The Devil made me do it! That expression was coined by Flip Wilson in a skit he did called the devil made me buy this dress. I’m not going to try to imitate him, but Flip has a dialogue on stage between a Reverend and his wife. She comes home with a new dress, and the Rev complains that that’s the third dress she bought this week—she said, “the devil made me buy this dress, I didn’t want to…”Then she explains to him how it happened, oh and he made her crash her car into the church too. That phrase has passed into our vocabulary, but really it’s as old as sin. You see the first thing that Adam and Eve did in the garden after they hid from God, was to blame shift. Adam blamed his wife, and Eve gave us the first the devil made me do it. And ever since then man has been blame-shifting. We’ve gotten pretty sophisticated at it to—but at root it is a self-deception. We may laugh at “the devil made me do it” but its never funny when we have deceived ourselves into thinking that someone else is to blame for our wrong doing.
We are continuing our series in the Letter to James, we will look at James 1:12–18. You see James has some correction for the church that is deceiving itself by questioning the goodness of God in trials. In the same vein as the devil made me do it, turning and blaming God as the source of our temptation is diabolical. But James tells us that because God is good, we must trust in him trials. Why? Because God does not tempt; and because God gives us good gifts.
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.James 1:12-18
Enduring Trials leads to Blessedness
Last time we were in James we talked about trials being used by God to test our faith—to produce through them steadfastness. We saw that when God tries us it is not random or capricious, but our trials are designed to bring us into greater trust and dependence on God. To endure those trials we need wisdom. Some of those trials are material, that is we can be tempted to place our trust in material things, but James assures us that those things are temporary—here today gone tomorrow. Now James returns to the theme of trials as testing. In. v. 12 he pronounces a blessing on those who remain steadfast under trial. Do you see the connection James is making. In v. 2–4 he says that we should count trials a joy because they produce steadfastness—making us perfect. Now in v. 12 he says that a person who has stood the test—what he means is when your steadfastness is approved, you will receive the crown of life. James is saying exactly what Peter was saying in:
1 Peter 1:6–7 ESV
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Our trust in God is tested so that its genuineness shines forth, like gold being refined, that is made more pure, by fire. So likewise we receive the crown of eternal life because of genuine faith—that is faith that despite trials still grips tightly to Christ and his finished work for our salvation. That kind of faith. The promised blessing is eternal life in glory with God.
God Does Not Tempt Us
But after taking us to the heights of glory, James returns down to correct some deceptions. When we looked last time at the previous section in James we saw that God wants us to respond to trials in a certain way, namely with Joy. But that’s not often our first response, often our first response is to grumble and complain, and often out of those complaints we begin to deceive ourselves. First we need to get a better understanding of some the words James is using here. You see the word translated temptation in v. 13 is the same word that is translated as trial in v 2–4, 12. Now this is common, translation is never one for one, the nuance of language doesn’t allow that. So the Greek word πειρασμός can mean trial, test, or temptation—the context determines which to use. The confusion comes because in v. 13 James use the same word in two different ways. And actually the ESV doesn’t convey this. But the Christian Standard Bible, which is a revision of the Holman Christian Standard Bible, I think their translation is very helpful in conveying just what James is getting at. Listen to v. 13 from the CSB:
James 1:13 (CSB):
No one undergoing a trial should say, “I am being tempted by God,” since God is not tempted by evil, and he himself doesn’t tempt anyone.
You see what James is telling us is that every trial comes with temptation, temptation to sin. The trial is from God, and is designed to lead to our maturity in the faith, but what James is saying is it is wrong for us to assume that the temptation to sin is also from God. Instead we need to look much closer for the genesis of sin. James says we are tempted by our own desires. Trials come and things get hard, pressure builds, and the world, the flesh, and the devil are right there with offers of relief, pleasure, and freedom, if we will only give in to our desires.
But James makes it clear that God is not the one responsible for temptation to sin. Because he is not tempted by evil, nor does he tempt. James is saying that temptation to sin is far removed from the character and purposes of God that is not something he uses—its foreign to him. Rather the temptation to sin comes from within us, from our evil desires. James uses a fishing metaphor to describe how desire entices us to sin.
