The Lure of Temptation – a Sermon by Pastor Chris Talton
“Blessed is the man that endures temptation; for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to them that love him.”
James said, “When he is tried…,” not “if” he is tried. Everyone goes through temptation. Jesus faced it. Your pastor faces it.
Temptation. From the person-being-tempted’s perspective, “Temptation is a desire to engage in short-term [pleasure] that threatens long-term goals.” From the tempter’s perspective, temptation is coaxing a person to commit an act that is unwise, wrong, or immoral. The tempter plays on the person’s curiosity, desire, and fear to prompt them to do the desired action.
Not all temptations are the same. Some are relatively benign – sleeping an extra 15 minutes, getting another helping at dinner, indulging in just a little bit of whining, continuing to scroll through Facebook though your lunch break is already passed, or hitting the purchase button on the item in your Amazon cart.
Some temptations come with a much higher cost. They include the over-consumption of alcohol, illegal drugs, pornography, gambling, control by fear, pride, excessive speed, ignoring the needs of others, or substituting earthly things in place of God which is otherwise known as idolatry.
No matter the nature of the temptation, yielding to it always comes with a cost. The cost you pay may be physical. Reading just one more chapter in the book steals some of your sleep. And if your lack of sleep makes you late for work, reading just one more chapter might cost you your job.
The cost associated with your unabashed singing and dancing to the song on the radio may be emotional. It is the embarrassment you feel over people’s comments on the video your husband secretly recorded and posted. Worse emotionally is the guilt, shame, and loss that results when a now former friend discovers that you broke her trust and shared her secret.
The most expensive cost a successful temptation brings is spiritual. The sin that results hinders your relationship with God, it steals your boldness in your Christian walk, and it makes your prayers powerless.
Every illicit, temporary pleasure brings a longer-lasting, negative consequence. The Bible overflows with examples of people – people just like you and me – who succumbed to temptation and paid a terrible price as a result. And it is to the Bible that we go to find what we need to be victorious in this day-to-day battle.
Here in James 1, James, the half-brother of Jesus, speaks of temptation. One of the keys to overcoming temptation is the recognition of what your response to temptation says about you. Some of what James has to say is going to sting. Be prepared.
1) How you respond to temptation shows what kind of a person you are. (v. 12-15)
A) We are weak “endures temptation”
“Blessed is the man that endures temptation: for when he is tried, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to them that love him.” (James 1:12)
To understand what James is saying, we need to define some words. He begins with the word, “Blessed.” Some translate this word as “happy.” A better understanding of the word would be, “to be congratulated or praised.”
Who is to be congratulated? The person who “endures” or “perseveres” while being tempted. He “remains under the heavy weight.” He does not run away or take the comfortable, convenient, less painful way out.
And then, there is the word, “temptation.” The original word here could also be translated as trials. Trials and temptations are not the same thing, but one produces the other. Trials produce temptations, and temptations can produce trials.
Think about it. What is the temptation that you face when you are going through difficult days? It is the temptation to give up on God and His ways and walk your own pathway. It is the temptation to get discouraged and quit.
The appropriate response to a person undergoing a trial and the temptation that comes is not congratulations. In the middle of the trial, that person needs encouragement, someone to cheer him on so that he does not quit. It is only when he has successfully made it through that he wins the prize.
While my wife was going through labor, she did not consider herself to be blessed. She was in pain. It was not until the process was complete and she held our child in her arms that she was willing to accept the praise that others offered.
James also says that the endurance of trials has a specific result. It labels that person as “approved by God.” Another translation says the person has “stood the test” (NIV). That is how we prove the integrity and reliability of a person or a product, by testing it.
When choosing a hotel, cell phone provider, or restaurant, many of you rest on the reviews that you find whether they come from the internet or your neighbor. Home Advisor, Consumer Reports, Trivago, Google – each of these provides advice to people on which products or services to seek. We test drugs before they come onto the market.
More important than evaluating the effectiveness of laundry detergent, or the durability of clothing is the testing that happens to our faith.
Peter wrote to Christians who were going through intense persecution. He said that the testing of their faith, “being much more precious than of gold that perishes, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:7)
Students all over the country have started going back to school. They and their teachers face physical danger in the form of COVID-19. Twenty years ago (1999), students at Columbine High School faced a different threat. Two young men walked into the school and began shooting. Reportedly, when 16-year old Cassie Bernall was asked if she believed in God, she answered, “Yes.” She then died for her faith. Now she has a stamp on her which reads, “APPROVED BY GOD.”
