James 1:13-17 Wisdom in Temptation

The Letter of James is Christian wisdom literature.


As wisdom literature, James answers questions like: How do we live well? How do I endure trials? How do I overcome temptation?


We need wisdom because not a day goes by when we’re not tempted one way or another to live according to the flesh.


Understand, we are created with great worth in God’s image with the ability to know God.


Yet when Adam willfully disregarded God’s command, the consequences of his sinful choice affects our nature with decisive force.


Something deep in our core is damaged.


Every person ever since has a sinful nature, which the Bible calls “the flesh.” It’s not our body but that inward part of us, our thinking, our emotions, that is always willing to forsake God, go rogue & make a selfish mess of things.


When we hear the good news and we trust Jesus to redeem us, God forgives us, assures us of His favor, gives us new birth, a new nature that’s alive to God.


So in contrast to your sinful nature aka your flesh, your new nature trusts Jesus, and wants to obey Him. That’s in you. Your born again spirit is united to Jesus and linked to His life, His Spirit. And now we have options. Now you can live by the flesh, since it is still a part of you, or you can live by the new spirit, through faith.


Galatians 5:16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.


We live by the new spirit, through faith. E.g., looking to Jesus and trusting Him engages our spirits and liberates us from the bondage of the flesh. Yet we far too often live by the flesh and the flesh seeks any which way but God’s way…


O and one more thing, this is the part of us that the devil appeals to. Our flesh. This is what the world wants us to pay attention to. For when we give our attention to our flesh and it’s desires, we enable sin to control our lives.


Romans 7:14… I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.


Today, James wants us to be wise regarding the process of temptation.


James 1:13 Let no one say when he is tempted…


A few words about temptation.


1) Being tempted is not a sin.


We don’t have control over every thought that enters our mind. Plus  Jesus was tempted, yet never sinned. A temptation is an invitation to sin but we don’t sin ‘til we accept it.


2) Temptations appeal to our flesh to take control.


Temptations appeal to our flesh to satisfy need without God. Contrary to God’s will.


3) Temptations seduce us from God.


4) Trials and temptations are the same Greek word: peirasmos.


That said, let's start with what we read a bit of last week,


James 1:2 Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials... [peirasmos]


James 1:13 Let no one say when he is tempted… [peirasmos]


Trials and temptations are two sides of a coin. God uses trials to deepen our faith,  draw us closer to Him, to make something beautiful in us. Like Job. Yet if we react to a trial out of our flesh it tempts us to take control, distances us from God. Job’s wife.


God promised Abraham he’d be the father of many nations. The trial came when his wife couldn’t get pregnant. The temptation came when Sarah suggested Hagar.


God may allow relational heartaches, physical suffering, shattered dreams…


God may allow you to be short on money, then want you to turn to Him through this. Glory in Christ. Grow your faith… God can use this in so many ways.


But if you don’t turn to Him, you may be tempted to steal, gamble, doubt God, pop pills, or run away. The trial God uses for our good may tempt our flesh to resist God and strike out in our own foolish ways.


James 1:13 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.


Remember, the flesh acts apart from God. And the flesh justifies its actions…


Sometimes when we are tempted, the flesh tries to convince us that God is okay with it. But by faith recall God’s holy character. Our Lord is far too good, and He loves you way too much to ever condone sin and He will never tempt you to sin.


“Yes, but I don’t think this is sin. God knows how hard relationships are today. I think He wants my boyfriend and I to live together and do a test run before we get married, so we can be sure that it’ll work. So it’s all for His glory.” James says God is too good for that.


“I’ve paid so much in insurance over the years and I’m in such a financial jam and even though I backed into a pole, I think God’s fine if I turn in a claim that I was rear-ended.”


This is the flesh. It justifies sinning. Talks us into it. Even say God is cool with it. In our new heart we want God, we don’t want to do this. So we have a choice to turn to Christ and engage our spirit and glory in Him or to just live according to the flesh.


Romans 8:5 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.


God is too holy and loves you too much to ever tempt you, promote sin, or cause you to sin. Then what causes us to sin? The devil? Western culture? Social media? Inequalities?


James 1:14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.


We have different lusts. One thing might entice one person, yet disgust another.


We reflect Christ when we love and don’t judge someone for being tempted by something that doesn’t even tempt us. We have our own temptations.


And the things that tempt us are not necessarily evil. For instance, God made us relational beings, and many people desire a soulmate, a great spouse, the perfect family. God made us sexual beings, so many of us desire sexual gratification. God created us for significance, therefore many people long for significance, attention, affection, affirmation.


These are all God-given needs.


But when, apart from God, the lusts of our flesh lead us to seek fulfill these needs outside of God’s will, contrary to God’s Word or design, even a great thing becomes a temptation to sin, to meet a God-given want or need in an inappropriate way.


David with Bathsheba.


You are tempted when you are carried away, driven by your lusts to act apart from God and contrary to His word. You may not even catch what is happening. Such is our sin nature. But here’s the cycle that you’re in. See it now before you enter it…


Acknowledge that your flesh is being tempted. You’re entertaining this sin. Realize what’s going on. Turn to Christ to interrupt this cycle. If you don’t…


James 1:15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin…


Remember, sin bypasses our spirit where we commune with God and makes its appeal directly to our flesh—and our flesh never met a temptation it didn’t like.


If we continue in this cycle, we will give ourselves permission to go for it. And when that happens, when lust conceives with what tempts us, it produces sin. In our heart. And followed by our actions.

And in an instant, we’ll compromise ourselves. We make the purchase. Criticize our spouse. Snap at our children. Rant on social media. We do what we told ourselves we never wanted to do again. We say something we vowed to never say again.


