Practical steps for redirecting our desires and overcoming temptation
Develop a consistently Biblical worldview
Develop faith in all three of its dimensions (intellect, emotions, will)
Last week we looked at the first two steps for overcoming temptation – developing a consistent worldview and developing the three facets of faith. A lot of people totally ignore those two points, and yet I am convinced they are the most revolutionary issues for maturity and victory over sin. And so, if you were not here, I would encourage you to get that tape. But we are going to simply pick up where we left off, at point C.
We must not deliberately step into trials/temptations (v. 2 – "fall into")
Point C says that we must not deliberately step into trials/temptations. And the reason I say, "trials/temptations" is because the same Greek word peirazo is translated either way. What God intends as a trial, Satan tries to use as a temptation. For example, while persecution has caused some weak Christians to grow like crazy in God's grace because it was a trial designed by God to mature them), that same trial has caused other Christians to compromise. It became a temptation in Satan's hands. And so even though such things can cause Christians to grow you don't throw yourself into such trials.
And so verse 2 says, My brethren, count it all joy when you fall [not when you jump into them, but when you fall] into various trials… The Puritan writer, Thomas Watson said, ""There is a great deal of difference between falling into temptation, and running into temptation. The falling into a temptation shall work for good, not the running into it." Several weeks ago I applied this verse to several first century Christians who almost asked to be martyred. They deliberately put themselves into the hands of the authorities who were torturing Christians. And we saw that that was foolish. But it is just as foolish to deliberately expose yourself to Satan's attacks, or to expose yourself to other trials that could become temptations to compromise.
Out in Ethiopia, my Dad watched a hawk pick up a snake from the ground and begin to play with it in the air, almost like a cat playing with a mouse. The hawk would throw the snake up, watch it fall a ways, then catch it; let it loose, then catch it again. But at one point the bird fell like a rock to the ground, and when my father went over he discovered that the hawk had been bitten by the snake it had been playing with. When we fall because we have been playing with sin, we might as well have jumped in with all four feet.
I like Charles Spurgeon's quote on the back of your worship notes. It says, "You cannot help birds flying over your heads in the air, but do not let them alight and build their nest in your hair. Temptations will come, but do not entertain them. Drive them away."
And I can only say, "Amen." Look at the third quote. Matthew Henry said, "Those that would be kept from harm must keep out of harm's way. Such tinder there is in the corrupt nature that it is madness, upon any pretence whatsoever, to come near the sparks. If we thrust ourselves into temptation, we mocked God when we prayed, ‘Lead us not into temptation.'" (Matthew Henry on Prov. 5)
I think enough said on that point.
We should recognize that our faith is being tested; trials should be seen as integrity checks that determine where we are (v. 3)
The fourth key is to recognize that your faith is constantly being tested. It is being tested by Satan to see if there are any weak points that he can get through. And if he doesn't find any weak points, he leaves you alone for awhile. And so, Satan tests you. But ultimately, as in the case with Job, God allows Satan to bring trials into your life because God is a heavenly school master who is testing you in battle. Is your faith ready, or do you need to have more lessons from the heavenly fencing master, before your maturity can be tested again? Verse 3 Knowing that the testing of your faith... Just that phrase there – "the testing of your faith." We need to see the trials that are brought into our lives as integrity checks from our heaveny school master to see if we are ready to handle more blessings and responsibilities. He is constantly testing us to see where we are at in our development, and if we don't respond rightly by passing the test, he puts us back in school.
Let me outline some of the integrity checks that God gives. The first and most obvious one is a simple temptation that He allows to come from the enemy. This tests your moral convictions. And you can probably look over the past week and recognize numerous times in which your moral convictions were tested. Perhaps it was an opportunity you had to take a second glance at something alluring. Perhaps it was an opportunity to laugh at a dirty joke. Perhaps it was an opportunity to lie and cover your tracks. But you passed those tests by resisting the impulse. How you did on those tests of moral convictions will determine whether God can trust you with more freedoms and blessings.
Another integrity check is when you have done something that requires restitution – perhaps you opened the car door too widely and took the paint off the car in the parking lot. That was a test to check your honesty. Nobody else noticed. Satan may have, and God did. It was a test. And if you passed the character test of honesty, God can entrust you with more privilege without worrying that you will misuse it.
