Kill Temptation Before It Kills You (James Sermon 2)
January 19, 2020 | Andrew Davis
War Against the Flesh, Temptation
Well, it's exciting to be able to be with you a week later, as Andy said, to be at a higher level. Grateful to be way up here with you folks, and to be able to share how exciting it is what God is doing in our church. And I'd like to ask that you turn in your Bibles to James 1 as we continue our study in the Book of James. And this morning we're going to be looking at the deadly power of temptation. And one of the things, a healthy church, a good church will do with its members is equip each member for spiritual warfare. And so, you've come this morning we hope to an armory of truth, that you have instruction in the Word of God to put on spiritual armor, that you are equipped to fight, and fight you must. All of us are going to be assaulted this week by the world, the flesh and the devil. It's inevitable, it will come. And the best thing that I can do this morning is to equip you to fight.
Sirens and Sin
In Greek mythology there were creatures named sirens, they were half-bird, half-woman. They lived near rocky shoals, and cliffs of islands, and they had the deadly skill of singing so enticingly and so alluringly that they could lure sailors to sail their ships too close to the rocky shoals because they were drawn in by the beauty of the music, and so they would dash themselves and their ships to pieces. In Homer's Odyssey, the hero Odysseus had heard about this alluring siren song and wanted to hear it so much, but didn't want to endanger his ship, so he commanded his men to lash himself to the mast and then that each of his sailors would fill their ear with wax, so that they wouldn't themselves be enticed, and in this way, he hoped to hear the song of the sirens. Now, this intoxicating pull toward shipwreck is an illustration from myth and legend of an actual spiritual danger that each one of us faces as Christians in this world, the danger of temptation. We walk every single day on a path surrounded by various siren songs. Satan has crafted a world system and assaults us with the temptations of the world and his own crafty temptations. And then we have the enemy within, our own lust, which the text is going to focus on, which responds to those alluring songs.
Taking Responsibility for Our Sin
Now it is human nature for all of us to blame others for our sins. That we're going to blame others to escape taking responsibility for our sins, looking for a scapegoat, a fall guy. This is obviously so unjust, and it's corrupt, and it's weak on our part. But worst of all, worse than blaming other people is to blame God for our temptations and for our sins. And this happened from the very beginning, the first sin that Adam fell into, when he ate from the forbidden tree, he ate fruit from the forbidden tree. The first sin that happened after that was a sin of blame shifting. You remember how God confronted him and said, "Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from it?" And in Genesis 3:12, he said, "The woman you put here with me, she gave me some of the fruit from the tree and I ate it." So that is terrible. At that point he's blaming not only Eve for his sin, the woman for the sin, but he is ultimately blaming God for his own sin. We are world-class excuse-makers for our own corruptions. Like a thief blaming his economic situations for his thieving, or a serial rapist blaming his abusive father for his career in crime. But it's even worse when we do it to God.
The Book of Proverbs makes this tendency clear in Proverbs 19:3. Proverbs 19:3 says, "A man's folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the Lord." Isn't that a powerful proverb? We do damage to our own lives and then we turn around and blame God for it. We're constantly surrounded by the forces that are pulling on our bodies. Physical forces like the force of gravity that's pulling us down or force of moving objects that smash into us, or deflect us from our course, or the force of atmospheric pressure, 14.7 pounds per square inch, pushing on us at every moment. But the force of temptation pulling us toward evil and toward death is the most significant spiritual force that we have to combat in our journey of salvation. It's like a magnetic pull that lures us to our deaths, and as we come to James 1:13-18, James is helping us to understand the true origin of our temptations, and it's not coming from the pure heart of God. And it's coming from within ourselves. God wants us to take responsibility for our own temptations, and to kill them before they kill us. And He does this by teaching us the true nature of temptation.
