July 1, 2015

Choose the Way of Integrity

The Epistle of James was written to “the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad,” the Early Church which had been dispersed by persecution. Those in authority were intent on destroying the Christian believers and their message, but in this letter James instructed the embattled followers of Christ to “count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations” (James 1:2).

Sometimes the word translated temptation refers to the trial of our faith, as it does here; at other times it refers to the testing of our integrity. James spoke of both in this epistle. In verses 1-11, he addressed the trying of our faith. As Christians, our faith will be put to the test—we are engaged in spiritual warfare against a very real adversary. However, James also spoke of the end result: “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting [or lacking] nothing” (verses 2-4).What a promise!

Trials of our faith are for our good. We “count it all joy” when we accept whatever comes our way as from the Lord, because we know the end result—that we will mature into complete and fully balanced lives of holiness. God is not caught unawares when trials occur in our lives. We may not have seen them coming, but He did! We must realize that God has a reason in mind when He allows our faith to be tested through a trial. Satan has a purpose: he wants to bring us down. However, God has a purpose as well: He allows trials to build us up.

After addressing the trial of our faith, James went on to speak about temptation in the sense that it is the testing of our integrity. We read, “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him” (verse 12).

When we think of Christians yielding to temptation, we think of backsliding. Backsliding is not necessary. The Lord saves us with an intention to keep us. Occasionally we hear people relate that sometime after they were saved, they began neglecting to read the Bible, to pray, or to go to church, and they lost their salvation. While it is certainly important to stay in close touch with God and His people, we cannot “lose” our salvation like we lose our car keys. We do not lose salvation: if it is gone, we have given it away.

We were saved by taking decisive action. We counted the cost and weighed the pros and cons. Even if we did not intellectually figure it all out, we sensed that we were being weighed in the balance and found wanting. Something was not right inside; the way of sin was no longer pleasant. We were under conviction through the graciousness of God. We experienced godly sorrow for the wrongs we had done, and disgust toward the sin in our lives. At some point we determined to turn away from our sins and turn toward God. That was repentance! The Spirit of God was drawing us to Himself—something that only the Spirit can do. When we prayed with all of our hearts and yielded our lives to God’s control, He gave assurance that He heard our prayers. He came into our hearts, forgave our sins, and we were saved.

Just as it took decisive action on our part to be saved, it takes decisive action on our part to backslide. We do not accidentally backslide.

Just as it took decisive action on our part to be saved, it takes decisive action on our part to backslide. We do not accidentally backslide. We do not misplace our salvation like we misplace a wallet, and wonder, Where did it go? In order to backslide, we must consciously choose to turn away from God and turn back toward sin. It is not easy to backslide!

We do ourselves no favor when we base our salvation on how we feel. Some days we feel really good while serving the Lord, and some days we do not feel so good. Sometimes our faith is strong, and sometimes we feel burdened or disheartened. If we base our salvation on feeling, we may feel we are saved today but not saved tomorrow. The Word of God says the just shall live “by faith” not “by feeling.” It does not matter how we feel! The Lord may have allowed us to feel like He is nowhere around because He wants us to lean on Him or seek His face more earnestly. Remember, James said, “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation.” Hanging onto our faith in the times when we do not feel a great deal of emotion is part of enduring.

We do ourselves no favor when we base our salvation on how we feel. Some days we feel really good while serving the Lord, and some days we do not feel so good.

In verse 14, James went on to speak of how a person is tempted through lust. We think of lust as being evil. However, in the original Greek, the word used is a neutral term not implying good or evil, but simply indicating a strong longing or desire. It implies susceptibility.

God made us human creatures, and there are certain aspects of our human bodies, such as our physical appetite for food, that want to be pleased or satisfied. The enemy of our souls often tempts us through these areas of susceptibility where we are especially vulnerable. He appeals to the natural human desires and appetites that God gave us.

By stating that “every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed” (verse 14), James was not giving an excuse for failure. God permits temptations to help us gain spiritual strength, but He does not entice us to evil. His whole plan of redemption was designed to deliver us from evil! In verse 13, the Apostle cautioned, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.” After reading that warning, insert the thought of susceptibility into verse 14: “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust [implying susceptibility] and enticed.”

