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James 1:12-15

"12 Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one; 14 but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death."

James is writing to people who are struggling. Although they are united now to Christ and learning to trust Him, their lives are full of difficulties. How then should they go through their trials as Christians? This is the question James seeks to answer for them, and for us as well.

In the preceding section, James deals with the rich and the poor. Our perception is that the rich, by definition, are immune from trials. James indicates, however, that riches will fade away, they offer no real healing or solution to our trials. We cannot look to wealth as the answer to the trials that we face, though we are tempted to.

Now James returns to the thought with which he began his letter. "Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him." This is parallel to vv.2-4 "Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials..."

We certainly do not feel blessed in the midst of trials. In fact, we may wonder if we are cursed. We may wonder in the midst of a trial if it is ever going to end, if there is any real hope that it is going to turn out okay. In v. 12, as earlier, James reminds his readers that there is an end to this time that will be far more glorious than we can imagine in our present circumstances. To endure, like counting it joy, is not something that we do by sheer will power. To endure is to continue to turn to God as our only source of life. It is to count on Him to give us His presence and His peace in the midst of whatever we are facing. And it is to live as if He is working His transforming and redeeming will through this current suffering. It is to wait on Him to give us wisdom and light when all we seem to have to offer Him is our darkness.

Yes, James assures his readers--there is an endpoint. We endure not for the sake of the current chaos, but for the promised resolution. God will bring good out of this, and we count on Him to do this. We await the crown of life which is the same as being "perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."(v.4)

Sometimes when we are in a trial, we are ambiguous about God. In fact when James speaks of being "double-minded" in vv. 7-8, he could mean our being in two minds about the character of God. We may be tempted to say that since God got me into this mess, it is His fault if I sin. In fact He is tempting me to do evil by leaving me in this difficult circumstance. We are tempted to think that God is double-minded about us! God both promises to help us and tempts us in our difficulties.

James deals with our temptation to see two sides to God here in this passage. "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one..."(v.13) When we are in a trial, we are tempted to doubt God's word and to take matters into our hands. We are tempted to find our meaning, purpose, identity and life elsewhere than in our heavenly Father. But, James assures us, God is never the one tempting us. His purpose in allowing us to walk through the trials of living in the broken world is never to tempt us to not trust Him. Rather, He plans, in spite of it, to enable us to more and more receive the transforming grace He is pouring on us, to make us truly His children.

James leads his readers to see that to say that it is God tempting them in their trials is to misunderstand or misrepresent the very nature and character of God. God is not the tempter just because He chooses at certain times not to be. No. God has no relationship with evil at all. God is never tempted with evil Himself. There is not a "dark side" to God. And "he himself tempts no one." We can be assured that God is consistent, He is not "double-minded" about us. Whatever we are going through and whatever temptations we face, it is wonderful to remember that God is never the one tempting us to see if we will step away from Him. He always and only intends our ultimate good.

So then where does the temptation come from? Who is to blame? James goes on to say that it is our own desire. We are "lured and enticed" by our own desires--our desire to be secure, or free of pain, or well-liked, etc. These desires can lure us to be tempted to find a "quicker" or "more efficient" way to meet those needs and wants that does not come from God or lead to God’s best for us. My desire to be well-liked can tempt me to be deceiving. My desire for security can tempt me to ill-advised moves financially. God of course, wants to meet our desires in the deepest ways, but we are tempted to look elsewhere when we don't want to wait for God’s best and right solution.

But merely going ahead and acting on a particular temptation presented by our desire is not the end of the story. James wants to show his readers that just as trusting God with our trials leads to perfection, so our succumbing to temptation has an endpoint as well: "desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death."

James is warning his readers not to be deceived. Going ahead and succumbing to a temptation now has consequences that go on and that we cannot control. It is interesting that James uses the picture of birth and growth here. There is a development to whatever we do. There are ongoing effects. We do not just live a series of isolated incidents. Our actions have consequences. And the direction that our temptation will take us is eventually death. Now that’s something to ponder. It’s so easy to take lightly our little sins. We fail to see where they will lead us.

James wants to emphatically point out that no one and no other way can give us our identity or our lives. Only God can. The other options out there are not just other forms of slightly lesser lives—no, they all lead to death, non-life.

I have certainly seen the wisdom of James's words in my own life many times. When I have not taken the time to wait on God and be reminded of His character so that I can respond in faith, the end results are never good and often horrible.

As in previous passages, James points us to the truth of God's good and gracious character. He is enabling us to focus again on Him so that we can hand our present circumstances back to Him. He is never toying with us when we are struggling. It is great to remember that God has only one mind about us--He is, as Paul says, totally and completely with his whole Triune being "for us." (Ro. 8:31)

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