The loyalty test tests your views of authority. Your flesh will give every reason in the world as to why on this case you have a right to undermine authority. But it doesn't matter how many others you can convince. What does God think? You are always either advancing or going back in God's school of providence.
Another integrity check is a values check to test how committed you really are to your philosophy of life or your philosophy of ministry. Of course, if you don't have an articulated philosophy, you haven't even gotten to the state of being tested. But over the past four years, my commitment to the values God has burdened me with have been tested many times.
There is the persecution test that tests your trust, steadfastness and perseverance in the face of opposition.
There is the vision test that checks your commitment to the God-given direction that God has placed in your heart. Will you really carry through on what God has called you to when the money is not there, or when others don't see what you see, or when others are not enthusiastic?
Finally, there is the leadership test that checks your views on accountability and servanthood. Will you use leadership to serve others or to serve yourself?
It made a big difference in my life when I went into every day looking for the tests that would come my way and anticipating that they would be there. Because I was anticipating them, I got less discouraged, and I began passing far more of the tests than I ever had before. You might be dissing me on this one thinking that it really isn't important. But really – go into life expecting to be tested and prepared to respond rightly, and you will notice a huge difference in your maturity.
We must be committed for the long haul (v. 4)
Point E, commit yourself for the long haul. Verse 4 says, But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. Don't give up. It doesn't matter how many times you get knocked down, get up again. If you have the attitude, "I will try," it won't be enough. We must be committed to doing it and seeing it through.
I like the poem by Edgar Guest called See it Through. I wish more Christians had this attitude. He said:
When you're up against a trouble,
Meet it squarely, face to face;
Lift your chin and set your shoulders,
Plant your feet and take a brace.
When it's vain to try to dodge it,
Do the best that you can do;
You may fail, but you may conquer,
See it through!
Black may be the clouds about you
And your future may seem grim,
But don't let your nerve desert you;
Keep yourself in fighting trim.
If the worst is bound to happen,
Spite of all that you can do,
Running from it will not save you,
See it through!
And that's what James says. Have persevering patience in sanctification until you are mature, complete, lacking nothing. It's an attitude. It's a refusal to give up on sanctification. And its an essential step.
We must learn to say "No" to the present orientation of the flesh and to say "Yes" to the future orientation of the godly mind (v. 4)
Point F we have already looked it in the past, so I won't develop it this morning. I'll just briefly say that we must learn to say "No" to the present orientation of your flesh and to say "Yes" to the future orientation of the godly mind.. Verse 4 says, But let patience have its perfect work… Patience is anticipating something in the future that will be worth the wait. It is deferring gratification of our desires now so that it can have far, far more in the future. And because I have dealt with this adequately in the past, I won't say more now. But future orientation is so important in resisting temptation.
Make sure that your goal is holiness, not comfort
Ask God for wisdom (vv. 5-8)
I also dealt with points G and H in an earlier sermon, so we will skip over them. I've included them here so that you can have a more complete outline.
Don't Hedge Your Bets (vv. 6-8)
But let's pick up at point I. We dealt with being double minded when I preached on faith, but let me summarize another issue in verses 6-8 with the phrase, "Don't hedge your bets." Or if you prefer another analogy – burn your bridges behind you. James says, But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double minded man, unstable in all his ways. Now the primary application of double mindedness was in terms of faith.
But you are also double minded when you leave yourself options when it comes to sin. Another way of saying this is that when you flee from temptation don't leave a forwarding address. Temptation usually comes through a door that has been deliberately left open. Burn your bridges. Or as Cortes did, burn your ships. Hernando Cortes was committed to capturing the Aztec Empire and its treasures. This meant that they couldn't go back – they had to go forward. There could be no double mindedness; it was conquer or die. And we need to have that attitude with regard to sin. No matter how hard this gets, we are going forward. You can see how each of these points are really worldview or faith issues. The first two points under Roman numeral III summarize all the others.
