Overcoming Temptation, Part 1

The Nature of Temptation

Let me begin this morning by giving three scenarios that are typical of many struggling Christians. They are all fictional, so don't be wondering who I am talking about.

Jeanette came to the pastor for counseling and told him that she had tried everything to stop her overspending. She had resolved before the Lord not to overspend one more time and had set up a budget with one of Larry Burkett's books. She said, "As soon as I saw that item in the store - I fell! There wasn't even a struggle. I am so disgusted with myself. What's wrong with me that I can't control my spending?

Bobby was ready to commit suicide because he had been trying for months to overcome his addiction to pornography. He struggled with his temptation, but before he knew it, he had gone in to the porn shop and rented a video. And when confronted by his wife he said that he had tried and tried to stop. "I can't help it." he said. "The temptation is just too strong."

Some of you might read the comic strip Cathy. I don't usually, but this one caught my eye. Cathy and her friend are sitting together with Cathy eating a donut. The first caption says, "Yum, yum, yum!" She is the picture of bliss. The next caption shows her crying and saying, "Why? Why? Why? Twenty-four hours of willpower done in by one doughnut. Unbelievable. I keep thinking I'll change and then I do the exact same thing. Every day, the exact same rut. I get up, give myself the big motivational speech, feel self-righteous for two hours...eat a doughnut. Why do I even bother with the preamble?? Why not just get up, eat the doughnut and be done with it?? Why not just leave a box of doughnuts next to the bed so I won't have to waste time getting up and pretending I'm not going to have one?? Why not just go to sleep with a doughnut in my mouth so I don't even have to bother waking up before I start chewing???" And her friend asks her: "Why not just keep doughnuts out of your house, Cathy?" Cathy's response: "What? And let them think they're winning?"

We'll get back to Cathy's response later, but I think all of you can relate with her "Why? Why? Why?" Perhaps in self-disgust you have said the same thing. You have struggled with lying, vanity, your temper, your sexual appetites, or pride, or your diet - any number of things. And you feel so terrible that you wonder if it is worth the struggle. Let me say at the outset that there is hope. James recognizes your problem and he gives step by step help in overcoming temptation. And we are going to be dealing with those steps in the next sermon. But I want to give some preliminary background first.

Resisting Temptation Is Worthwhile (v. 12)

And high on the list of important background items is verse 12 where James says it is definitely worth the pain and struggle that you face in overcoming temptation. He says, Blessed. That word means happy. Happy is the man who endures temptation. We tend to think the opposite when we face the temptations. It seems so hard to resist and so easy and joyful to give in to temptation that our minds are clouded on this issue. But James wants there to be no mistake about the fact that when you give in to temptation you will end up miserable. On the other hand when you endure temptation and come out the victor you are going to feel good about yourself and will end up very happy and blessed. This cartoon shows it all. There is one caption of happiness as Cathy eats the doughnut and 9 captions of misery as she feels the guilt afterwards. I have seen marriages torn apart because of one fling of so-called happiness, and nine captions of misery following. God's way reverses the process. He shows one caption of enduring and many captions of joy. Just because you didn't eat the proverbial donut doesn't mean you will have joy. The Pharisees abstained from all kinds of things, but they lacked the joy and empowering of the Holy Spirit. But he says that when you do it God's way there is an incredible blessing - holiness.

And here James draws our attention not just to happiness in this life. He uses the present tense indicating that the happiness or blessedness starts now. There is happiness in this life. But more importantly, he says that this blessedness will continue for all of eternity. for when he has been proved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Is it worthwhile to resist temptation? James gives a resounding "Yes!"

Understanding How Temptation Works (vv. 13-18)

The Difference Between Trials and Temptations (vv. 2-3, 12-18)

James makes no bones about the fact that we are in a battle. And next week we are going to be looking at our strategies for fighting temptations of every sort. You might wish we could plunge right into that, but first we need to understand the enemy we are fighting. And as Pogo said, the enemy is us. The enemy is something inside of us and is not the circumstances out there. We tend to put the blame on our upbringing, our genes, our circumstances, Satan or anything except for where the blame really belongs - in our own desires. And anytime you do that, you are really blaming God, aren't you? The person who says, "If you only knew my circumstances, you wouldn't blame me" is really saying that God has placed him in circumstances where he couldn't help but sin. That is a denial of 1 Corinthians 10:13 that guarantees that God so controls your circumstances that He will always make a way of escape. And that is what James is getting at. He is saying, "Don't say God is tempting you. God is on your side. God is providing for your victory and your maturity." Every excuse that we bring up for why we have fallen into sin is ultimately blaming God. When you excuse your temper because of your personality you are saying that God formed you in such a way that you can't help but have a temper. Adam said, "the woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree." Lord, if you hadn't given me that wife, I wouldn't have done it. And we have many ingenious ways of sharing the blame. But James wipes away all excuses by saying, Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.

