This summer, we are studying the book of James, and James gives us several principles by which we need to live our lives, and with these principles James provides some practical advice. We are calling this advice, life hacks, because a life hack is a new of doing something that is better than the old way. It’s been fun looking at life hacks that can improve simple things in our lives and I’m told several people started fires last week using Doritos, so I can tell you that life hack works. Today I want to share a very timely hack.
1. Use cups to protect hands from sparklers. (picture)
2. Sugar & water paste removes grass stains
3. Honey is helpful in healing wounds
Again, these are fun and useful, but what we really want to focus on is how to make our faith stronger and our lives better, so let’s go back to the book of James. One of the reasons James is so powerful is that it is universal. James doesn’t talk about issues that are important to just a few people, James addresses issues that impact ALL people. For example, how many of us ever find ourselves tempted? Whether it is food, money, or a desire for new stuff, new experiences, or new relationships, we all face different temptations. James 1:13-14.
Notice that James says “when” we are tempted because he knows that temptation is universal and we all struggle with temptation because it comes from selfish desires, and in case you haven’t noticed it, everyone is selfish. Our family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, and everyone around us only seem to be looking out for themselves. But if that is true then if we stop and think about it, we must be selfish as well. We are selfish, and James says that it is our selfishness, our own self-centered desires, that lead us into temptation.
So temptation is something we all face and there are two principles about temptation we need to understand.
1. We can KNOW the right thing to do but then DO the wrong thing. This tells us that temptation never comes as a surprise. We know what we should and should not do, we just don’t always do it. Adam and Eve knew that they were not to eat from the tree of knowledge, so it’s not like they suddenly came across this tree with amazing looking fruit and wondered if they should eat it or not. They knew about this tree. They knew the fruit would look good and they knew it was bad for them. There was no surprise here. They knew the right thing but then did the wrong thing, and this is how temptation works in our lives. We know the right thing to do, but then still do the wrong thing.
Just like with Adam and Eve, there are certain foods that tempt us all. We know these foods aren’t good for us and we know we shouldn’t eat them, but then we do the wrong thing and not only buy the food but eat it anyway, and sometimes we eat a lot. I love potato chips. Not just any chips, (I am not a fan of Middlesworth chips, and I know some of you will now look at me differently because of that confession, please don’t judge me), I love kettle cooked chips. But here is the problem with chips, I can’t eat just one, or two, or a handful, or even a coffee filter full. When I get a bag, I eat the whole thing, and then feel just like this guy. (video)
I know that eating a full bag of chips is not healthy. I know that after I eat the bag, it will sit in my stomach and make me feel lousy. I know I won’t feel good the next morning because of all the fat and cholesterol coursing through my body, and because the empty bag will remind me that I have no self-control. I know all of this. I know the right thing to do, but I still do the wrong thing.
Maybe for you it’s not potato chips but Oreos. You tell yourself just a few, ok just one row, and then you stop and have to ask yourself what happened to the bag. Or maybe it is that king size candy bar you buy to eat over the course of a few days, but then eat in one sitting. Or maybe it’s fast food like BK or McDonald’s. We know it has a lot of fat and cholesterol and we go in telling ourselves that we will have the grilled chicken salad, but then walk out with a Big Mac, fries, and those fabulous fried apple pies. Don’t judge, we all know the right thing to do but then don’t do it.
But it is not just food, it’s just that food is easy to talk about, and it makes us smile because we all have our weaknesses, but there are more serious temptations we face, like alcohol, gambling, and pornography. We know these things can be bad, we know they can destroy our relationships and our lives, but we still do them. Sometimes the temptation is to cheat in order to get ahead at work or in school, or it’s pursuing that relationship we know is dangerous to our marriage if our spouse were to find out, but we go down that road anyway. Or it’s buying that new toy, or those new clothes thinking that our lives will be better, but we just end up deeper in debt.
We know that all of these things are bad for us, but we do them anyway, and then we are left with the consequences. And this is the second life principle, there are always consequences.
2. We can choose to FALL but we can’t choose the FALLOUT.
We can choose to do the wrong thing, we can choose to fall, but when we do, we can’t choose the fallout. When we give in to temptation, we don’t always get to choose the consequences. We can choose to give to excess drinking and drugs, but we don’t get to choose the effects of that abuse. Maybe it’s the DUI we thought we would never get because we tell ourselves we don’t drink that much. Maybe it is the loss of our job because the drug use made our work less productive, or we missed too many days. Maybe it’s the loss of our marriage and family because we crossed a line in a relationship with a friend.
Part of the fallout from giving in to temptation that we don’t think about is our weakened relationship with God. Every time we do something we know is wrong it is called sin, and sin moves us farther away from God, and it’s not that God moved, and it’s not that God tempts us, James says God cannot tempt us, it is our own selfishness that tempts us and leads us away from God.