Begin in faith to thank God for your circumstances and begin to develop contentment (vv. 9-11)
Point J is an issue of faith. No matter how difficult your circumstances, give thanks and glory in what God is doing. Glorifying God and contentment will keep Satan from being able to tempt you with his lures. I have a handout on each of these points - how do you develop contentment, etc. Here we are just looking at an overview of the steps.
Verses 9-11 say, Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, but the rich in his humiliation, because as the flower of the field he will pass away. For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits.
There is a lot in those verses, but for our purposes this morning, I have singled out the command to glory. You need to learn to glory in every circumstance. What does that mean? It means that you find satisfaction in everything that comes from the hand of God. You've learned contentment. Paul said that He had learned both to abound and to suffer need. If you can have contentment when you are poor, you can have contentment when you are rich. If you don't have it when you are poor, you won't have it when you are rich. Glorying in your trials and workouts is liberating and the source of joy. Begin to thank your coach. Ephesians 5:20 giving thanks always for all things. That's glorying. And such contented thankfulness is a protection against being able to be lured by Satan.
The moment you covet something, spend a period of time thanking God for all the good things God has given to you, and thanking God that He has not given you certain things as well. And glory in His provision.
When the going gets tough, remind yourself that enduring is worthwhile (v. 12)
And this leads logically into verse 12. Again, there is a logical progression through this chapter. We need to remind ourselves that enduring is certainly worthwhile. He says, Blessed. Why can we glory? Because we can see by faith the blessing. Blessed is the man who endures temptation. We tend to think the opposite when we face the temptations. It seems so hard to resist and so wonderful to give in to temptation. But James reminds us that we have it backwards. When you give into temptation you will end up miserable. On the other hand when you endure temptation and come out the victor you are going to feel good about yourself and will end up very happy and blessed, both now and throughout eternity. The blessing starts now: "Blessed is" But it continues. for when he has been proved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. He's using an Olympics analogy like in Hebrews. Is it worthwhile to resist temptation? James gives a resounding "Yes!"
Don't blame anyone or anything except yourself when you give in to temptation (vv. 13-18). Blame shifting is destructive to conquering sin
Now when we begin to do all this, the next step is logical. We don't blame our circumstances, or God or anyone else for why we sin. Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Now there is a lot there, but we dealt with that adequately three weeks ago, so let's move on.
Don't get frustrated or angry (vv. 19-20; cf. Ps. 37)
Verses 19-20 start with a "therefore" and indicate that when we focus on changing ourselves we are going to be less likely to get bent out of shape Therefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Why do we get angry? Because we want the other person to change. I can think of the many times I would come home steaming at the lies, ingratitude and meanness of my boss. And I thought to myself that I had a perfect right to get angry. I called it righteous anger. But what I found was that my anger didn't help the situation any. All that happened was that I became miserable. Paul tells us in Romans 12, do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. I was becoming overcome by evil. This was the step where I was shortcircuiting the process of dealing with those inward desires. I finally made a list of all my rights that were being violated, and it was a long list because these people really were being unfair to me. And I read the Scripture you are not your own for you have been purchased with a price. And I acknowledged then and there that I didn't have any rights. Christ had purchased my rights. I gave my rights to God and told him that if he wanted to protect his property that was His business. But as for me, I wanted him to help me to live as if I had never had a right taken away. It was like a 1000 pounds was lifted off my back. Now I have since then taken the load onto my back again and again. But I have had to learn that my anger at circumstances; my anger at trials was often indirectly an anger at God and it didn't produce the righteousness of God. It just hurt me. So don't get frustrated or angry.
Begin the process of "de-habituation" - putting off your sinful habits (v. 21a)
Now once we have gotten our attitudes straightened out, we are in a good position to begin outward actions. And point N deals with putting off bad habits. When a coach is teaching any sport, he usually has to help people to overcome bad habits they have developed. And the next three steps in the outline have to go together to be effective. And again, there is a logical progression. First you stop a sin. Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness... Next you get instructions from your coach on the new habit to replace it. and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. Then you try to implement the new habit. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. You need all three steps. You can't put on a new habit till you put off the old one. But if you just try to quit an old habit without replacing it, you will find yourself frustrated.
