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Oct 02, 2016

Gifts That Test... Or Tempt

Passage: James 1:12-18

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: James

Keywords: fork in the road, growth, life, sin, temptations, tests, trials


This message looks at how trials can turn into temptations...or growth experiences. What can we do to insure that our trials lead to life in Christ rather than sin and death?


Gifts that Test…or Tempt

James 1:12-18

October 2, 2016


INTRO:  How many of us as children found the temptation of Christmas gifts under the tree during the days leading up to Christmas just a little too much, so much so that we actually peeked and then rewrapped them?  J

Did that make Christmas Eve/Day more or less wonderful?

Did peeking make you feel happier with yourself or less happy

            When your parents or siblings bought, wrapped and placed those gifts under the Christmas tree, did they do it because they wanted you to be tortured?  (Well, maybe your siblings did!)  Did they do it to tempt you to break some unwritten rule of Christmas surprises?  Or did they do it to make Christmas more anticipated and more fun? 

            In a way, that illustrates the title of today’s message as well as the truth James is opening to us.  Trials and trouble in life are actually gifts from God.  They aren’t meant to make us fail or sin.  They are meant to “test” us, to strengthen us and provide us opportunity to love God more.  But just like Christmas presents, they can also tempt us to evil.  

REVIEW:  We’re in the book of James in our Sunday morning Bible study time.  For the last two weeks, we’ve been looking at what God says about how to live and what to do with life’s trials and difficulties.  We’ve seen so far that…

  • trials come in many forms.
  • Trials are an ‘equal-opportunity employer’—they come to everyone.
  • God designs them for our blessing and benefit.
  • We can’t have spiritual growth and maturity without trials.

Last week we left off with verse 12.  So let’s begin there today. (ESV)

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. 

If I could promise you that you would be the direct recipient of God’s goodness, of His best for you, would you listen?

This is precisely what this verse promises.  God promises that any person will be the object of His grace and vast goodness IF we learn to grow through troubles in life.  He reinforces that by saying that remaining steadfast…or growing in your love for God… “under trial” will actually give to us “the crown of life”, or, as I mentioned last week, “the crown which is life”—abundant, everlasting, eternal life.  While God certainly promises eternal rewards of various kinds to His children, this reference here to “life” is not limited to something you may receive after you die.  It is talking about a measure of life right here and right now that comes when we learn to love God in the midst of trials and trouble.  It’s a “both-and” win-win.

            Just notice the last phrase of verse 12—“…which God has promised to those who love him.”  This is the essence of Christian life:  what will any experience, any day do to my love for God? Will I end up loving God more… or less? 

            As anyone who has a really deep soul-to-soul friendships with someone else knows, it isn’t the lack of hardships or problems that make a friendship deeper.  It’s relationships that grow through troubles that usually are the strongest, most vibrant and most resilient. 

ILL:  Most of us know the name Helen Keller.  She was struck blind and deaf at 16 months of age by an illness.  Her family, desperate to find a way for her to communicate and enter into the world of other people, hired a young 20-year old teacher named Ann Sullivan.  It was the beginning of what would be a 49 year long friendship of world renowned stature.  A young teacher of lesser determination and perseverance would never have succeeded in transforming the young, spoiled person Helen Keller was.  But Ann Sullivan had been through very deep waters of her own and knew how perseverance could transform Helen. 

            Annie Sullivan’s parents were Irish immigrants during the great famine of 1840.  Two of Ann’s 4 siblings died in infancy. Ann and her two surviving siblings grew up in impoverished conditions. She also struggled with health problems herself. At the age of five, Anne contracted an eye disease called trachoma, which severely damaged her sight. Her mother, Alice, suffered from tuberculosis and had great difficulty getting around after a debilitating fall. She died when Anne was just 8 years old.

At an early age, Ann had a strong-willed personality. She sometimes clashed with her father, Thomas, who was left to raise Sullivan and her siblings after their mother's death. Thomas was often an abusive father.  He eventually abandoned his children. Anne and her sick younger brother, Jimmie, were sent to live at the Tewksbury Almshouse, a home for the poor. Tewksbury Almshouse was dirty, rundown, and overcrowded. Sullivan's brother Jimmie died just months after they arrived there.