I. God Never Tempts Us
Tested vs. Tempted
So as we look at our outline this morning, the first point is going to be this: God never tempts us. Verse 13, "When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me,’ for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he himself tempt anyone." So we come immediately here in verse 13, in the Greek language, to a difficult word, and an issue between being tested and being tempted. What's amazing is the Greek word is the same. So you have to look at the context. We were just told in verse 2 of chapter 1, that we “face trials of many kinds.” That is the same Greek word. And then verse 12 uses it again. God actually does in fact test us. And He does try us, He puts us through trying circumstances. Now, the testing of our faith, we're told, develops perseverance. It purifies our faith, it strengthens us, makes us more purely devoted to God. Temptations however are something else altogether, and we have to make a distinction. A temptation is, as I've been saying, a magnetic attraction toward evil, a pulling toward wickedness.
There are many examples of temptation in the Bible. We think about Joseph and Potiphar's wife, how day after day, she sought to persuade him to have sex with her, day after day to allure him, even grabbing him by the garment at one point. Or we have in Proverbs chapter 7, it seems like Solomon is looking down into the streets of the city and sees a young man through the lattice, a young man he says lacking sense, not aware of what war zone he's about to walk into. And then there's this alluring seductress who comes out crafty and with deceitful intent, and she's dressed, and she's enticing and she begins to talk to him. The whole thing is laid out for us in Proverbs 7. She says, "My husband has taken a big bag of money, he's going to be gone until the new moon. It's going to be a long time, and I've fulfilled my vows to God today." Meaning, “I have some meat that I can offer, the very thing that you want.” And so, she persuades him, and she allures him. It says in Proverbs 7:21, "With persuasive words she led him astray and she seduced him with her smooth talk." And the book says, "All at once he followed her like an ox going to the slaughter, like a deer stepping into a noose till an arrow pierces his liver, like a bird darting into a snare, little knowing it will cost him his life." So that's just a whole case study of seduction, a case study of alluring.
You have the same thing in Proverbs 1, with a different sin, where highway robbers are enticing this man's son and saying, "Hey come on, join us in laying wait for someone and we'll share a common purse." It's a different kind of seduction, but the same kind of thing. So we have all of these examples of alluring and temptation that happens, but the text says, "Don't ever say God is doing that to me." God is no seductress, He doesn't seduce us toward evil, He doesn't allure us toward wickedness. He never does this. God definitely tests us, like He tested Abraham to see the strength of his faith and to develop his faith. And he orchestrates circumstances to test us, that is true. But He never seduces us toward the thing that He hates with a perfect hatred.
The Perfect Purity of God
Look at verse 13, it says, "God cannot be tempted by evil." The basic nature of evil is as far from the perfect purity of Almighty God as we can imagine. It's as far as the east is from the west. It's as far as one end of the universe is from the other. Cosmologists tell us 47 billion light years across. God is further from wickedness and evil than that. It says in Habakkuk 1:13, "Your eyes are too pure to look on evil, you cannot tolerate wrong." Even better for our purposes, 1 John 1:5 says, "God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all." It's a double negative in the Greek. There's not the tiniest particle of evil in God, ever. He is not divided within His nature, He is one, perfectly one. He is perfectly light all the time. But us, we are deeply divided. To the core of God's being, He is light. And in the core of His being, there is no darkness at all.
It's an interesting expression in Isaiah 1:14, where God is speaking through the prophet Isaiah and He's talking about the machinery of corrupt religion going on in Israel at the time. And this is what He says. It's a very interesting expression. He says, "Your appointed feast my soul hates." It's a very interesting expression, the soul of God. Well, God doesn't have a soul anymore than He has a hand, or eyes, or feet. These are what theologians call anthropomorphism, but they help us to understand the nature of God and when He says, "My soul hates it," it means to the core of my being, I hate evil and wickedness. The holiness of God may be the single most important attribute for us in our sinfulness to understand.
