Mark Antony was one of the greatest orators in the history of Rome. He was also a brilliant statesman and a courageous warrior. He could have been the ruler of the known world but for one fatal flaw, one moral weakness. It was so bad, that his childhood tutor once chided him: “Oh, Marcus, Oh colossal child! Able to conquer the world, but unable to resist a temptation.” For many of us, the inability to resist a temptation is the source of our undoing. How can we learn to resist temptation to sin?
In my last blog post, I reviewed James 1:13-15, a passage that describes what temptation is like. But in this blog post, I want to take a look at James 1:16-18, which reminds us that God has given us gifts to enable us to resist temptation. Here’s what James wrote: “16 Don’t be deceived, my dearly loved brothers. 17 Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights; with Him there is no variation or shadow cast by turning. 18 By His own choice, He gave us a new birth by the message of truth so that we would be the firstfruits of His creatures.” The passage begins with a warning—we are not to deceive ourselves into thinking that temptation is God’s fault. That’s dangerous because it makes us even more vulnerable to temptation. Instead we are to focus on the reality that God has generously given us perfect gifts. These are the tools, the perfect gifts, He gives to resist temptation.
The first perfect gift from God is the new birth (v. 18). Paul spoke of the new birth in 2 Cor 5:17 when he said “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come.” Before we came to know the Lord Jesus, we had no choice, we had to sin. Ultimately, we always chose to cave in to temptation. But with the new birth we become a new creation. We now have a new capacity for righteousness. It’s now possible for us to say no to temptation and yes to God. Too often when we succumb to temptation, our natural response is that we wanted to resist but we couldn’t help ourselves. The new birth is a reminder that God has now given us the capacity to say no to temptation.
The second gift God has given us is the Word of God. James said we were given the new birth “by the word of truth” (v. 18). That refers to the good news of Jesus as found in the Bible, that He died for us and rose again. But the entire Bible could be characterized as the Word of truth. In fact, here’s what Psalm 119:11 says about its relationship to temptation: “I have treasured Your word in my heart so that I may not sin against You.” Just as the Lord Jesus memorized scripture and quoted it when facing the tempter, so we can quote it and say no to temptation ourselves.
A third perfect gift for resisting temptation is limitations and escapes. Although James doesn’t mention it specifically, it certainly is a great gift for dealing with temptation. In 1 Corinthians 10:13 Paul wrote, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it.” This is a great reminder that God is sovereign even over the temptations we face and He will limit them. He knows how much we can take and draws a line in how much He will allow. Not only that, but with the temptation, God always provides a way of escape. There is never a circumstance in which we have to sin. The Lord always gives an escape path—we just need to be alert to find it.
The final perfect gift is a picture of the end. It is a reminder of what will be the outcome of temptation. In v. 15, we’re told that giving in to temptation leads to death. It’s a great reminder when we are tempted that while giving in may give us temporary pleasure, it always ultimately yields a deadly lifestyle. But v. 18 also reminds us that using God’s gifts to say no to temptation results in us being “firstfruits.” In the Torah, the firstfruits referred to the first produce given as sacrifices to God. They were God’s special possession and dedicated to Him. And that’s what we become when we say yes to God and no to temptation. Every temptation is a reminder that we can choose a deadly lifestyle for ourselves or we can become firstfruits, completely dedicated to the Lord’s use.
Every day we can read the news about how some famous person has come to ruin by giving in to temptation. Some choose drugs, some sex outside of God’s healthy boundaries, some give in to the temptation of ill gotten money. What never makes the news on earth is those who use God’s perfect gifts to say no to temptation and yes to obedience to God. The good news is that’s what makes the headlines in heaven.