Don’t Blame God for Your Problems
March 27, 2015
Playwright Oscar Wilde once jokingly remarked, “I can resist everything except temptation.” We smile when we read those words because they speak an important truth about the human condition. Temptation pays a visit to each of us every day and most of us struggle to say no.
“What do I do when those thoughts come to me?” the young man asked. He was in his late thirties, a rising young executive, by all outward appearances the very image of success. He has a good job, is well-respected by his peers, and seems to have no trouble mixing his faith and his work. What could be wrong? As a single man in a high-powered business environment, he faces numerous temptations, many coming from the sexual arena. “I’ve asked God to give me a Christian wife, but he hasn’t answered that prayer yet. Sometimes my mind is filled with thoughts that embarrass me. And sometimes I give in to the temptation I feel.”
I was not surprised. If you change the name or a few details, it was a story I had heard many times before. In fact, it is a story as old as the Bible itself. Temptation is not new in any sense. Temptation is the same for us as it was for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Satan tempts us today in the same way he tempted Jesus in the wilderness. From the very beginning a battle has raged for the souls of men and women, a battle that touches all of us sooner or later.
Most spiritual battles are waged in secret
Most of the battles we face will not be enormous, life-changing decisions, or at least they won’t seem that way at the time. Either we get angry or we don’t. You stay up late to finish your homework or you make up a creative excuse. When you visit the department store you pay cash or you break your promise not to use your credit card. You repeat the unkind story you heard or you decide to keep it to yourself. You pass by the magazine rack in the airport terminal or you stop and begin to browse. You get up early to exercise or you roll over for another 30 minutes of sleep.
Either way no one else will know whether you exercised or not. No one will know (at least not till the end of the month) if you used your credit card or not. No one will know (unless you are audited) whether or not you lied on your tax return. God has ordained that our spiritual progress should be measured not by huge battles won or lost but by a thousand daily skirmishes no one else knows about.
How can we fight and win the battle against the temptations we face every day? James 1:13-15 gives us God’s answer to that important question. From this passage we discover where temptation begins, how it grows, and where it ends.
I. Where It Begins
“No one undergoing a trial should say, ‘I am being tempted by God.’ For God is not tempted by evil, and he himself doesn’t tempt anyone” (James 1:13).
It’s always easy to blame God for our problems.
“Lord, you put me in this situation.”
“Lord, you gave me these desires.”
“Lord, you knew I was broke.”
“Lord, you knew I was weak in that area.”
God is never the source of your problems.
Don’t even go there.
God never sets us up to fail
He doesn’t tempt people.
He never puts you in a situation where you have to sin.
God will never lead you to a place where you are forced to do evil. You may find yourself in a tough spot and under pressure you may choose to do evil, and in your mind you feel “forced” by the circumstances to do wrong, but even in those cases the choice is yours, not God’s. Said another way, God never sets us up to fail. To do that would contradict both his holiness and his love.
It helps to remember that the same Greek word in James 1 can be translated “trial” or “temptation.” That fact teaches us that any event in your life can be both a trial and a temptation.
What God means for good, Satan means for evil
God sends the trial and Satan turns it into a temptation. For instance, a sickness comes to a child of God. A deathly illness. Could that sickness be a testing from God? Yes, it could. It almost always is a test from God to purify motives, to cause the child of God to look away from the things of earth to the things of heaven, to turn us back to the Lord. Many good things are accomplished through sickness in the life of the believer. Does Satan work through sickness? Yes, he does. Through that very same sickness Satan will be working to tempt you to despair, to anger, to bitterness and to depression. God has a good purpose in mind but Satan is working through that which God intends for your good in order to pull you down.
Or you lose your job. You say, “Could that be from God?” Yes, it could. If you lose your job, could God have a better purpose in mind for you? Yes, and he often does. He may have a better job for you. He certainly wants to build some spiritual character in your life. And yet, during that time of having lost your job, which is a trial from God, Satan will tempt you to anger, despair, and discouragement.
It also works the other way. One day you get a promotion and a nice raise in your salary. Can a promotion be a trial from God? Absolutely. Prosperity is a test from God to see how you will handle his blessings. It ought to make you more generous, move loving, and more sensitive to the needs of others because God has given you so much more. But it is a temptation at the same time in that it may make you greedy and selfish.
The same event can be both a trial and a temptation
Here’s a man on a trip. He checks into a motel. He’s by himself and he’s lonely. He flops down on the bed, turns on the TV and sees a channel called “Adult Entertainment.” The man knows that he has no business watching that channel. But maybe when he’s alone and spiritually disoriented, he feels a strong urge to watch one of those movies. Does God know that channel is there? Yes, he does. Did God allow his servant to go into that room? Yes, he did. Is it a test? Absolutely. If the man passes the test he will be stronger spiritually because he said no. Is it a temptation? Yes, it is. It’s a temptation to give in to lust.