The Holiness of God
We have the account of the call of Isaiah the prophet in Isaiah 6, where it says, "In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord high and exalted, and the train of His robe filled the temple, and above Him there were Seraphs, each with six wings, and with two wings they covered their faces. And with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying." One theologian said, "Notice that four of the six wings of the six-winged Seraph are given toward some acknowledgement of the holiness of God." And these are beings that have never sinned, they've never rebelled, they're perfectly holy themselves, separate from evil, but they still have a sense of the intense holiness of God. It is the most important attribute because they cry aloud to each other, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty, the whole earth is full of His glory!" It is the only attribute of God which is said three times, “holy, holy, holy.” God is perfectly separated from evil. It is the essence then, of the saving work He does in us to get us to be holy because He is holy.
God Never Tempts Anyone
And therefore, verse 13 says, "God is untemptable by evil." There is nothing inside God that is attracted to wickedness or darkness at all. Nor does He tempt anyone. Evil has no allure from God, doesn't pull on His heartstrings. He's not attracted to it. Therefore He's not singing some siren song to get us to divert from His path of righteousness, and disobey His commands, that just doesn't come from God ever.
Now you may ask, thoughtful among you are probably already thinking about this, "What about the Lord's Prayer? Remember how we're told to pray, "Lead us O Lord, not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." So you prayed that for years, you never knew there was a problem with that verse, did you? You're like wait a minute now, "If God never tempts us toward evil, then why do we have to ask Him to not lead us into temptation?" But here's the thing, in prayer, we're not rolling out something that we have no idea what God thinks about it. Prayers are always biblically informed, and so, we could pray with the Psalmists, “May the glory of the Lord endure forever.” “Not sure whether it will or not, but may it happen. Hope it does.” Friends, that's not how prayer works. So we learn instead, God hates evil, "May you O Lord, continue to hate it as you will, and continue to lead me in such a way that I am not tempted."
But really in the end it comes back to us, doesn't it? It teaches us, it reminds us of the holiness of God. It reminds us of our own susceptibility to temptation, like this text is teaching, and oh God, that we would not lead ourselves into temptation, put ourselves in tempting situations or walk like we're blockheads and have no idea what's going on and find ourselves trapped when we shouldn't be. That's the way I understand, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one."
God Allows Satan’s Temptations
Now, the evil one, Satan, God does permit him to tempt us and he does tempt us. However, we've already learned from 1 Corinthians 10:13 that, “He will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear, but with the temptation, He will make a way of escape so that we can stand up under it.” Look, oh dear friends, look for that way of escape every time. Say, "Oh God, allow me to stand firm in this hour of temptation. I don't want to cave in."
II. The True Origin of Temptation: Our Lusts
Now, the second outline point is the true origin of temptation is our own lust. Look at verse 14, "Each one is tempted when by his own evil desire, or lust, he is dragged away and enticed." So our temptations come from our own lust, our own evil desires. Now we were made in the image of God to be filled with desires. It is a good thing to have desire, it's a defective thing to have no desire in life at all. And so, we were made to have desires, not even weak desires, passionate desires. God is a God that's filled with passionate desires. Now, given our physical nature we are going to have normal physical desires, but what sin does, is it corrupts the normal desires and pushes them beyond boundaries that God has set up. So that desire becomes lust, and that's the origin of our temptation.
Our Temptations Come from Our Own Evil Desires
So we have a desire for food. There's nothing wrong with that, there's everything right with that. But then the sin nature, the flesh, pushes it beyond boundaries into gluttony. We have the desire for rest, we need rest. The sleep of a laborer is pleasant to his soul and God gives sleep to those that He loves. This is a good gift, but the flesh pushes it beyond normal boundaries, so that we become the sluggard, “and like the door on its hinges, we turn on our beds.” I love the Proverbs about the sluggard. What an interesting individual the sluggard is, but here's an individual who is intoxicated by sleep. He just can't get enough. Then there's the desire for marital relations, it's normal, God put it in all normal men and women to have sexual relations within covenant marriage. That's normal. But the sin nature of the flesh pushes that into forbidden territories, and that becomes sexual lust, and it corrupts us.
