June 12, 2011

Responding To Trials With A Christian Mind - Part Three

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: James Scripture: James 1:9–18


Responding To Trials With A Christian Mind-Part Three

James 1:9-18
Sunday, June 12, 2011
Pastor Randy Smith

For the past few weeks we have been studying the opening verses of James that deal with the subject of trials. The basic premise is this: all people will experience trials that vary in nature and intensity. Yet for the Christian we have God's promise that He is working in the pain to bring about our greatest good. Our suffering is not meaningless because through it our heavenly Father is making us more like His heavenly Son. Therefore as James says in verse 2, we can "consider it all joy…when [we] encounter various trials."

Yet the following question was posed to me last Sunday: how exactly do our trials make us like Jesus? That's a difficult one to answer because God customizes the refining process for each person individually. He follows no prescribed pattern. His working is often unpredictable. Only the Holy Spirit can reveal these answers to you personally. He just knows where you need to grow and in the heat of a trial is hammering and chiseling and molding you to make your character more like His.

For example, in 2006, Pastor John Piper, a godly man who has tremendously influenced my life, was diagnosed with cancer. On his website (desiringGod.org) he posted an article entitled: "Don't Waste Your Cancer." The title reflects the point I have been making the past few weeks. Through his perseverance under the trial he noted how God was presently working in his life. Here are some of the wise lessons Mr. Piper learned:

  1. You will waste your cancer if you do not believe it is designed for you by God.
  2. You will waste your cancer if you believe it is a curse and not a gift.
  3. You will waste your cancer if you seek comfort from your odds rather than from God.
  4. You will waste your cancer if you refuse to think about death.
  5. You will waste your cancer if you think that "beating" cancer means staying alive rather than cherishing Christ.
  6. You will waste your cancer if you spend too much time reading about cancer and not enough time reading about God.
  7. You will waste your cancer if you let it drive you into solitude instead of deepen your relationships with manifest affection.
  8. You will waste your cancer if you grieve as those who have no hope.
  9. You will waste your cancer if you treat sin as casually as before.
  10. You will waste your cancer if you fail to use it as a means of witness to the truth and glory of Christ.

Don't waste the pain, beloved! Through the trial God may be deepening your compassion for others or improving your dependence on the Bible or breaking you from materialism or refining your priorities or heightening your commitments or increasing your gratitude or fortifying your prayer life or strengthening your service or revealing hidden sins or intensifying your desire for heaven.

In God's economy it is not always about removing the trial. It is about improving your character! For your greatest good, submit to God's purposes! Few have suffered more than a biblical character by the name of Job. Consider his example: "My foot has held fast to His path; I have kept His way and not turned aside. I have not departed from the command of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food" (Job 23:11-12). "He knows the way I take; when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold" (Job. 23:10).

Due to the several baptisms this morning my time is brief so let's dive right into the new material. From verses 9-18, James lists four specific ways we are to deal with trials. Over the last two weeks we have looked at our use of money (which is always a test from God) in verses 9-11and the need to remain under the weight of the trial in verse 12. Today we cover the third aspect, which I am calling "Knowing Who to Blame" in verses 13-15.

1. KNOWING WHOM TO BLAME (verses 13-15)

Let's look at these three verses together. Beginning in verse 13, "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. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death."

Even though God sends the trial for the purpose of our good, every trial has attached to it inherent temptations. In other words when going through a trial, there will always be greater opportunities to sin. Maybe it is the temptation to be angry with God because He could have prevented the hail from hitting your new car. Maybe it is the temptation to be jealous or bitter because you were overlooked for the promotion. Maybe it is the temptation to end a friendship because you didn't get your way.

Our natural tendency is to pass the blame for these temptations. Often people point their fingers at God. Yet James reminds us in verse 13 that we should not say, "I am being tempted by God" (Jas. 1:13). Reason being that "God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone" (Jas. 1:13). Since there is absolutely no evil in God, it is a sheer impossibility that He would incite anybody to sin. It is God's desire that you pass the trial. He has your greater godliness in mind. He wants to strengthen your faith (Jas. 1:3), not destroy it! 1 Corinthians 10:13 provides helpful advice: "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it."

Yet there are contrary forces at hand in the midst of every trial working hard to see that you fail. So if God is not the culprit, as it is impossible for Him to tempt us, who is the ultimate source of the temptations we all experience and how do we overcome them? That is where we'll be going this morning.

