This message was preached at Word Of Grace Church on November 19 th 2023 by Navaz. For the audio & video please click here. For the worship please click here.
TEMPTATION - Why can't I say no?
13 When tempted, no one should say,“God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
I love spy, detective, and medical dramas. What do they have in common? They both uncover the truth that lies behind the mystery of a crime or a disease.
WHY DOES TEMPTATION COME?
You may be wondering about this: why do I fall into the trap of temptation over and over again? I turned away from my sinful past and gave my life to Jesus. I am a Christ follower who is supposed to live a victorious life. Then why does this happen?
We need to go back to the beginning. Was there absolute freedom in the Garden? From God’s perspective, YES. The world and the devil would like to tell us otherwise and therein lies the problem. This is what the devil tempted the first couple with and that is to believe that they were not truly free as long as they obeyed God and lived within the boundaries, He gave them. Satan tempted them with independent thinking outside of God’s instructions and got them to change their belief that God could be trusted and had indeed given them true freedom. The boundary around the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was a boundary of love.
Thank God the story does not end there.
CHRIST SETS US FREE
God always had a plan of redemption; to set us free from this trap once and for all. He sent His son Jesus who did not fall for the tree of temptation rather he took all our sins on a tree by being crucified so that we could know freedom. The cross sets us free from the penalty and the power of sin. This is why Jesus’ resurrection is so pivotal to our faith. Just as sin could not control Jesus, so it is powerless to control those who’ve been placed in Jesus by faith.
However, many believe that a magic wand is waved over our heads when we are saved and that is why they get disillusioned when we find those old habits still around.
We know that our old nature was crucified on the cross along with Jesus. We were made alive and new in Jesus. Our old self was not raised to life. We are Born again – a new creation in Christ. The old is gone! Yet we find this struggle in our hearts. While need to realize that while we are new creations, and our desires are changing we still need to deal with sinful habits.
What we know by faith we must act upon.
We need to distinguish between temptation and sinful habits that we form because of giving in to temptation repeatedly.
WHY DO I STILL GET TEMPTED?
Even as a Christ follower there are behaviours, sinful habits lifestyles, and thought patterns that we need to work on. This process is called sanctification. Our behaviour is influenced by how we think which is influenced by what we believe.
I want to pause and ask a question. What are your core beliefs?
WHERE DOES TEMPTATION COME FROM?
Firstly, understand that God does not tempt us nor make us sin. (James 1:13). God may allow us to be exposed to temptation as Jesus told us that in this world you will have many troubles.
FIVE ELEMENTS TO THE PATTERN OF TEMPTATION
James shows us the structure so that we can slow down and examine what is happening in our hearts. You must have seen this while watching cricket/football on TV. They do a replay in slow motion to show you how the wicket was taken or how the goal was scored. So, we are doing a slow motion to the process of temptation. This will help us detect the presence of the evil one, resist, stand firm or flee.
We see things or experience things through our senses, and we are then lured by “our own evil desires” (James 1:14a) which lead us into temptation. As one preacher put it so well, we need to see everything through our ears!! This is true from the beginning of scripture. The devil gets Eve to rely on what she sees rather than God’s word spoken to them.
David saw Bathsheba and the rest followed.
V16. Don’t be deceived. Satan deceives us by blurring our vision. When we think and start to rationalize our behaviour repeatedly and then the reasons we give ourselves become truth rather than ‘THE TRUTH’.
Each person is tempted when he is lured or enticed by his own desire. What does enticement do? It draws you in. It is like holding something so close to your eyes that you cannot see anything else (tunnel vision) and it fills up your mind.
This is the real clue to what James is thinking. Then desire when it is conceived gives “birth to sin”. Sin begins in the thoughts and emotions before we act upon it.
Ironically the very freedom that you chased eludes you. You become a prisoner of your sin and the consequences thereof. Sin results in bondage to that sin.
HOW ARE WE SET FREE? DEBUGGING THE BRAIN
We must get rid of old beliefs and thought patterns and replace them with new ones. What do we replace them with? We replace them with the truth found in the Bible. In John 8:31-32 we are told that we will know the truth and the truth will set us free.
You might say that you read your Bible Day in and out, yet do not experience freedom. Why? This knowing is not head knowledge. It is not information. Information that challenges us to change our beliefs and thoughts will lead to transformation.
Do not try it on your own because you will give up. We need His empowering enabling Grace in our lives that comes by being immersed in the Holy Spirit.
What you believe about God, yourself, the world etc will affect how you think. Beliefs are like the filter or lens through which we perceive life. If you believe you are unloved it will be the filter through which you experience the world, and it will colour your thoughts. The Bible tells us as a man thinks so he is. What this means is that your thought life dictates how you live and respond to your environment.
What the mind is preoccupied with will preoccupy the emotions. Feeling can only respond to thoughts and through what lens we experience our world. If my thoughts about a situation change my feelings will soon follow feelings are very subjective, and we can control them by what we feed our minds on.
