Category Archives: James

Desire, Temptation, and Sin

 

After more than 35 years as a believer in Christ, there is one thing that I know to be true of my own Christian walk:

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

This passage generates questions though, or at least it should. How or Why does this war happen?  And What is to be done about it?

Paul gives an ultimate answer to the latter question, namely that Christ will deliver him from this body of death.  As to the former question, we know all too well that even after regeneration by the Holy Spirit and becoming a new creature in Christ that our remnant flesh exists to war against the spirit.  But given that general answer to the How or Why, there is a more detailed answer that Scripture speaks of as well.  One particular passage that is a bedrock for understanding why we sin is James  1:14-15

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.

Collating our observations we arrive at something like a timeline for sin:

  1. Conception
  2. Gestation (Implied)
  3. Birth
  4. Maturation
  5. Death

Most of the time we find ourselves fighting sin at the Maturation step.  Sin has already conceived, gestated, been born, and is now maturing in our lives which surely includes multiplying and creating sinful patterns.  Once it’s born, it spreads like cancer.  Those who can’t or won’t kill sin before it matures will be undone by it.

However, those of us who are unsatisfied with the presence of sin in our lives, who recognize its deception and the internal corruption that produces it, and then like the Apostle in Romans 7 cry out, Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?can also simply become exhausted at fighting an uphill battle trying to chase down sin before it reaches maturation.

Therefore, it becomes imperative that we fight sin prior to its conception.

Desire

This means that the battle against sin must occur at the desire level, prior to its conception with temptation.  Let’s look at the passage again

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.

Temptation exists because of our desires.  Notice how the temptation appeals because of the lure and enticement by our desires.  This is precisely how our Lord faced temptation, yet without sin.  His desires were pure and holy.  Generally, the bent of our desires determines the temptation.  For instance, a man or woman who doesn’t have a taste-bud affinity for chocolate cake will not tempted when a piece is set before them.

Our desires can either be good, bad, or neutral.  A good desire, such as the welfare of others or a neutral desire such as that for sustaining food or drink, might be simple examples for each.  While good and neutral desires may be somewhat obvious, lets put a definition on bad or unholy desires: any affection or compulsion that is contrary either to what God has ordered by nature or commanded by His word.

Temptation

It now becomes necessary to place our finger on the manner of temptation.

John Owen defines temptation as, “any thing, state, way, or condition that, upon any account whatever, hath a force or efficacy to seduce, to draw the mind and heart of a man from its obedience, which God requires of him, into any sin, in any degree of it whatever.” (Vol. 6, pg. 96)

When our unholy desires or affections, which are contrary to God, intersect with temptations, which seek to seduce and draw the mind and heart away from obedience, the effect is sin.  Desire and temptation are an unholy union whose only offspring is death.

Owen advises on the potential avenues by which temptation may come, “either singly from Satan, or the world, or other men in the world, or from ourselves, or jointly from all or some of them.” (Vol. 6, pg. 95)

With this in mind, what’s to be done about it?

The Defense

  1. Setting our affections on Christ.  This comes through habitual exercise of exposure to the Word of God and meditation upon that Word.  Not just reading for the sake of reading, that’s powerless and leads to a false assurance of battle readiness.  This ineffectual reading is what George Mueller referred to as “water through a pipe”.  Instead we want to read as water filling up a vessel or pot until it overflows.
  2. Praying without ceasing. A heart that is set upon Christ cannot help but pray.  Conversely, one of the chief evidences that the hearts desires are being drawn away to the world is a lack of prayer.
  3. Fellowship with the saints.  An oft-neglected gift that God has given us in the combat against sin is the communion of the saints.  The Apostle James will draw out this point more clearly later in his epistle by the imperative to confess our sins to one another so that we may be prayed for and restored (James 5:13-20)

Finally, should our desires begin to wain, what’s to be done in order to avoid the pending attack of temptation?  Watch and Pray.  I’ve written elsewhere on this very subject and Owen himself considers that this is the singular defense against the wiles of temptation.

Watch and consider how temptation attacks.  Be aware of its crouching behind every corner.  Be vigilant in the duties outlined above.  Finally, pray.  Pray daily that God would keep you from temptation and deliver you from evil.  Have you considered that in the so-called Lord’s Prayer, as short as it is, two of its 7 petitions are: 1. Lead me not into temptation 2. Deliver me from evil.  Clearly our Lord in answering His disciples request to be taught how to pray considered that these two great appeals were to be included regularly in our supplications unto God.

Desire, Temptation, and Sin.  An unholy trinity, but not an invincible foe.  And not an enemy in any way matched against the Holy Triune God.  Therefore all benefits have been given to us to kill, by the Spirit, the deeds of the flesh.