I am sure our first guess to identify the source of our temptations would probably be Satan. It is not a bad answer as he is the "tempter" (Mt. 4:3; 1 Thes. 3:5), and we have clear records of him tempting Jesus in the wilderness (Mt. 4:1-11). However, he is not the primary source or the answer James provides. James says our temptations come not from others or even from God, "But [verse 14] each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust." In other words, the primary enemy is not from without, but from within (cf. Mk. 7:21-23). Even Satan is powerless until we make his suggestions our own.

You see, within Christians still remains a remnant of our old sinful nature. Commonly the Bible calls it the flesh. And until we are fully redeemed in heaven, the flesh is working in overdrive to lead us away from God. We can all identify with Paul's struggle from Romans 7. "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want" (Rom. 7:18-19).

As James says, the flesh brings forth "lusts" or "desires" or "passions" contrary to God's expectations. In other words, the flesh has the ability to make sin look attractive. Evil looks more thrilling than righteousness. Immorality feels better than purity. The world seems more appealing than the church. As a matter of fact, these desires become so strong that we are eventually swept away by them overriding what we know to be right within our mind. We are now in a dangerous position! Wrong seems so right and even if I make a sinful decision, my flesh assures me that I will be pardoned later.

James uses two metaphors in verse 14. The flesh has the ability to "carry [us] away" and "entice [us]" To be carried away ("exelko") was a term employed in hunting in reference to a trap that was used to lure and capture an unexpecting animal. To be enticed ("deleazo") was a term employed in fishing in reference to the bait intended to pull a fish from safety into the attraction of a hook. The metaphors are clear and the principles are the same. The flesh incites our desires to make godly living forgettable and sin attractive. But like the bait attached to a big treble hook, what seems to be appealing turns out to be deceptive and eventually becomes the source of our misery.

James lists the progression in verse 15. "Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin." The metaphor now shifts to childbirth. Our sin is not an isolated act. Each sin we commit usually has a history. The passion is conceived in our hearts. Either we overcome the temptation or we dwell on it in our imagination. We feed it and allow it to capture our affections. As God becomes more distant, the passion becomes more attractive. We ignore the commands in Scripture. The passion becomes more attractive. We jettison all accountability. The passion becomes more attractive. We begin to rationalize and justify and ignore the warning lights blinking all around us. The passion becomes more attractive. We start plotting and scheming ways to make sin a reality. The passion continues to grow like an embryo. Eventually we give in to the temptation as a matter of personal choice. Our will is fully engaged to pursue the sin. We have now given birth to sin. Having been deceived by the bait, we are now hooked.

Dietrich Bonehoeffer, the German pastor killed in the Concentration Camps got it right when he said, "In our members there is a slumbering inclination towards desire which is both sudden and fierce. With irresistible power desire seizes mastery over the flesh. All at once a secret, smoldering fire is kindled. The flesh burns and is in flames. It makes no difference whether it is sexual desire, or ambition, or vanity, or desire for revenge, or love of fame and power, or greed for money… Joy in God is…extinguished in us and we seek all our joy in [ourselves]. At this moment God is quite unreal to us, He loses all reality, and only desire for [ourselves] is real… Satan does not here fill us with hatred of God, but with forgetfulness of God… The lust thus aroused envelopes the mind and will of man in deepest darkness. The powers of clear discrimination and of decision are taken from us. The questions present themselves: 'Is what the flesh desires really sin in this case?' 'Is it really not permitted to me, yes - expected of me, now, here, in my particular situation, to appease desire?'… It is here that everything within me rises up against the Word of God" (Temptation).

James continues the progression in verse 15 following the sin. "And when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death." Death is the end result of all sin. One commentator who I believe is correct commented on James' use of the word "death" to include "all undefined terror" (R.J. Knowling, James, p. 22). James is referring to all kinds of death, as all kinds of death are traceable to sin.

From the very beginning God warned our original parents: "From the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die" (Gen. 2:17). They ignored the command. They submitted to the temptation. Sin entered the world and with it the consequence of death. In the New Testament Paul reminds us in Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death."

