Hook, Line & Sinker - Part 2

Tom Pennington James 1:13-18


Well it's my joy this morning for us to return to the study that we've begun of the Epistle of James. That great little letter that reminds us in so many ways of how absolutely practical the Scriptures are to the issues of life. We began to look at a paragraph beginning in verse 13 of James 1 two weeks ago when I was here, and this morning we finish our look of that wonderful paragraph about the issue of temptation.

A couple of years ago I read an article about an animal right's organization and their plans to establish a national campaign against fishing. They were going to buy a series of billboards. Perhaps you saw one even here in the area that pictured a lovable dog. I forget now whether it was a Golden Retriever an Irish Setter. It was some dog like that, a large lovable dog. And the dog was sitting on the billboard, you know on the picture on the billboard, with a hook hanging out of its mouth and blood was dripping down from the hook. And the caption read, "If you wouldn't do this to a dog, why to a fish?" You know one sportsman said something like this, he said, "well that's easy; a fish has never brought me my slippers."

I can understand being careful with the resources God has provided in the world, that's important. We're stewards of this world, and yet these people, in spite of their good intentions, they're coming from an evolutionary mindset, and so they have concluded that all life is equal before God. They don't understand that God has given, by sovereign purpose, animals to man for food, and in fact, He's declared now all of them to be clean and useful for human beings. And, you know, it's kind of hard to eat what you don't first catch and kill. Well, they don't understand all of that.

But as I thought about that campaign, as well-intentioned, but silly as it was, it occurred to me that if you and I could see true Spiritual realities, if we could see the world the way God sees it, each of us could be pictured like that dog on the billboard with a bloody hook in our lips because everyone of us, without exception, has been tempted by a certain bait, a certain lure. And we have given into that bait, to that lure. The Bible calls this process by which we are lured to sin "temptation." And the most thorough discussion of the issue of temptation I believe anywhere in the Bible occurs here in James 1.

Let me just remind you of the context of James' comments. He began with the issue of trials. After one verse of introduction in verse 1, he immediately comes to the issue of trials beginning in verse 2 and running all the way through verse 12. He's talking about those external pressures and troubles that come into our lives that God uses to refine us, to build endurance, to make us more like Christ. But then, in verse 13, James transitions from those external pressures and troubles to the internal solicitation to sin, what we call temptation. And that's where we find ourselves today. Let me read for you this paragraph, it begins in verse 13 and runs through verse 18. James writes,

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. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. 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 exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.

The key to this passage is found in verse 13, where James says, "let no one say when he is being tempted…." We're talking about the issue of temptation. We're talking about what to do, how to respond when we find ourselves in the process of being tempted. Or perhaps we have been tempted, and we have fallen to that temptation, we have chosen to sin. How do we respond? What do we do? Well, James, very practically, outlines for us here four Godly responses to temptation.

Temptation is a reality that you will face your entire life, if you are a living breathing human you will face temptation many times today and tomorrow and the next day and every day of your life until Jesus comes back or until you die. So, how do you deal with it? Well James gives us here four wonderfully practical Godly responses to temptation. And if you will put these into practice in your life, I can promise you, you will see a diminishing pattern of sin in your life and an increasing pattern of holiness.

Let's look at them together, last time we looked at the first two of these Godly responses. Let me just sort of remind you, and for those of you who weren't here, just sort of give you a little taste of what we discussed. If you're going to respond in a Godly way to temptation, then first of all, you must accept full responsibility. Verse 13, "Let no one say when he is being tempted, 'I am tempted … [of] God.'"

Don't blame God. Don't blame God directly, don't say God tempted me, nor should we blame God indirectly by saying things like it's the wife God gave me, or it's the parents God gave me, or it's the circumstances into which God placed me, The bottom line is: if you blame anything other than your own sinful heart for your temptation, you are blaming God. And James says don't do it. Don't blame God. Why? Well, verse 13, he says God is untemptable. Moreover, God doesn't tempt anyone. Because of God's character and because of God's pattern of behavior don't blame God for it. Accept full responsibility.

The second response that we looked at last time was: identify the source, identify the source. If it wasn't God that brought that temptation into your heart, where did it come from? Well, if you're going to deal with temptation in a Godly way, you have got to identify the true source of that temptation. In verse 14 he gives it to us, "each one is tempted by his own lust." Now as I told you last time the word "lust" is often misunderstood. It's when we hear that word we think of sexual sin, and it certainly includes that, but it's much, much broader. This word is a neutral word in the Greek New Testament. It can be used positively, "desiring good things." It can also be used of "desiring evil things."