I love fly fishing, the thrill of matching the fly you use to whatever is hatching then that the fish might be nibbling on. Then you offer them an imitation, that is designed to fool them into thinking that its the real deal. When they take the bait, you set the hook, and you drag them in. James says our desires work like that—they offer an imitation, a perversion of something good God has given. Remember Satan has never created anything, he just corrupts God’s good creation. Trials come and each has a particular temptation that comes along with it, Like the fly fisherman—the world, the flesh, and the devil, are playing match the hatch. Presenting to us the right imitation, at just the right time. The deception that James is correcting is our foolish attempts to blame-shift when we succumb to temptation. God doesn’t tempt, and he himself is not tempted. We are tempted when we take the bait, when we believe the lie, then we are lead astray by our evil desires.
Let me give you an example of what this might look like on the ground, in real life. Let’s imagine the worst thing happens. A tiny, microscopic, so small you can’t even see it with your naked eyes, virus begins to spread rapidly. It starts in China, but soon it has covered the whole world. Everyone panics and buys all the toilet paper (Not sure why that was the chosen item to make a run on). Soon the government restricts travel and prohibits meetings of more than 250 people, then because the spread is so rapid and the virus is deadly, they issue a stay-in-place order, and ask all non-essential work to stop. (What really is non-essential work anyway, its essential to those who work in them, we know that). So there you are stuck at home, no work, no money coming in, and fear of getting this deadly virus. Now I know this illustrations seems far fletched but something like this could happen.
What James is teaching us is that in the midst of that kind of trial you will face temptations, not just general temptations, but the world, the flesh, and the devil, are there waiting with tailor made temptations designed to lure and entice you to sin. It’s the image that God gave to Cain when he was upset that God didn’t except his offering. He told Cain to be careful because “Sin was crouching at the door ready to consume him” (Gen. 4:7). But the problem comes not only when we give into to temptation, but when we deceive ourselves into thinking that God is the one has tempted us.
So every trials comes with temptations, and its how you respond to those temptations that makes all the difference. Maybe your asking yourself why? Why should I respond differently, what difference will it make to my situation? The simple answer James gives is that enduring trials, leads to the blessed life. In our current climate the term human flourishing gets bandied around a lot. But its not a bad term if used to describe the blessed life as defined by God. It helps if we see our trials as moving us a long on a journey, like levels on a video game, in order to pass this level we must not give in to temptation, we must learn to trust in God. Temptation thwarts our learning, because we shortcut the process. Temptation offers us a way through without trusting in God.
But how do we do this? Does James give us any answer about the resources that we have as Christians on how to endure trials without giving into to temptation. We’ve learned that temptations come from within; we’ve learned that God does not tempt. Because God is good we must trust him in trials. James in v. 16–18 gives us a glimpse into the resources that we have to endure such trials.
God does give us good gifts
Look with me at v. 16–18. Because God is good, we must trust him in trials: God does not tempt us; but God does give us good gifts. We deceive ourselves when we are tempted to blame God for temptations that come in trials, from our own desires, which leads to sin. The right answer then, to our deception is a meditation on the character of God. If temptations don’t come from God then what does come from God. James makes it clear God is the one who gives good gifts. We can learn a lot about who God is from negation, by saying God does not tempt us. That tells us something about the nature of God. But if we stopped there it would be a poor picture.
If I told you that my wife did not have short black hair, and she did not have brown eyes, and her temperament was not mean, and she did not grow up in Scranton—how much would you know about my wife. Fortunately for us James goes on, he doesn’t leave our picture of God just that God doesn’t tempt us. But James goes further filling out a picture of who God is. There are three main things we see from these verses about who God is; One, he is a Father; two, he is a giver; three, he is immutable.