As a symbol of God’s approval, He gives those who refuse to quit in the face of suffering the crown of life. This crown is spoken of in only one other place.
“Fear none of those things which you will suffer: behold, the devil will cast some of you into prison, that you may be tried… be faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life.” (Rev. 2:10)
Faithfulness under suffering will produce for you a crown of life. Faithfulness, however, does not produce an easy life. No, faithfulness produces a crown and the place of authority that comes with it in God’s kingdom for all eternity (2 Tim. 2:12).
One of the most dangerous temptations we face is pride. The Bible warns, “Let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Cor. 10:12) It is easy to think that you are a super-Christian when everything is easy and flowing smoothly. Not until life is rough do you really know what you are made of. And temptation, whether it be our propensity to fail or our actual failure, shows us how weak we truly are.
A boy was standing near an open box of peanut butter cookies. As the grocer approached the boy, he said, “Now then, young man, what are you up to?”
“Nothing,” replied the boy.
“Nothing? Well it looks to me like you were trying to take a cookie.”
The boy replied, “You’re wrong, Mister; I’m trying not to!”
You are like that little boy. So am I. We have repeatedly stared temptation in the face, trying ever so hard not to give in. Yes, there have been times that we successfully resisted the temptation. We celebrate the victories. But there have also been many times, too many to count, that we succumbed. We are weak.
God knows that we are weak! That fact does not surprise Him. Jesus correctly prophesied Peter’s betrayal. In the Garden, Jesus warned His disciples about the power of temptation. He said, “Watch and pray that you might not enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is…weak.” (Matt. 26:41) They were strong men, but they ran away.
Our experience is the same. But Jesus, just as He did for them, welcomes us back, forgives us, and chooses to use us even though He knows that we are weak. Jesus knows that we will fail, but He loves us anyway!
Do you know why you congratulate someone who successfully defeats temptation in their lives? Because it is hard. Because it happens far too rarely. And because it pleases God.
While it is not pleasant to admit our frailty, the value of the recognition motivates us to look to someone other than ourselves for strength. Paul prayed for God to take away His weakness. God refused. Instead, God said, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”
Listen to Paul’s response: “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. … when I am weak, then am I strong.” (2 Cor. 12:9-10)
God can give you that strength. He is the one who wants us to succeed against temptation rather than submitting to its appeal.
James says that we are weak. There is a second description that James gives. He says that we…
B) We are to blame. “I am tempted by God”
“Let no man say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted of God’: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempts he any man: (James 1:13)
Rather than taking personal responsibility for our actions, all of us face the natural inclination to blame someone else for the messes that we get ourselves into. You can look to the Genesis record of Adam and Eve to see it all the way back at the beginning (Gen. 3), or you can just watch your own children and grandchildren for the evidence. See if these phrases sound familiar.
“It’s my brother’s fault.” “She started it!” “I couldn’t help it.” “Everybody’s doing it.” “The devil made me do it.” While some of those may have an element of truth, none of them excuses the person’s action. In each case, the guilty person made a choice based on the stimuli that was placed before him.
Of greater significance than any of those excuses is one that seems to be more prevalent today but was also around in James’ day. It is the one that lays the blame for human failures at God’s feet.
They say, “My failure is God’s fault.” Let me give you some examples.
“It’s not my fault that I complain all the time! If God had just given me more to be thankful for or given me a smoother road…” “It’s not my fault that I have inappropriate sexual desires. I was born this way…” “An overactive temper is the result of my heritage. It is just the way that I am. I cannot do anything about it…” And that is the reason why people lay the blame at God’s feet. To them, and to those who accept the lie, their circumstances justify their actions.
James denies God’s culpability for our failures by communicating two facts about God. First, God cannot be tempted to do evil. God is holy. That means that temptation has no effect on Him. He has a Teflon coating. Everything that sin has to offer, God already has – riches, pleasure, power. God is holy, and He expects holiness from us.
Second, James communicates that God does not desire for us to fall. He does not tempt us. God does test us. He tested Abraham (Gen. 21). He tested David (2 Sam. 24). He participated in Job’s testing (Job 1-2). A time of testing can also be an opportunity for temptation. So, what is the difference between tempting and testing? Two differences – the source and the goal. Satan tempts and wants us to fall. God tests to strengthen us so that we will not fail.
If a person thinks that God tempts us, what does that say about their conception of how God sees him? Do they think that God enjoys seeing His children fall and destroy ourselves?
