in the box, I have to have the rest. There’s no stopping me.
Which is why I only have them on my birthday or at Christmas.
Now we’ll come back to that.
So temptation isn’t just to sin. There’s nothing wrong with eating kebabs or Fererro Rocher - there’s arguably nothing good with eating them, but there’s no sin in that.
But, temptation can LEAD to sin...
You see we have a sinful nature, and our default is to sin. Our flesh WANTS to sin. So...
Each one of us have desires inside us that are broken.
We WANT to sin. That’s what we did before we came to Jesus and put our faith in him - we may not have thought of it like that, but that’s what we did. It’s our default because we have a sinful nature.
Jonathan Edwards, the puritan, wrote this...
You do only what you desire to do.
V14 James states the same thing...
but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.
So, our desires are evil in the sense that our sinful nature isn’t FOR God and therefore not holy. And it is our desires that dictate our actions…what we love more, we’ll desire, and what we desire has the power to drag us away and then verse 15 tells us what happens then...
Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
To simplify it, think of it like this...
When we give into temptation, our desires become over-desires....our desires become lust. Lust, by the way is the word that James uses in verses 14 and 15, and it’s the Greek word Epithumia - which means strong desire. Lust isn’t just sexual desire - it’s a strong desire for SOMETHING. And it’s the word that James uses here.
It’s a desire that you can’t shift, that you can’t ignore, that you can’t get out of your head.
For me, like I said, it’s the desire for Fererro Rocher. When I see them in front of me, I can’t get them out of my head. I think about eating them, how they’d taste. And I lose control when I’m around them.
You see, I’m tempted because I have a strong desire - an Epithumia - for these delicious chocolatey nutty goodness. And this strong desire, this epithumia becomes an over-desire...and at that point, I can’t control myself and within 5 minutes, the box is empty and I’ve got chocolate all over my face and I don’t care.
Thankfully, that doesn’t lead me to sin...
But, take those chocolates and substitute them with whatever you strongly desire that is out of bounds or wrong - or something, while innocent enough could LEAD to sin, then you’ve got a problem.
For example, it could be the desire to get drunk. You like a drink, which is fine, but your desire is to have more and more, to escape life and the stuff that’s going on in your life (don’t forget the temptations are hidden in the trials), and you think about it more and more and the desire for a drink becomes an over-desire to get wasted, which the bible clearly states is wrong.
For some, it’s the desire for that other man or woman, and you can’t get them out of your head. And you think about them, and you think about being with them, and those thoughts get more and more vivid. And this person looks so much better than your husband or wife - they aren’t giving your grief about stuff (don’t forget the temptations are hidden in the trials). And before you know it, the desire becomes an over-desire - it becomes epithumia - it becomes lust. And that can lead to sin.
Or for others, it’s the desire to gossip - you’ve heard some news about someone, and whether or not it’s true you’re dying to tell someone else. And you imagine how they would react and you think of the joy you have because YOU are the one who’s told them that information. And the desire becomes and OVER-desire and that can lead to sin.
So how can we avoid falling into sin when we are tempted?
First of all, if we make Jesus front and centre of our lives and make HIM our desire, then it will make the temptations less.
We need to Shift our desires off the things that will bring you down and put them on the one who can lift you up.
Secondly, look at the language that James uses in verse 15...
Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
Conceived, gives birth, fully grown.
He’s using language of reproduction, birth and growth. He’s personifying this.
The desires that you have are like a baby - and when we entertain them and feed those desires by pushing the boundaries and flirting with them then we are caring for this baby and loving this baby and that baby will soon grow up into a teenager and slit your throat while you’re sleeping.
And, keeping with the same language, what we need to do is we need to abort those desires when they are a foetus. When that desire is stirring up and starting to grow in the womb of your head you need to abort it.
Get yourself away from it - physically, if possible. Get as far away from whatever it is either until your desires calm down, or permanently, if possible.
For example, for me and Fererro Rocher, I don’t have them in my house. I don’t buy them and I don’t go looking for them because I know that when I have a box it will be carnage.
Now, if your desire is for someone you shouldn’t be with then try to get away from them. For those of you who are still in employment, if the person is a work colleague, that might not be easy - it’s not easy to change departments or jobs, but maybe don’t go to the Christmas party if you know they are going or don’t drink when you’re there - because when drink is involved, all morals get thrown out the window.
If you have a desire to gossip then if someone goes to tell you some juicy information, say, ‘no. I don’t want to hear it.’ Then you’ve nothing to gossip about.
Whatever the desire is - get as far away from it as possible.
Secondly, think through the implications of your desire - what would happen if you followed through on this?
For me and Fererro Rocher, I just need to think about how a box of this will affect my beach body. Same with kebabs.
But let’s take a desire for another man or woman. What would happen if I had an affair with someone...
Kate would probably leave me and take the kids. I’d rarely see them again. I would have to move out and also support the kids with maintenance. I wouldn’t have much money for myself. Kate would struggle to survive working nights - who would look after the children? My career would be kaput. I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing - it would ruin my life.
So when you’re tempted, think through the implications of following through on your desires. That might help you to get as far away as possible from whatever it is.
That’s the short term approach...
Replace the desire for something better - Jesus!
And don’t forget, the temptations are often hidden in the trials. It’s when we’re weak and things aren’t going our way and we’re fed up with life or the relationship or the job or the church or whatever it is - it’s when we’re weak that Satan will bring things into your life to tempt you.
That was his technique for Jesus in the wilderness - he’s going to do the same for us because we’re easy targets.
But before we finish, I want us to remember that there are times when we DO fall into sin - when our desires get the better of us and we end up sinning.
For most of us, it won’t ruin your life, but for some, falling into temptation and sinning might just ruin your life.
And for some of you, perhaps that’s exactly where you are - you’ve messed up and the temptation has got the better of you. Your desire has become and over-desire.
If that’s you, remember you have the opportunity, right now, to confess this sin before Jesus and make today a turning point in your life to finally put this sin to death.
So if anyone has fallen into temptation then take this opportunity to bring it before the Lord and fall upon his grace and mercy and put those desires to death - abort them before they grow up into teenagers and destroy your life.
And make Jesus your desire - ask him now to help you to refocus on him so that your desire for him and for pleasing him and for obeying his commandments are over and above any desire for anything else.
Let’s do that now...