Most often in the New Testament it's used to describe "those sinful desires or cravings that are a part of our depravity." You have in your heart, and I have in mine, a set of lusts that is of cravings. It's probably a good translation of the word, things we crave, and we want those cravings to be fulfilled. Those cravings don't go away once we become believers. In fact, it is those cravings that are a part of your heart and mine that are the root of every sinful act. Each of us is susceptible to a certain set of cravings. Notice what James says, "each one is tempted by his own cravings." There are certain things that appeal to me that don't appeal to you, and there are certain things that appeal to you that don't appeal to me; different lures, if you will, that carry us away into sin.

I talked last time about a lot of the things we tend to crave, we can crave sinful things. But we can also crave good things in a sinful way. I mentioned the issue of the physical relationship in marriage, that's a wonderful gift from God. But to desire that outside of marriage is a sinful craving. We can control everything from approval, fame, popularity, sex, you name it. We can crave any number of things. But it's from those cravings that our sins actually come. If you want to respond biblically to temptation, you must accept full responsibility, and you must identify the source from which those temptations come.

Now that brings us to where we want to consider today and that is James' third biblical response to temptation: understand the process, understand the process. If you want to defeat temptation in your life, then you must understand the process through which it goes. I can tell you that it was a number of years ago that I really came to grips with this text and studied it for myself. And it absolutely revolutionized my own understanding of and approach to temptation in my own life. If you can master and understand the process that temptation takes, you are well equipped to deal with it. Let's look at this process, James lays out a five-stage process that begins every time we are tempted and give in. Every time you are tempted, whether you give in or not, this process begins, and if you give in, the process continues, ultimately through all five of these stages.

Stage one is: attraction, attraction. Verse 14, "each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lusts." In the Greek text that order is a little differently. It literally says each one is tempted by his own lusts, being carried away and enticed. This "carried away and enticed" that package are two participles in the Greek text, if you remember your English grammar. There are participles in Greek as there are in English; typically, the i-n-g type words. And these two words together describe how lust brings about temptation. And it's the language of fishing. James grew up around the Sea of Galilee. He was either a fisherman, or he certainly understood fishing, and so as he talks about temptation, these two Greek words are words from the language of a fishermen.

"Carried away and enticed," now it's important that you understand that that expression is what grammarians call a "hendiadys," you'll never remember that, but that's okay. Essentially a hendiadys is "two words packaged together to mean one thing." You use one of these often and you probably have had it recited to you when you were growing if you got on your mother's last nerve, she would say to you, "listen, son I am sick and tired." Now she didn't mean she was sick, and she didn't mean she was tired. She meant she was "sick and tired." Two words with one package meaning. "Carried away and enticed." But there are some subtle differences in those words that enrich our understanding. There are two different aspects of the same process of attraction.

Let's look at them together. Carried away, it means "to draw out, to lure." In classical Greek this word was used to describe the drawing of the fish out of its original retreat. You know, picture this fish, you know he's having a good morning, he's just playing among the weeds, and something draws him out. That's the meaning of this word, it pictures the movement of the fish toward the bait. You see this is how lust works in our heart. This is how craving works in our hearts. It begins by drawing our minds away from their normal activity. A craving suddenly interrupts the normal natural flow of our minds. This is the result of the cravings that reside in our hearts. You're at work, you're doing your business, you're working on your computer, and all of a sudden, your craving draws you away out of that normal activity that you are doing. It comes from within your own heart.

Notice the second part of this expression, "entice." It literally means "to catch with bait." It depicts the juicy worm being dangled before the fish and the fish having an inner craving to eat it. You see craving first interrupts our minds, draws us away from our normal activity, and then it presents before us a specific bait. Understand how this process works. This internal sinful craving that's a part of our depraved heart attaches itself to some external opportunity and craves to be fulfilled.

