How easy is it for you to “just say no”? I’ve been a follower of Christ for several years and I can say that there are areas of my life that have radically changed – but I can also say, very honestly, that I have never stopped being tempted to fall back into old patterns. I can also say, very honestly, that resisting temptation has never come easily nor have I always been successful. That’s just the reality of it. From my experience so far, temptations to sin never cease to show up and it is always a challenge to resist them.
James will address this issue in our study of his letter this Sunday. We’ll be reading James 1:13-18.
Verses 13-15 paint a vivid picture, don’t they? Right off the bat, he tells us in no uncertain terms who bears the responsibility of our choices. Who is it that he points to? As you read this, is there anyone missing in his explanation of how temptation and sin develops in our lives? Does that provide any information about why the responsibility of our choices rests where it does?
The process of desire conceiving sin and sin growing into death is a fairly unsettling image. I suppose he’s trying to make his point as emphatically as he can. I don’t believe we should read this as an intimation that if a Christian slips or commits willful sin that he or she has lost salvation, or is in any way facing physical death for it. Instead, I see him as trying to make as clear a picture about the nature of the sin we’re tempted to play with as he can. In essence he’s posing the dilemma: “Why would you cooperate with what is trying to kill you?” In the midst of being tempted to choose an action, attitude or thought that is not in sync with God’s character…how hard or easy is it for you to associate that with death? Do you see that as something that would be helpful?
I absolutely LOVE verses 16-18. After Jimmy sets up this fairly bleak picture of death, and we innately feel our own sense of weakness in this scenario, suddenly there is light streaming from above us and the Hero arrives on the scene. Have you ever struggled with the idea that God is upset, or at least irritated with you because you still struggle with some temptations? As you read James’ description of God’s role in all of this, do you see him as an irritated perfectionist or a powerful and caring Ally? Does it make a difference how you imagine God when you are struggling with temptation? If you’re fighting a temptation does it help to think of God as someone yelling at you “Do BETTER!”, or to think of Gandalf appearing at sunrise on the eastern hills of Helm’s Deep to change the tide of battle?
It appears that how we view God is of upmost importance when it comes to our success in resisting temptation. James warns us: “Do not be deceived!” just before he begins his description of the character and action of God in our times of temptation.
Let me leave you with a quote from Eugene Peterson:
“It is wicked to tell a person that God is an angry tyrant storming through the heavens, out to get every trespasser and throw him into the lake of fire. It is wicked to tell a person that God is a senile grandfather dozing in a celestial rocking chair with only the shortest of attention spans for what is going on in the world. It is wicked to tell a person that God is a compulsively efficient and utterly humorless manager of a tightly run cosmos, obsessed with getting the highest productivity possible out of history and with absolutely no concern for persons apart from their usefulness.
“If we believe that God is an angry tyrant, we are going to defensively avoid him if we can. If we believe that God is a senile grandfather, we are going to live carelessly and trivially with no sense of transcending purpose. If we believe that God is an efficiency expert, we are going to live angry at being reduced to a function and never appreciated as a person.
“It is wicked to to tell a person a lie about God because, if we come to believe the wrong things about God, we will think the wrong things about ourselves and we will live meanly or badly. Telling a person a lie about God distorts reality, perverts life and damages all the processes of living.” (From the book “Traveling Light”, by Eugene Peterson)
God is here to change the tide of battle in our struggle against sin. How cool.
See you all Sunday!