Living Confident in God’s Character–part 2
Temptation is not God’s fault, He loves, gives and saves
The eminent theologians Barth, Bonhoeffer, Brunner, Bultmann, and Tillich one day met the Lord Jesus, and the Lord asked these famed intellectual theologians, “Who do men say that I am?” And they replied, “Some say you are John the Baptist raised from the dead, some say you are Jeremiah or one of the prophets. Even some say you are the Christ, the son of God.” Then the Lord asked these theologians, “But who do YOU say that I am?”
Then these intellectuals chorused back their learned answers. “Thou art the ground of being . . . Thou art the leap of faith into the impenetrable unknown . . . Thou art the existential, unphasable, unverbalized, unpropositional confrontation with the infinitive of inherent subject experience.” After which the Lord Jesus looked at them all and said, “HUH?????”
This morning, I want to ask you a similar question. Who do you say God is? What do you say He is like? As we watch your life, what do your actions and attitudes tell us about your theology? A.W. Tozer has said that, “What comes to our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”
One of the most important pursuits of every Christian is to grow to know God. But to do so, we must pursue knowing him accurately. Like Moses, who passionately prayed in Exodus 33:13, “Now therefore, I pray You, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways that I may know You.” And like Paul, who said in Philippians 3:8, “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Just like those men, you and I are to grow in our passionate hunger to know God–accurately, deeply, intimately and reverently. You and I are to work at getting to know Him, to pursue Him in intimate friendship and relational closeness.
Sadly, there are things that work against this. Some, because of bad teaching have an errant view of God. Some because of Hollywood have a weird view of God–like Raiders of the lost Ark–remember that? God lives in a box, and if you leave Him alone, He’ll leave you alone. But if you bother God and open the lid to His box, He’ll melt your face off.
Others, because of weak teaching have a low view of God. I have discovered there are believers, because of difficult hardships they have experienced, have a distorted view of God, seeing Him as an uncaring God–a cruel God, even an indifferent God.
The half-brother of our Lord, James writes people who are just like that. Open your Bibles to James 1, and take your outline and follow along. Because they’d been persecuted by their own family, kicked off their land, lost their homes, lost their livelihood, and are now being taken advantage of by the rich and greedy, they were beginning to think God was not only causing their trials, but that God was also tempting them to sin. They were thinking their God was harsh and unconcerned.
So starting in verse 13 of chapter 1, James reminds his readers you cannot blame God for your temptations to sin. God isn’t tempting you, but your very nature is at fault. The problem is not the tempter without, but the traitor within. Last week we studied verses 13 to 15 which says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 14But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.”
James made it clear–in verse 13, 1) do not blame God for your own sin. In verses 14 to 15, 2) accept responsibility for your own sin. To convince you the temptation to sin is your fault and not God’s, James describes the nature of evil, the nature of man, and the nature of lust. Some of you might ask, “What is wrong with us, Chris?” God answers that question through the prophet Jeremiah. He testifies, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah17:9).
In Matthew 15:18 to 19 Jesus said that “the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. 19For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.” In spite of the truth that 1) you have been gloriously saved, 2) 2 Peter 1:4 you’ve been made “partakers of the divine nature”, and 3) you even have the Holy Spirit within you. Nevertheless, you retain an enemy within in the form of sinful longings, passions and lusts. Theologians call this the sin residuum. Yes, the old nature, that old man within you, is now dead–he no longer controls you if you are in Christ.
Paul declares in Romans 6:6, “Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.” In your life, Christian, it was never the old man versus the new man. But sadly, the memory of sin, the inclination of sin, and the desires for sinful pleasure still remain. Sin still taints us, and sin still smells in us. Like clean Swiss Cheese, our nature has been washed fully, but still has holes that easily collect sin.
Explore this for a moment–how bad are you, believer? James taught us last week, even things in our lives which are good and honorable can be lusted after for sinful reasons. Food and sleep are wonderful and necessary gifts from the Lord. How many of you love food and love sleep? Without them we could not live. But when we desire and covet them in extreme ways, they become gluttony on the one hand and sloth on the other. Sexual intimacy is an amazing gift God has given to men and women for mutual physical pleasure between a husband and a wife, meaning one man and one woman. But it was designed, with no exception, exclusively for marriage. God’s Word condemns few sins more severely than sexual intimacy outside of marriage.
