James 1:13-16 “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”
Tests and temptations are the experience of every Christian. No ‘second blessing,’ no ‘baptism of the Spirit’ is going to deliver any true believer from them. If the Son of God Himself was tested and tempted so will his servants. Some of the greatest followers of Christ have even known ferocious tests and temptations during the last hours of their lives.
In the New Testament the same Greek word is used for the two English words ‘test’ and ‘temptation.’ Think of it like this: God is the Sovereign Lord of our lives. He is in charge of all the trials that confront us, in their severity and their duration. He permits one trial to touch us and it becomes a test of our obedience and love, and we persevere through that trial, and that leads to maturity. But then there is another trial, and that becomes a temptation to sin and that destroys us.
Let me make that as concrete as I can. Here are two happy Christian marriages, and each husband and wife welcome a woman to stay in their home. Her presence is both a test and a temptation. As a test it leads to one man cleaving to his wife all the more and the result is a stronger marriage. In the other home it becomes a temptation to sin because the man gives in to his attraction to the woman, and that cleaves the marriage in two, and the home dies. It was a trial for both marriages: it became a test to strengthen in one but a temptation to sin in the other. Notice how we’ve used the one English word ‘cleave’ and it has two radically opposing meanings, to bind together and to cut apart, just like the Greek word ‘trial’ can mean a good testing as well as a temptation to sin.
So, as the hymn tells us, “Every joy and trial cometh from above.” Trials are testings, but they are also temptations. Trials can be blessings if they lead to stronger faith, but if they encourage a flaw in out lives trials can destroy us.
James in our text is dealing with the second kind of trial that Christians meet – the temptation to sin. He provides us with one of the most helpful anatomies of the process of temptation you will find in the Bible. He tells us three things:-
1. TEMPTATION TO SIN DOES NOT COME FROM GOD
“When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me” (v.13). People do say things like that. Robert Burns, the Scottish poet and rake, said it, maybe with his tongue in his cheek:-
Thou know’st that Thou hast formed me
With passions wild and strong
And listening to their witching voice
Has often led me wrong.
“You created me,” the sinner says. “You made me a man of particular passions. I am not cold-blooded as you made other men. I am only responding to my God-created instincts.”
Just last week in the Spectator Taki was writing these words in his weekly “High Life” column; “My mother who died last week, was a true Christian. She forgave those who transgressed her, starting with my dad, who sure did transgress. She never retaliated, always forgave and forgot, and prayed for her husband’s soul until the end. Some modern thinkers among you might see her as a fool, a doormat, even a victim. She was nothing of the kind. She knew she could not change my father because human nature simply does not change. She made the best of it, and my dad treated her like the saint she was … My mother’s death last week made me feel awfully guilty, however. Looking at her for the last time while she was being lowered to sleep forever next to my dad, I wished he hadn’t been as promiscuous as he was. I guess the same thing goes for myself, but, like him, I can’t help it, and don’t really want to help it” (Spectator, 15 August 1998, p.48).
Taki is saying the same thing as Robbie Burns, that people behave as they do because that is how God made them. He created them with a certain temperament, and so they can’t help doing what they do. So it is ultimately God’s fault. You remember how this was the response of Adam immediately he fell into sin. God asks him “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from ?” (Genesis 3:11) Adam replies “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it” (v.12). In other words, “If you had not given me the woman all this would not have happened.” What God had designed to be a blessing and a help for Adam – the gift of a wife so that he would not live alone – is demeaned, and God is accused of having been largely responsible for what had happened. But you must not make that accusation.”No one should say God is tempting me,” says James. Why ? He gives two reasons for the impossibility of such an action.
1] Firstly, he says, “God cannot be tempted by evil.” The Lord is not like the gods of the nations who are tempted by the sight of beautiful women, and so they step down from the mountain of the gods and seduce those girls. These gods can also be provoked to anger by people making fun of them. They become petulant and they lash out because they have been tempted by wickedness. The prophet Elijah suggested to the priests of Baal who were praying in vain for fire to fall that their unresponsive god has been tempted into lazy slumbering, and so ignoring their plight (I Kings 18:27). But the Lord our God is not like that, James says. If you tried to tempt him there is nothing in him to which sin could appeal. It has no lodging place in him whatsoever. Nothing we can do can make him behave in an unrighteous way. He would never take advantage of us, nor abuse us, nor crush us, nor retaliate in any way. He cannot be affected by evil. He is absolutely insusceptible to it. Omniscience does not compromise him. He knows all the unspeakable degradation of evil, but it does not change him. His light, for example, falls upon all the filth entering a sewerage works, but he is uninfluenced by that. The Lord Jesus saw all the glory of the nations of the world, but that sight did not move him to bow down and worship Satan. God cannot be taught or bought or caught by evil. He is the Father of lights, not the father of subtle shades and shadows. God is straight. He cannot be tempted by evil. So he is utterly unlike men and angels. This is the one who is our Saviour. He lacks any impulse towards accommodating sin – however much we think we have provoked him. God is always fair in whatever he does, however painful or delayed our providences might be.
