(In view of the problems Christians face in our current age, I hope you will read this essay with special care.)
II JAMES 3
Roy Osborne 2006
Last week we introduced “temptation” as the theme of the book of James. I want to keep that concept before you, for it is the key problem faced by everyone who tries to live the Christian life. We human beings have two natures. We are physical, animal beings, with appetites and desires related to our physical world, and our existence in it. But we are more than mere animals. We are also spiritual beings, capable of faith and hope and love. As spiritual beings, we know there is a difference in good and evil. We have a moral sense. The animal nature has no such consciousness. When it has desires, it seeks gratification. No question of right and wrong enters the picture. Therefore, there is always a conflict between the earth man and the spiritual man. That conflict is called temptation.
There was a time when duty to country, to family responsibilities, and to God, were very strong in our country. The prevailing opinion of most people was that moral living was the only right way. Honesty, family loyalty, reverence and hard work were respected. Not everyone followed those rules, but just about everyone agreed that it was the way we should live. Sadly, that is no longer true. For political reasons, patriotism is no longer appreciated. Even religious leaders have departed from family values and the sacredness of the home, and pander to the animal desires. Powerful forces of atheism and paganism have eroded our reverence for God in our modern society. The earth-man is in the ascendance, and those who wish to listen to the spiritual man are finding it more and more difficult to get along in this hedonistic atmosphere. Therefore, it becomes of supreme importance for us to hear the words of James, as he addresses the problem of temptation, which works the same way it did twenty centuries ago.
Lacking the support of popular opinion, and the encouragement of social pressures, the Christian must depend upon inner resources in his struggle with the earth-man part of his nature. James says that the first step is to look to God for help. This is not the pious statement often made by professed Christians that says, “I just turn it over to the Lord, and He will take care of it.” James is not telling us to abdicate our responsibility, and leave it up to God to work a miracle of change in us. When he says to ask God for wisdom, he means we should use the solutions God has given us in His word, and pray for the strength to live up to them.
I want to emphasize what James means when he says to “ask in faith, nothing doubting”, and then says the “double-minded man is unstable and will receive nothing.” Of course, James means for us to have faith in God, that He hears our prayers, and gives us strength. But, perhaps more importantly, he is saying we must really believe that the Lord’s way is right, and that that is the way we want to go.
Jesus speaks of “hungering and thirsting after righteousness” in the Sermon on the Mount. Only those people who really want to be righteous will receive help from above. Jesus spoke of people who could not believe on Him because they were not His sheep. By that He was saying that only those who really wanted what He came to give could have faith in Him. The man who does not want to be righteous…who does not want a relationship with the Father…who has no respect or reverence for God…can never develop faith in Him. If you want the earth-man to win, he always will.
However, those who sincerely want to be God’s people still have a struggle with the ever present earth-man. Even Paul complained, in Romans 7 , that he could not do what he wanted, and often did what he did not want to do. James encourages us not to be defeated by this, but to take it as an opportunity to build strength for the battle of life. He says overcoming temptation gives us something special. The Greek word used here I find translated with four different words by Bible translators that I checked: endurance, patience, steadfastness and perseverance. Those who build these character traits must do so by really wanting to be God’s people, and working at it. They are not just members of a religious club, repeating pious words and following rituals.
Marriages are not made of the excitement and thrill of first love, nor the sexual attraction that often causes people to get married. Marriages are made of long-term dedication to one another, in trouble or in joy, through better or worse, with the strength of a real love that will not be defeated. Just so it is with the Christian life. It is not the sudden thrill of first conversion, nor the mountain tops of spiritual experiences that make up our walk with God. It is the renewed strength that comes from every battle won with the earth-man…every victory over self…every prayer of thanksgiving for the exalted privilege of knowing Him…and the hope that grows more real every time the vapid desires of this present world are set aside by one who knows they are not worth the eternal promises of God.
One who walks this walk soon finds that doing God’s will becomes a habit. When faced with a choice offered by the world, the true Christian doesn’t have to run to the Bible and look it up. Long struggles with temptation, and many victories won, make him know intuitively what God wants him to do. It is automatic to do what is right. That is the goal James talks about. I had great respect for my earth father. He was a man of great integrity. When faced with a question of integrity, I don’t have to stop and think what dad would do. I know intuitively what his answer would be.
As struggling Christians we need to walk with God so closely that we don’t need a reference verse to guide our answer when temptation arises. If we really choose His will, we eventually come to know intuitively what He wants us to do, and that’s the wisdom God gives from above. It is not a miracle, which overrides our will, but a habit, built by the constant desire and effort of doing what the Father wants.