Added to the perversion of God’s good gifts, from your own strong desires and pride, you can disobey God with sins of commission, disobeying what He has commanded. And also with sins of omission, not obeying those areas God has commanded. Though many believers don’t lie or cheat or steal–sins of commission. Those same Christians often don’t disciple, don’t serve or give sacrificially as they are commanded–sins of omission.
Then add to that difficulty is our ability to sin even as we seek to live for Christ. Some take the road of the religious legalist, who in their zeal try to live righteously, but often slip into self-righteousness with hidden sin and hypocrisy. Others take the libertarian road, abusing grace to such a degree they get drunk or blatantly swear. And then add to all those sinful compromises, all of us battle with sinful bents–like Abraham’s deception bent, or David’s lustful bent, or Peter’s foot-shaped-mouth bent.
Each genuine believer here has unique sinful weaknesses or a sinful bent they will battle against until Heaven. And what makes it so nauseating is, each of us is unique in our bents. One person’s passion is another person’s repulsion. Just as one type of bait works well with one kind of fish, but not with others–so it is with our allurement to sin. Even as born again believers, we have a lot of sinful inclinations and sinful desires in the memory of our fallen flesh that clings to our soul like velcro to a sweater, like honey on toast. I don’t know about you, but I often feel like a sticky sin mess.
So with all that geared against us, surely it must be God’s fault we are tempted, right? James says no, Christian–if you believe that, you have a wrong view of God. In contrast to verses 13 to 15, which the nature of regeneration in verse 18. James makes it clear, you have a warped view of God if you think the Lord is tempting you. James says God is not the one who entices you to evil–that’s your problem. No, God is the unchanging giver of all good things, from verse 17. And God is the one who transforms those He saves through His Word, from verse 18. That’s why you must . . .
#3 Be CONFIDENT in God’s character and God’s conversion Verses 16 to 18
James says to his oppressed readers, “Correct your view of God, my family.” Verses 16 to 18, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. 17Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. 18In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.”
God does not tempt you to evil, verses 13 to 15. No, in spite of your sinfulness, in spite of your sin residuum, in spite of your temptations–God only gives good gifts, verse 17. And is so giving, He transforms you in salvation, verse 18. James gives you three sweet reasons to trust the Lord in the midst of trials and temptation.
First God made you BELOVED Verse 16
(Not deceived, but beloved) Verse 16, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.” Don’t be deceived—about what? In verse 15, James just instructed on the nature of lust. The apostle said in verse 15, “When lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” In verse 15, James describes lust as a mother conceiving and bearing a child. The child is sin and its ultimate destiny is death.
The Lord is very clear through James here, that sin in your life is not a one-time act, but the result of a process. We saw last week that it starts with the 1) desires, then 2) deception in the mind, and finally 3) disobedience of the will.
Step #1 DESIRE
Sin begins primarily as a feeling–a longing for something. The emotion is often subconscious. This feeling develops from somewhere deep within us, expressing a want to acquire, to achieve, or to possess something we do not have. What ignites it? The fuse can be lit by any number of things. You could be looking at a display in a store and suddenly a strong desire for a sale item sparks within you. Just seeing a hot car on the road may ignite a want for a new make and model. Catching a glimpse of a cute person can light a desire for relationship or sexual intimacy. Lust to sin begins when something or someone grabs our attention and draws out a strong desire in us–a lust either to have it or to do it.
Step #2 DECEPTION
This connects to the mind, more than emotions. When we think about the desired object, our mind begins to rationalize a justification for getting it. Like a fish that goes after the bait, the desire to have what we want is so strong we minimize the danger, the risk, the hook in our mind. Simply wanting it justifies our effort to have it. It’s at that point, James says, that lust has conceived.
Step #3 DISOBEDIENCE
This stage involves our will. You justify the sin in your mind and make plans to fulfill the emotional desire. Then your will makes a conscious decision to pursue the lust until it’s satisfied. And since the will is involved, this step is where the most guilt lies. What has been desired and rationalized is now pursued as a matter of choice. If we allow the process to continue, the will acts in disobedience to God’s law and violates God’s character, giving birth to sin.