2] The second statement James makes is terse and categorical. God does not tempt anyone to sin. He never seeks to undermine anyone’s life. Jehovah never makes sin seem irresistibly lovely. He never puts such pressure upon us that we cannot help sinning. The Lord never locks us into a situation in which every possible route we take is wrong. There is a right course of action left open for us to take – always ! He is not an ally of sin. He could never entice others to do an evil of which he himself is incapable. He does not create an empty-headed woman to be a helpmeet for Adam. Eve is as responsible and intelligent as her husband – she is no bimbo. He did not make Bathsheba look irresistibly ravishing to David and then encourage the king upon his course of folly. God does not tempt anyone to sin.
Certainly all things are of God. Does he not ordain whatsoever comes to pass ? Do not all men live and move and have their being in God ? Was he not sustaining the lives of those men who were crucifying his own Son ? Jesus died by God’s determinate counsel and foreknowledge (Acts 2:23). But God was not tempting Pilate, and Herod, the Romans and the men of Jerusalem all to murder Jesus. He did not make them in such a way that they simply had to act barbarously. James says it absolutely categorically, God does not tempt anyone to sin. So temptation to sin does not come from God.
2. TEMPTATION TO SIN COMES FROM OUR OWN EVIL DESIRES.
“Each one is tempted … by his own evil desire” (v.14). “The fault dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings,” says Shakespeare. Yes, underlings of our master Sin. God ordains the death of his own Son. That was the worst sin this universe has ever witnessed. Yes, determined by God, but that in no way removes the obligation of answering to God for that crime. The men who bribed false witnesses, those who lied under oath, the execution squad that beat Jesus up, the crowd that mocked him as he hung on the cross are all accountable. “You, with wicked hands killed him,” says Peter, though in the same breath the apostle acknowledges crucifixion was all God’s plan (Acts 2:23). It was 100% God, and 100% men. It was 100% divine sovereignty, and 100% man’s responsibility. 100% plus 100% equals 100%. But none of us may blame God’s sovereignty for our own freely performed sinful actions.
How do you reconcile man’s responsibility for his actions with the fact that God ordains everything that comes to pass ? Why does God find fault ? Because no one can resist his will. Who can oppose God’s foreordination ? Why then does James say that each one is tempted by his own evil desire ? Why should the Sovereign Lord apportion blame ? The New Testament answer is simply this, “Who are you, O man, to talk back to God ?” (Romans 9:20) We affirm with all our might the foreordination of God because it is essential to the integrity of this great biblical revelation, and to the invincible nature of God’s application of redemption. What he determines, that he does. It is also the precondition of the intelligibility of the universe in which we live. The New Testament will never modify its commitment to God’s foreordination of all things, from the movement of the galaxies to the bustle of the atom. That foreordination lies behind the fall of the sparrow, the genetic make-up of every person, and both every good and every evil human decision. You cannot solve the problem of trying to reconcile human responsibility with divine sovereignty by denying the latter. Yet the New Testament equally affirms that “each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire he is dragged away” (v.14). That sovereignty does not cancel out our responsibility. All things are foreordained, and yet God finds fault. If we are loyal to biblical teaching we take both of these elements. We believe that from God and through God and to God are all things. We also believe the responsibility and freedom of man.
In the teeth of what Robert Burns or Taki writes we affirm that each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. It is a fact that into behaviour science, sociology, politics, and criminology a great deal of determinism has been brought which suggests that some aberrant behaviour is unavoidable. But we must affirm the dignity of human beings and insist that everyone acts as they do when, by their own evil desires they are dragged away and enticed. Men are not prisoners of their own genes, nor of their heredity, nor their environment, nor their background, nor their education, nor their peer group. Should there be something in a man’s genetic code that makes him more vulnerable to homosexual activity or to drunkenness – and that is certainly not proved to be true – every man can yet transcend those things too. No one need despair. We are not like the animals. You put a plate of food in front of a hungry animal and he wolfs it down. He satisfies his instincts and appetites. Animals have no conscience, and the things of God’s law are not written in their hearts. But men and women need not behave like animals. James is affirming the biblical teaching of human responsibility. Man answers to God – whatever his background, or the laws of psychology. Man has that freedom from his personality and his character that leaves him as a complete human being before God. In fact it is just because God is sovereign that man is responsible. Man answers to his Sovereign.
