You probably heard about the now famous Stanford Marshmallow Test (1972). Walter Mischel put 32 young children in the study. He reported over the years that followed those who were able to delay gratification (wait as requested until they were given a further reward) tended to have better life outcomes over time. This was true not just physically (lower BMI), but also educationally, and behaviourally. Others replicating the study since have not found quite such large differences in the cohorts but it's a very interesting and influential study in psychology.
But when I picture those kids licking their lips and thinking about how great the marshmallow must taste, or if I were to ask my six year old, or what I’d do, I know I probably would not reply quickly, because I was taught not to speak with my mouth full.
Today we are going to look at temptation from the Bible book written by Jesus’ younger brother James, Chapter 1.
In the first half of the chapter, after greeting God’s scattered people, he focused on the trials we all go through in life, which can be terribly painful and many of us will be feeling that right now. Yet James says there is a way we can get joy from them, if we persevere through them.
Where he heads next may initially seem a little bit strange, especially if you are able to read the original language because it’s actually the same word used but James goes straight from talking about trials to temptations. But isn't it true that often when we go through hard times, we’re more susceptible to being tempted? The devil fights dirty, and kicks you when you're down!
One specific temptation I’m susceptible to when times are harder is to get grumpy and blame God for the problem. Then while I’m being honest I’ll go further and admit I can in a perverse way feel like he owes me something.
Because we’ve been through a painful time—the prayer wasn’t answered the way I wanted, or as quickly as I’d like. Now I can get angry, rebellious, resentful, I can even want to reward myself in some way, because of what I’ve gone through. I know it sounds childish but when I've not felt like God has been good to me, I can act like a brat and give in to sinful attitudes or actions, while saying “It’s not my fault.” We rationalise and justify that.
Let’s see what James 1 has to say about that:
James 1:13 When (not if) tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” (Which would be avoiding my own responsibility for my sin by blaming God. How can you do that? Two ways. Either by saying, “It’s just the way he made me.” Or else, “The circumstances God put me in made it inevitable.” No …) 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. (We are responsible.) 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (The apostle Paul says the same thing in Romans 6, the wages of sin is death—if you reject the gospel, unless you say yes to the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ today).
16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift (Now the word gift there is apparently linked to giving a dosage of medicine, a cure.) is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
I’ll come back to that second section before we’re done and invite you to make your own response to that offer of a brand new life today.
But if I was to break this down into three points, James is telling us here:
The Source of temptation (where it comes from and who’s to blame)
The Seduction of temptation (how it works and leads to shame)
The Solution to temptation; that you can only get from God.
What's the Source of Temptation?
Well there are any number of things that can tempt us, everywhere. I can’t choose right now to live in a world free of temptations. But we can’t just blame the world around us. Because there’s always a gap between the stimulus and the response. I get to choose.
1 Corinthians 10:13 (NLT) says, “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will (always) show you a way out so that you can endure.”
God provides a way out. We’ll see what the way out is in this passage, but first I want to you a few questions?
Who deserves the most credit or blame for where you currently find yourself in life?
Who has the biggest influence upon your life?
Whose advice do you usually act upon most?
I don’t know what you would say, but if I’m honest, while others have helped or hurt me along the way; I influenced my life more than anybody else, so I'm mostly responsible for where I currently find myself in life. And while I tried to listen to the advice and opinions of others, usually I do what I think is best/right in the end.
Now we live in a time when we don't like to think like this or admit that our biggest problem is us. Our culture and climate don't encourage that kind of ruthless self-examination or moral inventory, unless you joined a recovery group where it’s mandatory if you want to get well.
We prefer to see ourselves as the victims of circumstances, or of our upbringing or what happened to us in the past. That's what stops us living victoriously now and in the future. Unless we get God’s solution.
God wants us to live as victors not victims, so we’ll fulfill his purposes in our generation. But there's no way I can change the world, unless I find out how to change myself.