Let me give you an example from the life of David. You remember in 2 Samuel 11, he finds himself at home when kings went forth to battle, and there's a sermon there; but he's walking about on the roof of his palace in the evening nothing wrong with that, nothing sinful about that. It's what was often done in the middle east on a hot evening, you would go up on the roof of your house, and usually they were flat, and you could get some coolness because often in those kind of climates there's coolness in the evening, and you could enjoy that coolness. All is fine. He's doing his normal daily routine. But then he sees Bathsheba bathing. What happens? Immediately, his internal craving attaches itself to that specific bait and lures him out to fulfill itself. This is the first stage of temptation: attraction. And it describes the work of your depravity.

Listen to me. This is an involuntary as the beating of your heart. You can do nothing to stop that craving from arising out of your heart. Because it's part of your fallenness, it's part of your unredeemed humanness. It will happen all your life. So, a strong desire springs forth unexpected and uninvited from our depravity and attempts to bait us to satisfy it. Now that desire is sinful in the sense that it is an expression of our depravity, but it's not yet a sinful choice. At this point it is only a temptation. And by the way, this is where our temptations differ from Christ's temptation, He was tempted really and truly, but His temptation was completely external from outside of Him. There was no craving in His heart that was seeking to be fulfilled in that thing as there is in us; attraction. By the way, at this point you can deal with temptation the best. This is when you can cut the head of temptation off, is at this point.

But stage two is: decision, decision. Verse 15, "then when lust has conceived." Then, the word "then" makes it clear that James is outlining a process here. And he changes his imagery from the language of fishing to the picture of pregnancy. He says there comes a time when lust gets pregnant, when lust conceives. Now what does he mean by that, when does lust conceive? When does this craving conceive? It's when our will no longer objects, but yields and consents.

Listen to this famous medieval description of temptation of this stage of temptation. "At first it is a mere thought confronting the mind. Then imagination paints it in stronger colors. Only after that do we take pleasure in it, and the will makes a false move, and we give our assent."

Like pregnancy, there is a gestation period. There is a time after the will consents but before any external act. It may be a short period of time, or it may be years. But during that time, after your will consents to give into that craving, but before you actually act, you are as guilty of that sin as if you had actually committed it. That's what Jesus says in Matthew 5:28, when he says "a man who looks upon a woman to lust, he's committed adultery with her already in his heart." He may not have acted on it yet, but once the will consents, then he's made his choice.

When our will agrees to continue pursuing that craving in our minds, it becomes a sinful choice in the mind. This is where to stop it before this decision is made while it's still attraction. You can't stop your depravity from presenting itself in cravings that want to be fulfilled with some external bait. That's going to happen your whole life. But you can stop it there. As one ancient commentator said, "there's no way you can stop a bird from landing on your head, but you can stop it from building a nest there."

Stage three: action. Attraction, decision, action. That is: the lust gives birth to sin. Lust got pregnant when your will conceded, when your will assented, and eventually that lust will give birth to sin. Internal craving will eventually give birth to a sinful act. Now, this doesn't mean that lust itself isn't sin. Roman Catholic theology teaches that lust in what is called its first motion, that is before the will assents, isn't sin. But we know that's not true. Because we know we can sin without our wills coming into play. Just take for example: "sins of ignorance." When you and I sin, without really knowing we're sinning, have we still offended the law of God? Have we still sinned? Absolutely. What James is referring to here is the acts of sin that follow sinful thinking.

You see, like animals and people, every craving of your heart that you allow to conceive to get pregnant, that is, you assent with your will, and say okay, I want to think about that some more. I want to go down that path. Every time you do that, that sin or that sinful thinking, I should say, will eventually give birth to an in kind sinful act. Just as, if you plant an apple seed, you're going to get an apple tree. If you plant, or allow to grow in your heart, a craving for a certain kind of sin, ultimately, you're going to express that craving with a sinful act.

There's a grave warning here by the way, a woman cannot conceive without starting an inexorable process at the end of which she will give birth to a child. In the same way, if you regularly choose to indulge your cravings within your mind, even if you've convinced yourself that you'll never act on them, (And I can't tell you how many people I've counseled who play with sin in their minds for years, telling themselves that they'll never carry through on it.) it's a lie. James says if you allow lust to conceive, to get pregnant, if your will assents to have tolerated it in your mind, to go over it, to go down that path, to allow yourself to think about and consider that sin, whatever it is, it will eventually be born. If you have allowed by the consent of your will, lust to conceive and be unrepented of, it will always eventually give birth to a sinful act. Don't deceive yourself. Action, stage three.