James 1:15… and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.


A husband and wife were at a mall when a shapely young woman in a short, form-fitting dress strolled by. The husband’s eyes followed her. Without looking up from the item she was examining, the wife asked, "Was it worth the trouble you're in?"


If we live by the flesh, the temptation is always enticing, harmless, & worth the risk.


Until we feast on it!


When sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Afterward we feel guilty, dirty, stupid, weak, ashamed. “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.” But it’s too late. We can’t take back what we said. We cannot undo what we just did. The pictures are on FB. The canary is in our belly. The ice cream carton is empty.


I heard a commercial the other day, I think for a treatment program. The woman said, “I can’t believe I said that to my child; why did I have to drink so much last night?” Why did I have to?! Whether it’s drinking, viewing porn, neglecting our family, getting into a shouting match or saying the wrong thing again. Why did I have to?


Because the lusts of our flesh are so powerful that more often than not WE cannot stop them. Therapy, hypnosis, meds aren’t enough. It’s a losing battle to train our flesh to be good or to will your flesh into submission. Sin is rooted in your flesh. And as long as you live by the flesh, you will give in to it. And afterward it leads to death.


The goal is not to tame your flesh or to focus on your outward behavior or to will yourself to be a better person. You can’t make your flesh better. The goal is to glory in Christ. Look to Christ with faith and engage our spirits with His Spirit. His life. Our goal isn’t to gradually improve our flesh but to be led by the Spirit, not the flesh.  


Whatever it is that tempts you entices your sin nature to take control. So that your thoughts and emotions and desires fixate on this temptation rather than Christ. Rather than living as a child of God under the loving care and provision of God.


This is how temptation works in us..


God doesn’t call us to defeat temptation on our own. He calls us to trust Him. To glory in Him. To delight in His unconditional love. His promises. His purposes. Will.


He calls us to face this with Him. God and only God can deliver you from the power of the flesh. When you’re in its grips, it has your mind racing, it has your emotions boiling, it owns your will. And only Christ, Christ in you can break its stranglehold!


In the midst of it, in the midst of any trial  temptation, when you turn to Jesus with faith, when you look to Jesus in truth, you engage your spirit with the life of Christ. You’re in a place where the Holy Spirit acting through faith can set you free. And you can trust Him to break the control that your flesh has on you and set you free.


Some temptations happen so quick. In a split second it’s done. We did it again.


But James writes this that we may catch it. Wow I’m giving too much attention to my lusts, my anger, my mind is wandering. I’m upset. I’m lonely. I’m feeling empty. I’m feeling threatened. When we’re here, we can run with our flesh or turn to Christ.


Problem is we’re often in the flesh by now, and it doesn’t want to give up control. We don’t even want to snap out of it. But that’s our flesh. We can be comfortable here. It can become our new normal—but God doesn’t want you to accept that…


Bring this is to Christ, bring your need to Christ, bring the fact you feel lonely, angry, scared or empty to Christ. Draw close to Christ in this. His promises. His provision.


Share this with a godly friend in Christ. Let Christ break the cycle. Don’t accept this.


For if we don’t turn to Jesus and glory in Him and revive our spirits in Him, we will continue to sin, and sin brings forth some form of pain, death. It does. Even if we are callous to it. This is a part of that death. Deception. Comfort with sin. Apathy.


James 1:16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. [Sin brings forth death.]


When God asked Eve why she did the one thing He warned her not to do? She said, “The serpent deceived me, so I ate.” The serpent said, “Sin doesn’t bring death. You won’t die if you eat this. It’ll open your eyes. Make you feel alive. Give you control.”


So do not be deceived. And notice, this is a choice. It’s a choice to trust what God says and turn to Him. Don’t let yourselves be deceived when it comes to your flesh and to sin.


God doesn’t lead us to sin and provides for us great things that we don’t need to.


James 1:17 Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.


In the midst of temptation we can trust God to provide a good and perfect way to escape the temptation. To fill us far better than this temptation.


James 1:18 In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we might be, as it were, the first fruits among His creatures.


So that we can live freely in Christ. We don’t have to be bound to our flesh and it’s desires. We have been brought forth, born again, given a new life that’s inextricably united to Christ. We are the first fruits. We’re holy God. We’ve an eternal destiny.


We don’t have to live by the flesh as often as we do. Even if you’ve failed 100 times, our LORD can rescue you from the power of the flesh. Christ in you can break sin’s stranglehold. And the Holy Spirit acting through faith is always able to set you free.


1) Abide in Christ. Nurture your fellowship with Christ. Find joy in Him. Be in awe of Him. Be in His word. Learn to trust His love. Learn to love Him. Learn to obey Him.


When we’re centered in Him, temptation has a harder time succeeding against us. You will be tempted—no matter how godly or intimate with Christ. And you will fail at times, too many times. So did David. Moses. Paul. Peter. Everyone but Christ.


2) Understand the process of temptation and sin. Learn to recognize when you cede control to your flesh. Your behavior is really just an indicator. But God cares far more about you than your sinful behavior. And He wants to protect you.


3) So don’t just fix your behavior, turn to Christ. When you realize you’re ceding control to your flesh realize Christ can end this cycle. Don’t just give yourself over to the lusts of your flesh, turn to Christ in your heart and glory in Him. Run to His Word. See Him with eyes of faith. Call out to Him out loud. Call on a godly friend.


4) In crises, in trials, in temptations, God wants you to learn to draw near to Him with your need. To engage your spirit in the life of Christ. Faith in Christ trumps the lusts of our flesh, and allows Christ to lead you. Look to Him, He will provide a way to escape sin and its consequences.


Romans 5:21 so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.