That which is desired, rationalized, and willed is actually accomplished. Desire leads to deception, deception to disobedience, which results in sin. Now it goes without saying, the earlier in the process you determine to resist, the greater the likelihood you will avoid the sin. Conversely, the longer you delay resisting, the more likely it is that sin will occur. Since none of us are successful in resisting every temptation by immediately rejecting a wrong desire, we need to understand ways for stopping the choice to sin at every stage.
Obviously, you can avoid many temptations simply by avoiding places and situations where you already know they are most likely to occur. You already know not to read the books, go to the movies, watch the TV programs, search the web, explore on your phone, listen to immoral music, click on the Instagram, dive into Facebook, associate with compromising friends, or go to places where you know your emotions will be aroused by any sort of enticement to sin. Don’t go where you will sin.
You have to make choices. You have to make hard decisions. You have to choose intense accountability. You must determine to dam up the source of sinful rivers in your life so enticement won’t happen. You often must stop the sinful enticement at the source. You have to stop pouring enticement fuel in the fire of your soul. Just like a drunkard should not go into a bar, or a caffeine addict to the coffee shop, or the pastor-teacher into a great bookstore (with lots of commentaries)–you should not go to places or hang with people where you’re prone to sin. Don’t pour gasoline on the temptation fire.
Instead, make certain you expose yourself to those events that fuel your emotions in godly ways. Godly fun friends, fruitful ministry, Bible studies, doing kind deeds, serving others, listening to Christian music, reading biblical books and biographies, being selective with your movie and TV watching, and getting accountable with your computer and phone.
You must also be on guard with your mind. Train your mind to keep watch over your emotional desires. Instead of rationalizing temptations, prepare in advance to oppose them with God’s Word–just like Jesus did when He was tempted. He quoted Scripture–He said, “It is written . . .” Whatever your sin battle or bent is, if you don’t know the specific verses that address those specific sins, then you are in a knife fight without a knife. You may be a Christian, but you are a fool. The Word is your weapon/your sword. The Bible is how you win the war against the temptation to sin.
And because so much of the battle with temptation depends on your mind, then train your mind, practice with your mind to think only on those things which please the Lord. As Paul says in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Work at thinking correctly. Practice what you think about. Say, “No.” Jesus said to love the Lord with all your mind. Then make certain your thinking is saturated with Scripture, not sin–filled with principle, not pollution–soaked with doctrine, not dirt.
John MacArthur writes, “When the cycle of temptation is completed, verse 15 says sin is accomplished, and it brings forth death. The ‘child’ conceived by lust, is born a murderer, a killer. To use another figure, Romans 6:23, ‘the wages of sin is death’. Sin … brings forth physical death, separating the soul from the body; spiritual death, separating the soul from God; and eternal death, separating both body and soul from God forever.”
Because you have been saved by faith in Christ, a Christian is rescued from spiritual and eternal death. But if you continue in defiant sin, you may pay the penalty of physical death. Some of the Corinthians died from partaking in communion while in disunity and John teaches Christians there is a sin which leads to death.
Those sobering truths lead James to plead with you in verse 16, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.” The word “deceived” in James 1:16 is the process of erring, going astray, or wandering. Christians are not to make the mistake of blaming God, rather than themselves, for their sin. Stop blaming people, circumstances, Satan and especially God for your temptations and sins. Take the full blame on yourselves, where it belongs. Realize your fallenness, your lusts, your weaknesses, your rationalizations, and your sins are within and must be dealt with from within–mainly in your mind.
This is why James says in verse 16, “Do not be deceived [in your mind], my beloved brethren.” But also, do not miss what James says–it is often overlooked. You can trust the Lord and put your confidence in Him, because you are loved and you are immersed into the family of God. Verse 16, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.” Yes, don’t be deceived about temptation, about lust, about remaining sin, about your bents–that is all your problem.
But James immediately reminds them that the God they are accusing–the God they are blaming, the God who they are mistrusting in their pain and trials loves them. “Beloved”–and He made them family, “my brethren”. Not merely beloved by James, but beloved by God–because Christ made you family and He loves you. You can trust Him. You can be confident in God’s character.