Stage four is: disposition. Verse 15, "when sin is accomplished". Literally, he says, "when the sin is accomplished." You see James takes up the story of the particular sin he just mentioned. When that sin that finally came from those cravings that you allowed and tolerated in your mind, when that sin is accomplished. What does he mean by that? The word "accomplished" means "completion, maturity, means to be full grown." It draws from the imagery of successive generations.

You see one sin gives birth to another sin of the same kind, which gives birth to another sin of the same kind, which gives birth to yet another, and so forth. And as those generations of sins build, as you commit that same sin over and over again, it becomes who you are. It becomes your disposition. It becomes your character. When sin has become a fixed habit, it determines the character of the man. As the Proverb says, "sow a thought, reap an act, sow an act, reap a habit, sow a habit, reap a character." And it finishes, "sow a character, and reap a destiny."

This is what Paul says in Galatians 6. Turn back there for a moment, Galatians 6:7. He gives this principle that's true in the natural and the spiritual world. He says, "Do not be deceived," [Don't fool yourself, don't lie to yourself.] "God is not mocked; whatever you sow you will reap." You put a corn seed in the ground, and you're going to get corn, you put an apple seed in the ground, and you're going to get an apple tree, an apple's born from that tree. It always happens that way. And it always happens that way in God's moral universe as well.

Now notice his application of it in verse 8. "For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption." "Sows to the flesh," that means "pandering to the cravings of your flesh." If you pander to the cravings of your flesh then you will, as part of God's moral universe, unequivocally, reap corruption. That is the moral decay of your character. You will become the sinful choices you are making. There may have been a time when you committed that sin, but there will come a time when you can be described by that sin. Disposition.

Stage five is: destruction. Verse 15, "It" that is sin, "brings forth death." "Brings forth" was often used of animals. It's also used in verse 18 of the new birth that we all enjoy. You see when a woman conceives, she anticipates giving birth to a beautiful baby to life. But sin gives birth to a vicious animal, to death. Now what does he mean: it gives birth to death or brings forth death? Listen to James Hiebert, he writes,

"This statement is intended to cover every form of disintegration and final collapse to which man is heir. The primary reference seems to be to spiritual death, but physical death is certainly included, and ultimately eternal death also."

So, how does this apply? Well, for unbelievers, they already endure spiritual death as a present reality. Their lust, their craving, and the sin that's resulted already is a part of them, as spiritual death. Ephesians 2:1. "Unbelievers are dead in trespasses and sins." And eternal death is a future certainty for them as well. In 2 Thessalonians 1:9, when Christ returns, they will pay the penalty of eternal destruction.

Now, as believers, we are no longer spiritually dead, we don't have to fear eternal death, but we may suffer physical death as a result of unrepentant sin. You remember when Paul wrote the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 11, he talked about those who had abused the Lord's Table. Those who had sinned against the sacrifice of Christ by how they had behaved at the Lord's Table, how they had tolerated their own sin. And he says because of that many of you what? Sleep, it's the euphemism for death. Many believers in Corinth died because of their toleration of their sin. The Apostle John in 1 John 5:16 says there is a sin which leads to death, what does he mean? That is, any sin which we are unwilling to repent of and forsake, that sin can lead to physical death for the believer. Sin is a terrible thing, and ultimately it gives birth to death.

Now let me show you an illustration of this process. You've probably seen this before, but it's apropos that we would turn there now. Turn to Joshua 7, Joshua 7. It's the story of Achan. You remember the soldier in Israel who was attracted by what he saw as he went up through the city of Jericho. Ultimately, he was found out by the providential hand of God. In verse 19, after he's been caught, Joshua 7:19,

Joshua said to Achan, "My son, I implore you, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and give praise to Him; and tell me now what you have done. Don't hide it from me." So, Achan answered Joshua, and said, "Truly, I have sinned against the LORD, the God of Israel, and this is what I did:" Now watch the process, verse 21, stage one: attraction, "I saw among the spoils."

I don't believe that Achan set out that day to steal from Jericho, there's no indication of that, he apparently was a soldier, just doing his job. He was supposed to go straight ahead of him into the city, and he gets to the city, and there he saw money and clothes. And it was rich stuff. And what happened was his internal craving carried him away and enticed him with that external bait: attraction.

Stage two: decision. I coveted. Achan chooses to indulge this desire. He begins to think, you know what, nobody will know, we're going to be in Canaan and I can use these things. I can cash them in there. Nobody will know where I got them. Buy a good life for myself and my family, God would want this for me. Decision.