Sullivan left Tewksbury to attend the Perkins School for the Blind in 1880, and underwent surgery to help improve her limited vision. She had never been to school before and lacked social graces, which put her at odds with her peers. Humiliated by her own ignorance, Sullivan had a quick temper and liked to challenge the rules, which got her in trouble with her teachers. She was, however, tremendously bright, and she soon advanced academically.

Sullivan did eventually settle down at the school, but she never felt like she fit in there. As the valedictorian of her class, she was chosen to deliver a speech at her June 1886 graduation. In that speech, she told her fellow students that "duty bids us go forth into active life. Let us go cheerfully, hopefully, and earnestly, and set ourselves to find our especial part. When we have found it, willingly and faithfully perform it; for every obstacle we overcome, every success we achieve tends to bring man closer to God."

            Ann Sullivan knew personally the truth of James 1.

STOP:  Right now I’d like you to take some piece of paper (your Sunday program) and, in 30 seconds, write down a list of as many life challenges you are facing right now as you can think of.  Here are some words that might trigger parts of your list.

  • Family—marriage, kids, parents, siblings
  • Friends
  • Finances
  • Work
  • Ministry
  • Health
  • School


Now remember, every one of those items you listed has the potential of growing your love for God OR decreasing and distracting your love for Him. It all depends upon what we DO in the course of those trials and challenges.  That is what James is going to talk with us about next in verse 13.

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. 

There’s an interesting little original Greek fact right here.  The Greek word for “test” in v. 12 (peirazo), is the same word that is translated “tempt” in vvs. 13-14.  This is a wonderful illustration of how the same word can mean very different things depending upon the context in which it is used. 

ILL: For example, if I say to you, “You know that goat you own?  It really has a way of getting my goat!”, what do I mean?  Is the first “goat” the same as the second “goat”?  Nope.  The first goat is an actual hairy animal with horns that likes eating anything and everything in my yard—flowers, grass, vegetables, weeds, etc.  The second “goat” is my patience…or lack of it…when it does eat my flowers and vegetable garden.   J

James is being moved by the Holy Spirit in writing this to go from discussing life trials to discussing WHAT those life trials can do to you.  He told us in vss. 2-12 some of the good things that can come from them if we handle them properly (patience, perseverance, growth in Christ, the abundant life, etc.).  But now he’s going to tell us some of the BAD things that can come from them if we handle them poorly.  And every BAD result from a trial comes from a TEMPTATION, NOT from God

ILLAdam & Eve’s testing.  If they had “remained steadfast” under that test, that’s all it would have been—a test that made them stronger.  That’s why we say that Adam & Eve were morally sinless but “untested” as God created them. 

            It’s interesting the parallels that exist between Satan’s tempting of Adam and Eve and his testing/tempting of Jesus in the wilderness.  Both involved food.  Both involved worship.  Both involved the word of God.  Both involved knowledge and experience.  But one resulted in sin and separation from God; the other resulted in continued sinlessness and greater life with the Father.  Both were tests; one (Adam & Eve’s) was a temptation.

ILL:  How about the patriarch Job

  • What were his “trials/tests”?
  • What were his options in responses as they related to his relationship with God?
  • How did he initially respond? (Worshipped, refused to curse God, etc.)
  • How did his response change over time? (Accused God of wrongdoing and, in the process, sinned…something he repented of towards the end of the book.)

So we could say that the 1st part of his trials led to greater love for God.  But the latter part of those trials led him into sin.

            The story of Job makes the words of James abundantly clear.  God was not the one bringing the death and destruction on Job’s life.  Yes, he could have stopped it.  But apparently sparing us from as much trouble in life as possible is not our Father’s #1 objective in life.  More important things are.  God doesn’t want his kids to succumb to sin.  He wants us to grow stronger through trials by not succumbing, by holding on to Him and getting closer to Him and His answers (or silence) in the trial. 

            God tests…but He does not tempt.  That is an important distinction that James wants us to be crystal clear about. 

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. 

This gets at the heart of what temptation is.  Any takers for an off-the-cuff definition

How about, “A solicitation to do evil”? How about “An invitation to engage in that which is contrary to the will, nature and heart of God”? 

            This is why God cannot be tempted OR tempt anyone.  He never feels a desire to DO evil.  And since inciting or calling or desiring that others DO evil is, in itself, evil, God could never do that. 

ILL:  I was listening to a talk radio host on Friday driving home.  He is Jewish and was talking with his listeners about how he believes judgment of evil and people who have done evil has to be a part of God’s dealing with people if there is to be any true happiness in this life of the next. 

