Faith in the Face of Temptation
A few weeks ago we bought a car so that when Trafton turned 16 he would have a way to make all of those trips to Wal-Mart that don’t want to make. Trafton, scoured the internet and found a vehicle that was a good fit for a tall man, had a great crash ratings, and was a good deal. I called the dealership and told the man on the phone that I wanted to get some information about a used car they had advertised on the internet. The dealer said, “I’m sorry sir, we don’t deal in used cars, we only have pre-owned certified vehicles on our lot.” I thought about that for a moment, a used car sounds like an old beater, but a certified preowned car sounds nice. It’s not an old beat up car, someone else just pre-owned it, you know kind of broke it in for us. And that’s much better.
It’s not just cars, it seems that everywhere we go and everywhere we look someone is trying to spin something. For example all of this talk this past week about Alternative Facts reminded me about another Press Secretary Ron Ziegler. Mr Ziegler was the youngest White House press secretary in history and served during the Nixon Administration. There were several times that he would say things that would later prove to be untrue. A story is told that one day while discussing the Vietnam War, Mr. Ziegler gave an answer to a question that hours later would be revealed as a blatant lie. The next day someone asked him about his comments from the day before, and why he felt compelled to lie to the press. Ziegler looked at the reporter and said “I didn’t lie; my comment from yesterday is no longer operative.”
We live in a society that struggles with the truth, we want to spin information that puts us in the best light possible. Even reality TV isn’t really reality TV. It’s still shot, edited, and spliced up to make a point and to get the basic themes of a story across. There are times when it is difficult to know what is true and what has been edited, airbrushed, and cleaned up. It is so refreshing when we find someone who is willing to be honest and tell us the truth. If that is something you long for as well, I have some great news for you; today we are beginning a new series that is going to tell us the whole truth. We are going to spend some time with the book of James, a book that cuts through all of the fluff and tells us the whole truth about what Christianity looks like in the real world.
We have titled this series Life Apps because in our society if we want to know something or do something we can find an app for that. Today we find our first life app in James 1:1-18 and it teaches us how to deal with temptation. (Read Text)
James starts his book talking about trials and temptations. That’s unique because most of the New Testament books start out with a section of thanksgiving. Most of the letters start with, I thank God for who you are. I’m so grateful for our friendship. James bypasses all that and says: Look, life is hard. You are going to face temptations. You are going to face trials. You are going to face hard stuff. Let’s talk about how to deal with it. He just jumps right in the midst of it.
That Greek word in verse 2 πειρασμ?ς (Pie-ras-mas) is fascinating to me, because it can be translated as trial, or in a different context temptation. It’s the same word. It depends on how it plays out in your life. Sometimes a trial will happen in your life and God wants to use that trial to do something better in your life. You could be having difficulties with your children. You could be having challenges at work. It could be a health trial. It could be a trial related to your financial situation. Any kind of trial, God desires to use that to bring something good and mature into your life.
But in the midst of trials, we also can take the dangerous turn towards temptation. Maybe you are tempted to go drink again. Maybe you are tempted to have an affair. Maybe you are tempted to cut some corners at the office and do some things that wouldn’t be considered ethical. All of these things come into our lives and in that sense the word becomes a temptation. It is a trial or a temptation depending on how we respond to it.
James says the first thing you do if you are facing a trial or a temptation is to choose to rejoice.
Consider it pure joy in the midst of trials, in the midst of struggles because you know God is going to do something out of that. It’s not pure joy at the trial, but its pure joy in the midst of the trial because you are rejoicing in who God is.
That is a lot easier to say than to do, actually it’s a real challenge. God says when you have a problem you need to relax, and just rejoice! Thank God. Praise God. Because we know that God is with us in the midst of these trials and temptations. God has a plan for us, He has a purpose for our lives and He is going to help us through it. God's purpose is greater than the pain or the problem or the difficulties that we are enduring right now. Whatever trials you face, all across the spectrum, in the midst of it choose to rejoice because God will bring a great thing out of that trial and difficulty that you are experiencing.
