12 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. 13 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. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 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. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
I have found GPS devices to be hugely helpful, but I’ve also noticed that I become more careless when using them. Not long ago, I took my youth group to a conference a few hours away in a city that I was not very familiar with, so I found myself using my GPS app a lot more often than I normally do. And while I didn’t always know how we would get to our destination, I knew that we would get there eventually, either by an easy path or a difficult one. Because I knew that our destination was set, I would occasionally make turns that the GPS didn’t tell me to take, thinking that by acting on what I could see, I could find a better road or a wiser path than the one the app was leading me on. But each time I did that, we ended up using more gas, taking more time, and getting further away from our destination than if I had patiently and faithfully followed my directions. The security of knowing the end result made me more careless in the journey there.
In some ways, I think temptation is like that. We have a destination set, and we desire to get there in the best way possible. For some people, that destination is a high school diploma or a college degree; for others, it’s a spouse; for others, it’s a well paying job. These things often stem from good desires: desires for education and growth, for fellowship and love, for security and provision. I believe God gave us these desires, each of which are fulfilled in him alone and through his provision. As we follow God and surrender to him, he blesses us with the fulfilment of many desires in his perfect time and plan, all for our good and for his glory. He gives many the opportunity to pursue an education and the resources and strength to succeed in it to better equip them for his plan for their lives. He leads couples together in his Kingdom work, providing the man and woman with the love and grace to faithfully serve God alongside each other until God calls them home. He opens doors for his people to use the talents and gifts he has given them to serve him in the world as lights in the darkness. In each case, as in many others, God fulfills the desires of his people with good gifts as they seek him. I think that’s the meaning of James 1:17-18. God is the giver of every good gift, and his goodness has been proven by his giving of the ultimate gift: salvation from sin and adoption as sons and daughters through Christ. Our greatest need and our highest desire is for a right relationship with God, and he has provided that as a gift “of his own will.” His love and grace have proven him to be faithful of our surrender and worship.
Yet James prefaces this joyous truth with a warning. Notice that he writes in verse 12 of the need for endurance in trials, going on to explain, I believe, that temptations are in mind here. He explains that God does not tempt people, but that temptation comes when our desires lead us to pursue good things in wicked ways. We see this all too often in this world. People have good desires for an education, yet they cheat to get good grades and forsake honesty and integrity for a piece of paper. People have good desires for companionship and love, yet they make relationships their god and give themselves to lust and sex rather than pursuing God through marriage. People have good desires for security and provision, yet they steal and hoard their wealth, envying those more successful and worshiping their riches rather than the Lord of all things. In each case, the good desires have been pursued in devastating ways, leading to idolatry and brokenness and despair. And, sadly, we have all seen people destroy their lives through such sinful pursuits. Their desires aren’t surrendered to God, but are flirted with, played with, entertained, and embraced. Sinful thoughts begin to grow in the heart which overflow into actions and lifestyle choices. And these sins don’t just hinder people from reaching their destination: they kill them. “Sin when it is fully grown brings forth death,” as James writes in a convicting letter to the churches. His plea immediately follows: “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers” (James 1:16). The reality is that if we surrender to our desires rather than surrendering our desires to God, we will forsake the fulfilment of our desires along with our very lives. Our communion with God will be hindered. We will start down a road that ends in death and depravity, not in joy and peace.
This is the part that I think we often miss. As Christians, our destination is set. Paul writes of the assurance of the believer’s ultimate salvation from sin in passages such as Romans 8 and Philippians 1. If we have truly surrendered our lives to God, having repented of our sins and been washed by the blood of the Lamb, filled with the Holy Spirit of God and continually being renewed and remade into Christ’s image and likeness, then our future is certain.
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Because we know we can’t be shaken, however, we often don’t take sin as seriously as we ought. We don’t flee from temptation. In fact, if we’re honest, we often don’t want to. We flirt with the edge of death rather than recognizing that Christ spilt his blood to save us from such foolishness. We gratify the flesh and ignore the Spirit rather than turning from death to life. We continue in sin that grace may abound in direct opposition to Paul’s teaching in Romans 6. We who claim to be Christians dishonor God by breaking his law before a world that desperately needs to see the difference in us. We are often poor images of Christ, choosing to look more like the world that he saved us from than the One we claim to follow. We are hypocrites and pharisees more often than we care to admit.
I don’t claim to be free from this struggle. In fact, Paul’s fight in Romans 7 is a daily reality for me. I continually do those things that I hate, those sins that separate me from my Lord, giving in to those fleshly lusts that tempt me to seek a better way than God’s. But there is no better way. And thanks be to God in Christ that he has saved me from such wicked pursuits. I am broken, sick with sin, worn under the weight of my flesh; but I am being redeemed, remade, restored into who I was created to be. I don’t flee from temptation as I should, but I desire for that to change. I don’t want to surrender to my flesh when God has promised to make ways to escape from temptation (1 Corinthians 10). I want to flee from idols, and, in Christ, I have no excuse not to. He has saved me from the curse of sin, freed me from the slavery of death, opened my eyes to what is truly life, shown me the bankruptcy in temptations and sins, and has called me to life eternal in relationship with him. I have no reason to sin apart from my own foolish choice. I have the power of God for salvation at work in me to keep me from falling (Romans 1:16; Jude 1:24-25).
Stop thinking that there are better routes than God’s. Stop acting against his goodness. Stop pursuing the desires he has given you apart from him. Live as he has freed you to live. Surrender to him in humility. Pray for growth and faith. And watch as he proves himself faithful to save you and to restore you in his perfect love.