James 1:13-18 (First Sunday in Lent—Series B)
“The Cause and Cure of Temptation”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
February 22, 2015
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Epistle lesson recorded in James 1:
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. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 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. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
As the Union Pacific Railroad was being constructed, an elaborate trestle bridge was built across a large canyon in the West. Wanting to test the bridge, the builder loaded a train with enough extra cars and equipment to double its normal payload. The train was then driven to the middle of the bridge, where it stayed an entire day. One worker asked, “Are you trying to break this bridge?” “No,” the builder replied, “I’m trying to prove that the bridge won’t break.” The temptations by Satan that Jesus faced in the wilderness forty days weren’t designed to see if He would sin, but to prove that He couldn’t. How totally opposite we are when it comes to temptation. It’s not a matter of “if we will we sin” but rather “when we will sin.”
God is incapable of being tempted by evil. You and I, on the other hand, are more than capable of being tempted. But it is not God who tempts us to sin. God is not the source of temptation. “Let no one being tempted say, ‘I am being tempted because God is doing the tempting.’” The cause of temptation comes, not from God, but from ourselves. It comes from the world and from the devil who draw out our desire for sin and lure that desire with bait.
Let’s talk about this desire for sin. We sometimes call it lust, worldly passions, or selfish desire. It is an inclination to always consider what you want regardless of anything or anyone, especially God. It is the inclination to fulfill your desires at all costs, even if it means we sin—doing, thinking, saying, or desiring that which God forbids, failing to do that which God commands. We call this desire to sin, this inclination to sin, concupiscence, from the Latin word for “desire.” Unlike our Triune God who cannot be tempted to sin, concupiscence means that we are only and always inclined to sin so that our desires are easily conceived and then give birth to sin in desire, thought, word, and action. Martin Luther explained it this way in The Large Catechism, “For we dwell in the flesh and carry the old Adam about our neck. He exerts himself and encourages us daily to unchastity, laziness, gluttony and drunkenness, greed and deception, to defraud our neighbor and to overcharge him [Galatians 5:19–21; Colossians 3:5–8]. In short, the old Adam encourages us to have all kinds of evil lusts, which cling to us by nature and to which we are moved by the society, the example, and what we hear and see of other people.”
It is this inclination to always and to only sin that forms and shapes our desires. There is no spark of good in us. There is no innocence. There is only corruption and brokenness. There is no fear, love, and trust in God above all things. There is only the desire to serve ourselves, to love ourselves, and to please ourselves because we cannot serve, love, and please God. Thus temptation to sin draws upon our desires to sin. The devil comes, pushing and provoking in all directions. “He leads us to despise and disregard both God’s Word and works. He tears us away from faith, hope, and love, and brings us into misbelief, false security, and stubbornness. He leads us to despair, denial of God, blasphemy, and innumerable other shocking things.” (Large Catechism) So the devil, the world, and our own flesh baits the trap of temptation. Our desire smells the bait, the desire that we so crave, and SNAP!
The trap of sin has clamped down upon our necks like a mousetrap. There’s no escape. There is only death. “Then the desire when it conceives, gives birth to sin. And the sin, when it has completed its action, gives birth to death.” James here says the same as the prophet Ezekiel, “The soul who sins will die.” (Ezk. 18:20) They both say the same as St. Paul, “The wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23)
That is one of the messages of God’s Word. It is a message that we heard very clearly in word and symbol last Wednesday as ashes were placed on foreheads with the frightening words of Law ringing in our ears, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust . . . death. You sin; you will die. Thus says the Lord.
How, then, can we not cry out with Paul, “Wretched [person] that I am? Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24) To which we miraculously hear this response, “I will.” And the One who said that is coming out of the wilderness, having Himself been there forty days tempted by Satan. (Mark 1:13) He then proclaims, “The due time is fulfilled, and the reign and rule of God had drawn near (and is now at hand). Repent and believe in the Gospel—now!”
With Jesus Christ comes Good News—Gospel. With Jesus Christ comes the reign and rule of God. With Jesus Christ comes every good gift and every perfect, complete gift from God. While our corrupt desire is baited by temptation and we fall into sin, Jesus’ perfect desire, when baited by temptation, did not fall. Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are, yet without sin. (Heb. 4:15) Where we failed, Jesus did not. He obeyed our heavenly Father perfectly. Never once did Christ act out of selfish desire. He conformed His whole life in thought, desire, word, and action to the perfect Word of God.
This makes Christ our Lord the perfect Savior. Having no sin, our Lord could give you and me His perfect life. Jesus has credited our account with perfect resistance of all temptation. In exchange, He took our sins from us. For every time we have been tempted, or will be, and have fallen into sin, Jesus was willing to suffer death for these sins that He didn’t commit, so that you and I might not die eternally. While our accounts were credited with the perfection and holiness of Jesus Christ, His account was filled with your sins and mine. Jesus became for you and me “chief of sinners” and so faced God’s punishment of death and hell. Since sin merits death, Christ, bearing your sin and mine, had to die. He had to die for our sins to appease God’s justice. He had to die on the cross, shedding His blood, to make us right with God. Christ had to die to purchase the forgiveness of our sins so that we might have life everlasting.
This, also, is the message of God’s Word. When we fall into temptation and sin, God’s Law shouts at us, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” When the trap of temptation and the condemnation of our sins snaps hard against us weighing us down with guilt and fear, the Gospel releases the trap from against our necks, anoints us with the healing ointment of forgiveness and the soothing lotion of peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, declaring by the Word of the Gospel, “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” By the Word of Truth, the Word of Jesus’ death and resurrection for forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, God has brought us forth, out of the death of sin, into the new life of faith in Jesus Christ through the very forgiveness of our sins.
In this life of faith, this new life we have received in Christ Jesus our Lord, we can speak to God as dear children speak to their dear father and pray, “Dear Father, You have asked me to pray. Don’t let me fall because of temptations.” (Large Catechism). When we pray this, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer, “And lead us not into temptation,” God gives us the strength and power of His Holy Spirit to resist the temptation. We read in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” While we are still in our mortal bodies, we will feel temptation, but by the power and strength of God the Holy Spirit, we do not have to give in to it! We are new creations! By Baptism, the old Adam in us, our sinful nature along with its desires, is drowned and dies daily. A new person emerges and arises to live before the Lord in the righteousness and purity of Christ.
Our Lord arms us with His Word and Spirit against the attacks of the devil, the world, and the flesh that would lead us into temptation and sin. “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” (Eph. 6:10-18 ESV) With the Word of God, the sword of the Spirit, as your defense, you are able to resist temptation through the Savior’s ever-present help given to you.
In your Baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, every good and complete gift has been given to you in the forgiveness of sins and the everlasting life of faith. By the power of the Holy Spirit, let your sinful desires be drowned and die in and through your Baptism. Be raised again to new life in Christ in the power of faith through the very forgiveness of all your sins. Be strengthened by the Gospel in Word and Sacrament to overcome temptation by the power of the Spirit at work in you. Amen.
 Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 420.