James 02: Dealing with temptations

James 1:13-18

13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.


Have you ever noticed the tendency in us to praise ourselves when things go well? When a sports team wins a championship, they never say, “We are so blessed to win. We don’t deserve it but thank God for it.” What they say is, “We work hard for it. We deserved this victory. It shows our commitment and how good we are.” We tend to pat ourselves on the back when good things happen to us. But do you know what we do when things go wrong? Do we blame ourselves? Most of the time we don’t. We blame everything around us. We say, “The reason I failed is because my parents messed up… the business deal went bad because my partner did not do his job properly… my church did not grow because the ministers have no commitment.” So, we credit ourselves for success, and we blame others for failures. How many of you know what I am talking about? And we do the same in our walk with God. We pat ourselves on the back for our spiritual successes, and we blame God for our spiritual failures. To which James says, “Hold on. That’s not the way it works.”

Last week we began a new series on the book of James. And the book of James is extremely practical. I don’t think you can read the book of James and not understand what he is trying to say. He is very clear. Those of us with type A personalities would love the book of James. It is filled with the dos and don’ts. Last week we looked at how Christians should view trials. Trials are inevitable. But trials are not random. God is the one who planned all the trials that we experience. And God has a purpose in bringing trials into our lives. Trials are designed to make us more mature as Christians. That’s verses 1-12. But suddenly when we get to verse 13, it seems like James is changing the subject from trials to temptations. But that’s not true. We can’t see it in English, but the Greek word James uses for trials and temptations is the same word, ‘peirasmos.’ In verses 1 to 12, it is translated as trial, and in verses 13 and 14, it is translated as temptation. Why would the translator do that? Why would they translate the same Greek word as two different English words? That’s because the same word can have a couple of different nuances. And here is what we know about trials. Trials do not always produce maturity. Many people doubt God’s goodness when facing trials and walk away from God. Instead of growing deeper in faith, they lose their faith in God. And do you know who they blame? God. They say things like, “The reason I no longer trust God is because he did not help me in my troubles. Where was he when I needed him? Where was he when my child was sick? Where was he when my husband left me?” I am sure we heard that a lot. And in today’s passage, James is correcting this error. James is a really good pastor, and he is very direct. If I can sum up his arguments, this is what James is teaching us. God tests us, but he never tempts us. The test may come from God, but the temptation to sin comes from inside of us. In other words, the trial we face may come from God, the circumstances we are in may planned by God, but if we find that trial leads us to sin, it is not God who tempts us.

Let’s look at the passage together. I have three points: the poison; the spread; the antidote.



The poison

James 1:13-14 – 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.

Now hear me. Every trial carries a temptation. Every difficulty we face, every trouble that comes our way, is a test that either makes us better or worse. Every trial is an opportunity for great growth or a terrible danger. Every trial will change us. Trial either pushes us to become a much better wiser person or a much worse person than we were before. What is impossible is for us to stay the same after facing a trial. So, last week we looked at how trial is a blessing. God uses trials to purify and strengthen our faith. But trials also lead many people to walk away from faith. Every trial brings temptation. A financial trial can tempt us to question God’s provision in our lives. When we lose someone we love, we are tempted to doubt God’s love for us. When we suffer injustice, we are tempted to question God’s justice, even his existence. Trials are only a blessing if we respond rightly to our circumstances. Every trial requires a decision: we can either persevere and grow or we can walk away and perish.

