When Trials Become Temptations (James 1:13-21)

"Nobody being tested should say, 'It's God that's testing me,' for God cannot be tested by evil, and he himself tests nobody" (James 1:13, N.T. Wright).

James has written that we should consider trials as pure joy (Jas 1:1-4). Horrible days are simply God working in us to produce patience and perseverance until we come to maturity and completeness (Jas 1:2-4), until we are "conformed to the image of his Son" (Rom 8:29). If we're not sure what's going on (Jas 1:5-12), James tells us that there is a prayer that God is always happy to answer (Jas 1:5). But there is one condition (Jas 1:6): we must trust that he is good and not doubt his goodness by blaming stupid people around us.
The key in trials is to persevere (Jas 1:3). We need to patiently believe that God is working in us to bring forth maturity and completeness (Jas 1:4). But suppose, instead of persevering, we get weary of the trial. Suppose we get tired of how long it's been going on. We get frustrated, impatient, angry, bitter. Then in our frustration we end up doing something wrong. We sin.

We're frustrated when some in the church do not seem able to control their tongue and blame others (Jas 3:9), nor to stop gossiping and slandering others (Jas 4:11; Gal 5:15). We're frustrated that some Christians in the church seem to be proud, egotistical and arrogant and sometimes seemingly even more so than non-Christians (cf. Jas 4:6). We're frustrated if our church does not seem to be maturing in Christ or making progress in the spiritual disciplines and so are not that much different from people in the world, who are driven by money and ambition (Jas 4:13).

We're frustrated that we're in a dead end job, that our future doesn't seem that bright, that the election results just made the world darker, that we're single with zero prospects and nothing on the horizon, that we're lonely and depressed on many days, that it's too hard to overcome porn, that others are sleeping around and having sex while we're not, that I can't keep my purity for much longer, that we don't seem to have any real friends that we can trust and be able to freely talk to. The list is endless. In short, I'm sick and tired of waiting!

Is God testing us? Is God stringing us out to see how long we can go before we break, before we blow up in anger, or be done with purity? Is God testing us through the trial to see how long we'll go before we give up or give in? Is God tempting us to see whether we'll sin or not?

James quickly and categorically says that the temptation is NOT from God (Jas 1:13). God is NOT tempting you to see whether or not you'll sin. God is never tempted to do evil, and he never tempts anyone else to do evil. God never has anything to do with evil in any way at all. God never struggles with evil, and he would never cause anyone else to struggle with it. God is never enticed by evil, and he would never put evil in front of others to see whether they'd do it. Wherever that temptation is coming from, it's not coming from God!

So where is it coming from? What is the source of the temptation? James says that it is coming from somewhere inside us (Jas 1:14). Some self-centered desire within us is causing the temptation. Something we want very much for ourselves rises to the surface, and then an evil way to get it pops into our mind. And if we don't deal immediately with the evil thought, it gets a firmer grip on us and we find ourselves moving in the direction of sin. The evil thought takes over and grows, entices us and becomes more powerful and compelling until we finally act on it. The result is sin and devastation (Jas 1:15). It is invariably disastrous.

Dragged away like a fishhook is caught in our mouth and is pulling us. Enticed like an animal seeing something it wants, not realizing that it is a bait in a trap that will destroy him. What are some self-centered desires:
  • I want more money.
  • I want more recognition.
  • I want more clout and influence in the church.
  • I want to get married soon and enjoy romance and sex.
  • I want more excitement.
  • I want more friends.
  • I want people to like me, include me and respect me.
None of these desires are necessarily bad or wrong in themselves. But if we let it linger, if we stew over it, it starts to take over our thinking, our choices, our decision making and eventually our entire life. "Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin" (Jas 1:15a).

We're obsessed and preoccupied with every conceivable opportunity to make more money. We say and do things to make ourselves look good in church. On dates, we ignore everything about the inner life of the other person and our primary focus is on somehow hooking the person to desire us and hopefully marry us so that we don't "live in sin."

The sin that was born, grows, and becomes an adult, dominating our life. Within a short time, this full-grown sin gives birth to something else--it gives birth to death. We start dying inside even though we are still living. A shriveling, sickening, deadening inside. We become disgusted with ourselves, how we're acting, what we're doing, we have a hard time looking at ourselves in the mirror, for the eye is the mirror to our soul. We're eaten away with guilt, we're fighting depression and despair, we're dying inside.

How can we guard ourselves from this happening to us? How do we keep the trial (for our good) from become a temptation (for our destruction)?

James gives us four steps:
  1. Be absolutely convinced that God only has good for you with your trial (Jas 1:16-18).
  2. Resist anger, listen and give thought to the good and wisdom that God wants to give you (Jas 1:19-20).
  3. Recognize and repent of the source of the temptation: your self-centeredness (Jas 1:21a).
  4. Come back to the word of God (Jas 1:21).
When going through a trial, hang on to the conviction that God is good (Jas 1:17) and he is doing something good in your life through the trial (Jas 1:2-4). Be quick to listen and look for the wisdom and good God wants to give you (Jas 1:19). Always know that any temptation to sin comes from some self-centeredness inside you (Jas 1:21a). And always humbly come to the Word of God (Jas 1:18, 21b). Center your life on loving the Word of God (Ps 119:105, 97; 1:2).

  1. Sunukjian, Donald R. Invitation to James: Persevering through Trials to Win the Crown.
  2. Preaching James by Don Sunukjian (40 minutes).