The Two Outcomes of Trials: A Study on James 1:12-18
A few months ago, I was given an opportunity to preach at Providence Baptist Church in Woodland, Alabama. As I was preparing this message, I thought about the experiences that they were going through. In a predominantly elderly congregation in a low socio-economic class, the members of this church faced suffering from all angles. Whether it was the church pianist’s cancer or the death of a child, this congregation knew suffering. My hope was that this message would serve as a reminder of the way that trials shape us.
In light of the recent events of the COVID-19 outbreak, my hope is that this message will encourage you with a reminder of what God may be doing in the midst of suffering.
Reminder of the Goal
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.
James uses this verse not only to transition from one type of trial to another, but ultimately to remind us of the end goal of a trial. James argues that all trials are worth it because, on the other side of them we will receive the crown of life. In other words, we will experience eternal life in the presence of God. Revelation reminds us that, as it reads:
He will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.
This is how we faithfully endure, with our goal in mind.
Tempting vs. Testing
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 is clear, God does not tempt. The author is making a distinction between testing and tempting, but if you’re anything like me, this is hard to cope with. However, the difference between the two is the desired outcome. The purpose of a test is to refine us so we can experience life, while the purpose of a temptation is to entice us so we can experience death.
Consumed by the World
But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
In C.S. Lewis’ masterpiece, The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape, a senior demon writes to his nephew, Wormwood, on the formula of destruction. He says that the formula is “an ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure.”
This may be the most brilliant line in the book. How true is it that our sin leads us to an ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure? This is a sobering reality. This past week, I shared this line with my accountability group and we were all taken aback at the truth of the sentence. We constantly find ourselves unsatisfied when we indulge in the desires that captivate our hearts, yet we go back to them over and over again.
According to James, there are three steps of being consumed by the world.
We are Captivated by Desire
James writes, But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire and Jeremiah 17:9 says that the heart is deceitful above all things, yet far too often we allow our heart and our desires to drive our actions. One of the easiest ways to be captivated by desire is to isolate yourself from Christian community. How can you expect to endure temptation when you constantly put yourself in a place to fall into sin?
Desire is like a weed that sprouts up and needs to be picked before it corrupts its surroundings. John Owen famously said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”
Think for a minute with me, imagine you are a struggling alcoholic who wants to follow Jesus, but consistently fails to obey Him when it comes to substance abuse, yet you keep cases of beer at your house. How could you expect to endure the temptation of substance abuse when you put yourself in a place to easily fall into that very sin?
Now, brothers and sisters, your fight may not be against substance abuse. Maybe it is lust, gossip, or pride. It doesn’t matter what sin we are fighting, but when we put ourselves in a place to be captivated by desire, we are putting ourselves in a place to commit sin easily. In order to effectively fight the sin in our life, we should take active steps to keep ourselves from that temptation.
We Commit Sin
James goes on to say, “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin.” Sin is simply taking action upon desires that are contrary to God’s commandments. Much of James’ focus in this letter is to show that the creeds of our mouth are proven by the actions of our feet.
We Experience Death
James concludes this section by saying, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Paul is clear in Romans 6:23 that the wages of sin is death. Those who do not live in repentance of their sin will face eternal death.
In high school, I had the unique opportunity of overseeing a student-led ministry with Bible studies at twelve high schools in our county. In the fall of my senior year, I visited one of the other schools and met a sixteen year old girl. All I knew was that she was a sophomore at this time and was relatively new to the Bible study. What I didn’t know, however, was that she was struggling with homosexuality.
For months, she had wrestled with the thought that she might be gay, yet none of her friends knew this. She was captivated by desire and she kept it in the dark. Shortly after this, she began to engage in a relationship with another girl. She was committing sin by choosing to disobey God in entering this relationship. The captivation of her heart was revealed through her external actions. God tells us in Scripture that we can’t serve two masters. The sobering reality hit me. God has made it clear through His Word, namely Romans 1 and Leviticus 18, that if she doesn’t repent of her sins and place her faith in Jesus as her Lord and Savior, she will experience death.
Consecrated for the Kingdom
In the same student-led ministry, and in the same semester, I met with a classmate of mine. Unlike the girl I met, I knew him pretty well. In fact, he had a reputation at our school as one who was far from God.
For months, perhaps even years, my friend Cameron had been meeting with him. He loved him, invited him into his life, and shared the gospel. He was captivated by truth. Shortly after this, he received the grace of God by turning from his sin and placing his faith in Jesus as his Lord and Savior. The joyful reality hit me. God has made it clear through His Word, namely Romans 10 and Ephesians 2, that he will experience life.
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 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 creatures.
Yet in all of this, God does not leave us on our own. In one of his letters to the Corinthian church, Paul says that,
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
-1 Corinthians 10:13
So yes, it is true that as Christians, we will face temptation; no, it does not come from God; and yes, God has provided a way to escape. Rather than being consumed by the world, God has called His children to be consecrated for the Kingdom.
Just like there are three steps of being consumed by the world, there are three steps of being consecrated for the Kingdom.
We are Captivated by Truth
James opens up the second section of this passage with “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.” Rather than allowing our minds to drift towards the deceptive feelings of our heart, we should set ourselves on truth. We do this by surrounding ourselves with a community who will consistently point us to the truths found in Scripture.
At Samford, I co-lead an accountability group of twelve male students who commit to praying, reading their Bible, fighting the sin in their life, and sharing the gospel with others. By committing to these spiritual disciplines in the context of community, we are captivated by truth and reminded that our joy comes from God.
We Receive Grace
James then 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. James is arguing here that anything good comes from God. Not only will the fleeting desires of the world leave us unsatisfied, they are not good for us because they lead us towards death.
The gift of grace is good because the Giver is good, as he knows us best and knows what we need. We receive grace, or unmerited favor, from God as a result of the work of Christ on the Cross. When we live by faith, we identify ourselves with the finished work of Christ.
We Experience Life
James concludes this section by saying, Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. Paul finishes the ever so famous Romans 6:23 by saying, yes, the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Those who live in repentance of their sin will find eternal life.
In the end, we can see how everyone, even Christians are captivated either by desire or truth. Everyone is either committing sin or receiving grace. Everyone will experience life or death. If you desire to stand the test, don’t keep your sin in the dark like the sixteen-year old girl did, but instead come to Jesus like my classmate did.
I encourage you to:
- Surround yourself with community that points you to truth
- Remember the grace that God has shown you
- Repent of your sin and place your trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior
These actions help orient our hearts towards God by being captivated by truth, receiving God’s grace, and experiencing life.