Let me give you an illustration from my own life. I am a full-time pastor, which means people see me as a religious authority. So, when I talk to people about their lives, my words carry more weight than others. That’s a good thing. But being a religious authority is also a trial for me. If I was not a pastor, if I was just a regular Christian, I could get into a situation where I felt spiritually dry, where I didn’t study the Bible, where I just binged on Netflix, and I could simply take a spiritual vacation from my walk with God. What will happen is my heart will become cold, I will become joyless, easily offended, and I will give in to many temptations. Eventually, I will hear a sermon that speaks strongly to me, and I get back on track in my relationship with God. But here is the problem with being a pastor. Every seven days, I have to get up in front of you and say, “God is great. God is awesome. God loves us. And he wants us to obey him out of love.” At least every seven days, I have to open up the Bible and tell you what God wants to say. So, what am I going to do? I have two choices. One, I am going to wrestle with God every day and say, “God, my heart feels cold toward you. I do not find you wonderful today. But I am going to have to tell people that you are. So, please help me. Melt my heart towards you.” So, every day I have to come to God and pray for him to melt the ice over my heart. I can’t tell people God is great when I don’t feel he is great. I can’t tell people, “This is what you must do” when I am not doing it myself. So, every day I have to pray myself hot. I can’t take spiritual vacations. And doing that consistently will make me grow as a pastor. Or two, I can just fake it. I can just ignore my spiritual condition and put on my pastoral mask. I get up and preach to you every Sunday and say, “God is awesome” while I don’t find him awesome. I can tell you, “Do this and don’t do this” while I am doing the opposite. So, I have a choice. I either will become a far more genuine pastor than I was before or a far more hypocritical pastor than I was before. But I won’t stay where I was. Are you with me?

And it not only happens to me, but it also happens to you. Let’s say you get a promotion at work. That’s a trial. And that trial brings temptation. What do you do with your promotion? You either can let it humble you, so you say, “God, why me? I’m not the smartest person out there. There are many people who are brighter and more talented than me. I know people who are more hardworking than me. Why me?” Promotion humbles you. You realize your promotion is because of God. And now you become more generous with your money. You don’t feel entitled to it. You can easily give 20 or even 30% of your income to God’s kingdom. You don’t use promotion to enrich yourself. Or promotion can make you more arrogant. You say, “The reason I am promoted is because I am smarter than others. I work harder than most people. I deserved this promotion.” You feel entitled to your promotion, and it will make you stingy. Why? Because promotion can tempt you into believing luxuries are necessities. You deserved a Ferrari over a CRV. Do you see? Promotion is a trial, but it is also a temptation. It will not keep you the same. The same with adversity. When things go badly, it can make you more humble. You become more compassionate and more understanding. Or it can make you bitter. You become very self-absorbed and anxious. But it will not leave you where you were. Trials bring temptations.

So, here is what James is saying. When God tests us, it is to make us grow and bless us. When the opposite happens, the blame does not lie in God. We can’t say, “I become this bad because of God.” Why? Because God cannot be tempted with evil, and he tempts no one. And James continues to say, “The reason you are tempted to sin is not because of God. The reason you are tempted, the reason you sin is because you want to sin. Nobody makes you sin. No trials make you sin. Even the devil cannot make you sin. The reason you sin is because you desire it.” And this is extremely important. Listen. There is a big difference between the occasion and the cause. The occasion is the trial, but the cause of sin is our own desire. For example, a math teacher gives a test. The purpose of the test is to show the students how much they have learned. But if the students have not been paying attention in class and not doing their homework and fail the test, the test does not cause the students’ failure. The students failed because they did not do their part. The test is the occasion for failure but not the cause of failure. This is very important. Because the students could very easily say, “If only my stupid math teacher had not tested me, I would have not failed.” So, the students justified themselves and blamed the math teacher for their failure. They mistake the occasion for the cause. And James says, “You can’t do that. God is not at fault. God did test you. But if you failed the test, that’s not on God. That’s on you. It revealed the true condition of your heart. God did not make you sin. You sin because you desire to sin. You are responsible for your action.”