            In the course of the conversation, a woman called in who was, whether she knew it or not, a pantheist.  Pantheists believe that God is in everything—in every physical thing created in the universe from rocks to animals including every natural disaster and every good and evil person. The Bible soundly rejects that world-view because that makes God both good and evil at the same time.

            Next a Christian called in and said something like, “That’s not correct.  God is not in everything; He created everything.” The talk show host really liked that statement and agreed wholeheartedly. 

            But I found myself shouting at the radio:  “NO! NO! NO!” J  (You might not want to drive with me after this point.)

While God did, in fact, make the physical creation, strictly speaking, to say that “God created everything” leaves you with the same problem. If God created “everything,” then He must have created evil and suffering and natural disasters and wars, etc.  God didn’t create evil any more than Satan created God.  God created a universe and world in which evil can exist.  But he didn’t engage in evil or go against his nature when he created people or angels who then engaged in evil.  He created beings that have the ability to create evil.  Get the difference?

ILL:    It’s the same problem we have with automobiles or guns.  You can create billions of cars and guns and never have a single fatality…never.  Just don’t let people or monkeys drive or fire them and you won’t have a problem with guns or cars. J

But as soon as you put a person or a monkey behind the wheel of a car or the trigger of a gun, you run the risk of creating great evil.  Neither the car nor the gun are evil.  They can both be used for great good or great evil…and they are, in the hands of people (or monkeys). 

So the logic James uses goes like this: 

  • God can’t be tempted to do evil because of who He is.
  • Because He can’t do evil (i.e. violate His own nature), he can’t seduce people to evil either.

Yes, there are some things God cannot do…and evil and tempting people to evil are a couple of those things He cannot do. 

            James agrees with that well-known promise from 1 Corinthians 10:13?  13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

            Notice that some of the same themes James brings up are in this verse:  temptation and endurance.  Paul is telling us that temptation happens to all of us. We’re all tempted to engage in evil at various points and places in our lives.  Paul doesn’t talk about where temptation comes from.  But what he does tell us is that in ever temptation experience, God provides a “way of escape” that is sin-free.  He provides a “way of escape” that probably involves perseverance because His “way out” enables us to “endure” whatever we have to in order not to succumb to the sin invitation. 

ILL:  We need to remember that when we’re tempted to say, “That person really made me angry!”  No, they tested you, they invited you to be angry, but you chose anger over other possibilities like patience or humility or firmness or strength or meekness or grace.  (I’m not saying that sin is always anger…just usually…at least in my experience. 

            Every trial in life has inherent in it the possibility to become either a means for my sanctification (more Christ-likeness) or a means to more sin.  That’s why a health issue can so easily become a spiritual crisis.  That’s why unemployment can so easily morph into a spiritual crisis.  That’s why just about anything can become a spiritual crisis if it lasts long enough and bothers us deeply enough. 

APP:  So, choose one of those challenging issues/situations/ relationships you wrote down on your list a few minutes ago.  Ask yourself these two questions:

  • What responses to this situation/challenge/trial would lead me to love God more?
  • What responses would lead me into sin/more separation from God? Would cause me to believe something false about God?  Would lead me to act upon a false belief about God?  Would move me to walk away from God?

This is precisely the fork in the road James is telling us happens in every single trial and temptation in life. 

It can make us more spiritually mature OR immature

It can make us more emotionally healthy or unhealthy

It can make us more physically sound or sick

And we face dozens if not hundreds of these challenges and trials every day.  From what we eat to what we look at to what we think and say about God and people in the course of a day, our lives are filled with choices, temptations, trials and tests.  And they are all “presents” of some form from our heavenly Father OR they are temptations from the world, the flesh or the devil that can become sin and destruction in our lives. 

            James now talks to us about HOW trials actually become temptations.  How can something go from being a tool God wants to use to make us more like Christ to a tool Satan or the world system or our flesh can use to lead us out of love for God?  Just what is the anatomy of temptation

Look at vss. 14—15. 

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.

            Those two words “lured” and “enticed” are not used very often in the N.T.  In fact “lured” (exelko or exelkomenos) appears only once…here! It’s a compound word that means “to draw out” of hiding or a safe place, “to drag out” or “to lure away.” 

