Read James 1:13-15

Let no one say when tempted: 'I am tempted of God'. He Himself tempts no one.” (James 1:13)

What are temptations?

This study is all about temptation. James makes it very clear that God has nothing at all to do with sin and certainly would not do anything that would encourage us to give in to it. Temptations often arise because of certain "trials" (problems or difficulties), when we are tempted to doubt, to turn our backs on people or on God. They generally present us with a choice: to react as we learned to do before becoming Christians, or to respond to the prompting of the Holy Spirit in us in a way that glorifies God. (James 1:6; Matthew 21:21-22) They are distinct from "trials", which are basically difficulties that lie outside our control. (2 Thessalonians 1:4)

Temptations can also come into our lives through our own selfish ambitions (James 1:14-15). Indeed, they feed off our own tendency toward self-reliance. (Genesis 3:1) They represent the pull of our own "flesh" (our natural human minds and emotions as they were before we allowed Jesus to take control of our lives through the Holy Spirit). They lead us to question God, or to do things our own way instead of God’s way. (Romans 7:14-15)

Some characteristics of temptation

  • Temptation can often be very subtle. (Deuteronomy 12:30)
  • Temptation knows our weak spots. (1 Kings 11:1-2)
  • Temptation only becomes sin when we respond to it and are enticed by it. (Deuteronomy 11:16)
  • Temptation’s breeding ground is in our mind. (Romans 8:6; Colossians 2:18)

How temptation works

There is a slippery slope, mentioned in James, whereby temptation ends in death.

Firstly, we are drawn away from our dependency on God and the work of the Holy Spirit in us;
  then we are baited;
    then we swallow the lie;
      then evil desire takes hold;
        then the sin is acted upon and,
          in the fullness of time, death occurs.
            This could be physical death, but is definitely spiritual death.

Remember the story of King David and the beautiful Bathsheba. (See 2 Samuel 11:1-12;19.) David's first wrong step was that he should have been with his army whilst the country was at war. (2 Samuel 11:1) The slippery slope of adultery and murder then culminated in the death of a baby.

Why are we tempted?

The simple reason that we give in to temptation is that we have not completely "crucified our flesh". We have to "put to death" our previous way of thinking and our instinctive, emotional reactions and pay attention to the Spirit of God within us instead. (Galatians 2:20) All too often, our "flesh" rises up, wanting to take charge of our thoughts and feelings, even though our spirit has been re-born and now wants to follow God. We have to choose for our inward self (our spirit) to dominate our outward self (our "flesh").

  • Conscience is the voice of the human spirit;
  • Reason is the voice of the soul and mind, but
  • Feelings are the voice of the body.

So we have civil war within ourselves. (Romans 7:15-20) We may be having a bad day, with everything going wrong, but it is what we do with our emotions and our reasoning, that determines whether or not we sin. When we submit to our natural reactions, that is when they become sinful. It is quite possible to experience positive emotions, even when Satan is attacking us. People can be very annoying, even hell-bent on taking out their sour emotions on us; it may be that nothing is going right, but God's word is very clear that we can have "pure joy" in these circumstances. We can see God’s victory every time. If we go by our feelings, we will be in trouble; we will be "yo-yo" Christians. We don’t need lectures on "dos and don'ts"; we just have to let our spirit dominate our "flesh". (Galatians 5:16) God will enlighten us through our spirit. After all, what is the point of giving in to temptation when we are children of the living God? Sin is not nearly as much fun when we are walking in the light of God’s grace.

Now, thanks be unto God who always causes us to triumph in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 2:14)

Overcoming temptation

Jesus knew everything about the problem of temptation but how to have the victory and not sin. (Matthew 4:1, Hebrews 2:18, Hebrews 4:15) When Jesus was tempted, the devil focused on three vital areas:

  1. Physical needs and desires;
  2. Possessions and power; and
  3. Pride.

Jesus knew at first-hand the sort of things that we are experiencing and He is willing and able to help us defeat temptation. He lived on this earth in just the same way that God expects us to live: "as the Father living in Him did the work." (John 14:10) How, then, can we overcome temptation?

  1. by grace; (Ephesians 1:7-8)
  2. through prayer; (Matthew 26:41)
  3. by looking for the way out; (1 Corinthians 10:13)
  4. by acting immediately and not being disobedient; (John 14:23; Genesis 3:6)
  5. by fleeing temptation and pursuing a right standing with God; (1 Timothy 6:11)
  6. by taking every thought captive to Christ; (2 Corinthians 10:5)
  7. through rejoicing; (Philippians 4:4-9)
  8. through living by faith, (that is, in total dependency upon God); (Proverbs 3:5-6)
  9. by choosing positive thoughts; (1 Peter 1:13)
  10. by putting on the full armour of God; (Ephesians 6:13-18)
  11. by protecting our weak spots and having a plan to resist the enemy; (James 4:7; Galatians 5:16)
  12. through a total surrender of ourselves to God. (Romans 12:1-2)

Learning to live with temptation

We should not be surprised when temptation comes to us. It is common to everyone. What we do with it, however, is totally our responsibility. We cannot blame anyone else - or our past, our parents or our situation - for what we do with the temptation. People cannot make us sin. It is a choice that we make and we have to answer to God for our reactions. What God wants us to do is to react like Jesus: resisting the devil with God's word and bringing our "flesh" (minds and hearts) into subjection to His Spirit. When the temptation seems strong and we have a good excuse for giving in to temptation, we need to consider whether the enemy may be trying to block God’s purposes for our life (or for someone else’s life).

Remember: “God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But, when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out, so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

Read James 1:16-18

All good gifts come from God so, every day, we should have a heart that is full of thanksgiving to God. This is a perfect lifestyle for overcoming temptation. The trouble is that we often behave like spoiled children, who never even notice what their parents have done for them. Not only has God given us a home in heaven and washed away all our sins, but He has also given us the "God life" that now runs through us, so that we have all the power to live eternally - here and now. (Romans 8:11) What an amazing thought: that we can be on the earth like a “little Jesus”. It all depends on how much we are willing to surrender ourselves to His Holy Spirit.

Do not be deceived into thinking that there is anything that you have done to get yourself saved or gifted. (James 1:16) Our sole responsibility is to "stir up" the gift that God placed inside us when we were born again and to maintain a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. (2 Timothy 1:6) If we want to keep the fire of the Holy Spirit, we must rejoice, pray and give thanks. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-20) Again, we do not go by how we feel. Rather, we say: "Dear Lord, I’m so glad that I’m a child of God. Thank you that I am born again; my inward self is a whole new person and the very life of your Spirit is living through me." This is what God's word says. As we speak it out loud, it becomes more real to our spirit which "stirs up" inside us, moving us to respond with deep, spiritual joy.

Try keeping a "Thank You" book in which, every night, you write five "thank you" messages to God, trying to make them different every day. This will help you to develop an ongoing attitude of gratitude.

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