And this is something echoed throughout the Bible. No one sins out of necessity. We sin because we want to. For example, explosive anger. You can say, “Listen, I really didn’t want to get angry, but you don’t know what he did to me. I had no choice. I didn’t want to explode, but he made me angry.” And James would say, “I’m sorry but that’s not how it works. You exploded because you wanted to be angry. You wanted to let him know how he hurt you more than showing kindness. That’s why you exploded. You always do what you desire the most.” Do you know what it means? It means we always have a choice. And we always do what we desire the most. No one can escape taking responsibility for their actions. When we are tempted and we sin, it is because we desire to do so. Sin always starts within us. Not the devil, not our boss, not our spouse, not our kids. We sin when we are lured away by our own desires. We may have been put in a very difficult situation, we may have been wronged, but all the situation did was provide an opportunity for the evil parts of us to come out. We must realize that though God is sovereign over our trials, we are responsible for our temptations. If we fall into temptations, there is no one to blame but ourselves. The poison is none other than our own evil heart. We are our own worst enemies.



The spread

James 1:15 – Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

In this verse, James gives us the spread and the progression of sin. And the word desire is a very interesting word. We talked about this in our series on Galatians. It is a very important Greek word, ‘epithumia.’ Does anyone still remember what that word means? ESV translated it as desire. Many other English translations translate it as evil desire. But that is misleading. ‘Epithumia’ is not an evil desire, but an over-desire. The way sin works is not that we want bad things, but we want some things so badly; we want it too much. For example, the desire for approval. I don’t know about you, but I like to be liked by others. I like it when people like my sermons. I like it when people enjoy my company. I like it when people say something nice about me. Is there anything sinful about it? Of course not. Every one of us has a desire to be approved by others. And I believe God wired us that way. Do you remember what happened after Jesus was baptized? God the Father explicitly expressed his approval of Jesus by opening the heavens and saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Before Jesus began his ministry, he first received the approval of God the Father. So, the desire for approval is a good thing. But epithumia is when I make approval the main thing in my life. I chase after approval from those around me and when I don’t get it, I am crushed. I become the type of person who has no conviction, or I keep trying to prove myself better than others to be accepted. What James is saying is if we desire human approval more than God, if we desire a person more than God, if we desire comfort more than God, and trial comes, our over-desire for those things will lead to sin. Do you see? The Bible tells us that sin is not just about breaking the rules. Sin begins when we desire something more than God.

Look carefully at what James says. When our over-desire lures us and entices us, what happens next? “Desire when it has conceived give birth to sin.” Conception means something inside that will eventually come outside. We might punch someone in the face. We might harm them. But it starts with anger inside of us, something inside that will give birth later. “And sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” James is talking about spiritual death, where we are separated from God. Notice the spread. Death comes from sin. Sin comes from conception. Conception comes from being lured and enticed. Being enticed comes from an over-desire for something more than God. It all begins with desire. Sinclair Ferguson describes the progress of temptation in six words. First, attraction. Our heart is drawn to something else besides God. Second, deception. We feel like we must have that thing to be happy. Third, preoccupation. We begin to think about it more and desire it more. Fourth, conception. We pursue that thing and act upon it. Fifth, subjection. We quickly become enslaved and addicted to that thing. Sixth, desperation. Confronted by our failures, we believe there is no way back. We might as well give up completely.

Let’s talk about one of the most devastating relational sins, the sin of adultery. Adultery does not happen overnight. Let me show you how adultery usually happens using the progress of temptation. You are facing trials in your marriage. You and your spouse are having troubles, and it makes you feel empty on the inside. You think that you deserve better. You want your spouse to adore you, but you don’t have it. You feel like you can’t be happy without his or her adoration. But then someone comes along and gives you that attention. Someone comes along and that person makes you feel like you are someone. You like it. And you begin to think about that person more and more. You know you shouldn’t, but you like the attention that person gives you that you don’t get from your spouse. You crave it. So, you begin to entertain that thought and desire and create space for that person in your life. And then an opportunity arises where you can act on your desire. Maybe it is that business trip. Maybe it is that time alone just the two of you. And this is the real danger zone. This intersection where desire and opportunity meet is very dangerous. One without the other, you can probably handle it. But when the two are together, you are in trouble. When desire meets opportunity, it is often the location of disaster. So, you sleep with that person. And at first, you feel bad about it. You think it is just a one-time mistake. You want to be a better spouse and a better parent. But you continue to return to that person. You are addicted to that person. You can’t let it go. And eventually, you just give up completely. You walk away from your family and choose that person.