When my children were young, they went through the process of learning how to ride a bike. It was painful. It took them a while to reach the stage where they were ready for me to let go. Their attempts resulted in skinned knees, tears, and helmets being thrown across the sidewalk.
What kind of a dad would I be if their failure produced joy or some kind of morbid pleasure for me? “Ha, ha! I knew you would mess up. I can ride a bike and you can’t!” No, my desire as a dad is to see my children succeed! I rejoiced the day that they experienced the wind blowing across their face for the first time.
Likewise, our Heavenly Father’s desire is not to make us fall so that He can prove His superiority over us. God’s is thrilled when you succeed. God takes no pleasure in your fall, but Satan does.
How would you like it if you had a teacher that enjoyed it when her students failed? Maybe you had a teacher that made huge red marks on questions that were wrong on your papers. You had two options when that happened. You could either lose hope and give up, or you could study harder so that you could steal their joy over your failure.
God takes no pleasure in punishing us for our sins. When He says, “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you,” He is telling the truth.
Well, if God is not the source of evil and temptation in our lives, then where does it come from? James says that we are the source.
“But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.” (James 1:14)
Temptation and the sin that is often its result comes from inside us, from inside me. I am the one to blame for my own failures. I cannot even blame the one who tempted me.
It would be easy to lay the blame for your lustful thoughts at the feet of the barely clothed woman walking across the beach. She bears responsibility for her clothing choice, but your guilt comes from what you do with what you see. The internet can be another prime source for temptation. True, it would be easier to maintain purity in your browsing if there were not so many “click-bait” opportunities put before you. But the choice of what to do with those images is always up to you.
A famous quote says, “You cannot prevent a bird from landing on your head, but you can prevent it from building a nest there.” What’s the application? Though you are culpable for what you do with a temptation, you are not responsible for the temptation itself. Still, to take the saying a little further, if you do not want a bird to land on your head, then opening the door to an aviary (a bird sanctuary) is foolish. You cannot claim innocence if you purposely go where you know birds are likely to be.
There is great value in correctly assessing fault. If I am to blame, then I can do something about it. Taking responsibility empowers me to change. It is not about shaming someone into admitting defeat. It is about empowering them to make different choices next time.
Verses 14 and 15 use the word “lust” in the King James. Lust usually has a negative connotation. That is why the NIV translates it as “evil desires.” It would be more accurate if it simply said “desires” without the “evil” in front of it.
Each of us has desires that are perfectly natural for us to have – desires for food, safety, companionship, pleasure and fulfillment. Those desires become evil when we allow them to control us and when we seek fulfillment of those desires in a way that God did not intend.
James says that our sins come from the struggles within us – struggles that are produced by our desires. The last part of 4:2 says, “You do not have because you do not ask God.”
You have desires and God has a way for those desires to be met that still honors Him. The reason your desires cause you to sin is because you go somewhere other than God to have those needs met. God says, “I’m the source of fulfillment of every desire and need that you have! Come to me! Do not accept Satan’s counterfeit. I have the only thing that will fully satisfy!”
You may not have control over what you desire, but you can control how and when you fulfill that desire. You can delay your gratification.
God has put those desires within us to cause us to seek Him. But instead of coming to God for the satisfaction of those desires, we look elsewhere.
That word “enticed” (1:14) is another word for a “lure” – an artificial substitute that draws you away from real satisfaction in order to trap you and destroy you.
What do you use to get a fish to bite down on your hook? You use a lure
I am no fisherman, but I remember the good old days when you used a worm, or chicken livers, or something else real to catch a fish. At least then, the fish got a real meal before it died. Now, the bait is mostly fake. When searching for fish, you put an artificial lure on the pole, drop it in the water, and move it around to make it look alive. This successfully draws fish out of the depths or away from real food. Soon you have a meal because that fish was taken in tow by his own desires and went after something that was fake (Prov. 7:6-23).
Marriages are falling apart in our society. Do you know why men and women cheat on their spouses? It is because they do not seek fulfillment of their God-given desires in a God-honoring way. Refuse to accept a cheap substitute! Listen to Solomon’s counsel.
“Let your wife be a fountain of blessing for you. Rejoice in the wife of your youth. She is a loving deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts satisfy you always. May you always be captivated by her love. Why be captivated, my son, by an immoral woman, or fondle the breasts of a promiscuous woman?” (Prov. 5:18-20)
God offers you real satisfaction. Sin is when you believe that Satan’s substitute is better than God’s solution, and we get drawn away from God has to offer.