Stage three; action. I took.

Stage four: disposition. We don't know. This may have already been part of who Achan was. This may have been part of his character. He may have often been tempted to steal and to take things that didn't belong to him. But if not, if God had not exposed this; if he had not repented of it; he would have eventually become known by this sin, he would have been characterized by it, it would have been a disposition of his character.

Stage five is found in verse 25: destruction. "And all Israel stoned them with stones; and they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones." Listen that is the process that temptation always takes. You better learn how to cut off the head of temptation at the very beginning of the process, you, as I said, cannot stop your depravity and those cravings from wanting themselves to be fulfilled, from trying to attach themselves to some external bait that calls out to you. But that's where you have to stop it; before your will assents.

James makes it clear if you want to respond biblically to temptation, you must accept full responsibility. You must identify the source. You must understand the process, and then he adds one last biblical response. You must also unmask the deception; unmask the deception. Verse 16, "Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren."

Perhaps you've never attached these verses to the verses of regarding temptation, but they are inexorably attached. Let me show you what he is saying here. Now, when he says deceived, don't be deceived, deceived in what sense? There are only two deceptions in this passage. The first deception is thinking God is the source of temptation; that evil things come from God. But I think he's referencing the second deception in this passage, and that is thinking you're craving something good; thinking that you can find that which is truly good apart from God. You see cravings; the cravings of our fallenness are inherently deceptive. In Ephesians 4:22 Paul calls them deceitful lusts. They're deceitful. Let me give you a short list of how our cravings deceive us.

One way they deceive us is they work on the soul often unobserved and unnoticed. Many people are even unaware they even exist. They just simply think they're making choices for what they want. They don't realize they are enslaved to their cravings, and their cravings are driving all the decisions they make. They're trying to satisfy those cravings, but often people are unaware they exist. They fly below the radar. They're deceitful in that way.

The second way they are deceptive is they tend to convince us that we are in complete control of our actions, and we can stop at any moment. You know we've all seen the caricature of the alcoholic who as he downs yet another drink says, "you know I'm really in control, and I can stop this whenever I want." And that's exactly what we do. Our cravings tell us the same thing particularly with unbelievers. Their cravings tell them they can stop whenever they want, but in reality, they are slaves of their cravings. Our lusts are deceitful, and they convince us that God has withheld what we need and desire. I don't understand why God hasn't given me that. They convince us that what we crave, (and this is a big one) that what we crave will bring us true satisfaction.

You know we're like our kids. You know your kids will look at some toy, and they'll say, you know, if I only had that toy, I would never want another toy the rest of my life. That will bring me satisfaction. And we laugh at that, and we turn around and act exactly the same way. If only I had that, I would be satisfied. That's how they deceive us.

Sometimes they urge us to rationalize those sinful desires. God wants me to be happy, doesn't He? And I'm not happy with my partner, and so God must want me to divorce my partner and go seek this other person. They appear to be looking out for our best interests, to be our friends, when in reality 1 Peter 2:11 says, "they war against our souls." Those cravings present themselves as really looking out for you, giving you what's good, what you need. Peter says they're destroying your soul. They're deceitful. All of those deceptions, the two contained in this passage, and the ones I just mentioned, all share the same basic objective. This is key, all of those deceptions are aimed at your image of God. They want to deceive you about the character of God. It's no accident that, in this passage, everything that follows the warning, "do not be deceived", is about God, about His person and His character.

Ultimately, every temptation that you and I encounter springs from wrong thinking about God. Every time we give in to temptation, we have embraced some mistaken concept about God. James says if you want to keep from constantly yielding to temptation, you have to unmask the deception, specifically the deception about God's character. Now James identifies for us here several deceptions about God that we're all tempted to believe when we find ourselves in temptation, and he unmasks them.

Notice first of all, we're tempted to be deceived about God's "goodness." Verse 17, "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above…." You see temptation urges us to mistrust God's goodness. God is withholding something I need. This is how it started back in the Garden of Eden, you remember he shows up, Satan shows up with Eve, and what does he say to Eve? Is it true what I heard that God won't let you eat from any of these trees? How good is God to do that to you? He magnified the prohibition of the one tree and he says is it true? He's not letting you eat from any of these trees? God isn't after your good. And that's how it always begins with us. We tend to doubt God's goodness in temptation. But notice what James says, "Every good act of giving and every perfect gift…."