And you might be thinking, "Now wait a shake! Is that really true? Doesn't God control all events in life? Didn't God put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil into the Garden of Eden? Wasn't that a temptation? Doesn't Luke 4 say that the Holy Spirit led Christ into the wilderness where He was tempted"? Yes it does. But the rest of the sentence says, "where He was tempted by Satan." It's true, God sovereignly brought Christ to a place of hunger, thirst, loneliness and trouble. And Satan used those very things that God had brought to tempt Christ. But you know what? Satan uses everything that God has made in this creation in order to tempt us. But God's purpose was not to tempt, but for Christ's good. The same was true of the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden. Satan used what God had placed there to tempt Adam, but God used it to test Adam. It had a good purpose even though it was used for a bad purpose. So the same outward circumstances can be either a trial to make s stronger or it can be a temptations, which when succumbed to will weaken and destroy us. And what James is trying to get at here is that if you are looking outwardly for the source of temptation, you are looking in all the wrong directions. Notice that he doesn't even blame Satan here.

The key to understanding why we fall into sin is not in our circumstances. It does not come from delving into your past and blaming your parents or your upbringing. It does not come from the fact that Satan uses these tempting things to draw us into sin. Two people can face the same trials with one responding sinfully and another responding righteously. The key to why some people fall and others do not is found in verse 14: each one [no exceptions. each one] is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Temptation cannot even exist without your desires. If I was to dangle a chocolate in front of you and say, "Oh, wouldn't you love to break your diet and eat this chocolate," if you didn't like chocolate, you wouldn't be tempted in the least. A temptation is designed to work off of your desires and is powerless apart from our desires. And so sanctifying our desires under the ministry of the Holy Spirit is key. And we will be looking at that next week.

Temptations Can Only Work Where There Are Desires (Jas. 1:14-15; 4:1-3; 1 John 2:15-17)

Desire Not Wrong In Itself (cf. Luke 4:1-13; 22:15; Phil. 1:23)

But I think it is important to understand that Christ had desires too. He couldn't have been tempted if He had no desires. Hebrews tells us that He was tempted in all points just like we are, yet without sin. And that's why it is important to notice that James distinguishes between desire and sin. Look at verse 15. It says, Then when desire has conceived it gives birth to sin… There's a step between desire and sin. That means that desire can be distinct from sin. Did Christ have desires? Of course He did. There were the desires of the body, like hunger, thirst, need for sleep. And there were natural desires of the soul. Why was Satan's suggestion that Christ use His power to turn stones into bread such a powerful temptation? Because He had been fasting for forty days and Luke 4 says, "He was hungry." Hunger is a strong physical desire. Christ could be tempted because God made His body with natural desires. Now we will be seeing how those desires can become unnatural and sinful. But desire by itself is not.

Satan appealed to the inbuilt desire for dominion when He promised Christ the kingdoms of the world. God made man for dominion; God gave that desire just like He gave bodily desires. There was nothing wrong with that desire, but Satan was trying to turn it into a sinful desire by giving Him wrong motives, goals and standards. FOr any action to be a righteous action it needs to have the right motive, goal, and standard. But desire by itself is not necessarily wrong. Genesis 3 tells us that the fruit of the forbidden tree looked desirable. God has inbuilt desires for beauty, taste, aroma, etc. that are perfectly legitimate.

But When Desires Have The Wrong Motive, Goal, and Standard They Become "Evil Desires" (Col. 3:5) That "War Against The Soul" (1 Pet. 2:11)

Our problem is that we as sinners have not learned to place our desires under the control of the Spirit. And we will be spending quite a bit of time next week looking at ways that we can place our desires under the control of the Spirit. What does it mean to walk in the Spirit? But here we are just describing how the principle works. When Christ went into the desert it says He was filled with the Spirit, and His response to his bodily desire for bread was, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God." His desires had a Master - they were under the control of the Spirit. He was walking in the Spirit.