Now all of us have to deal with the enemy within. And Romans Chapter 7, in the second half of that chapter, Paul unfolds the battle that all of us are going to have the rest of our lives. We have an enemy within. And Paul says in Romans 7, in verse 15, "I do not understand what I do, for what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do." He then says, "As it is, it's no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me that is so repulsive." Like you've got this disgusting virus or parasite, worse than any parasite living inside us. Paul says, "I know that nothing good lives in me, [that is, in my flesh] for I have the desire to do what is good but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do. No, the evil I do not want to do, this is what I keep on doing. Now, if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work when I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being, I delight in God's law, but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am. Who will deliver me from this body of death?" Well, thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord, someday dear friends, we are going to be delivered from this body of death. In Heaven, we will not have any struggle with lust, it will be done. And you are hungering and thirsting for righteousness.
If you're a genuine Christian, if you're genuinely born again, you're yearning for that day when you will never sin again. And it will come, you'll be released. If you should die before the Second Coming of Christ, you'll be among those that are absent from the body, present with the Lord, and it says in Hebrews that you will be the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and you'll never have an evil thought again or evil desire, you'll be completely conformed to Jesus Christ. But in the meantime, while you are in this body, in this present world, you must fight and you must seek the deliverance that only God can give. And so it says, "So then I myself in my mind am a slave to the law of God but in my flesh a slave to the law of sin." So this is sin living in us.
Dragged Away and Enticed by Lust
Now, James describes it forcefully. “Each one is tempted when by his own evil desire, his own lust, he is...” The translation I have here is, “dragged away and enticed.” I find that an interesting kind of reversal, so let's just reverse it, “enticed and dragged away.” And these are two very forceful words. You get a sense here of a baited hook, almost like we are fish. We are fish and there's a lure, there's the bait, there's an enticement, some kind of pleasure, something that fits your nature, your flesh, and it's enticing. It's a lure. There is a magnetism, there's a gravitational pull toward it, it attracts the eye, it attracts the heart. You begin to ponder the bait, you begin to play with the bait a little bit, nibble at it, lick it I guess. I don't know what the fish do. What do they do? But something has caught the fish's attention and it's pulling on it a little bit. In my entire life, I've caught one fish. Alright, so I don't know what I'm talking about, at any rate. But they're playing with the bait and so, they're enticed and then dragged away. So you get part two is the bait is in the mouth of the fish and the angler, the fisherman knows it and is able to hook the fish with a jerk, and the fish is now hooked and dragged where the fish doesn't want to go. So these are the images that we have.
These Lusts Wage War on Your Soul
So, I have so many images that have been in my mind for years of this pull toward evil. This past year, there was a free solo rock climber named Alex Honnold that climbed without any equipment up the face of the El Capitan, the Half Dome. Crazy person, crazy person. But there is every single moment, every fingerhold, all that gravity is pulling on him toward his own death. Every single one. Or you think about salmon swimming upstream. Some of those salmon swim 900-1000 miles, and they're going against the whitewater, against the raging current of the mountain rivers that they're going, they're jumping falls the wrong way. And so all the force of the water, all the force of the gravity is against the journey they're trying to make. Our journey's harder than that, friends. Harder.
I was converted in October of 1982. So began the war on my soul. I'm still a Christian, but only by the grace of God. My soul has been assaulted every day of my Christian life by the world, the flesh, and the devil. And here I stand, but I stand very humble, aware that if the Lord had given me over to my lusts and my temptations I would have been gone a long time ago, and so would you. And you're going to get saved, in the end God's going to win. Praise God, He's going to win over you, and He's going to get you there, and when you get to Heaven, you'll realize how much He saved you. And to God be the glory. That's what's going on. So these lusts, Peter tells us in 1 Peter 2:12 that they,“wage war against your soul.” The best thing I can do as a pastor, the best thing we can do as brothers and sisters in the church is help you fight that battle.
