It was the first day of the school holidays. Bright, sunny and warm. But mum told young Sam that he was not allowed to go swimming with his friends that day. He must wait until tomorrow when she could supervise him. When he returned home for lunch she noticed his hair was wet. “Samuel!” his mother scolded, “I told you not to go swimming today.” “I couldn’t help it, Mum. I walked by the lake and it looked so clear and inviting. I was only going to stick my feet in it for a minute, and the water was so warm and felt so good on my legs. I just couldn’t resist!” he said with a big wide smile. Mum looked at Sam and said, “One question son, why did you take your bathing suit with you when I said you couldn’t swim today?” “I didn’t trust myself Mum, so I took it with me just in case I was tempted.” Last week we considered three key words which James uses to describe the path to spiritual maturity: Slavery, Adversity and Perseverance.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)
We realised that, in order to become mature in Christ, complete and not lacking anything, “Some assembly [is still] required”. Why? Because we are not yet complete or mature. We are still under construction. We are on a journey. The key is realising God uses adversity along the way to build our character. This is why we should persevere, and consider it “pure joy” because this is way to experience God’s blessing.
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)
This is how we should handle adversity. With joy and perseverance, as slaves of Jesus Christ. But what about temptation? How should we overcome temptation?
With three looks. Look out, look within and look up.
1. Look Out: Because Temptation is Inevitable
“When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone” (James 1:13)
What is temptation? Temptation is “the act of enticement to do wrong by the promise of pleasure or gain.” God permits temptation, but He never directs it. Why is that? Because He is God. God does not tempt anyone. God may put us to the test, but He will never lead us into sin. James uses a word found only once in the entire New Testament. He writes literally, “untempted” is God. God is untemptable. He is so holy that there is nothing in His nature to which evil can appeal. It is against His nature to tempt someone to do what is morally wrong. God could never take such action. God is holy. He is pure. He is without sin. As we saw last week, God may send adversity but it is to build our character. He will never tempt us to sin. He has given us a free will to make our own choices. Notice James says “When tempted…” Not ‘if’ but ‘when’. Temptation is sadly inevitable. We will never be in a place on earth where there is no temptation.
As long as we are alive we will face temptation – we all face temptation. From the Garden of Eden on, Satan has seduced us to do something wrong by promising us something good. Temptation comes packaged in a variety of ways; we are tempted to lie, to cheat, to steal, gossip, over eat, hold grudges, and yes, even default on giving the Lord our praise and the first fruits of our treasure, time and talent. And like Adam and Eve we are better at finding excuses than resisting.
A 4-year old girl was caught by her Mum standing on a stool in the kitchen eating biscuits. Caught red-handed, she said “Mum, it’s not my fault, honest! I climbed up on the stool because I just wanted to smell them, and my tooth got stuck!”
Look out. Look out because temptation is inevitable.
2. Look Within: Because Temptation is Personal
“but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (James 1:14-15)
Do you like fishing? It was my favourite past time as a boy. Going fishing with my dad along the river bank. We would sit for hours watching the float. How do you catch a fish? Apart from cheating with a shotgun or with a net, you usually need some bait. Bait that will interest and entice the hungry fish. Bait with a hook in it. Depending on what type of fish you want to catch, you may use bread, maggots, minnows, corn, shrimp, or some other bait. You bait our hook and cast your line into the water. Now along comes the fish casually swimming around, doing whatever it is that fish do, and he sees your bait.
But he doesn’t know you are on the other end of the line. The fish thinks “wow! That sure looks great! I’d like to have me some of that. Now at this point the fish has to make a decision. He can stay in his hiding place, safe and secure, or he can go after the bait. If he yields to the temptation, goes after the bait, and gets caught, we all know where he ends up later, don’t we? He ends up cooked and fried and becomes someone else’s dinner. That’s exactly the way that temptation works with us. The bait is dropped in front of our noses and it looks really good, interests us, tempts us. And we have a choice to make as we look at that bait dangling there in front of our eyes. Our choice is to bite or not to bite.
And let there be no mistake about this at all – the best fisherman in the world is Satan. He knows where we are the weakest. He knows what temptations we are most likely to fall for. He knows the best bait to use on each of us and he will, make no mistake, he will use it. Let me be specific; if certain movies make you weak and cause you to have certain desires that you cannot always handle, you’re setting yourself up to tempted, and like the fish, cooked and fried.
If you are weakened by relationships that you have with certain people, you need to avoid them. If you have a problem with gambling don’t hang around a bookmakers! If you have a problem with drinking, don’t go near pubs and off licences! Temptation to sin is nothing to play around with – there are places and situations you need to stay well away from. We are fools if we know what weakens us, but feed on it anyway. By dwelling on whatever it is that tempts us, we are playing right into the hands of the devil.
Is sin pleasurable? You bet it is. So much so that people will risk their reputations, their careers, even their families just to taste its flavour. If the bait on the end of that hook did not look like something good to eat then the fish would never bite the hook. Sin is fun and it does feel good. However, as pleasurable as it is, this enjoyment only lasts a short time. You sow, and then you reap what you have sown. And James says sin when full grown, gives birth to death. The death here is what ever takes us away from God’s will, because his word and his way and his will is life-giving and life-enriching.
This is how C.S. Lewis explains Satan’s strategy in the Screwtape Letters.
“You will say that these are very small sins, and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy [God]. It does not matter how small the sins are, provided that their cumulative effect is to keep the man away from the Light.… Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” (C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters)
Look out. Look out because temptation is inevitable.
Look within. Look within because temptation is personal.
3. Look Up: Because Temptation is Resistible
“Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.” (James 1:16-18)
A rather overweight businessman decided it was time to go on a diet. One morning, however, he arrived at work carrying a large coffee cake. His colleagues raised their eyebrows. “This is a very special coffee cake,” he explained. “I accidentally drove by the bakery this morning and there it as in the window. I prayed, “Lord, if you want me to have one of those delicious coffee cakes, find me a parking place directly in front of the bakery.” “And sure enough, there is was, the 8th time I drove past the bakery!”
John Piper says, “The power of all temptation is the prospect that it will make me happier.” Which is why, “To realize God’s presence [God’s goodness and provision] is the one sovereign remedy against temptation.” We look up and recognize that God has given us every good and perfect gift. And in so doing we realize He is the way out of temptation to sin! You see, you cannot look in two directions at the same time. If you dwell on the temptation, you will eventually give in. But if you look to Jesus, your thoughts are on him and not on whatever it was that tempted you. The Apostle Paul tells Timothy,
“Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” (2 Timothy 2:22)
As you run toward someone or something you are running away from the opposite direction. As you pursue righteousness, you are fleeing evil desires. As you follow Jesus you will not be following Satan.
So, when you face sensual sin – run!
When you face the sin of gossip – hold your tongue!
When you face the sin of laziness – work!
When you are filled with the sin of bitterness – forgive!
When your sin is holding back what is rightfully His – give!
How to handle temptation. Three looks. Look out. Look within. Look up.
Look out because temptation is inevitable.
Look within because temptation is personal.
Look up because temptation is resistible.
“So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:12-13)
Let us pray.
With grateful thanks to Rick Kallstrom and Steve Shepherd for inspiration and ideas over at www.sermoncentral.com