I don’t share many sermon manuscripts, but in this case, because this sermon involved some hairsplitting, between “testing” and “tempting,” I thought the manuscript might be helpful.
I was talking with my daughter the other day, and apparently something horrible can happen to students these days. You can be left on “Read.” Do you know what it means to be left on “read”? This: [show slide]. It is when you are left waiting for a reply.
Has this ever happened to you? Maybe you sent back some kind of a joke reply. And you snickered to yourself at your own cleverness, but then there is no response for a while. You go from: “They have had a chance to respond” to “I hope they know I’m joking” to “I hope they weren’t offended” to “They think I’m an idiot” to “They hate me.” Your thoughts, in the silence and waiting, turn dark.
Or maybe it’s an unanswered phonecall at night to your spouse. Why aren’t they picking up? Why isn’t their dot moving on the location app? You can go from “they’re probably late” to “they’re probably dead,” in the span of an hour. That’s what can happen in the waiting and the silence. Our thoughts can go dark.
And something similar can happen in our faith when we endure trials. In times of testing, as the trial wears on, our thoughts can turn dark. In particular, our thoughts about God can start to turn dark. We wonder, “Does He see me? Does He know what I am going through? Does He care?” These thoughts can eventually go all the way to God himself becoming dark in our minds. We start to think He must not like us if He is allowing all of this hardship to go on for so long. We think maybe He is out to get me, that maybe He has sent this thing to do me in. And these thoughts can go so dark that we quit; we abandon the faith. We walk away from the church. We give up on this whole Christianity thing.
It is this tendency for our thoughts about God to go dark in times of trials that James is going to go after today. Instead of darkness, James wants us to see God in the light of his goodness. I invite you to look now with me at James 1:12-18.
 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.  Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.  But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.  Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.  Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. (ESV)
In these verses, James walks us out of the darkness and into the light. He challenges us to view trying times with the right perspective on God and ourselves. And in the time that remains, I would like to highlight fives insights he gives us here. Number one…
1. In trying times, remember… The prize goes to the finisher. (v. 12)
“ Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive t1he crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”
The blessing goes to those who remain steadfast, to those who keep going, to those who trust God to the very end.
In Gospel of Luke, chapter 14, Jesus says that following him has this kind of all-or-nothing quality to it. He compares following him to building a tower or fighting a war. And in both cases, you wouldn’t start unless you are sure you can complete the tower or win the war. Why? Because in each instance, there is no prize for starting, no prize for halfway done or halfway won. A half built tower is no tower at all, and a half fought war is a full blown failure. So, in following Jesus, the crucial thing is completion, enduring to the end. Many will be interested in Christianity. Many will have moments of intrigue, excitement, and emotion concerning the things of God, but the crucial characteristic of your faith is not these punctuated moments but the overall endurance of it. That is what matters. In this sense, like Ecclesiastes 7:8 says, the end of the matter is more important than the beginning. The blessing goes to the finisher, to the one who trusts God to the end.
Now, this finisher faith is not perfect faith. Your trust may waiver at points. Your actions and feelings may contradict your trust at times. You will have ups and downs, advances and setbacks. You will have moments of sin and doubt. But those little failures do not mean you have failed if you keep going, if you keep trusting God. It is like a game that is won in an ugly fashion and the coach says, “Well, a win is a win.” When a coach says that, they mean it doesn’t matter how they got there…the point is they got there. And so, the goal is not perfection. Perfection in this life is impossible. But the not-optional goal is finishing the race, trusting God to the finish line. The prize goes to the finisher.
And the prize he is speaking of is eternal life. The “crown of life” refers to salvation itself. And so saving faith is enduring faith. Saving trust in God endures to the end. The prize goes to the one who trusts God to the end.
And this is why James is so concerned about our theology. Because the thing that could shipwreck our faith is darkening thoughts about God. So, James is writing to bolster our trust in God, in his goodness and love, that we might endure and keep trusting in times of trouble.
2. In trying times, remember…God is not out to get you. (v. 13)
“ Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.”
Here is the dark turn of our minds stated plainly. As we wait under trial, as we endure trying times, we can start to think that God must really not like me. We can think God is trying to bring me down, that he’s trying to get me fired, that he wants me to fail. We can think that because God is in control of everything, maybe somehow he has this dark side operating, this shadow self at work. And we can go so far as to say the reason I’m struggling, the reason I’m doubting, the reason I’m turning from God to sin is because of God. “It’s his fault,” we grumble in our hearts.
But James says that God does not tempt. What does this mean? James means that God never wants to see us fail. God never lures us into evil. God never wants to hurt our faith. God never delights in our struggles. He never points and laughs. Never. God is not out to get you.