Whatever sin you struggle with, let me offer you this word of advice on conquering it. Examine what needs or desires that sin is pretending to meet in your life. Find the portion of God’s plan for your life that can truly meet your need and latch onto that. Ask God to fulfill those needs that you have in His own way.
James warns us to admit our weaknesses, and to take responsibility for the desires we possess and the messes we create. He says one more thing about our current situation. He says that…
C) We are suffering “brings death”
“Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” (James 1:15)
It is ironic. Though temptation’s draw is the promise of pleasure, temptation’s goal is your pain.
Desire is the beginning point of temptation. Neither desire nor temptation are sinful. It is what you do with the temptation which can make it sinful. It is whether or not you allow the desire to control you that will make it sinful. Jesus had desires, and Jesus was tempted, but He never sinned. (“…tempted in all points, yet without sin.”)
When you allow that desire to control you, then an almost unstoppable process has begun. Look at vs. 15.
“conceived” – 2 ideas:
1: Entrapment – “seize, grasp, apprehend” – taking of prisoners off to custody. When you give in to your desire, you turn over control of yourself to someone else.
2: Consequences – “become pregnant” – ready to produce more. Once the desire has taken hold of you, and you commit the sin, that is not the end of the process. Your life is now pregnant – waiting to produce all kinds of consequences.
Sin presents itself as an enjoyable experience. It would not be tempting if it was not enjoyable.
Sin also presents itself as a self-contained experience. It says, “Come, have your fill of me, and when you’re done, you can go home, leave me, and nothing will have changed.” Sin has consequences! No sin can occur without detrimental and destructive consequences in your life.
Every time I go in the grocery store, I get tempted…especially if I haven’t eaten anything in a while. Food temptations sound pretty innocent, but it was a food temptation that produced the first sin. Look at Gen. 3:1-6:
1: “good for food” – physical desires; bodily needs
2: “pleasant to the eyes” – looks good, pleasures of lifestyle
3: “to make one wise” – pride
Once the desire had control of her, then she took of the fruit and ate. Look at the consequences in Gen. 2:17.
Consider the example of Achan in Josh. 7:21. He…
1: “saw” – no sin yet, just temptation; he still had a choice
4: “hid” – by the way, Adam and Eve hid too.
Look at the consequences for Achan. (Josh. 7:25-26)
Now back to James 1. Just as pregnancy inevitably produces a child, even so yielding to temptation inevitably produces sin. And, like a child, that sin grows until it reaches maturity. When it reaches maturity, it will produce death (Romans 6:23). The only way to prevent that outcome is to abort that sin. This is the only type of abortion that you will ever hear me speak favorably of. Abort that sin before it destroys you. Come to God and seek His forgiveness. If you try to hide your sin, you will be unsuccessful (“Be sure your sins will find you out”), and they will destroy you!
My inability to handle temptation shows that I am not good. I am weak, I am a coward, I allow my passions to rule me, and, when Jesus found me, I was dead. I would have stayed there too, except for one thing. God is good, and He provided a good way for my needs to be met.
2) How you respond to temptation shows what you believe about God. (v. 16-18)
A) God is good. “gift is from above”
Satan wants you to think that God is evil and that whatever is in front of you, tempting you, is good. He works to deceive you (v. 16) He says, “If God was good, He would allow you to have what brings you pleasure. If God was good, He would not put limits on you. If God was good, He would not make you wait.”
B) God is always good. “no variableness”
With Eve, Satan got her to question God’s goodness. With Job, Satan attempted to get him to doubt the consistency, the constancy of God’s goodness. Most of us would have been like Job’s wife. Her ten kids had just died in a freak storm. It is no wonder that she said, “Curse God, and die.”
He does not change. Your negative circumstances do not alter the character of God. He is still good.
C) God has a good plan. “a kind of firstfruits”
He is using these situations in your life to change you to increase His kingdom on earth.
Many of you are gardeners. There is a process that you follow as you anticipate a good crop. You get the ground ready, you plant, you fertilize, you water, you pull the weeds, and you wait. How do you feel about those first cucumbers, squash or tomatoes? Do you get a little excited? Are those the ones that you give away, or do you keep those for yourself, for your dinner plate?
Remember these 4 things:
- When going through a trial, don’t give in to the temptation to give up on God. Endure it. You will be rewarded. Get around other Christian people who can support and encourage you.
- God wants you to succeed, not to fail.
- Take responsibility for your own actions. Don’t blame others, especially not God.
- Get control of your desires. They will destroy you. And even if you have failed and given birth to some bad things, God can and will forgive.
Every fisherman has their story about the one that got away. Don’t you want to be the one that got away?
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