The Roman Governor Pilate sent a man he believed to be innocent to be crucified because of the threats brought against himself by Jewish leaders and the power of the mob. Pilate might plead he had no alternative, and ceremonially wash his hands of the matter, and try to transfer his guilt to others, but it was his own evil desires for the continuation of his office, and peace at all costs that dragged him away from justice. Or consider again how Moses sees the idol of the golden calf and says to his brother Aaron, “What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin ?” (Ex.32:21) Aaron’s answer was to shift the blame onto the people, “You know how prone these people are to evil. They said to me, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what happened to him.’ So I told them, ‘Whoever has any gold jewellery, take it off.’ Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf !” (vv.22-24) But it was Aaron, tempted by his own evil desire and dragged away from the Lord, who had built an altar in front of the calf (Ex.32:5). We have to take full responsibility for our sins, and then take them to God ! We can blame them on no one but ourselves. When you lust after another person, it is because of your own desires. Sin of the heart means allowing your desire rather than God’s commandments to direct you.
James says that all men are drawn away by their own desires. Until this part of his letter James has been writing about trials from without, but now he is opening up the theme of trials from within. The word ‘desires’ is utterly neutral. It is the word used of Jesus’ desire to eat Passover with the disciples, or of angels’ desire to look into the prophets’ messages of the sufferings and glories of the Messiah. It is a mild word, and that in itself should set all sorts of red lights flashing. My God-given desires, so much a part of my own manhood, have turned into sinful desires because I the creature has become me the sinner. Hence the translators of the NIV have correctly expanded the phrase ‘desire’ saying that it is from the evil desire of man that our sins come. Paul refers to this same desire by such terms as the ‘flesh,’ or ‘sin in me,’ or ‘another law in my members.’ Jesus says that it is out of the heart of man that sins come.
My friend Gordon J. Keddie, Reformed Presbyterian pastor in America, recollects, “In my student days in Aberdeen, I lived in ‘digs’ in which the landlady provided our evening meal. On one occasion, one of our number did not like the look of the cook’s efforts. In that abusively humorous tone so characteristic of student banter, he wondered what ‘this dirt,’ as he called the main dish, was going to do to his insides. ‘Och !’ said another, with a droll Glaswegian chuckle, ‘You dinnae need to worry about that ! It isn’t the dirt that goes into a man that defiles him, it’s the dirt that comes out !’ This young man, who today is a faithful minister of the gospel in Scotland, was in fact paraphrasing Jesus’ words, as recorded in Mark 7:15. For all the general hilarity of the moment, a nightly occurrence in that boisterous company, there was a serious witness to a profound truth – the truth that the deepest problems of the human race come, not from external factors, but from within, from our innermost being” (The Practical Christian, Evangelical Press, 1989, p.47).
You too have within you this power of desire. It is not untouched by sin as was the Son of God’s or the angels’. It is open to base satisfaction. It is biased from birth. The baby demands its own way. The child must be repeatedly taught to say ‘please’ and ‘thank-you.’ The teenager has a showdown with his parents over ‘space.’ The man has a desire for revenge, retaliation, domination, possession, satisfaction and little can restrain him. Our desires, like every other part of us, are sinful. So we cannot justify impatience, irritability, anger, libido, discontent or being a loner by saying lamely “well, that is the temperament God gave me.” For one thing my temperament is my temperament. James says here that each one is tempted by his own evil desire. It is yours, and it is a sin to have a particular temperament, such as a lustful or a bad-tempered or a worrying or an aggressive temperament. Do I simply take my desires – as the men we have already cited have done – and acquiesce in them ? No, I have to control them. It is the pathway to death to say, “human nature does not change.” It can change. Saul of Tarsus, John Newton, Chuck Colson and millions more have changed by the power of divine grace and the indwelling Spirit. It is the counsel of despair to think that you are a prisoner to your evil desires. Why don’t men change ? Taki gives the game away when he says, “I can’t help it, and don’t really want to help it.” The problem lies in the will, and that too is an underling of sin, and it hates change. Christians will leave gospel churches because they know that if they stay they must change. The preaching of the whole counsel of God is all about change, and sinners don’t want to change. They will find a church where they can simply rearrange their own prejudices and defiantly come to terms with their sinful temperaments (Incidentally it is this awareness of the power of sinful desires that makes Reformed pastors construct their worship in as unadorned and God-centred manner as possible, with as little as possible of the devices, personalities and engineering of man given any place.)