Living a life of faith is built on the bedrock of rejoicing continually. James says, consider it all joy when you go through problems. He never says be thankful for the problems. God doesn't expect you to thank him for bad things in your life like if you get cancer you're not supposed to say, Thank you God for this cancer, for this chemo, and that I lost all my hair. Of course not, He says be thankful because we are in a season of life that gives us the opportunity to lean into and to trust in Him. That is always a reason to rejoice, we rejoice in the fact that we can draw closer to God and learn to live by faith.
Philippians 4:4 says Rejoice in the Lord always, that means all the time and in everything, and again I say rejoice, because God uses even the difficult parts of our lives. He tests our faith and builds our character not in times of peace but in difficult times.
Ultimately what James is saying is that we don’t rejoice AT the trial. We rejoice IN the trial because through this hardship and difficulty God is doing a work in our lives to form us and mature us so we become the kind of people that He desires for us to be. That’s the work that God is involved in.
I don’t know about you but it’s a lot easier to say than to actually do. I have a very low tolerance for pain. I don’t deal with it very well. Sometimes when I’m hurting or struggling or things aren’t going right I don’t understand it. The pieces don’t always fit together. It’s in these moments that James says we need to stop and take a few moments to reflect on what God has done and is currently doing in our lives, so we can rejoice.
The next thing James says we need to do in the midst of trial is to Ask for wisdom.
Have you ever seen one of the “Where’s Waldo” books? There were really big in the 1990’s and over 40 million Waldo books have been sold. The basic premise of the book was to find this guy named Waldo. That seems simple enough right. I mean he has some very distinguishing characteristics, the goofy glasses and the striped shirt.
But the problem is that he is not alone in the picture. And even though they promise that he is on every page very often the pages look like this. And with all of the clutter what at first seemed very easy to recognize get’s hidden from our view.
Sometimes when we are going through a trial we feel like we are playing Where’s Waldo? with God. We are wrestling with a difficult time and we call out, God, where are You? We can’t see Him and we often wonder if our prayers have made it past the ceiling. You come into church and you leave and still feel empty. You read your Bible but it doesn’t seem to be connecting. Do you ever feel like you are playing Where’s Waldo? with God? You cry out, God where are You in the midst of my struggle?
The Waldo guy says that Waldo is on every page of the Waldo book. If you are wondering He’s right here. As you read the Bible you see that God promises to be there even when we can’t see Him. When we can’t feel Him or not sure that He’s there, He is. Sometimes when it doesn’t make sense, James says, we can ask for wisdom. Look at how he puts it in James 1:5, If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.
If you lack wisdom, ask and God will provide. You realize that James doesn’t say this is a good idea, rather he says that it’s a command to ask God and He will give wisdom. James says He will give wisdom without rebuking you for asking. It’s not like God is going to look down and say, “I don’t know. You did that one thing yesterday so you are out.” Without finding fault He will give wisdom.
But, James says there is a catch. You have to believe and not doubt that God really will intervene in your situation. That means when we are facing a struggle or a trial or maybe when that trial is pressing in on us and we begin giving into temptation, you can ask for wisdom and God will give it to you. It means when life doesn’t make sense and everything is falling down around you it is a promise from God that He will provide wisdom for you in that situation.
Let me just be honest here for a moment, there are times when I don’t want God’s wisdom. What I want is for God to just fix the problem and I will go merrily on my way. Unfortunately the problem is sometimes me. God is going to say, I’d love to fix the problem but first you need some wisdom for your own life. We need to get a bigger perspective on why this is happening and why it’s going on. God wants to pour out His wisdom in our lives if we’ll just ask Him. James says in the midst of trial ask for wisdom.
Thirdly James says in the midst of a trial we must Take personal responsibility.
