Sligo18: Overcoming Temptation

Tuesday 10 July

This week at #Sligo18, Jonathan Rue is leading the morning Bible Teaching exploring lessons from the book of James.  Jonathan is the Lead Pastor at Desert Vineyard - a multi-ethnic, multi-generational church in Southern California.  Here, VOX editor Ruth Garvey-Williams brings you a summary of his message on Tuesday morning:

We are going through the book of James. This is written by the brother of Jesus who is writing to the diaspora - those who were scattered through the nations after the persecution in Jerusalem. His concern is the gap between what we believe and how we live our lives.  The gap is called hypocrisy.

James wants to say, "Let us close the gap so there is no daylight that can get through between what we believe about God and how we live our lives."

Yesterday we talked about how God uses trials in our lives to produce perseverance.  He wants to build that muscle so that we can bear weight.  Now James moves into the topic of temptation but he is not radically changing subject.  There is a connection between the trials and the perseverance that produces and the subject of temptation.

Reading from James 1: 12 - 18 

As James moves on to talking about temptation, I love that he says “when” not “if”.  Every one of us will be tempted.  We need to be honest about that.  There are times when someone falls into temptation, we can so easily step back and say, “I would never do that.”  James is saying that all of us are tempted.  None of us are above temptation. 

You might be tempted to drink too much, eat too much, look at pornography, to step outside of your relationship, use your phone too much, to lie,, to spend money you don’t have...  and we are not just talking about temptation to sin but also temptation to do things that are unwise.

James is connecting this to trials.  Temptations are hidden within trials that we go through.  If you are going through financial hardship and you are struggling,  there is a temptation to say, “God, you are not providing for me.”  There is a temptation to doubt God’s goodness in your life.  Maybe you are going through an illness.  There is a temptation to have a cynical view about God and His care for you.  If you have experienced some kind of injustice in your life or you look at the news, maybe you struggle to believe how God could be good in the face of such suffering.

There is a temptation to say, “God, this is your fault.”  We try to push the blame out towards God.  But James says, we don’t actually get to do that.  We need to look at our own responsibility.

There is a difference between testing and temptation.  None of us should say, “God is tempting me.”  The difference is the intention.  God tests us because He wants us to demonstrate the quality of our faith.  Temptation causes us to fail and fall - it is something that is tearing us down and God would never do that to us!

A maths teacher teaching mathematical concepts a might give a test to show that the students are learning and understanding!  That is what God does in our lives.  He tests us to see whether our faith is solid.  He is not trying to tear us down. 

V14 is just incredible.  It is a game changer about the way we understand how temptation works.  James says when we are tempted we don’t get to say, “God, this is your fault.”  When we give in to temptation, we do it because we want to. There is a desire within us.  If we are going to assign blame, we have to look inside ourselves at our own desires.  Very often, we think that temptation is coming to us from outside (from the enemy or from the culture around us).  But James says temptation works differently.

We say, "I’m being pulled into something I don’t want to do.  I can’t help myself.  I’m giving in."  But James says that each of us has a desire already inside of us that is broken.  Each of us is dragged away and enticed when we give in to our own evil desires.  These desires are already inside of us!  The root of temptation is the broken desire within in. We are giving into something that is already inside of us.

Jonathan Edwards (the 18th Century theologian) wrote about the nature of free will.  How does that work?  Why do we make some good decisions and some bad decisions? 

“Our free will means that we only and always and ever do what we most desire to do.” - Jonathan Edwards

When you give in to temptation, your desire for that thing (or relationship or whatever) is stronger than your desire to obey God.

You see how radical this thought is from James.  Temptation is not something out there that hooks us and drags us somewhere we don’t want to go.  When we talk about temptation, we need to look inside of ourselves at our own evil desires.

That word “evil” is not in the text but the word "desire" here in James literally means “over desire” - those desires have grown so big that they are out of control.  When I give into temptation, my own desire has become an “over desire”.  Sometimes it is evil but sometimes that desire is not bad in itself but it has become too big and that is what leads you into temptation and sin. 

There is a progression.  We are seduced by our own desire and that “over desire” gives birth to sin.  When sin grows in our life, it gives birth to death.  Something grows in our lives and eclipses our desire for God.  It might not be sin in and of itself but as it grows, it will lead you into sin and it will inevitably lead you into death.

We need to think through the implications  

CS Lewis talks about this in the Screwtape Letters.  The older demon writes to the younger demon to help him bring down a new Christian.  When they are talking about temptation, Screwtape says, "Don’t put thoughts into his head. Temptation is about keeping thoughts out of his head."  The idea was to stop him from thinking about the chain of events that would happen as a result of giving in to that temptation. There is a progression.  Think through the implications of whatever desire is so strong in your life.

An example: You are married and you have kids at home.  Home life is about poopy nappies.  Life is constantly about cleaning the house.  There is a lot of work at home.  Perhaps you go to work and there is a co-worker who makes you feel different again. There is a desire that comes up inside you.  In that moment, think about it.  What are the implications of acting on that desire.  If you committed adultery with that person, you would be setting off a nuclear bomb into every area of your life.  You will damage your spouse.  You will damage your kids.  You will damage every friendship.  People will loose respect for you.  Your finances will be turned upside down, especially if you get a divorce.  And think about your relationship with God - you stood up and made a promise not just to your spouse but to God that you would be faithful.  Don’t think that that won’t impact your relationship with God.  Think through the implications - if might feel good now but you are about to set off a nuclear bomb in your life!

I want to leave you with a couple of practical suggestions for those of us that are dealing with real temptation.  For you it might be finances, lying, anger, addiction, lust, etc. If you are facing a temptation in your life:

In the Short Term

Do whatever it takes right now to say no to it.  If it is a co-worker, quit your job.  Don’t try to be strong.  If this thing is at a level where it could wreck your entire family then get out.  If you are dealing with looking at pornography at home, kill the internet, cancel it!  Take drastic measures.  If you mobile phone is a problem, get rid of it.  Ask for a “dumb” phone.  Do whatever it takes to cut it out of your life. 

Make it difficult for yourself and do it now.  This is not one of those talks that says, think about it for several weeks.  You have to make a decision RIGHT NOW.  Make a decision to be faithful to God.  In the Odyssey, Odeseus tells his crew, tie me to the mast and no matter what I say, do not untie me.  Plug your ears up so that you cannot hear the sirens.  Sometimes you have to get drastic in the short term.

In the Long Term

Over the long haul, that is not enough.  At some point there has to be a longer term strategy to replace our desires with something better.  In the place our our desires, we need to understand that God is the giver of every good gift in our lives.  We need to replace those “over desires” with the desire for God himself.  One writer talks about the expulsive power of a new affection. 

The only way to break the hold of a beautiful object on the soul is to show it an object that is even more beautiful.

If we are struggling with lust, we need to think about the One invented sex.  God has pleasures unimaginable waiting for us.  I want to connect with the God who created the thing I have a desire for. We overcome temptation through the expulsive power of our love and passion for God.  As that increases, our desires and “over desires” will be over shadowed.