So again we insist that it is a fundamental Christian attitude that you do not just accept your desires. For example, you may be very lazy by temperament. If you are a sluggard and refuse to work then you shall not eat, the apostle says (2 Thess.3:10). The church is not to sympathise and say, “It is simply Ben’s temperament that makes him idle.” The congregation takes no collection to help him. Ben does not become a beneficiary of the ministry of mercy. The church simply says to him, “Get off your couch and work.” It is basic to the Christian life that you do not accept your desires, that you get to grips with them. Everyone of us has personality problems, and no one has the right simply to acquiesce in them. We are to recognise what is sinful, what hurts ourselves as well as others, and what defies our Lord, and we have to cast ourselves on the mercy of God in Jesus Christ and cry that he will fill us with his Holy Spirit – body, mind, will, conscience, affections and desires. I am talking about the new birth – authentic Christian conversion which does change human nature. That is the only way that temptation to sin can be overcome. The indwelling Holy Spirit makes us healthy self-integrated people; he gives us wholeness and delivers us from being pathetic slaves to our passions.
Jesus said, if your eye is ‘healthy’ you wont see the enticement to sin. It is the ‘sick’ eye that lusts at beauty (Matt. 6:22-24). It makes a man consider something to be a temptation to sin which in itself is quite neutral. No beautiful woman will be a temptation if your heart is right. No fine property can make you covetous if the Word and Spirit have taught you contentment. Strong drink is no temptation when your inner desires are under control. So the answer to the combination of outward temptations and inward evil desires is the reality of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and self-control (Galatians 5:22).
3. A CHAIN REACTION THAT STARTS WITH TEMPTATION TO SIN CAN END IN ETERNAL DEATH
“Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (vv. 14 & 15)
The tempted man gives in to his desire and is dragged away and enticed. We might have thought that the order would have been the reverse, first the enticement and then the dragging away, but the translation is perfectly good, and James’ order is understandable. The first thing that happens in a temptation is that a person is distracted from what is right. He is dragged away from the narrow path by a glimpse of forbidden fruit. Then he is enticed by the pleasures of what he sees to partake of them. The process is described perfectly by Solomon in the seventh chapter of the book of Proverbs. He says that one evening at twilight as the darkness was setting in he was watching from his window young men walking up and down the street and he saw one particular youth who lacked any judgment. A woman came on to him, and kissed him and said, “‘I came out to meet you; I looked for you and have found you ! I have covered my bed with coloured linens from Egypt. I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon. Come, let’s drink deep of love till morning; let’s enjoy ourselves with love ! My husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey. He took his purse filled with money and will not be home till full moon.’ With persuasive words she led him astray; she seduced him with her smooth talk. All at once he followed her” (Proverbs 7:13-22). James says, “after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin” (v.15).
It is man’s imagination that is first dragged away by the temptation. He has given in to sin inwardly before there is any sign of outward consent. Jesus speaks of lusting after a woman in our hearts. There is an inner expectation of something which God has forbidden. Desire has conceived the whole scenario to follow and that is what gives birth to sin. So Solomon sees a man whose imagination has been dragged away and then he lets himself be enticed by the woman and goes with her to her house. Once his imagination has been dragged away it is not too difficult for his body to be enticed. Desire has conceived, and it gives birth to sin. There are two answers the Bible gives us to prevent this chain reaction.