III. The True Destination of Temptation: Death
Lusts Get Stronger the More You Indulge in Them
So we come to the third outline point, and that is the true destination of temptation is death. Look at verses 15 and 16, "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." So, the lusts get stronger the more you indulge them. If you yield to a lust today, it will come back stronger tomorrow. This is the way it is. Conversely, if you fight, if you kill the lust today, it will come back but weaker. And this is how we fight. It'll never be totally gone. You'll never be totally free from any categorical lust while you live in this world, you'll never be able to say, "I will never sin in that way again," while you live. You can't say that. You got to be vigilant all the time. “If anyone thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall.” But the ultimate end of all this, the true destination is death.
Likened to Childbirth and Child Development
Now James likens it to the process of childbirth and child development. He says that desire conceives and gives birth to sin, and then he speaks of sin becoming fully grown. So it's like you're watching it grow up and develop. It's completed, it's fully developed, so it's continuing on. And so, sin has an intentionality. Sin is frequently in a number of places in the New Testament, personified. Like, “sin deceived me and through the commandment put me to death,” it says in Romans. So, sin has an intelligence, it's given a personification. Alright, so sin has a plan for you, and that is, to assassinate your soul. Sin wants to take you to Hell, it wants to destroy your life in this world and then destroy your soul in eternity. That's why John Owen said, "Be killing sin or sin will be killing you."
The Deceitfulness of Sin
And so we must see in verse 16 the deceitfulness of all this. “Don't be deceived, dear brothers. You have to be aware of what's happening to you. Don't allow yourself to be lied to, don't be deceived. Sin lies to us, it promises us pleasure, but it is secretly poisoning us, little by little poisoning us. It's deceiving us.” Hebrews 3:13 says that we should, “encourage one another daily so that none of us may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.” That's powerful, isn't it? Hardened by sin's deceitfulness. Sin doesn't tell the truth about where we're going with all this. John Owen said this about sin, "Sin not only wants to be constantly acting, but if let alone, it will bring forth great, cursed, scandalous and soul-destroying sins. It always aims at the utmost. It's not trying to do a little thing in your soul, it's trying to take you the whole way, and in this way it doesn't tell you the truth, it deceives you.
The Final Destination of Such a Life is Hell
So I think about what the Nazis did in World War II to get the people to quietly file onto the trains that would take them to their death. They were told that they were being transported to Relocation Camps. They're using this kind of language and they were told, and this comes out very plainly in the movie, Schindler's List, they were told to take all of your luggage and carefully label it and stack it up neatly on the platform, and it would be transported to their final destination. It's a very eerie scene in that movie where the people begin their journey to what we know is the death camps: Auschwitz, Treblinka, Sobibor, somewhere. Off they go. And then after they're gone, then a bunch of workers come in and grab the luggage and throw it in a warehouse, and they start opening up and dumping the contents and organizing them to see if there's any valuables. We know as the movie watchers, they'll never see their stuff again, they're going to die, we know it. Well, sin is like that. It uses complacent language about what's happening, you minimize it. You use different adjectives, different words to describe it, and you minimize it. It's not a big deal. And this is very much the hardening of sin's deceitfulness. So, your heart, you didn't even know that your heart is getting harder toward God, toward Christ, toward Bible reading, toward prayer, toward fellowship, you don't want to do it as much, it's not as enjoyable to you. You pray shorter, you are tempted to forsake the assembling of yourself together with other Christians, there's a hardening.
