James 1D – What We Really Think of God

This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on August 26, 2012.  To listen to the audio just click on this link – James 1D.

James 1:12-18   12 A man who endures trials is blessed, because when he passes the test he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.

 

13 No one undergoing a trial should say, “I am being tempted by God.” For God is not tempted by evil, and He Himself doesn’t tempt anyone.14 But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desires. 15 Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death.

 

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.  (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

James, writing to these dispersed early believers, is correcting their false picture of who God is.  These same false ideas have endured in the church down to this day.  This morning, we want to look at three false pictures of God and then the three corrective statements James makes about who God is.  We want to see the practical difference that this makes in our lives – particularly how these false ideas about God work against perseverance and make it less possible for us to endure trials

 God is Trying to Trap Me.

God Does Not Bait and Entrap Us:  13 No one undergoing a trial should say, “I am being tempted by God.” For God is not tempted by evil, and He Himself doesn’t tempt anyone.  14 But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desires. 15 Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death.  

There is a mindset within some Christian circles where God is always setting tests for us to see whether we will be faithful or obedient.  There are believers who say:  “God is testing us here, and if we do what is right, he will bless us”.   The other side of that assumption – which is often left unspoken – is: “… if we fail, we will lose our way and God’s blessing will not be with us – will be removed” etc.  Apparently these early Jewish believers were tempted to think in this way – as though they were innocent bystanders and God was testing with temptation to see if they were truly worthy enough to be called Christians – to receive the blessings of God.

James utterly rejects this notion.  In fact, this view of God sounds more like Satan in the story of Job.  God is not interested in evil – not tempted by evil.  God does not set the bait to see if we are worthy enough.  Such a view is anti-Gospel.

God Has Compassion on Sinners:  Rather, we are tempted by what is within us – our own evil desires and demands (malice, wrath, greed, lust, deceit, pride, envy).   Far from seeking to entrap us, God is the one who has compassion on people whose hearts produce evil.  James spells out this process with  uncanny accuracy:  We are enticed by our own desires – they “conceive” a thought in us to think about sin – and that conception “gives birth” to actions and words and attitudes – and those actions, etc. grow into situations that “give birth” to death and sorrow and evil and darkness.

The Belief that God Baits and Entraps us Works Against Perseverance:   The point of all this, for James and for us, is that those who believe in an entrapping God – and themselves as innocent – spend all their time looking for, and trying to figure out, what God wants them to do – what the test is – what secret God is withholding.   Rather than recognizing their need for God, they run from place to place trying to avoid the trap and trying to please a God who in their hearts they believe is actually against them.  This becomes an unstable way of life that leads them away from conviction, repentance and grace – and towards distrust of God, fear and arrogance/ or condemnation.

God is Hot and Cold Depending on My Faithfulness.

Don’t Be Deceived – God is Not Hot and Cold with Us:   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.   

James confronts a view of God in which God is first light – then dark.  The title, “Father of Lights”, takes on a double meaning: (1) that what God does is not hidden or shadowy, and (2) that what God gives us is spiritually healthful, bringing light into our lives rather than darkness.

In other words, God is not fickle with us – sometimes for us and sometimes against.  Paul would say that God’s promises towards us are not “yes” and then “No” – but all the promises of God are “yes” to us in Christ (2 Cor.1:18-22).

Some Christians believe that God is for them when they are doing well (according to their own understanding) and cold or distant when they are not doing well – when they have not read their Bible

enough or fallen into some sin.  They believe that every trial is a test of faithfulness and that God will either dispense or withhold blessing depending on how they perform.

God is Generous Towards Us: Again, James rejects this view.  God, he says, is generous in his acts towards us.  The acts of God that we know support this view.

  • The beauty and bounty of Creation
  • God’s grace in dealing with and delivering his people.
  • The coming of Jesus to this earth to die for sinners
  • The promise of the resurrection from death – for us
  • The promise of an eternal inheritance

God is generous towards us and God gives good gifts to us – daily bread, breath, life, answered prayer, hope.  God is not grudging towards us.  What God has revealed about his generosity and goodness is the truth.  In fact, says James, God’s cast towards us does not shift at all – there is no hint or variation of a shadow in his love for us.  God is constant joy and love towards us.

The Belief that God’s Love is Hot and Cold Discourages Perseverance:   We tend to reflect what we believe. When we believe that God is hot and cold towards us, we respond by being hot and cold towards Him.  We spend much time in a sad, fearful, doubting condition rather than living in the acceptance and forgiveness of Christ. The result is an unstable life.

God is Waiting for Me to be Passionate Enough About Him.

God Does Not Reserve His Love for the Passionate:  There is a mindset within some Christian circles that God is withholding his blessing until and unless his people are passionate enough to prove that they “really mean it”, or “really want it”.

God is Passionate for Us:   Notice what James says about this,  18 By His own choice, He gave us a new birth by the message of truth so that we would be the first fruits of His creatures.  James highlights the fact that God had a choice and that he chose us – that we did not choose him.  More than that, God chose to reveal the truth to dead, unseeing eyes, and opened them to see.  More than that, God gave us the eye-opening message of the Gospel so that we would become the “first fruits of His creatures”.  What James means here is that, far from being dispassionate about us or reserved, God has made us into a particular and beautiful display (the redeemed), and given us a place of honor.

The Belief that God is Reserved Towards us Until We Prove We are Passionate Misleads and Exhausts Perseverance:  Human beings are mortal and unable to maintain passion long term.  When we focus on trying to be passionate enough for God, we fall into the trap of trying to earn God’s blessing by proving ourselves sufficient to be blessed.

Knowing What God is Truly Like Enables Us to Persevere.

Blessed is the One Who Perseveres:   12 A man who endures trials is blessed, because when he passes the test he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.

In fact, what James means by this is not that God is always testing our worthiness like some exam giver, but that God is proving or refining our understanding of him as we pass through trials.  A better translation would be, “12 A man who endures trials is blessed, because when he is proved (or when he becomes refined) he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.

Because God Refines Their View of Who He Is:  What do trials refine in us?  Our view of God.  As we pass through sorrows and hardships God reveals to us, his grace – his generosity – and his passion for us.

~ God is gracious to us in our failures – We rarely come through trials in innocence.  Over time, we come to see how sin conceived in us has contributed to, inflamed, even led to our suffering and sorrow.  God was aware of what was in us the whole time – and God has dealt with us graciously, and in kindness.  My failure in my trials, then, does not lead me to despair but to God’s grace.

~ God is generous and unvarying in his love towards us – So that no matter how we feel, what is happening, what state we are in – God is constant and unvaried in his love for us.  We have security that enables us to go through sorrow and hardship without fear that God will grow tired of us or be disappointed in us.

~ God is passionate towards us – So that we are never discarded – but always drawn to respond to the one who is interested, desiring us.  We do not carry the weight of trying to maintain the passion in our relationship with God – God has chosen us to be his bride, his proud display.

This morning, God is calling us to believe and to see what he is truly like so that we will have the grace to persevere under trial.

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