Now, having said that, if you read your bible, you may scratch your head at this point because the Bible does record that God tests people. Most famously, we’re told in Genesis 22:1 that God decided to test Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his son, Isaac. And, to further complicate things, if you were reading this passage in James today in the original Greek manuscripts, you would see that the word in verse 12 for “trial” is the same root word used here for “tempts.” What gives? How do we understand this? What is the difference between tempting and testing? And how could the same word be used for both? Let me answer each question in turn…
What is the difference between tempting versus testing? The difference is primarily the goal in mind. Satan tempts you with the goal of seeing you fail. God tests you with the goal of seeing you improved and approved. We see this in James here. Verse 13 says this concept of temptation has to do with evil: “God cannot be tempted with evil.” The context is telling us that James is talking about testing that invites sin; he is saying God never does that. Instead, in trying times, God is interested in what we read back in verse 12, in seeing one who “has stood the test.” That phrase is just one word in the Greek and it means “proven” or “genuine.” That is what God is interested in, seeing you renewed and proven as genuine, made genuine. That truth is repeated elsewhere. In Deuteronomy 20:20, we’re told that God tested Israel that they might not sin. That’s God’s endgame for us.
But how could the same word be used for both instances? Well, that’s what so interesting about trying times. Trying times have dual potential. When you undergo suffering, when you undergo hardships, you have two choices. You can either trust God more or walk away. And on one side, you have satan enticing you, tempting you towards desertion. But on the other side, you have God inviting you further in, into deeper trust. And so it’s fitting that one word might be used with two connotations because one trial might have these two potentials. Let’s say you have an injury, and you wonder, “Is satan trying to take me out? Or, is God trying to show me something?” The answer is yes! Trying times can have this dual potential. In that injury, you have an opportunity to fail or to grow. And God is inviting you to grow.
But again, the point is God is not out to get you. He has no interest in seeing you fail. In fact, just the opposite. He wants to see you soar like an eagle!
So, now, if God does not tempt us and trials can even be occasions for growth, what makes them occasions for sin? The answer? You do.
3. In trying times, remember…God is revealing your heart. (v. 14)
“ But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.”
Now, the obvious truth stated here is that when you sin the blame lies with you! In fact, the blame lies with you even more than you may have realized. Of course, certain situations are more tempting than others, but James stresses that oftentimes the real bedrock issue is you and your messed up heart. You see, here, James does not say we are lured and enticed by the thing or the circumstance. No, he says we are lured and enticed by our own desire. That explains why we still engage in sins that would be and are revolting to us in our right mind. “I can’t believe I said that, did that, looked at that,” we say in our right mind. So why did we do it? Because our desires are messed up. Our heart is messed up. We actually find sin…the rebelliousness itself…appealing. This is why stolen water is sweet (Proverbs 9:17). The water itself did not change. There was nothing particularly better about that water, but the sin itself made it intriguing because we like rebelliousness itself.
And that is how a trial can become a temptation: When our disordered desires take over. Maybe you are going through a season of physical suffering, and rather than trusting God, you are bitter and angry. And you look at God and say it is your fault I am like this. James says no. That sinful anger and bitterness is all you! Don’t blame God. What came out of your heart is what was in your heart. Don’t blame your circumstances, and don’t blame God for allowing you to walk through those circumstances.
Instead, we should realize that God can use trials as opportunities to show us our hearts, which is how I have worded this point. “In trying times, God is revealing our hearts.” Think about it. When you go through difficult times, and you sense this bitterness surfacing or you sense this anger or doubt or lust stirring in your heart, realize that that suffering has not necessarily created that issue in your heart but is, rather, surfacing that issue. That is the implication of what James is saying. He is saying here that the evil you find in your heart during trials is your evil. What you are seeing of yourself in suffering is who you really are. You thought you trusted God more than you did, but this difficulty has shown you that you don’t. So, maybe the devil is trying to tempt you into sin, but God is not. God is inviting you to let the trial refine you by revealing your heart.
In our community group, we are reading a parenting book by Paul Tripp. In the book, Tripp says every time your child explodes with anger or has an argument or gets caught in some sin, that moment is not an inconvenience; it is a gift from God. It is His mercy and grace. Why? Because God just allowed you to see something that was otherwise invisible to you. He has allowed you to see your child’s heart. And in trying times, God, for His part, is often working on us by showing us our hearts, where we need to grow.
And this leads us to the next point. God never tempts but he does test and refine because the brokenness in us is deadly and must be dealt with.
4. In trying times, remember…God is saving you from a worse fate. (v. 15)
“ Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”
James here completes the picture. Should our evil desires come to full term, they will birth sin. And should that sin be allowed to continue, it will destroy us.