Can you see what happened? Here is my point. All sinful action starts as little embryos in the heart. It grows from embryo to baby to adult. It starts with a desire that leads to sin which leads to death. And what I am trying to say is this. Do not wait until sin is grown and strong and rampaging through your life. Fight sin at its earliest point. Do not let sin grow up. I know it may feel harmless at the beginning. But sin is a predator that wants to kill you. How many times have we heard a story on the news, “A man is attacked by his pet tiger”? So, what happened is this man had a pet tiger named Simba. And Simba was really cute when it was small. It was like a cat but a million times cuter. The man used to play and wrestle with Simba. And one day, Simba snapped and bit the man’s leg. And everyone around them always acts so surprised. “Oh, but Simba was always so gentle and sweet. We can’t imagine Simba would do that. They always played together.” To which I always want to say, “Hello? Simba might be cute, but Simba is a predator. It is always in a tiger’s nature to attack and eat what’s weaker. No one should be surprised when a predator acts like a predator.” Let me give you a how-not-to-be-eaten by a tiger 101. This is mind-blowing. Are you ready? Do not have a tiger as your pet. It does not matter how cute it is, it will eventually eat you. And that is the exact picture of sin. Sin is not a pet for us to play with. Sin is an enemy we must drive out before it destroys us. And there is no better time to fight sin than right now. Do not overestimate yourself. Don’t say, “I am okay with it. I can deal with it later. I can always walk away whenever I want to.” No. Do not believe the lie of the enemy. The longer you wait, the harder it is. Sin in your life will only grow and get stronger. And it is only a matter of time before it destroys your life.

So here is a reflection question. Is there sin in your life that you’ve been too friendly to? Do not let sin grow up. Do not entertain it. Do not play with it. Do not let sin grow from embryo to adult, from desire to conception. Fight sin at its earliest point. You might think those over-desires are not harming you as long as you keep them under control. You might not see any real consequence of it right now. But if you don’t deal with them, it is only a matter of time before they will eat you. Sin never stops where you want it to. It keeps taking you further and further and further. And before you know it, you find yourself doing things you never would have imagined. But do you know where it all begins? It all begins in the heart: desire. Every sin is an inside job. So, the question is, how do we fight the temptation to sin?



The antidote

James 1:16-18 – 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

At first, it may seem like James is changing the topic from temptation to the goodness of God’s gifts. But he isn’t. James is giving us the antidote to temptation. Listen. The antidote to temptation is the goodness of God. How can we say no to sin? How do we deal with temptation? If we think sin is simply about breaking the rules, then the answer is don’t break the rules. Just say no to sin. It’s easy. But the Bible never gives us that answer. Do you know why? Because the Bible tells us that sin is first and foremost a problem of the heart rather than a problem of behaviour. It is not so much the problem of doing but the problem of desiring. That’s why simply saying no to sin does not work. Do you know why we sin? We sin because we believe doing so will satisfy our desires. Every time we sin, we believe the lies of the devil that God is withholding something good from us. God does not want us to be happy. God is stingy. Therefore, it is up to us to pursue our own good. We have been deceived by the enemy. We sin because we believe it is the only way for us to be happy. We sin because we believe we will be happier. No one sins out of duty. So, the battle against sin is a battle of desire. That is why I love what Thomas Chalmers wrote in his famous sermon, ‘The expulsive power of a new affection.’ He wrote, “The only way to break the hold of a beautiful object on the soul is to show it an object even more beautiful.” We can’t simply say no to sin because our hearts have been captivated by something. That’s why the antidote to temptation is not just to say no, but to fall in love with God.