The good news is this passage is going to teach us how that works; and the first thing that starts the change is when I own up and take responsibility, rather than trying to avoid it or deny it. Rather than blaming. Blaming doesn't help, when I say, “It's not my fault,” so I point a finger at the government, or that teacher who never liked me at school, my boss at work, that partner who hurt me, my parents who spanked me, or my DNA. Or being fed up in lockdown. We’re all experts at blame shifting.
We even blame God. That’s nothing new. It’s always been that way.
Right in the beginning, in the first few pages of the Bible, we see that Adam and Eve were given everything good that a good God could give them. Living in the perfect environment, they could do whatever they wanted to do, except eat from one tree. How generous is our God? Out of all the trees, just one was a no. But everything wasn’t enough for them. They were deceived into thinking that God was holding out on them—so they rebelled, and lost it all.
The first game in the world was hide and seek. Look at Genesis 3:1-13. They ran away from God their Father, and his love. He used to meet with them there, but because of their sin they go into shame and hide away.
Now it’s important to realise, God isn’t coming looking for them to blame and shame or make them feel bad. He doesn’t need to find them. He knows exactly where they are, and what they’ve done. He used to walk with them. He’s not hiding, they are. When an all knowing God asks questions it’s not because he needs to know the answer, it’s because he wants us to. He’s hoping they’ll own up and tell the truth. He wants to help, so he asks diagnostic questions.
Adam is anxious, afraid, and ashamed. Notice he does not say, “I have done a bad thing.” It’s, “I am a bad person, I better hide that shadow part of me away.” But remember too they’re God’s children. He had no problem with their nakedness. It’s a picture of transparency, vulnerability, safety, and having nothing to hide. That’s how he intended it to be with us. Now God wants them to check the source of their thinking. The source of their temptation.
Read vs. 11 again and imagine not hearing that with an angry voice, but a kind one, a hurt and concerned voice. Because God is the kindest Father, giving them an opportunity to come clean. He doesn’t want to judge “the bad thing they did,” he loves his kids.
Psalm 103:10: “He does not treat us as our sins deserve, or repay us according to our iniquities. …” Why? Vs. 13, “As a father has compassion on his children,so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed,he remembers that we are dust.”
God made Adam in his own image from dust, then breathed his own Spirit in him to give him life. He knows how we are made, how frail we are. He wants them to tell the truth about what’s wrong, because you can’t begin to deal with it while denying it. It just grows and spreads and spoils. Richard Rohr says, “Pain that is not transformed, it is transmitted.”
The Father is saying, “If you tell me where it hurts, I can make it better.” But they’ve been deceived about what kind of God he is. That’s the root deception you read about that led to them falling for it. That’s why they hide.
The other day my grandkids Daniel and Poppy went into our kitchen cupboard and found a box of small chocolate bars. I walked out into the garden, in the cool of the day, and saw Poppy had something behind her back. This starts very young doesn’t it? I went and pushed them on the swing and found empty wrappers … on the grass. I asked “Oh, I wonder where these came from?” In the end Daniel let me in on the secret—they were buried in the sandpit!
Now unlike God, I was tempted too and we ate all the chocolates, but that kind of underlines the point rather than spoils it I hope. We’re only human.
What’s Adam next move? He takes it like a man, by blaming his wife. Good one Adam. He doesn’t blame himself, and he doesn’t even just blame Eve. He blames God, notice “The woman you gave me.” Substandard workmanship.
God realises that’s not working so he gives Eve the same opportunity, to come clean. Her response is blame shifting too, but it’s better than Adam because at least she admits to being deceived. And she points to the devil as the reason for the mess they’re in, not God.
Why does James say, “Do not be deceived?” Because we get deceived! We get tempted. I can try to put the blame everywhere else but one thing is for sure. it’s not God’s fault. It’s not just how he made you. It’s not inevitable that because I had a tough day I got drunk. “But God made the beer!” No. God made you. But he’s not making you do anything. Who’s responsible? I am.
I … AM … RESPONSE - ABLE.
James says God cannot tempt you. Literally because he himself is “untemptable.”
