Faith that Gets Its Hands Dirty part 2
Going Toe to Toe with Temptation
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
January 13, 2008


Main Passage: James 1:13-18 (NLT)

At the very moment the queen is facing it, the convicted criminal can be facing it, too. At the moment the blockbuster movie star is facing it, the crossing guard can be facing it, too. At the moment your pastor is facing it, the retired school teacher can be facing it. What am I talking about? Temptation.

In the passage Chris just read for us, James warned us about temptation. He warned us about it’s danger. He told us how it works. And he told us how to overcome it.

This is our second week in our message series on the book of James called “Faith that Gets Its Hands Dirty” – developing a faith that’s not afraid to get involved in the messiness of life. And one of the messiest parts of all of our lives is found in this area of temptation. Temptation confuses us. It convinces us to do what is wrong. It complicates things. It promises pleasure but ultimately produces pain and death.

And no one is exempt from temptation. We all encounter it every day.

So what is it, anyway? What is temptation? Let me give you a simple definition of what temptation is…

What Is Temptation?

Temptation is the seduction to do wrong by promising pleasure or gain.

Temptation is the seduction to do what is wrong – it’s the enticement to sin. Temptation in itself is not sin, but when we agree to the temptation and follow it, it inevitably leads us into sin.

Let me prove that to you. In the book of Hebrews in the New Testament, just before the book of James, we’re told about how Jesus Himself was faced with temptation. Take a look at this…

Hebrews 4:15 (CEV)
Jesus understands every weakness of ours, because he was tempted in every way that we are. But he did not sin!

Jesus Himself was tempted, yet He never sinned. So temptation itself is not sin. It’s when we give in to the temptation that we sin.

Three Truths about Temptation:

1.    Temptation is always present in life.

James 1:13 (NLT)
And remember, when you are being tempted…

Underline that word “when”. It’s not “if you are tempted”, or “should by some strange circumstance you be tempted.” No, it’s “When you are tempted.” You can expect it. It’s going to happen. No one is exempt – we all deal with temptation every day.

1 Corinthians 10:13 (NLT)
The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience.

We all experience temptation. As someone has said, “Temptation is like taxes and death… inevitable.”

Regardless of who we are, what our social status is, how long we’ve followed Jesus or how spiritually mature we’ve become, we all face it. We can’t outgrow it or become immune to it. It’s something we all have to deal with. The temptations we face here are as real as the temptations faced by our soldiers in Afghanistan. The temptations business executives face are as real as those faced by farmers in rural areas. The temptations children face are as real as those faced by their grandparents. And the temptations you face are as real as the ones Jesus faced Himself. Everyone is tempted.

I know the tendency might be to think that only bad or weak people are tempted. And that’s exactly what Satan would want you to think, so that you let your guard down. But that’s not the case. We are not tempted because we are evil but because we are human.

Temptation is always present in life. So when you start feeling guilty because you’re tempted, remember that even Jesus was tempted. Being tempted is not wrong, giving in is.

2.    Temptation is never prompted by God.

Last week we took a look at the trials we face in life. The difficult circumstances, the heartaches, the disappointments, the challenges we face in life. And we saw that just like temptation, we all face trials. None of us are exempt. But here’s the difference: God may bring trials into our lives to help stretch our faith. But God never leads us into temptation. That’s just something He will never do.

James 1:13 (NLT)
And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else.

Chuck Swindoll is a pastor and an author of several books. Perhaps some of you have read his stuff. I’m using some of his material on the book of James during this series, so you’re probably going to hear a few quotes from him over the next several weeks. Here’s the first of what will probably become many quotes…

“God does not traffic in the realm of the immoral.”
~ Charles Swindoll

That’s just something God doesn’t do. He does not want you to give in to evil, so He’s not going to be the cause of it.

James 1:13 (NLT)
And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else.

And the language James used in verse 13 really drives this home. From what I understand, in the Greek James used some very specific terms. You see, James could have said that God is not directly responsible for temptation, but He is partly to blame because He indirectly causes it.

But James rules this out by the language he uses. Because the Greek literally means that God is not even indirectly responsible. He had absolutely nothing to do with it. He is not to be blamed for any temptation that we face; it’s entirely our responsibility.

James tells us that God is not tempted, and God is not tempting. Yes, He tests us – He stretches our faith – but He never solicits us toward evil.

3.    Temptation follows a consistent pattern

It follows a consistent pattern. And James laid that out for us…

James 1:14-15 (NLT)
Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.

So what’s the pattern?

Our Desire for ____ – Lured Away – Sinful actions – Sin grows – Death

Well, we’re confronted with something that we desire – it baits us and draws us in – it convinces us that it will make us happy, so we give in to it. But when we give into the temptation, that’s called sin – and when that sin becomes the pattern of our lives it eventually leads to death – physically and spiritually.

That’s the pattern of temptation. It’s a consistent pattern. So the truth is, you can recognize it when it’s happening.

Three Elements of Every Temptation:

Plus, every temptation contains three elements. James explicitly states two of them and implies the third.

First, every temptation contains a bait.