How do we do that? Two ways. First, remember that God is the giver of every good gift in our lives. This is important. Because in every trial and temptation, we will want to question God’s goodness. Isn’t that true? Every time we face trial, our heart is asking, “If God is good, then why does he allow me to experience this hardship?” And that’s what the enemy wants us to believe. He wants us to believe that God does not have our best interests at heart. God is keeping the good stuff from us. But James is reminding us that God is the giver of every good gift in our lives. God gives nothing bad to his children. Everything he gives is good and whatever is good he will not withhold from us. Instead of tempting us with evil, God only gives good gifts to us. But here is the thing about God’s good gifts. They are not the sun; they are the moon. Do you know what I mean by that? The moon is always shifting. The moon is always changing its light because it has no light in itself. It just reflects the light of the sun. But the sun never changes. The sun is always shining. We can hide from the sun, or we can get away from the sun, but the sun is always the same.

And the same with God and his good gifts. Those good gifts are good, but they are not the point. They are the moon. They won’t be able to satisfy us. They satisfy us today and they won’t satisfy us next week. But God is different. God is the sun. He is the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In other words, James says when we get good gifts, we must see the light behind those gifts. The perfect light. The unchanging light. God is changeless in his giving. He is always giving, he is always willing, and he is always available. The intensity of God’s goodness never changes. God does good all the time because he is good all the time. Evil cannot come from God because God is infinite goodness. God is not like a shadow whose goodness lengthens or shortens depending on what time of day it is. God’s goodness is unchanging. Listen. God never gets in a bad mood. He never changes for the worse. Imagine if he does. “I don’t feel good today, so I’ll withhold sustaining the universe for an hour.” The next thing we know, the sun falls on the earth and we have a free 1000-degree sauna. How many are thankful that God never gets in a bad mood? And here is what’s even more amazing. God never changes for the better. Why is that amazing? Because if God can change for the better, it means that there was something deficient in God in the first place. But there is nothing deficient in God. He is infinitely good, and he is always good.

One of the best ways to deal with temptation is to rejoice in the goodness of God in our lives. Whatever good we have in our lives today comes from God. So, rather than focus on what we don’t have, focus on the good gifts God has given us. If we are healthy today, that’s because God is keeping us healthy. If we have a job today, that’s because God is giving us that job. If we are alive, that’s because God is giving us oxygen to breathe. If we can enjoy a good meal, that’s because God is giving us the tongue to taste different flavours. If we can go on a holiday and enjoy beautiful sights, that’s because God is creating those places to invoke our awe. If we have good friends, a spouse, a family, that’s because God is giving them for us to enjoy their company. There is nothing good in our lives that does not come from God. So, enjoy the good gifts of God, but do not mistake the moon for the sun. Those good gifts are given to point us to the Giver. That’s the first.

The second antidote to fight temptation is to remember our new birth. Our new birth is the greatest proof of God’s goodness to us. It is the best gift God could ever give us. Let me be extremely clear. You are not a Christian if you have not experienced a new birth. It doesn’t matter what your license says. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been in church all your life. If you have not experienced a new birth, you are not a Christian. But here is the thing about a new birth. It is out of our control. We don’t get to decide whether we want to experience a new birth or not. It does not matter how many PhDs we have. It does not matter where we got our MBA. We can’t will ourselves into a new birth. It is God’s work and decision alone. James says we are brought forth out of God’s own will. It’s like our natural birth. I was born on January 4th in the year not too long ago. I was born in Denpasar Bali, Indonesia. My dad’s name is Semuel and my mom’s name is Lydia. I can tell you the basic facts about my birth. But I have nothing to do with them. I did not decide to be born on the 4th of January in Denpasar. Nor did I choose to be the son of my dad and mom. I did not choose to be Asian with squinty eyes. I was born this way because of the work of my parents. They did what husband and wife would do when they had nothing to do at night, and voila, I showed up 9 months later. I contributed nothing to my natural birth. And in the same way, we contributed nothing to our new birth. It is God’s work and God’s will alone. God is the one who caused us to experience a new birth.