First He made you BELOVED Verse 16
(Not deceived, but beloved)
Second God is unchangingly giving only GOOD Gifts Verse 17
(Not sin, but everything good)
Verse 17, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” God is not responsible for your temptations to sin, because His own nature is incompatible with the nature of sin. God is wholly righteous, just, perfect, blameless, and impeccable–meaning He can have no part in sin in any way or to any degree.
What comes from God is not sin, but verse 17, “every good thing given and every perfect gift.” The flawless, holy goodness of God results in His giving only what reflects His perfect holiness and sinless character. His works reflect His character. James uses two different Greek words for giving and gift, emphasizing the act of giving and the object given. Using both highlights whatever God gives and however He gives it. Our Father is perfect in what He gives and perfect in how He gives. He alone is abundant in grace, mercy, kindness, and consistency. Your God is a giving God–what He gives and how He gives is perfect for you, and always beneficial to you. You can be confident in God’s character.
Negatively, James is saying that, from your temptation to your choice to sin, God has absolutely no responsibility. Positively, James is saying that God is completely responsible for every good thing and every perfect gift that exists–all of them have come down from Heaven to you. James calls God the Father of lights. This was a Jewish title for God, referring to God as Creator, as the great giver of light, in the form of the sun, moon, and stars.
Then James says, though God created those lights, God is not like those lights. James stresses the unchangeableness of God. He does so with two astronomical terms—”no variation or shifting shadow.” Both these words have to do with the variation the heavenly bodies show, both at day and at night. There is a lot of change with the planets, sun, moon and stars. There is the variation of the length of the day and night that shifts throughout the year. There is also the apparent variation in the course of the sun.
There are the phases of waxing and waning moon. There are the different locations in the sky of the stars and planets. So James says, though God created those lights, God is not like those lights, in that your God will never change. Unlike those awesome sources of light, which can vary, God’s character, power, wisdom and love have no variation or shifting shadow. Through 1 John 1:5 we’re told, “God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” And through Hebrews 13:8 we’re assured, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever.”
The celestial bodies God created are constantly changing and varying in intensity each and every hour. But your God is changeless. Through Malachi 3:6 the Lord declares, “I, the Lord, do not change.” You can trust your Savior, Christian. The Lord promises in Matthew 7:7 to 11, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 9Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? 11If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” So ask.
James is telling his readers they can trust the character of God–God is a giving, changeless, trustworthy God. By stating this, James is asking you a powerful question. When you, as God’s children, are so abundantly showered with the most gracious, beneficial and satisfying blessings your heavenly Father can bestow–why should anything evil have the slightest attraction to us? And why in the world would you give in to temptation, let alone blame God for evil?
Second God is unchangingly giving only GOOD Gifts Verse 17 (Not sin, but everything good)
Third God chose to TRANSFORM you in salvation Verse 18
(Not religion, but regeneration)
I have never caught this before in James and it is absolutely amazing. Verse 18, “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.” You can trust God, because He saved you, made you new–by transforming you. The Lord is not the source of evil, but He is the source of eternal life. The Lord is not the one to blame for your sin, but is to blame for your salvation.
In verse 18 James again proves God is not at all responsible for your temptations, because God has given you new life. This born again life is godly, holy and Christlike. Christianity is the life of God in the soul of man. By the new birth, a believer is recreated, given a totally new nature that has no part of evil or sin. In contrast to the nature of evil and lust, verses 13 to 15, James now describes the opposite—the nature of regeneration. Verse 18, our own lust, births, death, but the gift of God births life. Look at verse 18–what prompts God to save us? If you and I are this sinful? “There is none righteous, not even one… Men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil….You were dead in your trespasses and sins.” Then who can save us?
Verse 18a, “In the exercise of His will.” James emphasizes that regeneration is not your decision, but a specific act of God’s will. God alone has the power to accomplish this salvation, which is why this phrase, “In the exercise of His will” is at the beginning of the Greek sentence, making it emphasized. James is highlighting the sovereign will of God is the source of your new life. No baby has ever been born into the world by its own will. Its conception, gestation, and birth are completely out of its control. The child is merely a passive recipient of the decisions made by the parents.
In the same way, no person wills a new spiritual nature within themselves. Jeremiah gets pointed in 13:23, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then you also can do good who are accustomed to doing evil.” The Bible repeatedly affirms–you can’t change your nature, you can’t stop sinning on your own, you can’t save yourself. God must appoint, elect, choose to save, and open your heart first. Acts 13:48, “As many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” Acts 16:14, “and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.” God saved you by the exercise of His will. God chose to save you.