So let's spend a little time looking at how habits work. Scripture says that sin dwells in our members. What that means is that through repetition your nervous system has finally developed a habit of sin that you can engage in without thinking just like you can drive, eat and tie your shoelaces without thinking. You have as it were become programmed to respond to stimuli in certain ways. Sin is programmed into your nervous system. The moment that other person says that certain something, it triggers anger. Why? Because it has become an automatic habit. The moment you see a certain sight or you smell a certain smell or think a certain thought, other desires kick in. The way to uproot those implanted desires is by reversing the process of programming your nervous system and thinking. You have to develop a new habit. The problem many people make is that they try to quit the old without putting on the new habit. But we can't operate on a vaccum. The old sin will come right back in if it is not replaced with opposite action. But in between those two steps is the critical step of meditation on Scriptures designed to deal with your particular temptations.
Meditate on Scriptures designed to "save you" from these desires. These implanted Scriptures will begin to replace implanted lusts (v. 21b; cf. Matt. 4:1-11 for benefits even with innate desires)
Verse 21 goes on to say, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. Implanted desires can't be immediately uprooted, but God plants something else in the heart that will over time overgrow those desires that have been warring against the soul. The Word of God is extremely powerful, but it must be planted in the heart. If you have not developed a systematic Scripture memory habit, you are are shortchanging your sanctification. Every time Christ was tempted, He had an implanted Scripture that He was able to use to resist the devil.
Begin the process of "re-habituation" - putting on godly habits (vv. 22-27)
And of course this meditation habit is intended not just as a mental exercise but as the basis for helping us change our behavior. And so point P talks about putting on a new habit or rehabituation. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. The coach gives lessons on the chalkboard and makes you memorize routines, but it doesn't do any good unless you got out onto the field and take action. When I was in my late teens I wanted to witness, but I never did because of fear. I prayed that God would take away the fear and that HE would make me a witness, but nothing happened. It was not until I started practicing the specific things I was meditating on that God began to take away my fear. You can't learn to swim till you get in the water. I remember being so anxious that I couldn't sleep at night. And I would pray that God would give me the peace spoken of in Philippians 4. But it was not until I began to put into practice the practical steps for dealing with anxiety in Philippians 4 that God fulfilled His promise and gave me peace, and let me sleep. This command is general (be doers) because he is dealing with temptation in general. But for every sin & every temptation there are specific steps that Scripture tells us to take to overcome. There are specific steps for overcoming a temper, or dealing with fear. So you need to analyze your specific problem to make this more practical.
Keep practicing until the godly behavior is a habit that you can't forget (vv. 23-25)
But then he goes on to say that we need to keep doing it, and keep practicing it until it becomes a habit that we can't forget. And usually for any habit to become comfortable it takes about six weeks of daily practice. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. It is so easy to be like that. We can agree with the sermon that we need to pray, and even resolve to pray. But if we don't start putting it into practice with a plan, with accountability, with practice we will slide right back into our old routines. Old habits die hard. If you play tennis with a couple bad habits, the coach might tell you what to correct. In fact, you might try it a couple times. But if you don't do it enough to where it becomes a new habit, you will slip back into what comes naturally when the game heats up. So James says, But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. Do see what he says? It's worth it to practice regularly for weeks on end till you get it right. The only way to stop your spiritual forgetfulness and stop from slipping into old habits is to continue in the new habit long enough and consistently enough that it begins to feel natural.
Hebrews 5:13 says, "For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food is for the mature who because of practice have their senses trained to discern between good and evil."
Get rid of every area of selfishness so that temptations will not have soil to grow in. The self-life can be weakened in the following ways
Make yourself open and vulnerable and thus less prone to self-deception (vv. 19-20, 26)
Stop dishing it out and start listing to reproof for a change (vv. 19-20, 26)
And then finally we come to point R which says that we need to make the soil of our lives inhospitable to sin. We need to root out and fight against the poisonous weeds within us and make sure we're not fertilizing them. There are two sins that are key to preventing sanctification - pride and selfishness. Pride was the first sin that puffed up Satan and it has led to every other sin.
How do you kill pride? James gives several ways. First, make yourself open and vulnerable. Now that's scary, because you never know if you are honest about your weaknesses and failures if people will put you down and take advantage of you for it. But even if they do, it is good to crucify your pride. Don't put on a false façade. How do you start working on that?