If you have ever walked into a marriage or family falling apart because of sin, you know the destructive power of sin. Sin can destroy your life. I think some people view God, as he roots out sin, as some type of OCD neat freak who obsesses over purity and rules. But this view is completely wrongheaded. God roots out our sin in mercy. He knows that sin will destroy us. He wants to rescue us from this destruction. And when he allows trials to enter our lives, satan may be enticing us to sin and quit, but not God. God is inviting us to bring that brokenness that surfaced to him that he might save us from a worse fate. And, to be clear, we must understand that for those who choose their sin and their will over God, that destruction will reach its zenith in eternal death in the punishment of hell. Sin is ultimately destructive.
So, like the scalpel of the surgeon removing a cancer, the pain of trials is a pain that brings life, a pain that avoids a far worse pain. And as C.S. Lewis pointed out, because God loves us, the surgery cannot stop. We might say, “Lord, please make it stop. It hurts.” But only an unloving surgeon would stop.
So, at the moment of testing, the devil may be pulling you towards destruction, but the Lord is using that trial to save you from death and destruction.
So in trying times, as your weaknesses and sinfulness surface, realize that God is not out to get you; he is up to good. God wants to rescue you from a worse fate. And with that James, in these last few verses, turns fully to the declare the goodness of God.
5. In trying times, remember… God is good and gives good gifts, and you are the apple of his eye. (vv. 16-18)
“ Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.  Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.  Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”
Verse 16 is the pivot. We’ve been talking about how we go through testing and we are prone to say it is God’s fault that we’re feeling tempted and broken. James now summarizes all that for what it is: deception. Then, in verses 17-18, he moves towards truth. And the truth is beautiful.
First, James describes God as the giver of good and perfect gifts. Over against the doubts and frustration that might creep in, James tells us that what comes from God are not temptations and discouragements but good gifts and perfect gifts. “Good” speaks to their moral nature. These are right gifts, appropriate gifts. “Perfect” speaks to their completeness. It is not as though he has given us good food but only a nibble. No, he has given us all that we need. He has given us perfect, that is, complete, gifts.
Second, James describes God as the steady light. James calls God the “Father of Lights.” This description refers to his role as creator. But in particular, James is highlighting that God is not the one who creates darkness and evil. He is the one who calls light to shine in the darkness. He is the one who called the stars and moon to shine at night. And He is the one who sets the course of the sun to shine in the day. He is light and the light giver.
However, James introduces a striking contrast here. Unlike the sun He created, which is only ever briefly full in its light, God is unchangingly, unwaveringly full light. The sun casts shadows that change because it is always rising and setting. Only for a brief moment, at high noon, is the light of the sun fully full with no darkness at all. But not so with God! He is full light…all the time! No shadows moving.
So, James is saying God is deeply, unchangeably good, and gives good and perfect gifts. So, in trying times, you should not wonder if something has changed. You should not think that the light of God in your life is setting. The shadows you think you see are only your imagination. God is still shining on his children at full strength… in successes and failures, in good times and in pandemics, in republican and democrat cycles, in your youth and in your old age.
And then finally, in verse 18, James reasserts that it was of God’s own desire that the Gospel message (“the word of truth”) should come and bring life. The work and message and offer of Jesus is all about redeeming you. This is what God wants. And you are His first fruits in this work of redemption, the apple of his eye. We know one day that all of creation will be redeemed, but humans have been called forth into this redemption now. Don’t ever doubt what God is doing. He wants you renewed, and he is renewing you.
So, again, the encouragement is to view God’s heart rightly in trying times.
So, when trying times come…
Endure. Keep going! Keep running the race! When you can’t run, keep walking. Keep going! When you can’t walk, crawl. When you can’t crawl, claw and drag yourself. Keep going.
Why? Because God is good! Because he is up to good! Don’t be deceived into thinking otherwise. Don’t trust your feelings! Trust his promises. He is good, and he gives good gifts! In him is light and that light is the light of men. In him there are no shifting shadows, no inconsistencies. He has no shadow self, tempting you to sin and doubt. He is working in your trials to save you from a sin and destruction. And he promises to get you through and crown you at the finish line.
So, this morning, if you have been prone to view God as some distant judge, subjecting you to trials and temptations like a kid with an ant, change your view.
I want you to picture God running beside you like a parent, cheering you on, saying I’m right here; I won’t leave; you’ve got this and I’ve got you; trust me; it will all be worth it; keep going; I’ll meet you at the finish; I’ll be ready with food and rest and reward; keep going! You’re so close.
Oh, Church, don’t be deceived. Don’t quit. Don’t give up on God. Keep going. God is good; He loves you and is working good for you. Trust him.