Here is an example of susceptibility to a temptation that is not sin. I have a penchant for ice cream. I love ice cream! However, I have found that a penchant for ice cream is a problem when one is trying to keep weight in check. When I would dish up a bowl of ice cream for myself, it was a big bowl. My wife, Debbie, would tell me, “Just get a smaller bowl,” so I tried that. I would get a smaller bowl and eat that smaller bowlful—and then dish out a second bowlful. Finally several years ago I told Debbie, “Just don’t buy ice cream.”

Satan preys upon our susceptibilities based on our natural human desires and appetites. However, when Adam and Eve yielded to temptation in the Garden of Eden, they were not simply giving in to a normal, physical desire. In yielding, they were disobeying a direct command of God. He had established one boundary for Adam and Eve: they were not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They were not even to touch it. Eve was deceived by Satan. She was enticed by physical hunger, the fruit’s appealing appearance, and by her desire to be wise—all areas of susceptibility—and she thought it would be good to have knowledge not only of good, but also of evil. That is what sin does; it deceives, it entices, and it promises what it cannot deliver.

Satan preys upon our susceptibilities in order to entice us to sin. The God of Heaven allows the enemy’s attempts in order to provide us with opportunities for spiritual growth. If we are obedient to the Lord and sensitive to His Spirit, we will grow stronger through temptations. We will develop, we will learn. Even after we are saved and sanctified, we need to grow spiritually. Sanctification is instantaneous and eradicates our carnal nature, but our human nature and appetites remain. Spiritual maturing begins in our human nature when we are saved, and continues as a developmental process throughout our lives until we leave this world. And one way such growth happens is through resisting temptation.

Joseph’s actions in the house of Potiphar are an example of resisting Satan’s attempts to prey upon one’s human susceptibility. When Potiphar’s wife would have seduced Joseph to evil, he knew one thing: he had to get out of there. He fled! That is what we must do when temptation comes. We must not dabble with it or contemplate it or weigh our options. This isn’t ice cream. This is life and death! We can succumb to the wiles of Satan, or we can resist and use the temptation as a stepping stone to spiritual growth.

When David was on the roof of his house and saw Bathsheba, he chose a different response than that of Joseph. David had a moment of decision. Would he preserve his integrity by turning and leaving the scene of temptation, or would he linger? He chose to linger and in the end committed sin, as did Bathsheba. When we face a time of testing, we must get off the rooftop! We had better choose the path of Joseph.

How would our integrity be proved without testing? Jesus himself was tested. We read in Matthew 4:1 that He was “led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.” It was a divine appointment. When Satan appeared on the scene, Jesus was at a point of physical weakness. He had fasted for forty days and nights and was hungry. However, Jesus overcame temptation whereas Adam succumbed. Through God’s power, we can overcome as well.

Hebrews 2:18 tells us that Jesus became our great High Priest because “in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour [come to the aid of] them that are tempted.” He will help us in our hour of trial. We learn to flee when we can flee, but we also learn to plead the Blood of Jesus. The enemy cannot stand against the Blood. Revelation 12:11 tells us, “And they overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony.” We can look to Jesus and find strength to overcome.

Like Adam and Eve, and Joseph, and David, and Jesus Christ himself, the decision is ours. We can choose to triumph in temptation, or we can choose to succumb. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus prayed, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13). Although God will not lead us into temptation, the enemy will come along and attempt to pull us in that direction. However, God will deliver if we look to Him.

In his epistle to the scattered believers of the Early Church, James went on to state that God resists the proud, but gives grace unto the humble. Then he provided a formula: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you” (James 4:6-8). That is how we overcome temptation. We submit ourselves to the Lord and ask Him to help us be governed by Him rather than our passions. We ask for His strength to resist being influenced toward evil by the susceptibilities of our human nature. As we subject ourselves to God and resist the devil, God will draw nigh to us and help us. And at the end of life, we will rejoice because we will receive a crown of life, which the Lord has promised to them that love Him.

Do you love the Lord? Are you determined to serve Him? Recognize that you are engaged in a spiritual warfare and that you will face times of temptation and trial, but look to Jesus. He will help you overcome. If you stand fast, one of these days He will give you a victorious entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven, whether it be by the Rapture at the last trump, or by the way of the grave. There is victory in Jesus!

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