One way is to stop dishing it out and start listening to reproof for a change. Verses 19-20 describe a person who gets angry and dishes it out to others – chews them out. But James says that such anger accomplishes nothing.
Be eager to hear from others on how you can improve (v. 19)
Second, be willing to hear rebukes from others and be eager to hear from others on how you can improve. I had a professor who had as one of his life goals to always respond to criticism by learning for the kernel of truth. It didn't matter how far off the criticism might be, he wanted to focus on what was right about the criticism and learn from that, rather than defending himself against what was wrong in the criticism. That'll crucify pride.
James will have a lot more to say about taming the tongue in chapter 3, but he says here that you would be wise to be slow to speak. In fact, we should just stop talking about ourselves, period. Verse 26 says, If anyone among you thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one's religion is useless.
Ask God for a heart religion without pretense (vv. 19, 26-27)
But it's human nature to love to talk about ourselves. Biblical communication is other-centered, not self-centered. Scripture says we are to put the interests of others before our own. Humanistic conversation is exactly that - it is man-centered. It is self-centered. It's like the cartoon about Garfield. In the first caption Garfield is talking to his teddy bear Pooky. And Garfield is saying, "And then about April, of 81, or was it 82, my voice changed and I started singing the baritone part." In the second caption Garfield says, "Gee, Pooky, I'm tired of talking about me... You talk about me for a while." James 3:2 says, For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a mature man, able also to bridle the whole body. Think about it. Taming the tongue is a maintenance program to keep you from falling into sin because it keeps pride at bay.
Find ministry projects that won't stroke your ego or give you anything in return. Serve just for the sake of serving (v. 27)
The second weed you want to uproot and not give any fertilizer to is selfishness and indulgence. Selfishness is a close twin of pride. James gives one way we can kill off selfishness. Verse 27 says, Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. You don't get a whole lot of recognition when you are involved in that kind of ministry. You won't be in the limelight. And the recognition you do get is often negative. People will criticize you and not serve you in return. So to kill selfishness, find jobs and ministries that take away the selfish flesh principle. Ultimately all sin is selfishness, so if you can ignore self in your ministry you will be a long way on your road of maturity.
I've had to really hurry through this material, but I hope you can see that James is interested in redirecting our selfish desires by changing our attitudes and actions. He wants us to stop being desire oriented and to begin being commandment oriented. When we in faith begin to change our actions and attitudes we will eventually conquer those desires that war against our soul.
Here he gives the human element that is expected of us. In chapter 4 He shows how God is changing us from the inside out as well. Praise God that we are not in this fight alone. But today, let's not forget that God does expect us to fight; to strategize to follow through on His coaching tips, to be systematic. Let's commit ourselves to that process. Amen.
This is believing "with all your heart" (Acts 8:37). Both faith and repentance are defined as involving the intellect, will and emotions. Repentance involves the intellect in that we must agree with God's evaluation of our actions (Ps. 51:1-3; Rom. 3:23. It involves the emotions producing sufficient sorrow to turn from the sin (2 Cor. 7:9-10). Repentance also involves the will in that it is a forsaking of sin (Prov. 28:13; Is. 55:7; Luke 19:1-9). In the same way, faith requires understanding (Ps. 9:10; Rom. 10:17; Heb. 11:1; etc.). It also requires the will since living faith always obeys (Heb. 11; James 2:14-26; Gal. 5:6). But faith involves the affections as well (Luke 8:13; Phil. 1:25; Heb. 10:22; Rom. 15:13; contrast the enmity in Rom. 8:7 with love in Gal. 5:6. In some passages, love is almost a synonym for belief: Rom. 8:28; 1 Cor. 2:9; 2 Tim. 4:8; James 1:12; 2:5). The bottom line is that the "whole heart" has neither repented nor believed if the mind, emotions and will are not involved. An illustration of lack of faith and full faith can be seen in the symbols of Orpah and Ruth. Orpah is only half-hearted. But Ruth says, "Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. The LORD do so to me, and more also, if anything but death parts you and me" (Ruth 1:16-17). ↩