•    Bait

This is usually something external. Maybe a person, a thing, a title, a position, recognition, some form of pleasure, power… whatever it is.

And it can be different for everyone. The bait that’s effective on you may be completely ineffective on someone else. The bait for one person may be sexual. For someone else, it may be monetary. For someone else, it might take the form of an addiction. Different baits are effective on different people.

You all know about my squirrel troubles over the past few months. We had a couple squirrels running around our house causing some damage and really presenting health and fire hazards. So we needed to do something about it.

So we set some traps. And what did we use for bait? Well, if I was trying to catch a tiger I might use a slab of meat. But for some reason I didn’t think that would work on a squirrel. Maybe because they’re vegetarian.

So what we ended up using was peanut butter. Because we were told that peanut butter was the best kind of bait to use to catch a squirrel.

The imagery James is painting in this passage is actually of a fisherman trying to catch a fish. Now, I’m not much of a fisherman. I went fishing once when I was young and I fell in. So ever since then, I’ve had no interest in going fishing again. But I do know that there are different baits you can buy depending on the kind of fish you want to catch. If I want to catch a large-mouth bass, I’m not going to drop a clothespin into the water, because I know Bass don’t eat clothespins. That’s not going to be an effective bait.

But, if I took something that looked like this [PowerPoint], attached it and dropped it into the water, there’s a much greater chance I’ll catch a Bass… because when a Bass is swimming under the water and sees it, he’s going to say [use finger on lips to simulate talking under water], “Boy, that looks yummy.”

Every temptation involves a bait of some kind. And what baits you may be different from what baits me.

Every temptation also contains a…

•    Desire

That’s really what determines if a bait will work on you or not. What do you desire? What is it that you lust after? What do you crave? Where are you vulnerable?

Mae West was famous for saying:

“I generally avoid temptation unless I can't resist it.”
~ Mae West, 1892-1980, American Actress

And while that’s a pretty good one-liner, the truth is that we have no trouble resisting temptation until it involves something we really desire. In fact, it’s not really temptation until it involves something we desire. If it’s not something that you desire, then it’s absolutely no temptation for you. But when that bait is also something that you desire, that’s when the danger becomes real.

And the third thing that’s a part of every temptation is the…

•    Enticement

It’s the enticement… the allurement. It’s whatever draws your attention to the bait and attracts you toward it. It’s what connects your desire to the bait.

For our squirrels, it was the smell. The bait was the peanut butter, their desire was to eat it, but what drew them to it was the smell.

For a fish, the way the bait dances around in the current can draw their attention.

For you, maybe it’s the way your object of desire dresses. Maybe it’s the promise of pleasure. Maybe it’s the image you have of what your life could be like. Maybe it’s the illusion that giving in to the temptation will make you happier.

“The power of all temptation is the prospect that it will make me happier.”
~ John Piper

That enticement that it will make you happier is a trap. It’s the lie that leads to your destruction. Because in my experience – personally and professionally – I’ve learned that giving in to temptation never satisfies. Oh, there may be temporary pleasure. But it’s only for a short time, and eventually it leaves you miserable. Until finally, the end result is death. It says that here in James, and God Himself said that in the Old Testament book of Ezekiel…

Ezekiel 18:4 (NLT)
“The person who sins is the one who will die.”

More than I’d want to pay for a brief moment of pleasure.

Okay. So what do you do about it? If we’re all tempted, and if giving in to temptation is bad, how do you handle it? How do you overcome it?

How to Overcome Temptation:

A.    Focus on the Good

It’s interesting to me that James is talking all about the dangers of temptation, and then he breaks into this…

James 1:17 (NLT)
Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens.

You know, we’re just a couple weeks into the new year now, and a lot of people who made resolutions to quit doing this and to quit doing that are all discovering that it’s hard to do. In fact, experts will tell you that the best thing to do is not to quit a habit; the best thing to do is to replace a habit. Don’t just stop doing something; start doing something else.

I think it’s that way with temptation, too. If you have a habit of giving in to temptation, what you want to do is take the time that you spend focusing in on what your temptation is and replace it by focusing in on something good instead. Focus in on God. Focus in on the Bible. Focus in on acts of kindness. Focus in on habits that help you grow.

Philippians 4:8 (NLT)
Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
The writer of Psalm 119 knew what it was like to face temptation. And he figured out a pretty good way of overcoming it. He asked…

Psalm 119:9-11 (NLT)
How can a young person stay pure? By obeying your word. I have tried hard to find you—don’t let me wander from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.

What’s the “good” that he focused on? It was the Word of God. It was the Bible. He read it, he cherished it, he memorized it… and he found that when he focused in on Scripture, temptation lost its grip.

B.    Avoid compromising situations

That’s what Joseph did. Remember him in the Old Testament? When his boss’ wife started putting the moves on him, he got out of there. He didn’t fantasize about “what if”. He didn’t take the time to enjoy the attention she was giving him, he simply got out of there. In fact, the Bible tells us he ran out of the room.