And that is our problem. We don't walk in the Spirit. James 4 talks about the Holy Spirit yearning jealously for our desires. And Galatians 5 amplifies upon that theme of the flesh and the Spirit having a tug of war on our desires. So our desires are very important in God's eyes. From the time we were babies our desires have been satisfied in sinful ways. Our desires have a different master - they serve the whims of the flesh. And 1 Peter 2:11 says that because of our sin nature those desires are now used to war against our soul. Those desires are the things that will ruin us if we don't give the Spirit the mastery.

We Each Have Unique Desires (v. 14)

Now I don't want you to get the idea from what we have said that James is unsympathetic to circumstances that make things extra difficult for you. Some of you perhaps think, "If you only knew the struggle I was going through you would know why I can't win." There is a Greek word in verse 14 that indicates that each person's desires and thus temptations are unique. It says, But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. The Greek has an emphasis that isn't drawn out here. One commentary said this:

"It is the same word from which the first part of our term "idiosyncrasy" comes. Idiosyncrasies are those personalized habits of an individual that are unique to him alone. James is saying that each of us has desires peculiar to himself that lure him into certain sorts of sin."

So James knows that some of you women have a harder time being nice during your period, but He says you can conquer the temptation to kill your husband anyway. James understands that some of you are more sexually driven than others, but he gives hope to you too, in conquering your unique temptations. But its important that we understand what our particular weaknesses are so that Satan does not take advantage of us. I call these our besetting sins – they are the sins that tend to get us down; that tend to get the mastery over us. With some it is anger, with others the desire for approval, with others lust. You've got to understand the enemy. Satan understands your desires; do you?

How Desires War Against Us (vv. 14-15)

Illustration of Fisherman's Lure (v. 14)

a. desire
b. lured or drawn away (exelko)
c. caught (deleazo)

I wish we had time to get all the way through the end of the outline today, but we won't. But let's finish Roman numeral II.

In verse 14 James uses two fishing terms in the Greek to illustrate the terrible dangers of being naive to our desires. I was talking with someone one time who was dating a gal and wondering if it was ok to sit alone with his girlfriend in a jaccuzi in her apartment. That is one example of being naive to the power of desires. There are a couple of fishing terms that are used here.

The first fishing term used (exelkomenos) is the one that would be used for a fisherman who has caught a fish and is hauling it in with his line. The second one (deleazomenos) is where he has caught the fish or grabbed the fish and it no longer has a chance of getting away. He's basically netted the fish.

But he starts off his discussion before those two terms with our key word "desire." You are never going to catch that fish unless you catch that fish's desire. And any fisherman understands this language. If you don't have the right lure, the fish won't bite. And Satan knows your desires inside and out. He will use lures that will attract your eye and make you bite.

Job stopped Satan at the desire stage because he knew where his weak points were. He was tempted in the sexual area and the book of Job says that he set a guard before his eyes to keep him from gazing at a maid to lust after her. And we are foolish if we don't do the same; if we don't set guards against getting lured by Satan, the master fisherman. That cartoon of Cathy I think is a great example. Her roommate asked her why she didn't just keep the donuts out of her room. And she says, "What?? And let them think they are winning?" She wasn't really serious about her eating problem because she ignored the relationship between her desires and the lure. She hung around the lures and of course her desire was attracted to those lures. James later tells us that there is a time to run from Satan. He tells us to flee from desires of the flesh. There's more to it than that. There are ways of weakening our desires and we will look at that next week. But when desire is strong, don't hang around the lure! Flee!

So that's the desire stage. When you notice that a lure that Satan is dangling is enticing you, is arousing your desires, you need to take quick evasive action. Don't hang around. I always recommend that people have a contingency plan. If you know what things entice you, you can take action ahead of time. For business men who are traveling who have a difficult time with porn on the TV, they call ahead and ask that no TV be admitted to the room. And they may in addition ask a friend to check up on them that night and the next day to see how they did. The accountability helps. And there are various ways to put hedges around the lure to make it less enticing. When you know its enticing and you walk right up to something God says you can't have, then you are a fool according to Scripture.