All of us wrestle with temptation. It could be the temptation to lie, to steal, to gossip, to cheat, to do something we know we shouldn’t do. It’s like the man who just started a diet and was having a difficult time staying away from sweets. He had to go downtown and remembered that his route would take him past the bakery. And so he prayed, “Lord, if you want me to stop for a doughnut, let there be a parking place in front of the place.” Sure enough, he found a place to park right in front…on his seventh time around the block!
Sometimes when we are tempted we begin to think that God is the one who set us up. Do you ever feel that way? “God, why did You put the donut in front of me? God, why did You let this happen?” We tend to blame God. That’s a game as old as Adam and Eve. You remember in the Garden what happened? Eve blames the snake and Adam blames God, “It was the woman that YOU gave me.” God, You did this! You set me up. What could I do but fall into the trap? I’m a victim.”
John MacArthur writes: The problem is not the tempter without, the problem is the traitor within. Let me give you four quick points that are always true when we face temptations:
1. Temptations are inevitable. “When tempted...” James doesn’t say if you are tempted, but when you are tempted.
2. Temptations are not from God. For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone… Chuck Swindoll offers this literal translation: “Don’t even remotely suggest that God has anything to do with your temptation.” God’s character makes this kind of conduct impossible.
3. Temptations are universal. But each one... No one is immune. Every one of us faces temptations and while we all may be tempted to do different things, I may be tempted to anger, you may be tempted to gossip, someone else may be tempted to greed, we all struggle with temptations. Which leads us to number 4.
4. Temptations are personal. “…By his own evil desire.” Temptations are tailor-made to trip us up. The cartoon Character Pogo said some time ago said, We have met the enemy and he is us. It’s more accurate to say, “We have met the enemy and he is within us.”
James is saying when you are tempted and give into temptation, it’s not God’s fault and the devil didn’t make you do it. You did it because you wanted to. You gave into the temptation. That was the result, so we need to take personal responsibility for our actions.
Finally James says in the midst of that temptation that we can trust God’s character to provide for us.
We can call out to Him and He will move in response to our need. He says, “Don’t be deceived my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above. Every good and perfect gift is from God.
I have a friend who was teaching at a University, and when the students found out he was a Christian they began to ask him if he really believed in all that God stuff. He said, who ever wants to talk about it can stay after class and talk, but they had to finish their lecture. When the class was over everyone stayed. A young lady in the class began and said. “I don’t believe in God.” My friend responded: “Why don’t you tell me about the God you don’t believe in. Maybe I don’t believe in Him either.” She went on a tirade about the God she rejected; the one that sits on his hands, does nothing about the pain of the world, invents arbitrary rules to keep people ashamed and afraid, and finds delight in passing his killing judgments.
When she was done my friend smiled and told her: “I don’t believe in that God either. He doesn’t exist. The God I believe in is the God of music and laughing, of science and beauty, of patient justice and tender mercy, of everything that is alive and everything that is good. He is the God who lives in love and forgiveness and meaning and hope. My God is the inventor of fireflies and the one who first thought that they belonged in the summer nights. My God is the one you can thank for your shoes and the feet you put in them. He is the binder of broken hearts and the God of second chances.”
There are times when we look at the brokenness in the world and in our own lives and forget about the good gifts that God has to offer. James says that in our lives when we are tempted, facing difficulty or trials, we need to realize that every good and perfect gift ultimately traces back to God. He provides that for us in our lives. He’s not trying to set you up. He’s not trying to have you fall. He allows temptation and trial to come into our lives because He longs for our maturity.
That means there is hope today. It means there is hope for all of us. It’s a hope that God alone can bring into our lives. What James is telling us is no matter how hard things get, no matter how tough the temptation is, God is faithful. He will pick you up when you fall. James lays it all out there and says in trials and temptation God is good and faithful. He will be there to pick you up when you fall, to forgive you when you mess up, and to sustain you when you are hurting and are broken in the midst of that difficulty. Reach out to Him.