The opposite is a softening, which has to do with a yieldedness toward God, you're yielding to what the indwelling Spirit is telling you to do, that the prompting of the Spirit finds submission in you. You're not stiff-necked, like the Jews were said of old, to be stiff-necked, which is to rebel. Instead, you're soft and yielded, but sin does the opposite, it makes you stiff-necked, it makes you hard-hearted. That's the deceitfulness. And the final destination of this is death. Now, we should not misunderstand and think we're just talking about physical death. We understand biblically that there is something called the second death. There is physical death, and we're all going to die. If the Lord doesn't return in our lifetime, we will die physically, that's true. But this is talking about that but much more than that. We must not be deceived. Verse 16 mentioned self-deception, "Do not be deceived, my brothers." Verse 22 of the same chapter, he says, "Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says." And then verse 26 of the same chapter, three times in one short section, the problem of deception, of being deceived. He says, "If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless." So this is just the whole project of the Book of James, is to get you to understand what kind of faith saves you and what life comes from that. And this is a life that fights temptation, it fights sin, you recognize what's happening.
So, those of us that battle, let's say sexual immorality, Jesus was very, very plain with this about lust. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ but I say to you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart.” Then he says, "If your right hand causes you to sin, then cut it off and throw it away, it is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into Hell." So that's what we're talking about. Hell is the second death, that's where temptation will take us.
We Need These Warnings
So the Bible doesn't shrink back from warning us about where we're headed and what lust and sin leads to. And part of the way that the Bible does this is by giving us sober-minded warnings like this text, that's what this is, it's a sober-minded warning. And some people wrestle theologically, "I don't understand, Pastor. I thought once saved, always saved. I thought I was secure." All these kind of things and they have a hard time reading warnings, but you need to understand the warnings are essential to the salvation process of the unglorified elect, the unglorified saved elect. We're still in a war zone, and the warnings do what they need to do to the souls of those who are elect that are chosen that will, in the end, make it through. We heed the warnings. Who takes the warnings seriously? We do. So, if you are elect, if you're genuinely converted, you'll read James 1:13-18 and take it seriously. And you'll say, "I've got to be killing these lusts, I've got to be killing sin or sin will be killing me."
IV. God’s Good and Perfect Gifts
God is Not an Alluring Siren
Alright, outline point four is, Instead look at God's good gifts and His perfect gifts. So God's not trying to destroy you, God's trying to save you. He's not trying to give you death, He's trying to give you life, that's who God is. And so these are some of the most beautiful verses you'll ever find on the generosity and the love of God. Look at verse 17, "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the lights who does not change, like shifting shadows." So God's not an alluring siren, enticing you to your own destruction, not at all. Jesus the Good Shepherd said, "The thief comes to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that you may have life, and have it abundantly." So this text says about the same thing. God's perfect nature, God is the Father of the lights. So, good gifts come down, so you have this, your eyes are lifted up, you look up at the heavens, and what do you see? You see the sun and you see the moon and the stars, which God created on the fourth day. He created the greater light to govern the day, the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. One of the great understatements in all of history. He also made the stars. And it says that He set them in the heavens to give light to the Earth. He's very Earth-centered.
So I know, I know about Nicholas Copernicus and he told us, "Guess what? The earth is not the center of the solar system, the sun is." The earth is not the physical center, but it is the spiritual center of everything, and He created the sun, and the moon, and the stars expressly to give light to the Earth. And when their time is done, they will be done. And in Heaven, in the new heaven, new earth He will give His own light directly, He will not delegate it anymore to the sun or the moon or the stars or any lamp, but He will illuminate Heaven with His own glory. That's the generosity and the love of God, He is very generous.
I mean look at the sun. Sun is very generous, don't you think? I mean, it's been helping us out all this time. Day after day it gives us light, it gives us warmth, and it's doing just fine. It could keep going like this for a while. Cosmologists tell us that it could keep going at the present rate for another 5 billion years. So here, I'm going to bring in my eschatology and theology, I think we'll be all set by then, friends. We will have come to the end of this phase of history and gone on to eternity by then. So I think the sun is set up to run for a while and God sends down that light, He is the Father of the lights from Heaven, and He keeps them burning. And He keeps all of the stars with their twinkling light and He keeps the moon with its beautiful glow, the Harvest Moon, how beautiful is that? And God gives this generosity to us day after day. This is the nature of God's limitless love.