The stress here, by the way, is on "good and perfect": that which is morally pure and useful, that which is complete and lacking in nothing. So, we could re-paraphrase it this way, "every useful or beneficial act of giving and every complete gift is from above." It's from God. James' point is, listen, only good gifts come from God. And in fact, every good gift comes from God. Don't believe your lusts, that there is something good for you outside of God. God's gifts are always perfectly suited to meet our needs, they're always perfect, and they flow to us, notice how he says, coming down, the picture is of a cascading fountain. God's blessings and good gifts flow to us like a never-ending fountain of goodness. Don't believe the lie. Don't believe your lusts. You're not getting something good there.

Once we acknowledge that everything we need, everything that's good comes from the hand of God, then what's the natural response; gratitude, contentedness. By the way that's the opposite virtue to the sin of craving. A long time ago I discovered in my own life that the way to deal with craving is to turn around, whatever it is you're craving, turn around and thank God for what He has given you in that area. Turn around and praise God for His goodness, give Him thanks because gratefulness and contentedness is the opposite of craving. Don't question God's goodness. Instead, to overcome lust, become a genuinely grateful person. Don't buy into the deception about God's goodness.

Secondly don't buy into the deception about God's "greatness," verse 17. "coming down from the Father of lights…." It's an interesting phrase for God. "Father of lights" is literally "the Father of the lights." It's an ancient title for God as Creator, the One who created the sun and the moon and the stars. Psalm 136:7 says of God that, "He's the One who made the great lights." This points to God's greatness. There are so many illustrations. I love to study and read about the greatness of the universe and the creation of God. Let me just give you one.

Our sun, that wonderful structure God has placed in the heaven to give us light and heat to make life possible. If you started on one side at one point on the sun and traveled in straight line through the sun to the other side you would have traveled 865 thousand miles. Our sun will hold 1.2 million earths and still have room for 4.3 million moons. That's just one of the lights God created.

Now what does God's greatness have to do with us and temptation? You see when we succumb to temptation, particularly the same temptation again and again, what do we often assume is the problem? It's a lack of what? … power. God, where is Your power? Listen, the problem isn't God's power, He's got plenty of it, and He's given it to you. Ephesians 1:18 says that God has manifested in you as a believer the same power that He used to raise Jesus Christ from the dead and to make the sun that I just talked about. If God made you and everything you see around you He has sufficient power to provide you with the necessary resources to overcome temptation and to obey Him. In fact, He's done it. Romans 6:22 says you have been (if you're a believer), you have been freed from sin, you no longer have to be a slave of sin. You have all the power you need to obey God. Don't question God's greatness or power, instead trust Him.

There's a third deception about God that James unmasks here; not only God's goodness and God's greatness, but God's "immutability or His unchangeableness." Notice verse 17 again, "with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow." The word "variation" used is used to describe a change from a set course. In context, it probably is describing the literal sun. Our sun as it moves across the sky changes in its light and intensity. In fact, you can see that, Sheila and I were commenting just yesterday even thought it's still hot outside the angle of the sun has begun to shift, and the light is just a little softer, and as the winter approaches, it will get softer day by day; the sun changes.

But the point here is God doesn't. He never changes. His character is always predictable, always follows the same course. And there's no shifting shadow, literally shadow of turning or shadow made by turning. Again, it's a description of the planets. It's used of planets rotating and casting shadows across others. We speak of eclipses. There's no shifting shadow with God because there's no change. He doesn't turn, so He doesn't cast a shadow when He turns. His life, His character, His truth, His ways, His purposes never change. He can't change.

Now, why is this important in the midst of temptation? The deception of sin and temptation often lead us to question God's immutability. Things like, has God's perspective about me changed? Have His actions toward me changed? Have His promises changed? I mean God used to do what was good for me, but now He's withheld something that I think I need. Or perhaps you think He's tempting you with something. Or, this is a common one, since I sinned, since I gave into temptation has God changed His mind about me? Does He not really want me back? James says those are deceptions, our God doesn't change.

In fact, I love Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:13, he uses God's faithfulness as an encouragement in the midst of temptation, doesn't he? There's no temptation taken you such as is common to man, but God is what? … faithful. He doesn't change. He keeps His promises. You can count on Him. In the midst of temptation, don't believe the deception. Don't question God's faithfulness. Instead embrace the reality that He never changes.

