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 deathJames 1:12-15
Flip Wilson was famous for the line, “The devil made me do it.” While that got him lots of laughs, it is, unfortunately, the excuse many people give for their behavior. We want to blame anyone rather than take responsibility for our own actions.
James makes it clear that each person is tempted (to sin) when he is lured and enticed by his own desire, not when he is driven by some outside force. We do well enough at sinning on our own, thank you very much. We don’t really need the devil to help us to sin. And God certainly can’t be blamed for our sins.
James nails us again big time: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” Again, it comes back to us.
Am I saying that the devil doesn’t tempt us to sin? No. Clearly he tempted Jesus to sin during what is generally referred to as the Temptation of Christ which took place following Jesus’ 40 days of fasting. They were classic temptations that cover most if not all categories of sin to which we are tempted. In the first two temptations according to Matthew’s account, the core challenge was to Jesus’ identity, “If you are the son of God…” Satan’s work is to first of all challenge your identity as a child of God.
Turn these stones to bread…“It is written,“‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4).
Throw yourself down, for it is written “He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone”…”Again it is written, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Matthew 4:5-7).
All these (kingdoms) I will give you if you will fall down and worship me…“Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’” (Matthew 4:8-10).
John summarizes these three temptations as “all that is in the world.”
For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.1 John 2:16
Jesus succeeded where Adam and Eve failed, Israel in the wilderness failed and we in our lives regularly fail. He is now our High Priest who can sympathize with our weakness because he too was tempted in all points like we are, but he didn’t sin. We do sin, at least some of the time. As a friend often says, ”Being a Christian doesn’t mean we are sinless, but that we sin less.”
How do we effectively get to this place of sinning significantly less?
Jesus said we are supposed to find abundant life in him. Then why do so many Christians find themselves battling with sin constantly?
James gives us specific direction on these issues. He warns about being friends with the world, those three categories called out by John, the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and pride of life. James’ solution is grace.
But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.James 4:6-7
The first step to freedom in Christ is to submit yourself to God.
Submission to God includes the recognition that God’s word is true and I will acquiesce to his truth above my opinion or limited understanding of reality. If I think some behavior is acceptable but God says otherwise, submission to God means I will agree with God rather than my humanly reasoned position. Much sin comes from our human reasoning and rationalization. We end up in the same position as the devil who questions God and God’s word, “Has God said…?” Submission to God involves radical repentance and renunciation of past sinful conduct. We are to agree with God about all things.
The second step to freedom in Christ is to resist the devil.
This is largely a matter of the truth. One fallacy believed by many people is that Satan is just as strong or stronger than God. That is absolutely not true. It is one of his lies to humans. The truth is that he has never been close to equal with God and since the cross and resurrection he is defeated. Jesus has already won the victory over the devil. So, as a child of God, the devil has nothing to do with you unless you listen to his lies. So, to resist the devil means largely to reject his lies about you and your place in life and believe what God says about you.
The result is that the tempter will flee from you.
When we take our stand in Christ and believe God’s word rather than the devil’s lies about us and this world, we enter freedom.
Radical repentance not only brings you into the reality of freedom from the evil one, but it will also bring freedom for our natural tendency to sin whether tempted by the devil or tempted by our own sinful hearts.
We began with James’ declaration of the happiness of the man who remains steadfast under trial. That person will receive the crown of life. The key to the crown of life is that one loves the Lord. Ultimately, it is this love for the Lord that brings us freedom from sin and Satan. If we love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, then there isn’t a lot of room in us for other things that will lead us to sin.
So, let us face our own weaknesses. We can plead like Flip Wilson that the devil made me do it. It is in our own hearts that sin originates and that is where radical repentance must take place. Turn to God and love him with your whole heart. Look intently at who Jesus is and what he has done for you. You will grow in your love for him and sin will rather naturally fall off from your life. Falling in love with Jesus is submitting yourself to God.