The next stage is where we have bit the lure and are being drawn along by the fishing line. While Satan is reeling us in we have a gracious God who frees us from the line over and over again. But James warns us that when we keep fooling around, we will end up getting caught by Satan's net. He speaks of death. And there were people in Corinth who became weak, sick, and had even died because of their sins. Hymeneus and Alexander were both believers but Paul says they were handed over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh that their souls might be saved in the day of judgment. I believe that this is what is being referred to as death in verse 15. He is not talking about eternal death, but the ability of Satan to grab us. Turn to 1 John 5:16. It says, If anyone sees his brother [notice that he is talking about a believer] sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life [implying that even this kind of sin can lead to death even though it is not a sin right now that is unto death] for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that. In other words, even in a believer's life there is a point of no return when we willfully fool around with sin. He lets Satan net us into the boat, just like Satan netted Hymeneus and Alexander into his boat. But notice the apostle John's words in verse 18. When you follow James model of maturity and dealing with temptation it says, We know that whoever is born of God does not sin [that's the present continuous tense. In other words, he does not continue in a lifestyle of sin. He is fighting against sin]; but he who has been born of God keeps himself and the wicked one does not touch him. When we use the protections spoken of in James that we will look at next week, God protects us from Satan so that he can't even touch us. But don't think that all believers are untouchable. John says that all sins lead to death and there are some sins where death is inevitable and prayer is too late.

Illustration of Reproduction (v. 15)

a. desire's intercourse
b. conception of sin
c. bearing to term (tiktei - to bear, produce or give birth; apotelestheisa - be fully developed)
d. giving birth to death (apokuei - to bring forth or give birth)

And with that concept of death, let's read James 1:15. Here James switches metaphors in midstream. He was using the illustration of a fisherman's lure. Now he changes to the illustration of reproduction. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. The way this is translated it shows two generations - conception, first birth, growing to adult, second birth. That isn't the best translation at this point, though it is possible. The Greek term tiktei can have two meanings. It can be translated as to give birth, but it can also mean to bear or carry a child. And I think the second meaning is the better one here. Otherwise you have two births. It doesn't make sense. A better rendering of this is, "Moreover, when desire has conceived, it bears sin, and sin, when it is fully developed (or brought to term), gives birth to death." There is a progression to sin. It starts off by your giving in to desire in the mind. Sin is a matter of inner assent to wrong desire. You dwell on the desired item and enjoy the thought of carrying it out. That is intercourse in the mind. Some people indulge in murderous hate, imagining all sorts of harmful things happening to their enemies. Christ says that this hate is murder in the heart. And what is in your heart is going to eventually come out. It needs to be dealt with. Some people imagine what it would be like to sleep with someone who is not their spouse, and rather than casting it out of their mind they relish the thoughts as they come. Christ calls this adultery in the heart. We are indulging in, and even delighting in what God forbids.

And James point is that just as you cannot see conception, you can't see this sin, but it is there. And if you are going to prevent a pregnancy it has to be caught before conception. If you are going to stop sin, it has to be caught in the secret places of the mind. Now just to quickly anticipate next week's solution, verse 21 tells us to have the word of God implanted in our minds to prevent sin being implanted in our minds. And again, it is a reproductive metaphor of conception that verse 21 is using. Allow Scripture to be implanted; to conceive in our mind so that sin doesn't have the opportunity to be conceived in the mind. And meditation upon Scripture is one of the key methods of conquering sin because it is going to the source of the problem. We are later going to be singing a section of Psalm 119 that asks, How shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word. Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You. (Ps. 119:9, 11).

But after conception what happens? Sin begins to grow and grow. It never remains static. You can't just fool with sin once or twice. You are feeding a monster whose strength is revived with each feeding, and it becomes harder and harder to resist the monster. So James uses two Greek words - one to bear and the other to describe the birthing process - when it is fully developed. This baby of sin is not being dealt with in a Biblical way and it finally comes out of secret and gives birth to death. This is the final, logical end of every temptation - you slide down the slippery slope into death. And there are many Scriptures which speak of this. Galatians 6:7-8 says, Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption [he's talking about God's destruction of our flesh]. You reap what you sow. Why does 1 Corinthians 10-11 speak so much about God allowing his people to die because of their sins? Why does 1 John speak of certain sins that believers commit as being sins unto death? Why does 2 Samuel 12 indicate that David, the man dearly loved by God was in danger of death. It is because God has placed in this world laws of harvest. When we ignore those laws we bring misery, self-torture and even death upon ourselves.