1] The very origins of sin have to be resisted if the chain reaction is to be stopped. Desire is being stirred and you feel yourself being dragged away and enticed. Then you must change the direction of your thoughts. Whatsoever things are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable – think about such things (Phil. 4:8). If you allow your imagination to be dragged away to contemplate the possibility of sin the chain reaction is starting. Once you have assented to sin in your mind you are courting the desire. So, as Al Martin says, “Strike at the first risings of sin. !” He says it like this, “The lecherous man’s hobby is seducing women. His first encounter always begins with modest banter, but he has one thing in his mind – the destruction of the purity of another woman. So sin comes to us with modest proposals, ‘Indulge me this little bit; give quarter this little bit.’ But child of God, never forget sin’s real intentions. Every stirring of envy, if it had its way, would lead to murder and destruction. Every doubt on any phrase of Scripture, if it had its way, would lead to the ultimate denial of God and of every truth of Scripture. Every breathing of pride in its first stirrings, if it had its way, would run and tear the crown off God’s head. Every unclean thought, if it had its way, would lead us actually to wallow in the filth of lechery and immorality. Strike at the first risings of sin ! Sin’s proposals are modest, and if you once let them gain ground in your affections, it will then go to the judgment and it will lessen your ability to grapple with it. Never debate with passions. Passion has never lost a debate yet. The most powerful persuasive debater is sinful passion leading to envy, uncleanness, to doubt, to pride. ‘Ah, isn’t that a bit morbid and a bit extreme ?’ says someone. I answer, look at the great train of people who like Samson, once knew what it was to accomplish mighty conquests for God but who now have their eyes out and are chained to some mill and they grind out day after day an empty, powerless, useless round of ‘Christian’ activity – I put ‘Christian’ in quotes. The breath of the Almighty has gone from their lives. Where did it start ? When sin came in with a little modest proposal, and the door was opened, and sin was entertained. Strike at the first risings of sin !” (“Practical Helps to Mortification of Sin”, Banner of Truth magazine, no. 106, p.30).
It is possible to get off a moving vehicle. One used to be able to get off a train as it began to pull out of a station. For example, if one was helping someone else aboard, carrying their luggage, and without warning the train started to leave the station. You dived to the door and jumped out. The slower the train was moving the better. With electronic doors that cannot be done today. So with the process of temptation, it is possible to get out at the beginning, when one is being dragged away – then get out ! When one is being enticed – get out ! After desire has conceived – get out ! When it gives birth to sin – get out ! Abort the process before it is full grown and gives birth to death. God does not say ‘Pray about fornication.’ He says, ‘Flee it !’ which is so significant. Flee fornication. Get out of the room. Get out of the car. Joseph headed for the door away from Potiphar’s wife. King Ahab was a fool to lie on his head and sulk so publicly because Naboth would not part with his vineyard. Get off the bed and get on with other things. The devil will always supply some Jezebel to get you what you want. The devil supplied Jonadab to help Prince Amnon get his half sister Tamar and rape her. Amnon paraded his haggardness morning by morning (2 Samuel 13:4) and when Jonadab found out why he soon had a plan which got Amnon the girl. Get away from the source of temptation and get on with living. Sin is always a process and though we cannot know assuredly where we actually are in the process – desire, dragging away, enticement, conception, birth – we know the skids are under us and we must abort this ill enterprise. The great point is, the sooner the better. Strike at the first risings of sin !
2] That is the negative. The positive is more important. We must look to the Lord Jesus to deliver us. The Christ was tempted in all points as we are, and so we say, quite properly, that it is not a sin to be actually tempted. But let’s remember that Jesus had no sinful desires. To him temptation came solely from without. We differ from him at that point. We have to do battle also with a traitor within us. But we must not think it was easy for Jesus. The man Christ Jesus did have desires, and he was tempted to satisfy his good desires in wrong ways, when a fallen world displayed to him all its myriad enticements. But Jesus never received a single one of them. He never handed them over to his imagination to consider them. There was no conception to his desires and so no birth to sin. But resistance was not a formality. He had to withstand temptations at times with strong cryings and tears. How he can sympathise with us in our struggles. He resisted Satan’s temptations with the Scriptures. “It is written,” he said to the Devil on three occasions and Jesus spoke to him from the book of Deuteronomy. We will never stop temptations coming into our lives, but one way to fight them is say the holy scriptures to ourselves. Proverbs 7:4 “Say to wisdom, ‘You are my sister,’ and call understanding your kinsman; they will keep you from the adulteress, from the wayward wife with her seductive words.” Use the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.
We are then to look always to the tempted but triumphant Jesus, to the one who used the Word of God for victory, and we must fill our mind with a growing love for him. What kept Paul spending all his days and energies in self-sacrificing service for the Lord Jesus Christ ? It was the love of Christ which kept the apostle in his grip. Paul stood in constant amazement that the Son of God had given himself to die that death for a sinner like himself. “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” Paul was motivated to resist temptation by this person who loved him through thick and thin.