He says, "I pray that you may grasp," Ephesians 3, "how wide, and long, and high, and deep is the love of Christ, and that you would know that love that surpasses knowledge, that you would be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." Isn't that what you get out of verse 17? He's giving you gifts, He's giving you good gifts, and perfect gifts. And He never changes. He's immutable. He's the same yesterday, today, and forever. He does not change like shifting shadows, James tells us. Malachi 3:6, "I the Lord do not change." Before the foundation of the world, He set His love on you, child of God. "I have loved you with an everlasting love," he says in Jeremiah 31:3. "Therefore I'm drawing you in loving kindness." He loves you. And so He says, "Every good gift comes down from above."
What Are God’s Good Gifts?
What are good gifts? I look on these as common grace blessings: Food, clothing, shelter, beautiful scenery, intelligence, talents, skills, opportunities, finances. These are good gifts, and He gives them to everybody, His enemies and His friends alike. “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” He just is so generous and He just lavishes generous gifts to everyone whether they thank Him or not. The non-Christians don't thank Him. But we can thank Him for these good gifts. But then there's the perfect gift, and what is the perfect gift? Well, the perfect gift is salvation. Look at verse 18. "He chose to give us birth through the word of truth so that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created." So, verse 18, this is the perfect gift that comes from the unchanging God and that is that He wants to give you eternal life, He has given you eternal life, you're born again and He will protect that life until it's consummated in glory in Heaven.
And verse 18 begins with God's free will not yours, isn't that wonderful? It's all about what God chose to do. Like, "Well, Pastor, you're saying you don't believe in free will?" It's like, "Well, I just need to know what you mean." Just tell me what that word means to you, free from what? Alright, we'll get to that another time, another sermon. Alright? But I am, thank God, not free from God's effective influence on my soul. I am not free from the fact that He did a surgery in my heart and took out my heart of stone and gave me a heart of flesh. And now, He is working in that and gives me good holy desires after Him. That's what this birth is like. Like He said to Nicodemus, "You must be born again." And so this is the birth that must happen to you.
Have You Been Born Again?
I have to ask you, has that happened to you? Just because you're sitting here in church, I don't know that you're born again. Have you received the gift of life by hearing and believing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that God sent His only begotten Son, born of the Virgin Mary, who lived a sinless life, and died on the cross for our sins and lusts, and all that wickedness that we've committed, that His blood atones for our sins? And all you have to do is believe in Him and you'll be forgiven. Are you born again? Have you received this perfect gift? That's what it's talking about here, that God chose to give us life so that we might be the best of all He created, the pinnacle, the cream of the crop, the firstfruits of His creation. He sets His sons and daughters redeemed by His sovereign grace, redeemed by His blood above everything else. As it says in Isaiah 43:6-7, "Bring my sons from afar, my daughters from the ends of the earth, everyone who is called by my name whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made." We are the apple of His eye. He's engraved us in the palm of His hand, and He delights in us. That's who God is. So He's not luring you off the path of righteousness, He is feeding your soul to stay on the path of righteousness.
Beware of the Danger of Temptation!
Now application, if I can just speak to you, brothers and sisters. I've already invited those that walked in here, perhaps lost, to find Christ. But now I'm just urging you who are already Christians to just get busy to fight. Fight. I don't say fight tomorrow, I don't say fight this week, I say fight right now. Fight as soon as church is over. Because your soul, like mine, is under assault and will be while you live. The world, the flesh, and the devil will be assaulting you, and so you need to be aware of that. Every sin pattern, every identifiable sin has attendant temptations that lead to it. So take prayerlessness for example, you're having a quiet time, you're kneeling in prayer. Have you ever felt a force on you to stop praying? You feel it in your lower back if you get older. Alright. But you feel it in your wandering mind, and you're like, "Alright, I prayed long enough." And there's this pull, pull, pull, like that gravitational pull to stop praying. And then you find it isn't just stop that prayer time, but you don't need to pray as much, or you don't need to pray right now. It's prayerlessness, but there's a temptation that leads toward it.
