James, Part 7
No one, when tempted, should say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted by evil, and he never tempts anyone else. But each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
Do not be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
James has much to say about how followers of Jesus are to overcome temptation, but his instructions sound foreign to many Christians–we don’t see the connection between what James says about temptation in verses 13–15, and what he says about God in verses 16–18. But the connection is one we don’t want to miss: James is telling us how to overcome temptation.
In verses 13–15, James says we should not blame God for the temptations that come our way. The culprit is our own evil desires. We’re all familiar with how it works. We desire something or someone. We think about it. Think about it some more. We fantasize a bit. We imagine ourselves enjoying the object of our desire, and before long we are coming up with good reasons to do it.
We’re all familiar with the process. Our desires deceive us into believing we can be disobedient and avoid the consequences. But reality (which often comes in the form of broken relationships, divorce, jail time, etc.) reminds us that while we are free to do as we please, we are not free to choose the consequences. And the result of choosing sin, James says, is “death.”
Most of us only think of death as something physical, but the Bible uses the word in several ways.
In essence, the concept of death has to do with separation.
In physical death, the soul is separated from the body. In spiritual death, the soul is separated from God. The death James speaks of is the kind we bring upon ourselves by focusing on our evil desires rather than focusing on God. It’s a form of death that separates us not only from God, but from everyone and everything we care about.
So how do we turn that around? How do we stop moving toward death and start moving toward life? Verses 16–18 tell us to change our focus. We are to stop fantasizing about evil desires and turn our attention to God and what he is doing in us and in the world around us. Paul said it this way in Colossians 3:1–3, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things, for you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”
Paul, like James, tells us to redirect our attention heavenward and rearrange the way we think about life and our problems and everything else. We overcome temptation by spending lots of time with the Lord in conversational prayer and “the word of truth” James mentions.
In verse 18, he refers to followers of Jesus as “a kind of firstfruits.” In the Old Testament, the firstfruits were the living things (plants and animals) offered to God at the beginning of the harvest. These firstfruits became God’s possession and assured that the rest of the harvest would come in due time. Christians are a type of firstfruits–we are new creations in Christ, but we live in a world that has not yet been recreated. Paul explains how this works in his letter to the church in Rome:
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
According to the Bible, the world will one day be redeemed, but until that day, followers of Jesus are to live as firstfruits–examples of God’s grace and goodness.
Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night.
Philippians 2:15 (The Message)