God is a Father, to our well trained Christian ears this is not radical, but it should be. We can call on God as Father because of our union with Christ. If we have been united to Christ then we have been adopted into the family of God—we are made then fellow heirs with Christ, our elder brother—and we have God as our father. We are then all of us sons of God, with respect to inheritance. While more and more as our society moves away from the gospel, as a by-product of that shift the family has suffered greatly. Now it has become the norm to grow up in a home with no father, rather than as God had designed it to be with Fathers in the home. As this shift takes place I recognize that there is a growing discomfort with the term Father. But discomfort, should not provoke us to throw out a concept that is so thoroughly biblical. Just because something is abused does not mean, it is to be rejected. This fallacy is everywhere in our public discourse. Rather we as Father’s need to be quick to repent, and affirm that we have, and always will fall far short of the standard of the perfection of the fatherhood of God—nevertheless. Even if you cannot work backward from the good ways that your father has dealt with you, and learn something about the character of God; still you can work forwards and say if God is a Father, and part of his character is to be a giver, what does that teach me about fatherhood? How should I conduct myself as a father if God is said to be a giver of good gifts.
Father’s do you deal with your children the way that God deals with you? I could turn that around and it will be much scarier, What if God dealt with you the way you deal with your children? What if God were inconvenienced when you bothered him during the ball game? Or what if he yelled at you when you stole something out of the fridge you were not supposed to, or was angry when you got into his tools and did not put them back? Can you imagine if God treated us the way we often treat our children?
God is a father, but he is a father who gives good gifts. While it would take all day to outline all of the gifts that God gives us, lets take two as representative of them all. First God gives us life. The life that we so easily take for granted is a gift, we don’t do anything to earn it, and we are not capable of sustaining it apart from God. Second, and even greater of a gift is new life—and this is the example that James gives in v. 18. You see because of sin, the principle at work in us is not life, but death. Apart from the sovereign work of God in salvation, we are all on a slow spiral downward to the abyss. But the greatest gift of God was himself, he gave us himself when he sent his son Jesus to become our substitute, our representative. He came to live the life and die the death that we were incapable of. In doing that he gave us His life, we are now counted as righteous by his grace through faith. James says Of His own will be brought us forth. That is the language of the new birth, what the apostle John calls being born from above. This happens by the Word of truth. As the catechism Ques # 89 states:
How is the word made effectual to salvation?
The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation.Westminster Shorter Catechism Question #89
That is why we in the Reformed tradition have placed such a high priority on the preaching of the word. Because in and through the preached word God gives us the greatest gift—salvation. New life, free from the principle of sin and death.
The third thing we learn about the character of God is what theologians call immutability. That just means that God doesn’t change. In the past God is the giver of good gifts, he continues in the present, and he will be so long into the future. The character of God never changes.
We have spent a considerable amount of time thinking about the character of God, But how really does that help us when in the midst of trials we are tempted? Because James is teaching us that our self-deception is a product of a distorted view of God. When we think God is the one who is tempting us to sin, we end up with a high view of ourselves and a low view of God. James is saying this is the wrong motivation for enduring trials. Rather to endure trials, we need a correct apprehension of God. Knowing the character of God informs our trust. That is why we say that faith includes three things, knowledge, belief, and trust. For faith to be saving faith—the kind of faith that whether trials and temptation, it must include all three. We need to know certain things about who God is and what God has done. But we can’t just know these things, we have to believe them. This involves a commitment, we submit ourselves to what scripture says about who God is, and the implication of what that means. But this is not enough either, for you must have trust as well. That is you know and believe that what God has promised in his word is true, and its true for you. You trust that when God says he is not tempting you, you trust that when God says he is a giver of good gifts, and that his character never changes—you trust those things to be true for you. That is the only kind of faith that can endure steadfast under trials. Because even the demons believe—but they don’t trust in God. They don’t rest in his promises for them. So it is with all who don’t believe.
Because God is good we must trust in him in trials, Because God does not tempt, but God does give good gifts. Do you believe that. If you believe that that is true then you have this assurance that no matter what; no matter how deep or dark the valley that you walk through in this life—you have assurance that even in the midst of that trial God is good, he is unchangeable good, his loving kindness, his mercy, and his grace for you endure forever. Though this life is a vale of tears, and trials and temptations are sure to come, rest in the finished work of Christ—for salvation is already won. Christ has done it, everything else is just a working out of that salvation.