Sin, when accomplished, brings forth death. The death in every social conflict we experience is a result of sin. The death in all the emotional heartache is a result of sin somewhere along the line. The death that comes at the end of our lives extends back to sin. The spiritual death that some will experience in hell is the result of unforgiven sin. So for those of you who have had your eyes opened to the Gospel, what attraction can you find in cherishing sin? Do you find pleasure in personal destruction?

With the material we have covered in James so far, do you see what the author has done? In the past few weeks we have learned that trials come to strengthen our faith. Strong faith leads to an obedient desire to persevere under the weight of the trial. Those who persevere, says James in verse 12, "receive the crown of life." On the contrary, one wrong turn in the trial, and we spiral off in the opposite direction. The trial comes and instead of responding in faith and trusting God, we disbelieve the Word and find more pleasure in the temptation. The desire for sin now strengthens which leads to a conscious decision to sin. Sin when accomplished brings forth death. God's way brings life. Obeying the flesh brings death. Which way are you going when facing on a daily basis these forks in the road?

Let me leave you with some helpful advice in overcoming the flesh…

First of all, take responsibility. When you sin, it is a conscious decision on your part. God, others or the devil did not make you do it! Confess your transgressions to God and others if necessary and repent.

Second, keep your focus on Jesus Christ. Look to the example Jesus set for you in overcoming temptation. Remember the strength He provides through the Holy Spirit. Recall His agonizing moments on the cross when He suffered for something you are presently enjoying.

Third, cling to Scripture. Fight sin with the "sword of the Spirit" (Eph. 6:17). Hide the Word in your heart (Psm. 119:11). Memorize and repeat related passages to your struggle. Trust God's promises to bring greater pleasure.

Fourth, do not give sin an inch. Remember there is a progression. Therefore don't let sin have an opportunity to get its head in the door. Nip it in the bud. Engage as Jesus said in radical amputation (Mt. 5:29-30).

Fifth, have strong accountability. Have someone in your life not afraid to ask you the hard questions. Stay connected to the church. When people start going down the wrong road, it is predictable how they start pulling away from small groups and youth group.

Sixth, fight sin in the mind. Recognize it. Protect the desires from getting attached. Recall the wages of all sin. Develop a healthy disgust for it. Don't allow sin to be conceived. The will to sin is driven by your feelings. Don't let your feelings override your mind. Fix your mind on God!

Seventh pray for yourself and others. I did say "and others!"

Eighth, make no provision for the flesh. If you have a problem with bikinis, avoid the beach. If you have a problem with overeating, don't buy the cookies. If you have a problem with porn, disconnect the Internet. If you have a problem with excessive spending, cut up the credit cards.

Ninth, put on the good. Like anything in the Christian life, we are called to replace the bad with the good. Think pure thoughts (Phil. 4:8) over impure ones. Spend time serving others instead of serving yourself. Pursue God instead of pursuing the flesh.

And tenth, discipline yourself. Develop a healthy sense of self-control. Practice saying "no" to your passions. Get mastery over your bodily desires. You will never be able to fight sexual temptations if you can't but down the Doritos!

I leave you with a graphic illustration on the ugliness of sin.

The guinea worm is a parasite found in certain areas of central Africa. It begins its life as a larvae and often hitches a ride in a millimeter-long crustacean called Cyclops. When a human drinks water from a stream, the Cyclops enters the stomach where gastric juices make short work of the Cyclops. The larvae of the guinea worm, however, are not destroyed. The worms poke holes in the human's intestine and goes for a swim. After about three months, the male and female larvae get together. About one year later a full-grown guinea [worm], the width of a paper clip wire and up to three feet long, begins to move through the body of its human host, causing tremendous pain. Finally, the worm pokes out of the host's body - probably through the foot. If not removed, the parasite will eventually lead to its host's death (Men's Health, December 1999).

The guinea worm is like sin. First, sin is easy to get involved in. Just like drinking the water from a stream seems simple and harmless, so often does sin. Second, sin is disgusting. It is an ugly parasite deceiving you and using you. Finally, like the guinea worm, sin when left unchecked can kill you.

Don't let sin deceive you! By God's grace you can recognize the battle and emerge victorious!

other sermons in this series

Feb 5


Sheep Shepherding Sheep

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: James 5:19 Series: James

Jan 29


Let's Close With Prayer

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: James 5:13–18 Series: James

Jan 15


To Tell You The Truth

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: James 5:12 Series: James