A trial becomes a temptation when we respond wrongly. What God means for good, Satan means for evil. Satan twists that which God gives us and whispers in our ear, “Go ahead. It’s okay. No one will ever know.”
II. How It Grows
“But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desires. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin” (James 1:14-15a).
Notice four things from this verse. First, the certainty of temptation: “Each person is tempted.” No one escapes temptation in this life. These familiar lines apply to all of us:
“Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it.
Prone to leave the God I love.”
No one escapes temptation
Second, the allure of temptation: “He is drawn away and enticed.” James uses the image of a fisherman baiting a hook. Just as the fruit looked good to Eve, sin always looks good to us. Sin brings a certain degree of satisfaction. It must, or no one would ever sin. There is such a thing as the “pleasures of sin for a season.” In the short run, we can always justify losing our temper, telling a lie, cheating a friend, taking a shortcut, or indulging our fantasies.
Third, the individuality of temptation: “His own evil desires.” It’s quite true that what tempts you might not bother me at all, and what troubles me might not seem alluring to you. I’ve often thought while looking out over the fresh-faced congregation on Sunday morning that we all clean up really well. We look better on the outside than we are on the inside. If we knew the naked truth about each other, we would run screaming from the sanctuary, never to return.
Fourth, the result of temptation: “After desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin.” Since James uses the metaphor of birth, let me apply the truth this way. If we do not use some “spiritual birth control” in our thought life, our desires will impregnate our actions and the result will be a whole bunch of little “sin babies” running around. That’s a bizarre image, but it’s not stranger than the image James uses. We must not trifle with temptation. We can’t mess with it, play with it, or dabble in it, because temptation leads to desire that leads inevitably to sin in our lives.
III. Where It Ends
“When sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death” (James 1:15b).
Twice in this passage James uses the image of birth:
Evil desire gives birth to sin.
Sin gives birth to death.
We prefer not to hear this. What could be happier than the birth of a baby? We decorate and plan and pray and save our money, we take pictures of the sonogram and post it on Facebook. We have baby showers and “gender reveal” parties and we send out elaborate birth announcements.
Passing the buck is in the human bloodstream
It’s hard to find anything more wonderful than the birth of a baby.
But not all babies are beautiful.
James uses the happy image of childbirth to remind us of an awful reality. Our evil desires grow over time, they take on a life of their own, and one day those desires give birth to sin. And sin once conceived in the heart leads only to death.
Death to us.
Death in our relationships.
“The Woman You Gave Me”
It all goes back to the Garden of Eden. The serpent came to Eve and tricked her into eating the fruit. She offered some to Adam and he ate, knowing full well the consequences of his action.
Temptation is not new in any sense
Suddenly the world became a very unfriendly place. Fear entered the human heart for the very first time. Suddenly Adam and Eve recognized their nakedness, and they were ashamed. When they heard God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, they hid. Sin had changed everything. Where once they talked with God freely, now they hid lest their sin be discovered.
At length God called out to Adam, “Where are you?” Adam answered and said, “I hid because I was naked.” God said, “Who told you that you were naked?” Then the dreaded question: “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
Adam is cornered, caught red-handed, stripped of all his excuses. God knows! What will he do? He does what any self-respecting man does. He passes the buck. His answer is a classic form of evasion: “The woman you gave to be with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12). Adam passes the buck twice. First it was the woman. Then it was the woman you put here. “Lord, it was her fault. She gave me the fruit and so I ate it. What was I supposed to do? She’s my wife. You know how it is, Lord, when your wife wants you to do something. What was I supposed to do? Say no and watch her pout all night? And anyway, who put her in the garden? You did! She wasn’t my idea. I’m not complaining, Lord, because she’s beautiful and cute and all that, but I didn’t have this problem when it was just me and the animals.”
We’re born craving the fruit that leads to death
In the thousands of years since then, nothing has really changed. Human nature is the same. Passing the buck is in our spiritual bloodstream. We do it now because Adam did it back then. He established the pattern:
Disobedience leads to
Guilt which leads to
Shame which leads to
Fear which leads to
Hiding which leads to
That takes us back to Genesis 2:17, “But you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.” That’s not exactly restrictive, is it? Let’s suppose there were 25,000 trees in the garden. If so, the command really means this: “Adam, I have given you 24,999 trees to enjoy. You can eat a pear, an apple, an orange or a grapefruit. If you want a fruit cocktail, you can have it. Would you like some peach cobbler? It’s all yours. How about some fresh coconut milk? Just climb the tree, pick one, and drink till you are full. Maybe you’d like one of those fancy fruit pizzas. Go ahead. Indulge yourself. Eat from any of the trees or from all of the trees. Eat as much as you like whenever you like. It’s all yours. But remember this. There is one tree you must avoid. If you eat the fruit of that tree, you will certainly die.”