So what are the practices that James gives us to overcome temptation? Let’s look at James 4:7-8a
1. Resist It. The first practice to help us overcome temptation is to resist it. We can’t just stand against it, we need to fight against it. When it comes to temptation, we are in a battle, and a battle means we have to fight. It’s not always easy to walk away from the chip aisle in the grocery store, but if I don’t walk down that aisle then I don’t buy the chips. We can’t get drunk if we don’t buy the alcohol. We can’t lose our money if we don’t make that trip to the casino. No matter what the temptation is, we can resist it and we can flee from it, but we need to be ready for a fight because we are in a battle.
Notice that James doesn’t say we flee from temptation, he says we are to flee from the devil because he is the one who tempts us. It is the devil who wants us to give in to all our human hungers and desires instead of trusting in God, so when we resist temptation we are resisting the devil and that is always a battle, which means we need to be prepared for the fight. Look at Ephesians 6:10-18.
This is what it means to go into battle against temptation. We need to be fully clothed in the armor of God, trusting in and drawing upon all the faith and power God gives us, and being willing to enlist and engage the people of God in the fight. Just as we would be foolish to go to war by ourselves, it is foolish to try and fight temptation by ourselves – we need the strength that comes from others and God gives us people to back us up, and fight at our side.
This is the power of groups like weight watchers and AA. If we try and fight temptation alone, it is too easy to give in, but if we can enlist the help of others who know the battle, who fight the same temptation, we can find with them the strength to overcome.
There is strength when we are standing with others. Ecc. 4:9-12. A strand of three, two people with God, will be strong, so if we want to resist temptation we need to put on the armor of God, enlist others in the battle, and trust God to see us through. But at times, even when we do all of this, we will still fail, but when we do, all is not lost, look at James 4:8b-10.
2. Own It. When we fall into temptation, when we know the right thing but do the wrong thing, we don’t give up, we give in to God. We wash our hands, which means we own up to the fact that our hands our dirty. We humble ourselves, which means we own up to what we have done wrong. Instead of trying to place the blame on someone else, or make an excuse for our failure, or try to convince ourselves that it really wasn’t that bad, we need to own up to our failure. This is what Adam and Eve didn’t do.
After they gave in to temptation and did what they knew was wrong, both Adam and Eve tried to shift the blame and make excuses. Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent. They didn’t wash their hands, and they didn’t humble themselves before God. They didn’t own up to their failure but tried to protect themselves by placing the blame on someone else. We can never overcome temptation if we aren’t willing to own up to the reality of temptation in our lives. We can never overcome something that we aren’t willing to admit is a problem in the first place. Once we own it, we are able to overcome it. Once we take responsibility for it, we can loosen the grip it has on us, which leads us to the third practice…
3. Confess It. James 4:9. James isn’t telling us to just mope around and cry about our situation, he is calling us to confess. We need to be honest about our situation and confess our sin to God, and maybe confess it to someone else – someone who can stand with us. Confession is not just good because it cleanses our soul, confession can also lead us to those people who can help us, and it reminds us that we can never overcome temptation in our lives without the help of the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 10:13 says that while we are all tempted, God will never let us be tempted beyond what we can bear. God will give us a way out. Sometimes that way out is the help and support that only comes when we own our sin and confess it. When we do this, and when we ask God for his help, we are given a new strength and power to go back and resist it.
You see these three practices, these life hacks to help us overcome temptation, aren’t really steps, they are the cycle of our lives. We resist it, but if, or when, we fail, we own it, we confess it, and then we go back to resisting it. Failing when we are tempted isn’t the end, but neither is owning up to our failure and our confession, those practices need to lead us right back into the battle to fight temptation all over again.
The principle we all live under is this, we can know the right thing to do but then do the wrong thing. It is a battle to do the right thing, at times a hard fought battle that needs the armor of God, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the help of God’s people, but God gives us the ability to do the right thing. If we fail, it’s not the end, we own it, we confess it, and we get right back into the fight, with this prayer, God, lead me away from temptation.
Life Hacks – Temptation
- We can know the RIGHT thing to do –
- And still do the WRONG thing.
- We can choose to FALL –
- But we can’t choose the FALLOUT.
1. Resist It.
- Read James 1:13-15, James 4:7-10
- Identify the temptations that you need to resist.
- Read Ephesians 6:10-18
- How can the armor of God help you?
- What pieces do you need to put in place first?
- Who can fight the battle with you?
- Read Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
2. Own It.
- Falling into temptation is not the end. What failure do you need to own?
- What failures have you blamed on others, and excused away, that you now need to own?
- Ask God to help you see the seriousness of your sin.
3. Confess It.
- What sin do you need to confess to God?
- Look for a person God has already placed in your life to share your struggle with and invite them to fight temptation with you.
- Be a fighter with someone else. Join their battle when you are asked.