Our behaviour is a sum of what we believe, think, and feel. The former three are the drivers of our behaviour. That is why it is so important to renew our minds. James clearly shows this progression in his text.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THOUGHT PATTERNS I NEED TO BE SET FREE FROM?
What I have seen is that the battle for freedom from wrong beliefs which lead to wrong behaviour is one of the biggest battles, we face as Christ followers.
Let us look at only 3 patterns or idols of the heart that become strongholds of thinking. An idol is anything I over-desire and desire more than God.
This is all about keeping up appearances. You live life pretending to be someone else. This happens when we do not live out of our identity in Christ. So, you lie, cheat, deceive and create false impressions.
Because you want people’s approval you find it difficult to say “NO” because you want the maintain the image of the ‘nice guy’.
This idol will mask itself in good works. Also, because I want to feel good about myself, I indulge in comparison and unhealthy competition.
We live in a very sensual world. You can make some harmful lifestyle choices if everything is about making you feel good. You can’t always feel good. God has given us a lot of emotions. God feels angry, grieved, jealous, sad, happy, joyful etc. So, while we are NOT ruled by our emotions, they are markers about how we are experiencing the world around us.
Our feelings are a response to our thoughts which are dictated by our beliefs. If we believe that all negative emotions are from the devil or an indication that we do not have faith; the result will be that we deny those emotions and live with unreality. I suppress my true feelings masking it with religious mumbo jumbo. There is a place for the right confession. While we declare the truth, we do not deny the fact. E.g.) I am sad that my daughter is unwell (FACT) but I know God can and will heal her (TRUTH). I am sad I lost my job (FACT) but I know God is my provider (TRUTH)
Feeling driven people don’t like to move out of their comfort zone. Comfort and pleasure are idols. The need to feel good can also result in self-medicating addictive behaviours that give you that constant “high”. This is seen with overconsumption of social media, movies, gaming, and porn.
This behaviour is fuelled by the belief that I need to be perfect. Perfectionism drives what I do and how I relate with people. It keeps me from being who I truly am because there is no place for weakness.
So, we need to be right at any cost. This leads to lying, cover-up, deceitful behaviour, rationalizing our faults, blaming others, and inability to take responsibility for our behaviour. Apologizing and owing up is the hardest thing for them to do because their identity and self-worth are attached to what they do and not to who they are in Christ.
All of us have elements of all 3 of these wrong belief systems. But as we renew our minds, we will get healthier and learn to walk in true freedom.
HOW DO I FIX THIS PROBLEM?
God has given us several means of Grace viz His Word, His Grace and His people.
Knowing the word is critical because it changes our thought patterns. People need to know that the Word does its work through the Word. We are transformed by the renewing of the mind. Faith comes by hearing the Word of God.
God’s Grace is always sufficient. He will not allow us to be tempted more than we are able to resist. His grace is empowering and gives us the strength to say no to sin and yes to godly living. Titus tells us that the Grace of God that has appeared to all men teaches us to say no to ungodliness. Those who call this legalism have not understood grace.
Community – We are not called to live in isolation but in community. There are so many ‘one-another’ verses in the New Testament. We are told to confess our sins one to another so that we might experience healing.
We also need to change our appetites. If you have eaten junk food all your life you will not know how good gourmet food is till you have experienced it. We do enjoy our sin till we begin to cultivate a new appetite and then the old sin will not be enjoyable anymore.
So it is quite simple. What we feed our minds with will fuel our behaviour. Is it the world or the Word?
FROM REPENTANCE TO RENEWAL
What does renewing the mind look like?
Renewing involves removing and replacing.
Recognise – First, we need to recognise or acknowledge the area of sin we are struggling with. What beliefs have helped the sin stay in my life?
Repent- Realize that your sin breaks the heart of God. Seek His forgiveness and decide to change what you believe and do.
Replace – You cannot leave that space in a vacuum. Replace your beliefs and thoughts with the Word of God and find new patterns of behaviour or responses to situations. It will take time and you might slip into old habits but don’t worry. A step each day is 365 steps in a year! If you read James carefully, he gives you the clue in v21. God speaks to us and saves us through His Word. The Holy Spirit may remind you of His word while you pray. In Ephesians we are told that we attack every flaming dart of the evil one with the Sword of the Spirit, the word of God. In Romans, we are told to renew our minds by soaking it in the WORD.
Renew- When you replace your beliefs and thoughts a renewed cycle of behaviour will be easier to follow.
WHAT IS MY RESPONSE?
I respond by changing my beliefs by identifying the patterns.
Here are two samples of how you can track what you believe, think, feel, and do. You can do this exercise for any temptation. Just ask the Holy Spirit to shine His light into your heart.
Remember, we will never reach perfection on this side of eternity, but we can get healthier. One day when Christ returns, or we go to be with Him we will never have to fight temptation ever again. But till then, fight the good fight of faith for God is also as work in you.
Be blessed in your journey of faith.