The next word translated “entice” (deleazo) has the same sense but is used of “bait” that “lures” or “entices” an animal out of hiding and into danger.  It’s only found 3 times in the N.T. and every time it’s negative—of false teachers or personal desires or sexual temptations baiting a person into sin. 

            Friends, we’re being hunted!  Hunting season in the beautiful Inland NW is already in full swing if you’re a bow hunter.  If you use a gun, it’s almost upon us. 

            But if you are a follower of Christ, it’s open season every day of the year!  We’re being lured and enticed, baited and coaxed out of holy living every day of the year.  And we’ve got some pretty significant hunters on our tails that we better be wise about if we don’t want to be the next mounted rack in Satan’s show room of hunting trophies.

            “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire….”   Here’s the bad newswe have met the enemy… and he is US!  The unfortunate thing about this truth is, there isn’t a lot of wiggle room for blame!  In fact, when someone or the Holy Spirit asks, “Who did this particular sin…this particular horrible deed…this particular painful act?” the only accurate response is, “I did!”  “My own desires led me into this… again!” 

            Don’t say, “The devil made me do it.”  Don’t say, “My addiction made me do it.”  Don’t blame it on anything someone else did.  Don’t skate around the truth and enter into another sin by minimizing personal responsibility.  Agree with God and say, “I did it because I took the bait of the wrong desire—my fleshly desires—rather than the Holy Spirit’s desires at work in my spirit.” 

            Peter echoes this truth in I Peter 2:11-12 saying, 11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

            We all need to learn abstinence!  It’s not just young people who need to practice sexual abstinence before marriage.  ALL of US need to be abstaining from evil in its man forms every day!  When temptation comes knocking, we need to let Abstinence answer. 

            “Knock, knock.” 

            “Who’s there?”


            “Lust who?”

            “Lust let me in!” 

We don’t need to ask, “Lust who?”  We already know it’s OUR lust.  We already know that lust is going to lead us to sin if we answer the door.  We need to learn to lock the door and go ask the Holy Spirit to answer it.  We need to learn to say, “No thanks.  I’m abstaining today from my old desires because I’m choosing to live to my new heart, my deepest, God-given desires, my new mind and my new life in Jesus.” 

            WHEN do we need to say “no” to those old fleshly desires?  Well, James says, “Before you get in bed with that temptation.”   Yes, there’s probably a play on metaphors here.  James chooses a term that is the result of a sexual unionconception.  It’s the uniting of an egg and sperm. You don’t have to worry about conception if you’re not having sex…staying away from the bedroom…keeping your clothes on.  People don’t “fall into” affairs or adultery or premarital sex.  They choose into it.  They walk into it.  They drink or dance or movie or couch-serf their way into it.   

We don’t have to worry about sin if we’re not taking steps in the direction of accommodating our personal lusts/strong desires.   

The reality with temptation is that it is the uniting of our old flesh desire with our will.  It’s the uniting of our fleshly passions with some possible object of those passions—a person, a website, a reaction, a word, etc. Rather than choose to unite with the heart of God, we choose something else.  We take “the bait” rather than say to temptation, “No, I choose God right now.  I choose to love Him more than my ego’s drive for power or control or numbing-out or experiencing some pleasing temporary feeling.”

The gestation period for sin is pretty short…usually a matter of seconds or milliseconds. Once we choose to step in the wrong direction and respond favorably to the bait, sin’s pregnancy is short:

15 “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” 

It may take a while for sin to become “fully grown.”  Or it may take a nanosecond.  Depends on the sin.  But choosing sin over Jesus always kills something.  It always leads to the death of what God desires for us.  It always leaves a foul-smelling cadaver rather than a sweet-smelling holiness and right-ness of life. 

Temptation thrives in the shadows.  It looks stupid and destructive in the light!

One of the constant lies of sin is that it will lead to life, not death.  It always promises a better life, a bigger life, a fuller life, a more exciting life.  And for the moment, it may even feel like it is.  But it always leads to death of some sort—of self-respect, of a clean conscience, of a pure heart, of a healthy relationship, of a righteous friendship, of godly love, of effectiveness, holiness, kindness, grace…of all that God wants us to experience in Him.  That dies to some degree as our true nature in Christ fades into the background. 

Just like the forbidden fruit promised more knowledge, more God-likeness and better vision but delivered just the opposite, so temptations in our lives promise more and a better life but actually deliver worse and deepening death.  Something is always going to die in a temptation.  It’s either going to be my life in “the flesh” of my old nature OR the life of Christ in my new nature. 