We need to get this right because many Christians get this wrong. We do not experience a new birth because we became Christians. We became Christians because God has caused us to experience a new birth. It’s like having a birth certificate. Which one comes first? Your birth or your birth certificate? Your birth certificate does not cause you to be born but it shows you that you were born. We became Christians because God has caused us to experience a new birth. It is the work of God alone. And how did God do it? Through the word of truth. James is talking about the gospel. Yes, it is God who caused us to experience a new birth. But he did so through the means of hearing the gospel. When we heard the gospel being proclaimed, we didn’t understand what happened to us, but faith arose. We believed the gospel. We were amazed by the gospel. And we were transformed by the gospel. We who were enemies of God became lovers of God. We who used to think that the cross of Jesus was extremely idiotic, are now captivated by it. We can’t stop thinking and talking about it. And James says, “That has nothing to do with you. That happens solely because God chose to do so. You experienced a new birth not because you were better than others. You became Christian because God will it to do so.” Just like we don’t contribute anything to our natural birth, we contribute nothing to our spiritual birth. It is God’s work from beginning to end. He is the giver of all the good gifts in our lives. And there is no better gift than our new birth. Some of you might say, “But Yos, I was the one who made that decision to believe. I made that decision to give my life to God.” Yes, you did. But behind that decision is God’s supernatural work that made you make that decision. The reason you chose God is because God has chosen you.

And it gets even better. James says, “that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” Firstfruits are a foretaste of that which is to come. When we see firstfruits, we know a harvest is coming. And what James is saying here is that what God has done in our lives, how he has saved us, it’s just a foretaste of that which is much greater to come. Because there is coming a day when God is going to redeem all creation, and all things will be made new. The old will be gone and the new will come. There will be no more trials, and there will be no more temptations. And what God has done in our lives is just a foretaste of the infinite goodness which is to come. That’s how good God is. When we see God’s infinite unchanging goodness toward us, that’s what breaks the power of temptation. Our heart is so captivated by his goodness that we do not desire anything else more than him.

Let me close with this. One of the main reasons why we don’t realize how wonderful God’s good gifts are for us is because we think we deserve it. It is hard for us to comprehend that we do not deserve anything good from God. We did deserve something. But it was not good gifts but condemnation and eternal judgment. The Bible is clear that we were the enemies of God. We deserved hell for rebelling against the almighty God. But God had a different agenda. Rather than giving us what we deserve, he gave us every good and perfect gift. God caused us to be born again. He turned the enemies of God into children of God. He forgave our sins and made us a new creation. He made us beautiful in his sight. But do you know what it cost God to do so? The good gifts came freely to us, but it cost God everything. In order to save us, Jesus was condemned. In order to adopt us, Jesus was abandoned. In order to give us every good gift, Jesus had to receive all the evil we should have received. Jesus was stripped naked and crucified on the cross to make us beautiful in God’s sight. The price Jesus had to pay to give us God’s good and perfect gift was his life. That’s how much God loves us.

And if we see the extent to which God is willing to go to love us, we have no reason to doubt his love for us. When we see what Jesus has done for us at the cross, he becomes the one our heart desires the most. This is the antidote in our battle with temptations. Every time trials come, and we are tempted to doubt the goodness of God, all we have to do is to look at the cross of Jesus Christ. Gaze upon the wonder of the cross and be captivated by it. The only way to break the grip of sin on our hearts is we need to love someone better; we need a far more beautiful object. And there he is, Jesus Christ loves us to the cross. Why do you think I always get to Jesus in every sermon? Why do I always say, “Look at Jesus, look at Jesus, look at Jesus”? Because just saying no to sin will not do it. We need to fall in love with Jesus. Let’s pray.



Discussion questions:

  1. What struck you the most from the sermon?
  2. Explain the difference between trials and temptations. Why is it important to differentiate between the two?
  3. Look at the six-step progress of temptation. Why is it dangerous to be friendly to sin?
  4. “The antidote to temptation is the goodness of God.” Give some practical daily disciplines that help you remember the goodness of God.
  5. How does the gospel break the power of temptation?
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