James 1:12-18 (NKJV)12 Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. 15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. 18 Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.
In the text before us today James makes an important distinction. The distinction that he makes is between trial and temptation. Having just discussed the subject of trials – the importance of counting them all joy and the necessity of seeking wisdom from God in how to do this – James goes on to address the topic of temptation.
The first thing that James does is help us understand the promise of God. To the man or woman who endures temptation, the Lord will give the crown of life which He has promised to those who love Him. The Lord promises to reward tangibly those who cling to Him in the midst of temptation and say no to Satan’s allurements.
Notice, then, that obeying God out of an awareness of what He promises to do for us is not wrong. Sometimes ethicists will speak as though the only pure form of obedience is obedience for obedience sake. There can be no thought of the reward that comes at the end otherwise the obedience is tainted. But James has no such compunction. He freely holds before us the reward – remember, he says, if you endure, God promises to bless you beyond measure – promises to crown you with life and glory and honor. Keep that before you. True pleasure comes not as a consequence of giving in to temptation but of resisting it.
What then is the difference between trials and temptations? Trials are the hard providences that we encounter throughout our lives. Sometimes these trials come upon us through no fault of our own – destructive weather, crop failure, certain forms of sickness, abuse at the hands of wicked men; other times they come as a consequence of our own sin or folly – jail time, certain types of diseases, crashing the car after driving 90 around a corner. Trials are the hard providences that we face. As such, they come ultimately from the hand of God.
Distinct from trials are temptations. Temptations are enticements to do wrong by promise of pleasure or gain. Frequently the temptation to do wrong arises in the context of a hard providence and so James wants to make sure that folks don’t ascribe these enticements to do wrong to God Himself. While God does in His providence send trials our way to test and approve His people, He does not tempt us to evil. Where do temptations come from? They come from within, out of the heart. We are corrupt and tainted. When we are tempted, whether it be in the midst of trials or in the midst of smooth sailing, such temptations derive their power not from anything outside us but from our own corruption.
What then should we do when we find ourselves in the midst of temptation? First, look to the promise. Remember God’s promise to bless us if we endure through this battle. Second, ask for strength from God Himself. We pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” for while the Lord is not the one who tempts us, He is the one who can rescue us from our sin. “For every good and perfect gift comes down from above, from the Father of lights.” Third, resist the temptation. It is no surprise that the temptation has come – the world, the flesh, and the devil are all conspiring to bring down the people of God. In tennis, we do no marvel when our opponent hits the ball onto our side of the court. But when the ball comes, what are we to do? Are we to catch the ball and admire its furry texture and bounce? No. We are to hit the ball back over the net. And so the last thing we must do is resist. And what promise do we have? Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
Reminded that we have failed often to remember the promises of God in the midst of temptation and have transgressed against our Lord, let us kneel and ask His forgiveness.