Now remember James has grown up with this older brother called Jesus, who never ever sinned. Only after the resurrection he found out the reason, that he is God. And God is Holy, Holy, Holy. God is immune to evil. That’s really important to grasp. God is immune to sin. He doesn’t have anything to tempt you with. If you check the source of that thought, that attitude, that action, it never comes from him. He only sends good and perfect gifts.
So why not blame Satan? Well I believe in a personal devil as well as a personal God, but let’s not give him too much credit as Eve did. We can’t say, “The devil made me do it.” He can’t make you do anything. We have free will.
Go back to Genesis 3:3 and we see how all the trouble started for Adam and Eve. They’re both together here, but only Eve does the talking—while Adam stands there looking stupid and saying nothing, just looking at the ground and wondering how it will pan out—like us guys do.
The correct answer to the serpents question is, “No. He didn’t! He gave us all these fabulous trees! We get to live here and work here for him and with him, we enjoy all this amazing food—in this perfect paradise! So I take the authority God gave us and say “Shoo, snakeface!”
But the first temptation is misrepresenting who God is. Saying he’s a stingy, no fun God. The God who doesn’t want to give us any good gifts. That’s the first temptation. It’s really important to remember that, because the first whisper of temptation says, “The good thing God gave you to enjoy isn’t enough. Go for that other thing instead and be happy.”
The deception started to work. Why? Because God didn’t say “Don’t touch it.” He just said, “Don’t eat it.” But as they swallow that lie, something started to die. Not physically immediately, but eventually. And spiritually, death came to our world as sin’s poison started to work through them.
Vs. 4-5 can be summarized in this way, “You can’t trust God for what’s best for you. He’s a liar. He wants to withhold something good from you. Do what you want, and be free” (which Alister Crowley said is the mantra of modern satanism).
Why did it look so good? It was a good thing! God only made things good in his original intention. But in taking it she thought, If I do this, I’ll know better than God, what’s good for me and what’s not. That’s the key, “What’s good for me? I get to choose what’s good and what’s not.” I decide what’s “right for me.”
You see the progression in vs. 6b-7? They saw it. Wanted it. Desire took over, they ate it, then they’re ashamed, cover up. Confronted, they feel try to shift the blame.
The Seduction of Temptation
We have looked at the source of temptation. Here we’re seeing the pattern for the seduction of temptation, which James describes so perfectly. If it seems familiar it’s because we are all the same. This is how it works for everyone.
Let’s look at verse 14 again, and pull out a few more things together.
“… each (and every human) person is tempted when (what?) they are dragged away (a hunting term, you put your foot in the trap) by their own evil desire (literally “the lust,” it’s different bait for you than for me, what’s irresistible to one is repulsive to another and vice versa) and enticed. (Fishing term! A lure, shiny, looks beautiful, enticing bait, yummy, but it has a hook in it, and the hook is attached to a line, and that’s held by the angler sitting with a net on the shore).
15 Then, after desire has conceived (starts in embryonic form, just a little idea, “Ooh, wouldn’t that be nice?”), it gives birth to (what?) sin; and sin (a very ugly baby), when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (It doesn’t stay small, it can eat you out of house and home. It will take over your life.)
What promises freedom, traps you.
What looked to make you feel more alive, leads to death in the end.
death of trust
death of relationships
death of self-respect
death of reputation
And in the end when we physically die, if we have not come into spiritual rebirth through Jesus Christ, death forever—without connection to God. So …
The Solution to Temptation
Blame can't shift it. Shame just makes it worse. I try to hide away or cover up that shadow part of myself, but it just grows in the dark. I try harder, promising myself I'll do better, it’s all up to me. I have to make this work.
But the fig leaves fall apart. Trying to be acceptable to God by my good works, hoping they outweigh the wrong things. It doesn't work. We don’t need to work harder, to get better.
Let’s sum up where we are right now. James has talked about the source of temptation – it’s never God! Then he’s shown us the seduction of temptation – how it leads to death and that we all fall for it so none of us can fix ourselves because we are the problem.
Finally, here’s the solution to temptation. The only solution.
