James 1:12-18 (First Sunday in Lent—Series B)
“Lead Us Not Into Temptation”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
February 18, 2018
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Our text for this morning is the Epistle lesson recorded in James 1:
12Blessed is the man who endures testing because, when he has been proven genuine, he will receive the crown of life which [the Lord] promised to those who love Him. 13Let no one when he is being tempted say, “I am being tempted by God,” for God is unable to be tempted by evil, and He Himself tempts no one. 14Now each one is tempted when he is dragged away and lured into sin by his own desires. 15Then desire, when it has conceived, gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death. 16Do not be led astray, my beloved brothers. 17Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of change. 18According to His will, He gave us birth by means of the Word of truth, that we would be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.
Have you ever wondered why the Church on earth is often called “The Church Militant”? We have a whole section in our hymnal with hymns under the heading, “The Church Militant.” They are songs you know and love: A Mighty Fortress, Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus, Onward Christian Soldiers, Fight the Good Fight with All Your Might. Here on earth, believers in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior have their marching orders to carry out, to make disciples by baptizing and teaching the Gospel. But as the Church carries out her orders, she is constantly under attack from the flesh, the world, and the devil.
You are under attack! Daily you are assaulted by temptation as you go about living the life of faith in Christ in the wilderness of this fallen and corrupt creation. The attacks come at you from every side as you are hunted and harassed by temptation to sin.
Sin, you remember, is humanity’s fallen condition. All people are conceived and born turned away from God and are unable to look to Him for security, meaning, and righteousness. This inner sinful condition results in actual sins of thought, desire, word, and deed that are contrary to God’s will as summarized in the Ten Commandments. Temptation, then, is an attack against you in order that you will yield to the desire that is contrary to God’s Word and therefore “do” sin. The attack, the temptation, however, is not sin. We are instructed in the Large Catechism that “no one can be harmed by merely experiencing an attack, as long as it is contrary to our will and we would prefer to be rid of it. For if we did not experience it, it could not be called an attack. But to consent to it is to give it free reign and neither to resist it nor to pray for help against it” (LC:LP Sixth Petition, 108).
Jesus—fully God and fully human—was attacked by temptation in the wilderness. Mark summarizes the event in our Gospel reading, “And He was in the desert forty days being tempted by Satan” (Mk. 1:13a). The attacks were happening throughout the whole forty days. But Jesus would not consent. He did not give the temptation free reign in His life. He resisted the temptation and prayed for help against it using the very Word of truth, the Scriptures. As Christians, we do not always consent to temptation. We don’t always give temptation free reign; we resist the devil and he must flee (James 4:7). But we also often do give in to temptation. We consent to it and say “yes” to the desires. We sin as we do, think, speak, and desire that which goes against the Word and will of God as He has revealed it to us in the Scriptures.
James describes how this takes place in the believer’s life. “Now each one is tempted when he is dragged away and lured into sin by his own desires.” We are Christians who still live in the corrupted human flesh. The work of sanctification, making us holy, begun in us by the Holy Spirit has not yet been brought to its completion as it will be on the day of Jesus’ Second Coming. (Philippians 1:6). While in this sinful flesh, we “carry the old creature around our necks; it goes to work and lures us daily into unchastity, laziness, gluttony and drunkenness, greed and deceit, into acts of fraud and deception against our neighbor—in short, into all kinds of evil lusts that by nature cling to us and to which we are incited by the association and example of other people and by things we hear and see” (LC: LP Sixth Petition, 102).
Temptation draws out our sinful nature and lures it with bait the way a fisherman draws the fish out and get’s them to “take the bait.” When we are tempted to sin by our own desires, it is like being a fish in the lake. There’s the desire for that worm on the hook. We want it. It’s just sitting there for the taking—the money, the popularity, the sex, the drugs, the alcohol, the foul language, the hatred, the anger, the lies. Will you take the bait? Because the moment you do, you have sinned. The attack has been successful against you. You have grieved the heart of God. Temptation has drawn out the desire. Desire to obey the temptation has given birth to sin against God’s holy Word as you willingly give in to the corrupt nature that still clings to you. And the result of sin is death, temporal and eternal.
By the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul laid it out for us like this in Romans 7, “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:14-25 ESV).
Dear children of God in Christ, you are His beloved. While you were completely lost in sin to eternal death and hell, God resolved by His grace not to let you perish. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Rom. 5:8-11 ESV). At the same time, saint and sinner. That’s who you are in the Church Militant.
Because of Jesus Christ’s perfect life, suffering, death and resurrection, you are justified, declared not guilty of sin on account of the saving work of Jesus for you. He bled and died for every single temptation attack that has been (or will be) successful against you, for every single instance you have sinned (or will sin)—known and unknown, in your thinking, speaking, desiring, and doing. “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Paul asked. His answer is our answer, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Jesus has rescued you from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. He has given you birth by means of the Word of truth. This is the new birth of water and of the Spirit by grace through the gift of faith received in Holy Baptism. This new birth is the washing of renewal and regeneration by the Holy Spirit working through the Means of Grace, the Gospel Word and Sacraments of Christ (Titus 3:4-6).
God the Father of lights has given you the good and perfect gift of saving faith in Jesus Christ. By the Means of Grace, which are the means of the Spirit, He delivers to you the forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil, and eternal salvation. Through the Gospel, God gives you the power and the strength to say “No” to the temptation attacks that you face daily. You are new creations in Christ who are filled with the Holy Spirit. You can resist temptation because you have been given the whole armor of God so that you can take your stand. The attacks of temptation will not cease as long as you are in the flesh and in this world. But you are armed and ready as a member of the Church Militant so that you do not have to consent to the temptation and give it free reign in your life.
Do not be led astray, beloved brothers and sisters in Christ. You are not powerless against temptation. You are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Rom. 8:37). The temptation attacks do not have to succeed. You can say “No;” you can resist by means of the power of the Holy Spirit at work within you through the Word of truth. You have a heavenly Father, God Himself, who has bid you pray, “’Dear Father, you have commanded me to pray; let me not fall because of temptation.’ Then you will see that the temptation has to cease and eventually admit defeat. Otherwise, if you attempt to help yourself by your own thoughts and resources, you will only make the matter worse and give the devil a wider opening. . . . But prayer can resist him and drive him back” (LC: LP Sixth Petition, 110-111).
I encourage you in the Lord our God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, to make this Season of Lent even more of a time of Word and prayer. The temptation attacks to sin are going to come. But you are armed and equipped to defeat them. By the means of the Word and the Spirit, strive more faithfully in your lives of faith to live worthily of your calling in Christ Jesus (Eph. 4:1). In faith and with prayer, rely on the power of your God to enable you to overcome the temptations to sin in your lives. Do not consent to temptation and so be victorious in Christ. Amen.