James 1:12-18 In the beginning, when God made man, he did not make animal subject to it’s own biology—he made a self-aware, moral being. When God made man he did not make a puppet on a string-- but he made a unique, individual person with a will that was independent of his Creator.
“But isn’t that the very problem” we ask! “Isn’t that the fatal flaw in creation”? “Isn’t that where God went wrong”? And the answer from God’s Word is “no”—because that way of creating us was the only way to accomplish what God wants for us.
God created us to have fellowship with him. He created us to receive his love and love him in return. He created us to live with him as his children. That kind of relationship that God desires for us cannot come at the point of a bayonet. It cannot come from the fear that a creature naturally has of its Creator. It cannot even come from the obedience of a subject to his King. It must come from a heart that freely and gladly gives it’s faith and trust and love to another.
But that necessarily involves the freedom to reject him-- and that is exactly what happens when we give in to temptation and fall away in time of trial. The Bible says:
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
When the children of Israel were assembled on the banks of the Jordan River ready to go into the Promised Land, Joshua said to them: Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
Countless people have viewed that scene as an example of “decision theology”—that our salvation rests upon our choice. But nothing could be farther from the truth!
The Israelites were already God’s children. They had been protected death by the blood of a lamb. They had been set free from slavery in Egypt. They had passed through the waters of the Red Sea where their enemies were slain. They were fed by God with heavenly food throughout their sojourn in the wilderness. And so then…
Would they live as who they already were: God’s children. Or would they reject their Savior God through disobedience to his Law and give in to temptation?
You see, the Law was given at Sinai in light of the salvation that God had already accomplished for them. It was an opportunity for the Israelites to show that they were a part of God’s family. And their obedience to God’s will should have flowed from love for their Savior God rather than fear of a wrathful lawgiver.
Steadfastness under trial and temptation was intended by God to be an expression of their love for the Lord.
So it is for us. God wants us to enter to the Promised Land of heaven and receive the crown of eternal life. We are his children. He has redeemed us by the shed blood of the Lamb of God, his own Son Jesus Christ. He has brought us to himself and drowned our enemies in the waters of Holy Baptism. He has fed us on our earthly pilgrimage with the heavenly food of Christ’s body and blood. And so then…
Remaining steadfast under trial and temptation is the response of a heart that is filled with love for God.
We don’t always get that right. Our obedience falters and our motivation is lacking in love. But Jesus got it right.
Jesus resisted temptation out of love for his heavenly Father. He defeated the devil not by an act of his own divine power, but because his Father had revealed his will in his Word and that was enough for Jesus. Jesus is that one man of whom James writes who remained steadfast under trial and received the crown of life when he was raised from the dead.
The Good News for us (when we are faced with trials and temptations) is that Christ has done this for us. His obedience, even unto death—is the strength we need when we face our own trials and temptations—and the forgiveness we need for those times when we fail. The Bible says:
Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.
When I first read this passage this week, I thought to myself, “now who would say that—that they were being tempted by God?” And then I said, “Oh yeah—I remember now!” “It was the woman YOU gave me Lord—that’s why I disobeyed”. “It was that fruit that was so beautiful and so good to eat that YOU gave us Lord”. “It was that serpent that YOU let into the garden”. “God, it’s your fault we sinned!”
The only difference between us and them is that we are not as honest as Adam and Eve when it comes to blaming God for our temptations. But every time we blame anyone or anything else for our own failings (have no doubt) we are ultimately laying the blame at God’s feet.
It’s God’s fault for allowing difficulties to come into our lives that cause us to doubt him. It’s God’s fault for creating us the way that we are with a flesh that is frail. It’s God’s fault for surrounding us with people who drive too slow or they are too good looking or they have the stuff we want and incite our anger and lust and envy.
But God absolutely refuses to accept the blame for our sins. He will not be blamed for the way he has ordered creation. And he will not be blamed for the individual circumstances of our own failures to remain steadfast in times of temptation.
God cannot be tempted by evil nor can he, or will he, tempt us to evil—it is simply alien to his good and loving nature. Instead, when it comes to temptation, we need look no further than the person who stares out at us from the mirror. We need to recognize that each time we face temptation, a spiritual battle lies before us and the outcome of that battle is life or death. James writes that:
Desire, when it has conceived, gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
Sin always leads to death—but to really understand how it works in our lives it is helpful to look at a particular example.
In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were blessed by God beyond anything that we experience today. And there was just one restriction: they could not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But Moses tells us in the third chapter of Genesis that Eve saw that the tree was good for food—a delight to the eyes—and could make one wise—and seeing this—she took from the tree and ate—and Adam followed her lead.
And so where did Adam and Eve go wrong? After all the fruit was good for food. The tree really was a delight to the eyes. It really did have the ability to grant them the knowledge of good and evil.
But God had said: “You must not eat of it”—and they should have said “no” to the devil and “no” to their senses and “no” to their flesh and “no” to their desires and “no” to one another and instead clung to the simple word of God to them.
Luther says that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was Adam and Eve’s church—their pulpit and altar—where they heard God’s Word and where they were given an opportunity to deepen their trust in God and show their love for their heavenly Father through obedience to his command.
But they didn’t-- and death entered into the world and through Adam passed to all of his descendants down to us here today for the wages of sin is death. That is the deadly progression of sin and it is true of all of us by nature.
But God rescued Adam and Eve from their sin and covered their shame, pointing the way to what he would do for the world in the sacrifice of his Son upon the cross.
James wants to make sure that we know and believe both of these things—both the effects of sin and the promise of God’s deliverance. He writes: Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.
With the words “do not be deceived” James is, first of all, looking back at what he just wrote. He doesn’t want us to be deceived about living in a broken world. He wants us to understand that all people—even Christians must pass through trials and temptation and tests before we receive the crown of life.
James wants to make sure that we are not deceived about the source of these struggles—that they do not come from a God who is out to get us-- but the fight against temptation is a universal struggle against the world, our flesh, and the devil.
James wants to make sure that we are not deceived into thinking that the battle against temptation is a small thing—that it is nothing less than a life or death struggle-- and to simply give in to temptation is to take a step on a journey that leads to death.
But James also doesn’t what us to be deceived or have any doubts about the final outcome of all of these struggles for those who have faith in Jesus. He writes:
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. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creation.
Temptation and evil do not come from God—God is good and loving and gives good gifts his children—most especially the gift of a Savior who remained perfectly steadfast under trial for all of the times that we have given into temptation and then suffered and died on the cross to take away the shame of our weakness and the guilt of our sin.
In Baptism and preaching and absolution and Holy Communion this life-giving Good News has caused us to be born again and has sustained that new life in us and has made us to be what he wants everyone to be: people who know God and love him and trust in him and desire to live with him as his children simply because he is good.
When we have opportunities to show that—when we face trials and temptations and tribulation--may God grant that we remain steadfast in this faith and, in the end, receive the crown of eternal life! Amen.