James 1:16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. (I hope we’ve covered that. Don’t be deceived into thinking God’s to blame or that you can get yourself off the hook) 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (God is your Father, he only has light, no darkness, and he’s not come to give us lightning bolts, he’s come with free gifts for us if we’ll open our hands and take them, and yes if we refuse to receive that our sins will lead to death, but he doesn’t want that.) 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
That’s the only way we can be saved. To die and be reborn. New birth, by believing the truth about Jesus Christ, who said he didn’t come to condemn the world but so it might be saved by him.
So in a few minutes I will ask you to say a prayer with me, simply asking him to save you. But you have to take the cure first. And Jesus Christ is the only way.
Now you might think, That’s a bit narrow Anthony. There are all kinds of ideas out there about what’s right and wrong. Thousands of religions and philosophies. True.
But imagine, if a vaccine was created now for Covid-19, and I had it here. It was tested on billions of people and it worked—100% of the time, with anyone who received it. Would you say, “Ah, but didn’t the President say maybe if I did this or that it might cure me?” Would you accuse me of being narrow minded were I to offer you the one cure that I know will work? The good and perfect dose, given for free, coming from God the Father of lights and offered as the cure for the fatal darkness of the human condition?
You have every right to say, “I’ll gargle salt water, or put sliced lemons all over the house, I read that works on the internet.” Nobody’s going to force you to take this.
But there is no herd immunity for sin. This doesn’t work just because you know some Christians. You have to roll up your sleeve, and receive it yourself, personally.
Remember we have all fallen for various temptations, which leads to sin, and sin leads to death. It’s fatal, in 100% of humans. But Jesus Christ, the Son of God came to this planet and walked among us and he was immune. At his so called trial witnesses had to lie about him because nothing they threw at him would stick. He never had the disease of sin, which was why he rose from the dead! It was impossible that death could hold the Lord of life!
The Bible said he is able to sympathise with us, because he was tempted in every way we are—yet without sin. His perfect sinless blood was shed on the cross, as the one and only antidote, for our sinfulness.
The old hymn says, “There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Emmanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains!”
When you stop shifting the blame. When you’re tired of living in shame. When you don’t cover up, but own up and say yes to Jesus as the King of your life, you get every good and perfect gift the Father wants to give you for free.
So now open your hands if you’re ready to pray, right there where you are. Simple honest prayer like, “Sorry, Thank You, Please.”
Yes please to God’s gifts you can never earn. As he draws close to where you are, right there. When he says, “Where are you?” Don’t be scared. Say “I’m right here Father.”
“And what have you done?” Tell him. Be honest to God. He knows it all, sees it all, bring it into the light. The Bible says whoever conceals his sin does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them will find mercy.
That’s God first gift. Mercy, given only if l admit I need it. An injection of divine mercy, not getting what I deserve. Jesus paid the price for it, took the punishment for my sins 2000 years ago.
Now I need a blood transfusion from Calvary. I can’t cure myself. Say, “Lord, I need that good and perfect gift; mercy I don’t deserve and could never earn.”
If sins and past temptations come to mind now that’s not to make you feel bad. The Spirit of God is saying, “Come as you are.” The Father of lights has only got good gifts for you, if you’ll ask and take them. What gifts? Too many to count, but here’s the best gift, from the most famous verse in the Bible: God so loved the world - that he gave his One and Only Son.
His greatest gift, is himself. Tell him, “Jesus I need you, Lord come and take over, give me that new birth, the fresh start only you can give.”
Then it says why he gave Jesus: “So that whoever believes in him …” Not whoever is perfect, who was never tempted. No! Whoever puts their trust in Jesus to save them, rather than trying to save themselves gets this gift, they … will not perish (Like everything else around will in this world—when you die, you’ll live forever) but you’ll have everlasting life.
The Father wants to give you what you need, not what you deserve. Ask, and you’ll receive, God’s solution, for our temptation.
Anthony Delaney is a Leader at Ivy Church in Manchester. He is also the leader for New Thing and the LAUNCH conference. He is an author and hosts the television show “Transforming Life.”