Think of how young Joseph overcame temptation. His master had put him in charge of everything he owned. He had the stewardship of an entire plantation. Potiphar’s wife alone was excluded from Joseph’s responsibilities. But this woman tempted Joseph day after day, until finally she put her hands on him. Joseph’s reaction is, “How then could I do such a wicked thing” – and what ? Run the risk of hell ? No. Ruin my reputation ? No. Get found out and meet a horrible end ? No. Joseph said, “… and sin against God” (Gen. 39:9). Joseph was consumed by the love of God. When his brothers had tried to kill him God had preserved him. This God had placed him in Potiphar’s plantation, and all the place was knowing the blessing of God. How could he forfeit a life of fellowship with God which lasts for ever for the pleasures of sin which lasts a brief moment ? The presence of the redeeming love of God preserved him from the seductions of the woman. As the Saviour says, “If a man love me, he will keep my commandments.” It is not by legal and moral duties that temptation is resisted but by the love of the son of God.
Think of the Greek legends of Ulysses and Orpheus. They both wanted to hear the enchanting music of the Sirens. But once you heard the Sirens you were drawn onto the rocks to your death. How did Ulysses hear them and live ? He put wax in his sailors’ ears, and they secured him tightly to the ship’s mast and on no account, with all his beseechings, were the men to cut him free while he was within earshot of the Sirens. But Orpheus had a better plan. When he sailed along although the Sirens sang their sweetest music the sailors never turned their heads to listen because they had Orpheus on board and he sang sweeter songs than the Sirens ever knew. It is possible to escape the temptations of the world by legalistic actions, by setting up a monastery in a desert, or living in a cave in the Himalayas, or going to a nunnery. In that way you can overcome certain temptations. But there is a better way, and that is to sing the praises of the Lord Jesus Christ and to make melody in your heart to him day by day. The more we are acquainted with the living Christ the less power temptation has over us. “That I may know him” was Paul’s longing.
How do we keep out of temptation ? Of course, I am speaking to Christians. What I say to those of you who are not Christians is that you are fighting a battle with the world and the devil whilst having a fifth column in your own heart, and no supernatural power whatsoever to help you. Ask God to give you the Holy Spirit ! You must be born of the Spirit. Then to those who are Christians the Lord Jesus tells us, ‘Watch and pray.’ There is the broader picture. So much depends on who you marry, what sort of preaching you hear week by week, how you spend your Sundays, what sorts of literature you read, who are your friends, whether you are a growing serious-minded Christian. That is the indispensable context to our daily living in helping resist temptation. But then there are specific directions to Christians. John Owen tells us three things:
A] Make an effort to understand how dangerous it is to enter into temptation. James says here, “when sin is full-grown, it gives birth to death.” Now that is a genteel way of saying ‘Hell.’ It is frightening to think how careless most people are about the danger of entering into temptation. It is not enough to keep away from open sin. You must keep out of temptation too. How often does the Bible warn of evil companions. You know what peer pressures can do to impressionable teenagers.
Do not play with Christian liberty. It soon can become Christian licence. Yes, everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial (I Cor. 10:23). Do you find yourself in certain company or in certain activities getting cold to God ? Are you being compromised ? Is total obedience to Jesus Christ hindered by your being there ? If you despise temptation, it will conquer you.
2] Be convinced of your inability to keep yourself from entering temptation. The Lord Jesus Christ says to you, “Without me you can do nothing.” You do not posses the resources to keep yourself, and the more you realise that the more you will pray for help. So you must pray against temptation, as well as pray when you are within temptation. That is why the Lord Jesus taught us to pray, “And lead us not into temptation.” Put your confidence in the Lord.
“Ask the Saviour to help you,
Comfort, strengthen and keep you.
He is willing to aid you.
He will carry you through.”
Remember how he prays for his people in John 17 that they be kept from the evil one. Your only hope is that in temptation you appropriate for yourself your great High Priest. “He is able to save to the uttermost them that come to God by him seeing he ever liveth to intercede for them.”
So you say to yourself continually, “I am poor and weak. Satan is much more powerful than I am and watching for any opportunity to snare me. The world is attractive and persistent and full of deceptions. Remaining sin is always ready to betray me for brief satisfactions. If I am left to myself I am lost. God alone can keep me from falling.” Maintain a prayerful spirit of this kind. If you are aware of your need, and look to God to supply that need, in that is victory.
3] Trust in God’s promise to keep you. Don’t give up, and don’t despair though you fall a thousand times, and though the same sin pulls you down again and agin. Don’t think of packing it all in. God will keep you in the temptation itself: he will remove the opportunity, or he will provide a way of escape, or he will cool the passion. God has promised to keep us in all our ways, that he will lead us, and guide us, and deliver us from the evil one. Trust in God’s promises and expect him to be faithful to them. God is love.
GEOFF THOMAS 23rd August 1998.