It’s almost as if Adam couldn’t wait to sin
I imagine Adam listened carefully and perhaps even nodded gravely when he heard the warning. He probably even agreed with the Lord that it would be foolish to eat from the one forbidden tree when there were so many others available to him. And you know the rest of the story. The serpent entered, tempted Eve, she was deceived, she ate, she gave the fruit to Adam, he ate, and rebellion became a way of life for the human race.
It’s almost as if he couldn’t wait. After all, the very first time he is tempted, he gives in without even putting up a fight. Ever since then we’ve all been born with a hankering for that same forbidden fruit. We’re born craving the fruit that leads to death. We eat it and eat it and can’t seem to get enough of it. And that’s why the world is so messed up. We demanded our freedom. When we got it, it killed us.
That’s what James means when he says that sin gives birth to death.
Sin kills us.
Sin kills every human relationship.
Sin kills our relationship with God.
This is nothing beautiful about sin
When sin is full-grown, it gives birth to the monster of death.
Nothing beautiful about that.
We would all be better off if we stopped to consider the impact of our evil desires. What starts as a passing fancy becomes a settled desire becomes an overpowering impulse that leads us to foolish action that results in personal tragedy, shattered lives, hurting children, ruined careers, and broken marriages.
Worst of all, we end up separated from the God who made us.
We are truly lost, and we have only ourselves to blame.
Don’t fondle sin!
Here’s one practical application for this message. Don’t fondle sin! This obviously applies to sexual temptation, but it goes far beyond it. I mean, don’t give your mind over to thoughts of bitterness, envy, anger, lust, greed, and violence.
A Big Muddy Jar
Let’s suppose you have a big jar of muddy water that you want to change into a jar of clear water. What’s the quickest way to make the transformation? Take a garden hose and hook it up to an artesian spring filled with clear, cool, pure water. Now place the hose in the jar and turn on the water. As the clean water rushes in, it flushes out the muddy water. If you let the hose stay in the jar long enough, the muddy water will eventually be completely displaced by the clean water.
This is a parable of the Christian life. All of us are like that big jar of muddy water when we come to Christ. Some are muddier (and slimier) than others, but all of us are unclean when we find the Lord. It is the work of a lifetime to replace the muddy water of our sinful inclinations with the pure water of God’s holy character. This is the answer to our entrenched bitterness, lust, greed, hate, envy, impatience, dishonesty, and unfaithfulness.
“Your love, O Lord, come into me and drive out my anger.”
“Your holiness, Lord, enter and drive out my greed.”
“Your purity enter and drive out my lust.”
“Your mercy fill my soul and wash away my envy.”
“Your patience come in and my impatience will vanish.”
“Your grace fill me within and I can forgive.”
“All that you are, Lord Christ, All your shining beauty, all of it, come in this moment and fill me now.” Hebrews 12:2 tells us to “fix our eyes on Jesus.” Take a long look at the Son of God who struggled in the wilderness and won the victory over the devil. If he won the battle, so can we because his divine power is available to us today.
“Your mercy fill my soul and wash away my envy”
In 1906 S. D. Gordon wrote a book called Quiet Talks on Service. In a chapter called “Yokefellows: The Rhythm of Service,” he tells of a man from Rhode Island who was wonderfully converted after a life largely wasted because of sin. In Gordon’s words, “He had been a rough, bad man.” He said that when he became a Christian, even the cat knew he had changed. The very next day he was going from his farm along the road to town, singing a song of praise to the Lord as he traveled. Suddenly he began to smell fumes coming from a saloon. The odor gripped him and began to overwhelm him because alcohol had be the source of so many problems in his life. Here is how S. D. Gordon tells the story:
He said he was frightened and wondered how he would get by. He had never gone by before, he said; always gone in; but he couldn’t go in now. But what to do, that was the rub. Then he smiled and said, “I remembered and I said, ‘Jesus, you’ll have to come along and help me get by, I never can by myself.’” And then in his simple, illiterate way he said, “And he came—and we went by, and we’ve been going by ever since” (p. 67).
Gordon calls this “yoked living” because when we are joined with Jesus, he goes with us wherever we go. Every temptation that comes our way, he has already felt and overcome. Every problem we face, every hard choice we must make, every sudden rush of temptation—Jesus is always with us, by our side, walking with us step by step. If we turn to him and ask for his help, he will deliver us in the moment of temptation and show us the “way of escape.”
Temptation is the common experience of the people of God. We will never escape it as long as we live in a fallen world. But God has given us everything we need to win the battle every time.
Stand and fight, child of God. The Lord is on your side.