Consumerism, The Stumbling Block of a Generation

The post below used to be an annual re-post from the original made in 2010.  It’s still relevant and remains largely unchanged, with a few minor edits.

1 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. 2 Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire.  You have laid up treasure in the last days. 4 Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5 You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.” James 5:1-5

 

Today consumers nationwide are partaking in what has affectionately become known as “Black Friday”, a national marketing campaign in which “big business” lowers prices and quantities to increase demand, and subsequently profits, all in the name of “holiday shopping”.  Next week, many of these same buyers will move their shopping frenzy to the internet for the online equivalent known as “Cyber Monday.”  What’s alarming is the captivity which the desires of people’s hearts claim over them during these mass marketing events as buying and spending become as addictive as any drug.  How far we have come from the simple prayer of “Give us this day our daily bread” to give me this, that, and the other and make it two of everything.  As a society we have moved further and further from the purchases of necessity and the reliance upon God to fulfilling the desires of our hearts with wants, demands, abundance and the “Have it your way” mentality.

Even though I don’t participate in “Black Friday”, I can be just as guilty of this attitude.  Now I realize that many purchases during these events, and more specifically this time of year, are made with “gift-giving” in mind, so I’m not attempting to drive you to guilt simply for shopping for loved-ones, but at some point we must stop and ask, does the recipient of the gift really need what we are buying or has the entire gift-buying/giving process become a product of the consumerism mindset?

If you’re unsure, ask yourself what would happen if you purchased no gifts for anyone, but instead made them something or provided your time towards a service for them?  Would you likely be labeled a scrooge or miser perhaps?  The fact is that we buy and give out of compulsion to conform to what society says we are “supposed to do” and worry about how someone might feel if we do not comply.  This time of year is filled  with mass consumption from the gifts to Santa to trees and candy.  Many of today’s retailer’s use this commercialism for major profit, reporting sometimes as much as 1/3 of their annual earnings during the “Christmas Season.”

No doubt some will debate this point with me, likely even labeling me a “grinch”, but before you do consider this, the spirit of consumerism is no more than a cleverly devised plan of Satan through the instrument of deceitful men in order to distract the masses from God.  Think this isn’t the case?

In the 1920’s a man by the name of Edward Bernays, nephew of Sigmund Freud, used the propaganda methods employed during the first World War combined with the knowledge of his uncle’s ideas about human being’s behavior to show American corporations how they could make people want things they didn’t need by linking mass produced goods to their unconscious desires.  Bernays’ strategies laid the groundwork for new political ideas to control the masses and ultimately helped transform America from a nation of producers to a nation of consumers.  This approach led to “The Century of Self” and started the “all-consuming self, which dominates our world today.”

You may be asking how this brief lesson in history on consumerism combined with consumer events such as “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” have any relevance on how Christians are to live within a biblical worldview.  Read carefully our subject passage above from James and note the destructive forces that gluttonous desires have on the hearts of men.

James states in verse 5 that those who live in “luxury and in self-indulgence” have “fattened [their] hearts in a day of slaughter” a strong condemnation against modern consumerism.  Note also the warning Jesus provides in describing those who place emphasis on treasures of the heart, 19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Matthew 6:19-21.

Jesus is saying that what we value most in life will capture our hearts.  His admonishment is for an eternal perspective and to focus on heavenly treasure, which comes only through a relationship with Him.  Quite simply there is no Biblical basis or “liberty in Christ” that supports the overabundance of material possessions for believers here on earth.  In fact, it is to the contrary.

Puritan Thomas Manton in his excellent commentary on James offers some instructive insights to the passage from above.  Manton refers to the rich people mentioned in James 5:1 as “worldly rich people, drowned in pleasures, puffed up with pride.”  He warns that “it is hard to possess riches without sin” and says “do not covet riches so much or please yourselves in the enjoyment of them; but look at your hearts with all the more care.”  Thomas Manton reminds us of Proverbs 30:8-9, 8 Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches;  feed me with the food that is needful for me, 9 lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.”

To James 5:5 Manton adds

“they were reluctant in giving to the poor but easily and liberally spent their money on pleasures and gratifications of the flesh.  Worldly desires, though they argue every inch with grace, easily give way to corruptions.  To live always at the full is mere wanton luxury.  God gave wealth for another purpose than to spend it on pleasures.”  Finally, he advises that with our material blessings we “1. Prize them less; when you possess them, do not let them possess you. 2. Do more good. 3. Seek God all the more earnestly for grace. When you are full, you need it much.”