This is the proverbial “fork in the road” in every trial and temptation.  We are offered, not 1 gift, but 2.  Yet we must choose only 1.  If we choose what our flesh, the world and the devil want, we miss out on what God has in store for us in the trial or temptation.  But if we choose what God has for us in the trial or temptation, we will “miss out” on what could have been ours by choosing our flesh-life. 


  • What does anger promise when it comes to choosing it as a response to, say, someone treating us wrong or just not doing what we want them to do? (Their conformity, more power for us, getting our way, release of frustration, etc.) 

What does it actually deliver?  (Separation, guilt, pain, isolation, distance, hatred, disappointment, etc.)

  • How about sexual immorality (in any form—lust, adultery, pornography, fornication)? What does it promise?  (satisfaction, manliness, love, attention, freedom, power, meaning, excitement, pleasure, etc.)  While it may give some measure of those things, what does it also actually deliver? (Guilt, shame, isolation, broken relationship, immaturity, self-centeredness, pain, loss of respect [self and others], etc.)

So here is my next question: What temptation is calling to you in your “trial” right now? 

  • If you’re in the middle of a financial trial, what is your flesh tempting you to think or do that you know is not going to lead you to loving God more?
  • If you’re facing a crisis of unemployment, what are you tempted to do of think or engage in to get out of that trial or move past it that you know God isn’t offering to you as a good solution?
  • If you’re having trouble with a relationship, what “ways out” of that are looking good to you right now when you know God is asking you to persevere in that relationship for the other person’s benefit (and perhaps even your own)?
  • What strong desire, what “lust” for more of what may be, in itself, a good thing, is threatening to undermine your love of Jesus? What substance, what relationship, what dream is offering to satisfy you more than the very presence of God in the difficulty and trial of life? 

It’s interesting that James brings this whole discussion about temptation to a close by focusing on God and the “good gifts” He is always giving.  Look at vss. 16-17.   

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 [talk about a good birth!] by the word of truth [another great gift], that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures [an absolutely amazingly stunningly good thing/gift].

            This is one reason why we need to cultivate an attitude of gratitude.  Grateful people decide to focus more frequently and more fully on the good things of life.  And they know that EVERY “good thing” of life is from God. They see every good thing as God reaching out to them, showing them His love and care and kindness.  

ILL:  What a difference it might have made if Adam and Eve had focused on all the blessings of God, the “good gifts” of God, in the Garden rather than the 1 tree out of thousands God had said, “Don’t eat it!”  How many meals could they have cooked without ever eating that fruit?  Opening our eyes and hearts to the generosity and goodness of God day after day after day has power against the temptation to choose any of the sinful routes through a trial, difficulty or temptation.

APP:  Take a moment to think about this day God has already blessed you with. 

  • Before you woke up, what good gifts was God giving you?
  • As you went to the bathroom to shower or shave, what good gifts did God give you? (Ability to walk?  Shaving cream?  Running water?  Hot water?  Soap? Towels?)
  • As you got dressed today, what good gifts were in your closet from God?
  • As you went to your kitchen today, what good gifts did God give you? (Food, dishes, soap, etc.)
  • As you went to walk or drive to here today, what good gifts from God enabled you to do that? (Wheel chair, car, gas in the tank, etc.)

You get my point.  We would all be changed…and so would our temptations to opt for sinful ways out of tests…if we really made a habit of looking for God’s “good and perfect gifts” every day rather than listening to temptations siren son. 

            That may not be the answer every trial or temptation.  There may still be Job-like experiences and chapters in life where it’s hard to see anything to thank God for because the bottom has truly dropped out of life and/or it’s SO painful that it feels like God has vacated the universe…or worse yet, made you the target of His arrows. 

            Maybe at times like that, we need to focus more on what James ends with in vs. 18—the spiritual realities of being a child of God through faith in Jesus that form the basis for the eternal realities we will enjoy in the future.

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.

When everything else seems to have been taken away…and God didn’t stop it…are we willing to learn how to persevere in those trials so we come to know God in ways good times can never lead us to?  Is learning to love God really our life…or is someone or something else in this passing world what we believe should be our functional god and practical joy? 


  • Tell God 10 things you are thankful for from Him right now in silent prayer.
  • Ask Him for wisdom and grace in a present trial to draw near to Him rather than move farther away in sin.