Trials. They come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes they are physical, like a sickness. Sometimes, they are inward, maybe a struggle that you don’t want to talk about and you keep it in. But no matter what the trial is, they have one thing in common, God desires our good to come out of them. He desires for us to be successful in coming though them. He uses these trials to stretch and grow our faith in Christ. Yet, where do temptations come from? In a financial struggle, where does the temptation to lie on your taxes or steal some money from a cash drawer originate? Is that God? By no means, God desires our good, but our own sinfulness turns a trial into a temptation. We see this in James words to these early Christians today.
James says, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial.” Why is such a man blessed? Who would think that a trial is a blessing? These believers that James is writing to were most likely early Jewish Christians that has be driven from Jerusalem during Jewish persecution of the church. James tells these people, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial.” The reality is that James is continuing and building upon what he said about tests of faith that he talked about in vv 2-4 of this chapter. There he said, in essence, “Be joyful at the testing of your faith because that testing produces steadfastness or perseverance and let that have its full effect because that means you will be perfect and complete and lack nothing.” James has told us that trials produce steadfast faith and now he says we are blessed when we remain steadfast, when we remain faithful and trusting in Christ for what he has done for us. The reason we are blessed is what he says in the rest of the verse. He says, “…for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” We receive the crown of life when we are steadfast in our faith and trust.
What is this “crown of life” though? James is looking at the end result of life in Christ. That is, eternal life. The end result of being faithful to Christ is eternal life. James is viewing salvation from the big perspective here. He has in mind those blessings that we can only know at the end of time, at the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment. The crown of life is what we receive because God has promised us that. Notice also the passivity of the whole thing. We receive it. We don’t earn it because of our steadfastness. We simply receive it. It is given to us. Why is that? It is because God has promised it to us! He has given us an unbreakable promise to give us the crown of life. This promise undergirds our steadfastness in trials, it gives us strength to endure those hardships that come upon us. We know that God is for us and with us. We see this in baptism. God’s name is place upon us, God’s promises are given to us. We know these are sure promises because is it God who is giving them. We are able to trust because they are ours to be received. Christ is the one who earned it all for us, we simply receive it. It is promised to those who love God. Again, it is something that is promised, not earned. We are made capable of loving God because of what He has done for us. All that we do that reveals our love for him flows out of our assurance of the promise of life given to us. So we see that the blessing of trials is that we can endure them because God is for us and with us in the midst of them. When we endure in these trials, we show that we love God, because we are trusting Him to be in control of the circumstances. We show our love by trusting Him in the midst of our struggles and depending on Him in all things.
James continues, “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.” James anticipates a complaint from the stricken by various trials. James recognizes that trials can become temptations to those who undergo them. This is absolutely realistic. We all know this. Hardship comes and we look for a way out. James cuts us off at the pass when we try to place the blame of the temptation on God. He commands us to not say “I am being tempted by God.” Though we would never think that God is the immediate cause of the temptation, we may think that he wants a trial to tempt us to sin. But James flat out denies this to us. He does this with two statements. He says, first, “God cannot be tempted with evil.” That is, God is impervious to evil. Evil is not part of God’s nature. Therefore, since evil is not part of God’s nature, we can’t say that it is God tempting us. Secondly, James says that God himself does not tempt anyone! Notice the force of the statement. He himself tempts no one. Flowing out of the fact that evil is not part of God’s nature is the truth that God would not tempt anyone. God is good, why would he desire us to be tempted to sin? God’s desire is for us to come through our trials trusting ever-more in Christ, not succumbing to temptation and sinning. So, God does not tempt anyone.
In the next verse, we see James’ explanation for where temptation comes from in our trials. He says, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” We are tempted by our own selves! If God is not the origin of the temptations, then we must be that origin! Don’t get James wrong and think that he is denying the existence of the Devil here. James is dealing with who is responsible for the temptation. The Devil may say something, but it is your own desires that turn that something into a temptation. It is our own brokenness that turns a trial into a temptation to sin. See how James describes what happens with our desire. He says that we are lured and enticed by it. Picture a fishing hook with bait and how a fish reacts to it. The bait just dangles there and lures the fish, it becomes enticed by it and is drawn to it. This is the picture of what our desire does to us. The trial becomes hard and desire sets in, seeking its own good and benefit. It lures us and we become enticed with the supposed benefits of following the temptation that desire sets before us. We get drawn in and obsessed with the temptation. Nothing can distract us from what desire has set before us. This is what James is talking about here! It is our own desire that fights against us and turns a trial into a temptation. It is like Paul in Romans 7. He says that the good that he wants to do he can’t do and the bad that he doesn’t want to do, that is what he ends up doing! That is the sinful desire working against us in all that we do.
James continues by saying, “The desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” James uses graphic terms here to describe the flow of things. Desire wants a child. It wants to be impregnated and to give birth to sin. That is why it lures and entices us to follow it. Sinful desire wants the child, Sin and it leads us to fall into line with it. Even more, Sin gives to its mother Desire a grandchild! Sin brings forth death! This is the situation that we find ourselves in continually. Desire leads to sin and sin leads to death. Our very nature, our old man drives us ever toward death and we have no power to resist it in ourselves because it is our very selves that is driving toward death. This is a stark situation that has arisen in these verses! James began with the one who remains steadfast in faith receiving life and ends with describing the outcome of sin being death!
This is the fight that we find ourselves in! We are caught in a struggle against the flesh, against sinful desires, against the old man that is in us. Why does this struggle exist in us?? It is because of the work that God has begun within us through Christ’s work for us! God has given to us a new man, a new nature; that desires to remain faithful, to remain always trusting in Christ and His gospel of life! Yet, the Old Man still lives, still fights for control. We can only move forward by trusting Christ and His work for us. We have the promise of the crown of life, a crown that is life that has been given to us. We must focus on this when our trials turn to temptations. The trials are intended by God to grow us in trust in Christ and our sinful selves turn them into temptations. This is why we must take seriously the petition “Lead us not into temptation.” We pray that not because God might lead us to be tempted, but because we know that we ourselves will lead us into that temptation unless God intervenes on our behalf!
What might we do though when we find ourselves in sin, knowing that that is the way of death? We must turn anew to Christ, to remember our baptism and the promise that God has given to us. We don’t grit our teeth and bear it, we cry out to Christ in repentance, knowing that His death covers all sin. We must receive Christ and all His benefits. We should come running to where Christ is. Christ is here with us, we don’t have to go far. He is in the midst of our struggles because He desires for us to trust in Him and to look to Him always for our life. When that evil desire turns a good trial into temptation, look to Christ, pray to Him for strength because there is an infinite amount of strength to be received from Him. Look always to Him and know that He is with you to the end.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.