Consumerism reigns supreme in this country year round reaching its apex during the Christmas season and as such has become the stumbling block to the Gospel for the majority of people born in the last 100 years.

Christian do not let the world distract you with her flashy lights, her savory ads, low prices, and next “big thing”.  It’s ok to give gifts to one another as long as it’s done so within reason, but ask yourself am I contributing to the vicious man-centered cycle of consumerism? Or am I looking for opportunities to glorify God and show the love of Christ to those whom the Lord has surrounded me with and ultimately share the greatest gift of all, Jesus Christ, with someone who has not yet received that gift.  The “good news of great joy” of which the angel speaks at the time of Christ’s birth in Luke 2:10 has nothing to do with any material gifts that fade away, but instead the amazing, awesome perfect gift that is Jesus Christ and the eternal life given to all those who repent and put their trust in Him.

“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.” James 1:17

The Untamed Tongue

 

In the book of Job, there’s a sub-current theme that has largely gone unnoticed but deserves a closer look.  This theme is developed around the use of words and speech throughout the book, so much so that 22.5% of the Hebrew found in the book is related to key terms for speech.  For comparison, the book of Isaiah uses these same key terms 22.7% of the time, while Deuteronomy and Proverbs are 34.2% and 8.7% respectively. (see Barrick, William, “Messianic Implications in Elihu’s ‘Mediator Speech'”)

While the principal speakers of the book of Job – Bildad, Elihu, Eliphaz, Job, the Narrator, Zophar, and the Almighty God – all use or make reference to words or speeches, by far and away the majority is by Job himself (Note that Satan, Job’s servants, and Job’s wife do not make use of these words).  This should be unsurprising for at least the basic reason that Job is the central figure and does the majority of the speaking, however, the larger meaning likely has more to do with the overall interpretation and understanding of the book as a whole, namely that even righteous Job cannot tame the tongue.

While we are told early on in the book that Job was “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil”, it is by his own admission that his tongue has tripped him up with respect to speaking about his affliction, its divine purpose and meaning, and more importantly, questioning the very character of God, Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” Job 42:3  

In chapter 4, during the speech of Eliphaz, he reminds Job that in the past, his “words have upheld him who was stumbling” yet as the affliction wears on and indwelling sin continues to be stirred up, Job’s words are unable to be restrained. This affliction, brought about by the hand of God, served to stir up settled sin in the heart of Job, out of which the overflow spilled to his words.

In the Book of James, which some have argued (rightly) is a New Testament commentary on the Book of Job, the Apostle draws the readers attention to the dangers of the untamed tongue, first by way of introduction in chapter 1 and then by way of exposition of this intro in chapter 3. It’s certainly within the realm of possibility that James has Job in mind when he mentions this section, particularly as he describes mankind’s ability to tame all sorts of creatures, but not the tongue, For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind,but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” James 3:7-8  This should especially call to mind the references to the creation of beasts and birds, reptiles and sea creatures, that Yahweh uses in His response to Job in chapters 38-41.

Commenting on this verse in James, Puritan Thomas Manton writes, 

The tongue is barely subdued for any good use.  And in this life God does not give absolute grace to avoid every idle word.  This refutes the idea of the power of free will alone; we cannot tame one part of the body.  Consider the offenses of the tongue and you will see that you must walk humbly with God. (CCC on James, pg. 195)

With Job, we are given evidence and insight into the life of a truly righteous man who reveals that in the midst affliction, even he is unable to tame the unruly tongue that speaks out of the abundance of the heart (Luke 6:45).  Job fell victim to the trappings of the “last word” in an argument and looseness of his words toward Almighty God.  If Job fails in with regard to the untamable tongue, what hope is there for us?

Turning again to Manton we get sound counsel in this regard,

Though we have lost our power, God must not lose his right.  Weakness does not exempt us from duty; we must bridle the tongue, though we cannot do this ourselves.

Even if we cannot bridle it, God can.  The horse does not tame himself, nor the camel himself; man tames the beast, and God tames man.

He then offers two methods for the duty of taming the tongue

  1. Come before God humbly; bewail the depravity of your nature,  manifested in this uncontrolled part of the body.

  2. Come earnestly.

Finally, we may gain superior wisdom from the pen of the divinely inspired Apostle James who writes that we should, “be quick to hear and slow to speak.”  James 1:19

The example of Job and the exhortation from James stand as stark witnesses that the tongue is an untamable viper.  Nevertheless, let us labor in this duty; let us mourn when we fail; let us extend grace to those whose tongues speak with liberality; and let us follow the example of our Lord, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” 1 Peter 2:23