Now the thing I praise God for is that this process can be stopped at any stage through repentance and putting away the sin. Nathan said, "The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die." Which means what? He was in imminent danger of dying. That was after the Bathsheba event. That's incredible forgiveness. But forgiveness still didn't do away with the consequences of that conception. From that time on his life was so messed up. God doesn't want us to simply think, "Oh well. I'm still forgiven" and to forget about the messed up life. He conceived murder, and there was murder all through his family. He conceived fornication, and there was fornication all through his family, including incest. He conceived a number of sins that resulted in a horrible harvest of weeds. The laws of harvest still continued to work in David's family.

Our desires are a critical area that need to be worked on if we are to have the maturity of life that James calls us to. If you haven't read the book Biblical EQ by John Edmiston, you need to. I don't agree with everything in the book but he has a lot of helpful material on sanctifying our emotions to the Lord. And it's not just the gross, socially unacceptable desires that James wants us to work on. Your desires of irresponsibility, laziness, gossip are also hideous in God's sight and lead you downward into a spiral just as surely. We tend to focus on the gross and horrible desires of life, but let me end by having you turn 2 Samuel 11 so that you can see what led David to sin against Uriah and Bathsheba. And I think it will help you to appreciate why James focuses so much on desire. His temptation with Bathsheba didn't come out of the blue.

People usually start the story of Bathsheba with verse 2, but Scripture starts the sin at verse 1. Now it came to pass in the spring of the year, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the people of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. Now let me give you some background. God commanded kings to be involved with their nation, and reproved kings who were arm chair commanders, and who would send people into battle but wouldn't go themselves. I think there would be a lot less wars if Presidents were required to be in the heat of the battle with the other soldiers. In Job 29:25 Job sees a king dwelling with his army as a sign of righteousness. Kings were supposed to go through the same battles, and face the same risks and be just as sacrificial as their men were. And David used to, but he began to get lazy.

Now what's our first response. I think that we tend to excuse David. He did so much fighting that we think he deserves a break. It's no big deal to be lounging at home. He is the king after all. Where we start getting upset is with verse 2 and following. But what was happening was that David was giving in to the self-life. If he wanted to sleep in, he was going to do it. If he wanted to watch T.V. when he had other work to do, he was going to watch T.V. And the more he gave in to desires in these little comfort areas, the more he fed that monster within, and the harder it was for him to say "No" and resist that monster on the big issues.He had become more and more desire oriented and less and less Spirit oriented. In fact, he hadn't even realized that the Spirit had left him.

One of the ministries that has had tremendous success in helping people to overcome sexual addictions; to overcome homosexuality and pedophilia is Pure Life Ministries in Kentucky. And they point out that most ministries never deal adequately with the self-life. Pure life ministries advocates fasting as one of the disciplines every addict has to develop. And you might ask, what does fasting have to do with sexual addiction? A great deal. They advocate a simple lifestyle and self-denial not only sexually, but financially, socially, recreationally and in every other area. Many counseling ministries never deal with the root of sexual addiction and end up only managing the addiction. Alchoholics Anonymous cannot cure alchoholics. They admit it. In fact, one of their key phrases is that once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. All AA does in its twelve step program is manage the problem. And we have too many people who are managing their addictions; managing their desires and not radically realigning the desires that lead to addictions.

It is hypocrisy to speak against drunkenness when we are gluttons because the root problem is the same. To conquer the addiction completely you have to get desire under control; you have to put to death the self-life. It was selfishness that led to the sin with Bathsheba. It was selfishness that led Solomon to get into every addiction imaginable. And when you begin to live like Solomon lived, then you will fall into the same sins that Solomon fell into. In counseling sexual addictions I have found it interesting to see that relapses seem to always happen when the person has given in to a sinful desire in another area of life. For example, the founder of that ministry says that when he pigs out on sweets, he immediately notices a loss of resistance in the sexual arena. He has grieved God's Spirit in the one area and loses His power in the other. But he has also fed the monster in the one area and that monster gains power to take over his whole life.

Some people fall into sexual sins through laziness and giving in to the urge to watch too much T.V. Or after compulsively buying something they could not afford. James is interested in all of our desires and over this next week I urge you to ask God to examine your desires for any that are not under the control of His Holy Spirit. Give those desires to Him and commit yourself to implementing the practical steps that we will look at next week. And may God bring each and every one of you to full maturity.


Overcoming Temptation, Part 1 is part of the James series published on November 2, 2003


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