What does God do in saving us? Verse 18b, “He brought us forth.” Brought forth is from the same verb “gives birth” in verse 15. God causes us to be born again–God regenerates His chosen children. God gave you birth to a whole new spiritual life. Regeneration is the miracle of God by which new life is implanted in a sinner–then the governing disposition of their soul is made holy. It’s a new birth, being born again. Just like Jesus told Nicodemus, you must be born again. Just like Paul told the Ephesians in 2:5, “Even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).”
The new birth is unseen by any human eye, but is able to be experienced by any human heart that turns to God through faith in Christ. And this new birth is always evidenced by new living/lifestyle. What accomplishes the saving? Verse 18c, “by the word of truth.” The word of truth is the Gospel–the message which saturates your entire Bible. By the word of truth is literally “by the truth’s word”–that is, by the Word of God, by Scripture. Believers are born again, regenerated, by the power of God’s Word.
In Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” Regeneration sovereignly occurs in the heart, allowing the sinner to express faith in Christ and repentance from sin. When God awakens the heart, then people openly admit they are sinful to the core, that Christ is God who was their substitute, dying on the cross for the punishment of their sins, rising from the dead, and now able to cover them in His righteousness in order for them to stand in God’s presence forever.
Why does God save? James states His purpose in verse 18d, “so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.” First-fruits was an Old Testament expression referring to the first and best harvest crops. God expected those crops as an offering. Giving God that initial crop was an act of faith that He would fulfill His promise of a full harvest to come. In the same way, you believers are now the first evidence of God’s new creation that is to come. In our new born again life, believers enjoy a foretaste of future glory. In the Old Testament, the first-fruits were sacred to God. They were offered in grateful sacrifice to God because they belonged to Him. So when you are reborn by the true word of the Gospel, you become the special property of God, and sweetly belong to Christ alone.
How could God be the one who tempts? Or how could God be the source of sin? Never. His character as the never-changing giver of all good gifts, verse 17, and the initiator and provider of a life transformation salvation verse 18, says no way. You can be confident in God’s character—so . . .
A Thank God daily for your SALVATION and additional blessings
How can you, who have been given so much, complain or want more or blame God? Even as our culture continues its rapid decline and races toward Armageddon, we are still a blessed people. Our material wealth of homes, cars, clothes, food, and discretionary money . . . our spiritual wealth of a salvation given to the worst people, sick with sin . . . our special community of believers who uniquely love the Lord and each other in spite of sinful bents. Make certain you thank God more for His gifts and salvation, then you complain about this world.
B Grow in your knowledge of God and keep your mind focused on what’s TRUE
You need to deal with sin and flee sin–but more importantly, pursue Christ. Do not invest all your efforts in not sinning, but invest most of your spirit-dependent efforts in knowing God and keeping your mind focused on the things of God. Make certain you not only attack the sins of commission, but you pursue not sinning by omission to prayer, ministry, discipleship and giving–the things Christ commands you to do.
C Get aggressive with your sin BATTLES
Couchmen do not win battles. Couchmen are those men who spend much of their waking moments on the couch playing games or watching TV in their mom’s basement or relative’s house, while they wait for the CEO job offer to magically appear. Those casual believers do not win life-changing spiritual battles. Wimps don’t win, only warriors win battles.
Only those who use all the means of grace, dependence upon the Spirit, digging in the Word, diligent prayer, inter-connectedness to the Church in discipleship–and dabblers never experience victory. If you’re addicted to porn, in financial debt, if your marriage is rocky, if your family is spiraling out of control–it is time to get aggressive and fight. Get connected and get to work.
D Only by turning to Christ can you be free from SIN
I am not talking about making a decision for Christ at some point in your life–that won’t free you from sin. You can only be freed from sin if Christ made a decision to regenerate you. For some, it happens when they turn to Christ–for many it doesn’t. Cry out to Christ to open your heart and give you a new, born again life. Make certain of His choosing you. Make certain Christ is in you. Only then can you escape eternal death, overcome the power of sin and one day be freed from sin forever in the blessing of Heaven forever in joy. Cry out to Christ to save you. Let’s pray.