[See the account of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife in Genesis 39]

Genesis 39:6-8,10-12 (NLT)
Joseph was a very handsome and well-built young man, and Potiphar’s wife soon began to look at him lustfully. “Come and sleep with me,” she demanded.
But Joseph refused…
She kept putting pressure on Joseph day after day, but he refused to sleep with her, and he kept out of her way as much as possible. One day, however, no one else was around when he went in to do his work. She came and grabbed him by his cloak, demanding, “Come on, sleep with me!” Joseph tore himself away, but he left his cloak in her hand as he ran from the house.

Now, sometimes temptations spring up where you’re not expecting them. But most of the time, you know they’re coming. You know because you’ve been there before. You know the situations you get yourself in, you know the people you hang out with, you know what triggers temptation in your life… so avoid those compromising situations.

Treat temptation like a rattlesnake. This is what LeRoy Eims wrote about how to deal with rattlesnakes…

“Rattlesnakes are fairly common where I live. I encounter one  almost every summer. It is a frightening experience to see a rattlesnake coiled, looking at you, ready to strike. He's lightning quick and accurate. I have a two-point program for rattlesnakes: shun and avoid. You don't need much insight to figure out what to do with something as dangerous as an old diamondback rattler. You don't mess around.”
~ LeRoy Eims

Shun and avoid. Pretty good strategy for rattlesnakes and for temptation.

C.    Always be prepared

Be ready for it even before it comes. Resolve now to be faithful to God, regardless of what temptation may come your way. Build up your strength of character by practicing some of those habits of growth that we talked about before Christmas… Bible study, Fasting, Prayer, Solitude, Simplicity, Silence. When you face the smaller temptations of everyday life, overcome them so that you’re better equipped to handle the larger temptations when they come. Commit yourself every day to obeying God’s Word and putting it into practice, and then you will be ready when the storms of temptation come. Jesus said…

Luke 6:47-49 (NLT)
“I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.”

So you want to be prepared. You want to build a spiritual foundation for your life so you can withstand the floods of temptation. But how do you do that? Listen to these. This is probably the most important part of the message this morning…

Preparing Yourself for Temptation:

•    Build a Vibrant Prayer Life

Discipleship Journal did a survey about temptation a while back and discovered that 81% of people said that temptation was more potent when they neglected their time with God. And 84% said that prayer helped them resist temptation.

As Jesus once told His followers…

Luke 22:40 (NLT)
“Pray that you will not give in to temptation.”

•    Know Your Bible

Yes, I know we’ve already talked about this. But it bears repeating. Knowing your Bible will greatly help you overcome temptation. In fact, in that study I mentioned earlier, 66% of people said that studying their Bible helped them resist temptation. And if you want to read through Matthew 4 sometime, you’ll see that Jesus Himself used Scripture to fight temptation.

•    Find an Accountability Partner

52% said this helped. Find someone you can trust who can check with you once in a while to see how you’re doing. Confide in them about areas where you’re vulnerable to temptation and ask them to hold you accountable.

•    Recognize Your Weakness

Recognize that you are vulnerable to temptation. You and I will never be immune to it. It will always be a danger for us during this lifetime. So you don’t want to become overconfident. Oh, you can build up your defenses as best as you can, and you should do that. But you will never be completely insulated from the attack of temptation.

1 Corinthians 10:12 (MSG)
Don't be so naive and self-confident. You're not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it's useless. Cultivate God-confidence.

So you’ve got to recognize your weakness. But at the same time…

•    Recognize God’s Strength

We try to do it on our own, we’re not going to make it. But when we’re relying on God nothing is impossible. Get it?

Check these verses out…

1 Corinthians 10:13 (NLT)
And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.

Jude 1:24 (NLT)
Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault.

Listen, temptation is a clear and present danger for you and for me. We face it in one form or another each and every day. And if we are enticed by it and are lured away, we will find ourselves trapped by it. It will give birth to sin in our lives, we will find ourselves isolated from God, and eventually it will lead to physical and spiritual death.

But the good news is, God makes it possible for us to live in freedom. He is more than able to break the hold that temptation has on us. No matter how many times we’ve given in to it, He’s able to restore us and establish us in a right relationship with Him. And, He can help us so that we never ever have to give in to it again.

Let’s pray. In fact, why don’t you quietly pray something like this…

Father, thank you for the strength that you give me. Thank you for forgiving me when I fail You. Thank you for offering me a fresh start. Help me to overcome temptation, I pray. Help me to resist it, overcome it, and move beyond it. Build in me strength of character. Instill in me Your Word, that I may remember it when I need it and use it to defeat any temptation that may come.

Now let me pray for you…

Lord, I ask that you will take each of us where we’re at and raise us up to be men and women of God. Fill us with Your Spirit… cleanse us and purify us from all sin. Help us to live lives that are honouring to You. Help us to encourage each other on to greater heights. Help us to be overcomers, we pray. And for those of us who may have failed You… we pray for your forgiveness. And we ask You to restore us in our walk with You. Thank You for Your grace and Your mercy.

[Note: This message series uses a variety of source materials, primarily "A Faith that Worls" by Rick Warren, "Faith for Pedestrians" by Laurence Croswell, and "James: Hands-On Christianity" by Charles Swindoll.]



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