Summary: We have to endure trials, resist temptations and take responsibility for our own lives.
Oscar Wilde, the Irish born writer, liked to say, “I can resist anything … except temptation!” Wilde also believed: “The best way to deal with temptation is to yield to it!” All of us deal with temptation. If a person is not a Christian they just give in to temptation. But temptation is difficult even for people who are genuine in their faith. A poor country pastor was livid when he found a receipt for a $250 dress which his wife had bought. “How could you do this!” he blurted. “I don’t know,” she cried. “I was standing in the store looking at the dress. Then I found myself trying it on. It was like the devil was whispering to me, ‘Gee, you look great in that dress. You should buy it.’” “Well,” the pastor said, “You know how to deal with the devil! Just tell him, ‘Get behind me, Satan!’” “I did,” his wife exclaimed, “but then he said ‘It looks great from back here, too.’”
The American culture is in love with temptation. We have not seen a temptation we did not like. Temptation Island is a television program built around the theme of people who deliberately place themselves in situations where they will be tempted. Four couples who have a serious relationship are placed on an island where twenty-six physically attractive singles endeavor to seduce them and be unfaithful to their partners. As soon as they arrive the couples separated and sent to opposite ends of the island for two weeks. They have no communication with each other until the episode is over. The time is spent on exotic dates with the singles with whom they are now surrounded. How sick is that? Sick on the part of those who try to get the other people to be unfaithful. Sick on the part of those who put themselves in that position. And sick on the part of those who watch and are entertained by it.
But temptation is not something developed by reality TV, it is a part of the reality of life. Temptations can be of two kinds: those things that come to us from the outside and those that come from within. James covers both of these in the first chapter of his book. One he calls trials, and the other he calls temptations. We are to be glad when we face trials from without, because they strengthen our faith. But nowhere are we told to rejoice at being tempted, rather we are told to resist.
There are three major points I want to make this morning, and the first is this: Every Christian must endure trials. Trials that come to us in life can become temptations if we do not endure. We can be tempted to give up or become angry at God. But Peter tells us that we are not to be surprised by these trials. He says, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). He goes on to say: “. . . though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6-7). If you are not facing trials of some kind then you are not alive. And at times the trials will be greater than at other times.
In our American way of thinking the best thing is to avoid trials altogether. We are pleasure and ease oriented rather than spiritually oriented. So when it comes to trials we would prefer to be spared from them rather than learn from them. This even translates over to our spiritual lives. Sometimes you may expect that when you become a Christian that everything will smooth out and your problems will be over, and then when new trials come — sometimes because you are a Christian — then it throws you. But the Bible teaches us to expect trials. And it teaches us to have a positive attitude towards them. In fact, we are told to rejoice over our trials, because they will serve to increase our faith. We can’t really know the depth of our character until we see how we react under pressure. These trials will teach us to trust God. They will prove that our faith is genuine and not shallow. And when others see how we endure the trials, it will bring glory and praise to God who is able to sustain his people through such times. Our faith will grow, and that is of more value by far than being delivered immediately from all our trials.