Fighting Specific Temptations
What about anxiety? It's a sin. Are there any temptations toward anxiety? You better believe there are. You may be having a financial difficulty, a medical trouble for yourself or a loved one, and you find yourself ruminating, "What shall we do? What shall we do? What shall we do?" And there's temptations to ponder in an unbelieving way your condition and your situation. There's temptations toward every sin. What about forsaking the assembling of ourselves together? Deciding not to go to worship. It could start innocently. You've worked really hard this week, or this. I don't know what excuses for why you don't go to church. And I'm not saying if you miss church one time that you're definitely in wickedness. I'm not saying that, but I'm just saying there is a process by which people forsake assembling of themselves together in corporate worship.
What about arguing in your marriage? Some of you may do that, okay? Some of you may argue with your parents, or you parents with your kids. Arguing is a sin. "Do everything without complaining or arguing." There are temptations toward it. Have you ever felt that you're in the middle of a marital discussion, and some cool ideas to win the argument pop up in your mind? Ever wondered about that? Some creative ways where you're going to checkmate and win forever that particular point. Only guess what? It didn't happen because I think if we could see in the invisible spiritual realms, there's a demon feeding each side, keeping the fire going and there are temptations toward those kinds of arguments and conflicts. There are temptations toward sexual immorality of all sorts. Some of you are really battling Internet pornography. And you know exactly what this pull feels like. You know it's evil, you know it's wrong, and you want to continue to use the computer to do your work and all that, but every time you click on, you start feeling that pull. And perhaps because you've indulged it many times before it's stronger than ever. You have to fight for your soul. You have to fight for it.
What about fornication? It's still a sin 21st century. But you could see couples together, the young people, maybe they're in high school, maybe they're in college. They're not married, and they're being told that it's not a sin to have sex together. They use different euphemisms, ‘hooking up;’ different other things, etcetera, and they minimize it. And we see all kinds of damage that happens for years to come after that, even if the couple ends up married, there's still things that happen as a result. And what about adultery? We've had to pick up the pieces on some of that recently. It's devastating. Man or woman, person's out, they're enticed, they're in a moment of vulnerability, they meet someone, one thing leads to another, they don't nip it in the bud, and then they get somewhere, and then they make excuses. "It was like a freight train, I couldn't stop myself." Well, that's garbage. You saw it coming, and you didn't nip that in the bud, you didn't see your own enticements, and lurings, and all that, and you didn't kill it when you should have.
What about bitterness toward God? Some of you may be dealing with that. You've had some trials, some pain, or some other thing and God hasn't answered prayer and you're being tempted, tempted, tempted, tempted toward hardness toward God, toward bitterness toward God. What about unforgiveness toward another person? You're being tempted in that direction too. You keep going over it, and ruminating on what they did to you, and you just can't forgive it seems. It's temptation. There's temptations toward all sin patterns. What about gossip? You know something juicy about somebody and you find yourself talking and next thing you know, the words are on the tip of your tongue, and you don't even realize how many times you've done it in the past, slandered somebody or gossiped, and you said some things. We are being tempted in so many different directions.
God is With Us
Brothers and sisters, God, the God, the Father of lights, this pure, holy God is with you, commanding you to be holy in all of these areas and all the rest, and equipping you and empowering you to kill these temptations so that they will not in the end kill you.
Close with me in prayer. Father, thank You for this time to study Your word. Thank You for the serious warnings there are in texts like this. Thank You for James writing down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit who You are, how pure You are, how generous and how loving, and who we are, how corruptible we are, how in danger we are every moment. Help my brothers and sisters here. Help us to fight sin for your glory, for our own good, for our own fruitfulness. In Jesus' name. Amen.