James unmasks the deceptions about God, about His goodness, about His greatness, about His immutability or His unchangeableness, and finally about "His plan"; about His plan. Notice verse 18, "In the exercise of God's will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures." God always gives good gifts to us, but His best gift is a new heart. Notice what he says here, "in the exercise of His will", and there's a lot of preaching in that. We'll talk about it when we get to the doctrine of salvation on Sunday nights. God, by the exercise of His will, brought us forth.

The picture here is of "regeneration," that act of God's grace whereby He implants a new nature, a new principle of life in the repentant sinner. And He did it by the Word of truth that is by the Gospel. "So that," notice this, He brought us forth, so that, (here was His purpose) so that, we might be a kind of first fruits. Now who's the "we" refer to? It's probably not referring to us sitting here at Countryside in the 21st century.

It's probably a reference to James first readers back in the first century. You remember James is writing the first New Testament book. And as he writes to those early believers, those early Jewish believers scattered because of the persecution, he says "we are a kind of first fruits" that's a figurative expression, it's often used in the Old Testament to refer to the first and best of the crops. And the first and best of the crops were a kind of a promise of a full harvest that would eventually come. James says to those New Testament believers, listen we're like the first fruits. There's a real harvest coming. You and I today are a part of that harvest. James and his readers were the first fruits.

What is James saying here? He was telling these believers that God has a plan and that their salvation was merely the first installment of God's new creation that was coming. You see when you and I are discouraged by temptation, when we're overwhelmed by the guilt of having given in to temptation; we loose sight of God's great eternal plan for us. Remember Romans 8, "for those whom God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son." Listen, God in eternity past started a plan when He chose you as His own, if you're a believer in Christ, or if you'll turn to Christ when He chose you as His own. He started a plan in process. And when you sin as terrible as that is, as much of an affront to the character of God as that is, it doesn't change that plan. God's plan hasn't changed. He's still going to make you one day to stand in the presence of His glory, perfect, faultless, blameless. Don't be deceived, don't believe the lie about God's character. God will finish what He has begun.

So, James is reminding us that when we're being tempted to sin, or perhaps we've just chosen to sin in response to temptation; we must "respond biblically." We must accept full responsibility. Don't blame God; don't blame anything else but your own sinful heart. We must identify the source. Don't just deal with the sort of peripheral symptoms of sin in your life. Understand that your sin goes down to your sinful heart and to the cravings that reside in your sinful heart. Deal with sin at that level.

Thirdly, "understand the process"; understand the process so, you can stop it before it gets underway; so, you can cut off the head of temptation before it grows into full energy and strength. And finally unmask the deception; the deception about God's goodness, about His greatness, about His unchangeableness, and about His great eternal plan for you, to make you like Jesus Christ.

Let's pray together.

Father, thank you for the imminently practical letter of James. Lord, we thank you for the ammunition that You've given us here to successfully deal with the temptation that's so much a part of our lives. Lord, I pray that You'd use this truth to equip us, but mostly, Father, don't let us be deceived about You. We thank you for Your goodness, that every good gift comes down from You and that there's nothing good to be found outside of You. Help us to believe that and to practice that.

Lord, thank You that You are great, and You have provided us power, the same power that You used in creating the heavens, the same power that You used in raising Jesus from the dead. You've given us the power to overcome sin and temptation in our lives. Lord, we thank You for Your immutability, that You don't change, that Your perspective about us never changes, that Your love for us never changes.

And Lord, we thank You for that great eternal plan that You chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that some day we would be perfectly conformed to His image, and that You will give as a love gift to Your Son perfectly resembling His gracious character. Lord, help us to be armed with these things as we battle day to day with the cravings of our hearts.

Lord, I pray for the person here today who, if they're honest, has to admit that they are enslaved to their cravings. Lord, help them to see that that's the condition of a fallen sinful heart that needs Christ. And I pray Father, that You would rescue them from the slavery of their sin and from Your coming wrath against their sin.

I pray it to the glory of Christ and in His name, Amen.


Hook, Line & Sinker - Part 1

Tom Pennington James 1:13-18

Hook, Line & Sinker - Part 2

Tom Pennington James 1:13-18

Look in the Mirror! - Part 1

Tom Pennington James 1:19-27

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