I decided I’m going to quit drinking Coca-Cola. It’s a silly example, but Coke is one of my favorite things.
Coca-Cola gives me energy, it clears my mind, and it tastes good! I drink Cokes maybe five times a week, but when I quit drinking them, I was miserable initially. I had headaches, I wanted to nap everyday, and I was drawn toward the fridge to get a cold Coke. My reaction really surprised me. The thing is, when we have temptations right before us, we may not notice them. I didn’t even know I was that connected to Coca-Colas, and something about telling myself “no” made it even more desirable.
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.
Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.” James 1:12-18
James uses one word, a Greek word that is translated “trials” or “temptations”. In the first 11 verses, he’s really talking about trials. We know that because of everything that is being said around that word. It’s talking about things that come at us unexpectedly: illness, losses, challenges.
Then he takes a shift. In verse 12, he says, “Blessed is he who perseveres through trials…” Now he’s talking about the challenges that come not from external but from within, because we all struggle with temptation, and temptation goes deep into our hearts and affects every single one of us.
Where does temptation come from? James tells us exactly where it does not come from. It does not come from God. Why would James do this? Why would he talk about where it doesn’t come from?
“When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” James 1:13
Notice the phrase, “dragged away”. It’s like a fisherman, who creates a perfect lure for the right fish. The Word of God tells us temptation comes from Satan. The very word means deceiver, accuser or murderer. He brings us that temptation, and he customizes it to us. He knows our desires. He knows where we’re weak, and he creates the perfect, personalized hook.
Think of the last time you were tempted. Wouldn’t you agree with James that it starts out with a little thing, a small desire?
Actually, it may even start with an insecurity of some sort. Think about a little white lie. Sometimes it just comes out because in the moment, you might be in a situation where you’re feeling a little insecure. Someone asks you something, and out of your mouth you hear yourself saying things that are not true.
For a moment, you think, “Well, that was a little thing. It’s not that big of a deal.” Then later, you find yourself saying another white lie and another white lie. This is what James is saying. When desire becomes conceived, it starts to grow. It gives birth to sin. We keep doing it over and over again. Now the white lies become a habit, and now we lie to cover our lies, and we lie so much we don’t even know we’re lying. We start to believe our own lies. It has now become full-grown, and it begins to destroy.
We see if we lie to our spouses, we destroy our marriage. We know if we lie to our co-workers and our bosses we might destroy and bring death to our jobs. Do you see the pattern? I’m sure if you’ve lived through this, you agree with James. No one is immune. All of us really struggle with this. First Corinthians says, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”
We want to resist temptation, but temptation is strong, because it’s the perfect lure for our desires. It awakens in us our needs, which only God can fill, but something else is promising to fill those, so temptation is difficult to fight. Often, we do the very thing we don’t want to do.
We seem to think to deal with temptation we just need self-control.
At home, I tried to get rid of all the Coca-Colas. Then my husband came home from an event with extra Coca-Colas, and he put them in the refrigerator. Now I have to exercise self-control.
How do we do it? How do we deal with temptation when it is so strong that it pulls us to do things we know we ought not to do? Obviously, the Word of God says, “Run if you can.” If you can, get rid of the Coca-Colas in your refrigerator, and I’m just using that as an example (whatever that thing is)! If you can, run.
The problem is, we can’t always run from the thing that is tempting us.
It’s sometimes right there before us, so self-control is not enough. A gentleman named Thomas Chalmers (he was a Scottish preacher in the 1800s) said about temptation, “The only way to break the hold of a beautiful object on the soul is to show it an object even more beautiful.”
What we need to do is to fall in love with something else that is better, even more than the thing we’re desiring. Of course, the Word of God tells us exactly what to do, where to go, what to fall in love with that is greater than any desire we might have.
“My son, keep my words and store up my commands within you. Keep my commands and you will live; guard my teachings as the apple of your eye. Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart. Say to wisdom, ‘You are my sister,’ and to insight, ‘You are my relative.’ They will keep you from the adulterous woman, from the wayward woman with her seductive words.” Proverbs 7:1.
Fall in love with the Word of God. Cherish the Word, the commands, the teachings of the Word of God and love that more than anything else. That will help you.
Jesus loved the Word of God more than anything else. In Matthew 4, Satan comes to do his best work with Jesus, preparing the perfect lure for Jesus to tempt him. He says, “You’ve been hungry. You’ve been out in the desert. Now it’s time to take care of yourself. Turn a rock into bread.”
Here’s Jesus’ response to Satan. He says, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” He loves the Word of God more than he loves his desire for food. We fall in love with God’s Word. I think that’s one of the ways we can deal with temptation.
James ends this conversation in verse 16 with these words. He says,
“Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.”
We’re created to do good works, not bad ones. We’re created to triumph over temptation, not fall prey to it. When we believe in the grace of Jesus Christ, when we accept that we are easily taken by temptation and that we have sinned; when we believe that, we recognize we need God, because we can’t do it on our own.
What tempts you? It might be something small, like a Coke or a white lie, or it might be something bigger. Dig into God’s Word today and ask Jesus for his help and wisdom in overcoming this temptation.