Monday, February 27, 2012

Sermon on James 1:12-18, for the 1st Sunday in Lent, "Born By God's Will"

Sermon Outline:
1.      Two outcomes set before us: death and life. James charts the path to both. First the role of temptation/testing. Different in origin and purpose. Testing: from God—to strengthen faith, create reliance on Him. Temptation: from the devil (or our own desire)—to make us fall, weaken faith, death. God will work through tests and trials in life to accomplish His purpose in us, and to teach us that His grace is sufficient—His power made perfect in weakness.
2.      Devil ultimately wants us on the path to death, but James reminds us that we’re quite determined/capable on our own of choosing that path. Starts with our own sinful desire. Desire is tempted—put your hope for satisfaction in sinful pleasures. But when we seek to satisfy in sinful ways—greed, lust, anger, selfishness—the satisfaction is short-lived and empty. Driven to pursue it more, with less satisfaction. Law of diminishing returns. Racing down a slippery slope, chasing the carrot temptation dangles before us. Desire conceives and gives birth to sin. Sin matures and grows and gives birth to death. Earlier stages sin’s impact may be less; more contained. A thought that embitters our mind, or stirs up jealousy. But we have not yet unleashed it on someone else.
3.      But once conceived and given birth to sin, poison is set loose. Ugly how sin can pour out its harm as it matures and grows. Effects and consequences grow worse the further we pursue sin. Not that sin is any less deadly as a thought—therein lies the potential for evil, in every heart. But far better to root out the weed in our heart now, than let it grow deep roots. David pleads to God in Ps. 141, knowing the danger of sin even at its earliest stages. Implores God to guard his lips and heart: “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with men who work iniquity, and let me not eat of their delicacies!” Cut off sin at its source. Don’t let evil words escape your mouth. Pray to God to keep your heart even from the inclination, the temptation toward evil. Keep from the company of those who would corrupt you, remembering that “bad company ruins good morals.”
4.      Ps. 7 (cf. James) warns of the cumulative effect of evil: “Behold, the wicked man conceives evil and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies. He makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the hole that he has made” (Ps. 7:14-15). Evil matured from the heart to actions and lies is like digging a pit into which you will fall. The trouble we sow will return upon us. Not something we wish on anyone, but we’ve seen how it works. Death—spiritual death is the final consequence. This is the path our sin sets us on. This is what is conceived in us by sinful desires that give in to temptation. No little harmless sins that we can safely nurture in our heart. Sin will seize the opportunity if given the chance, and grow into something ugly and unmanageable, giving birth to death. So we pray “Deliver us from evil” because only God can deliver us, help us overcome these attacks and give us the victory.
5.      v. 12 “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him.”
6.      But we must admit we face a daunting task. Impossible task for us. Temptation conceives and bears sin in us. The wages of sin is death. We are dead in trespasses and sins. At whatever stage sin has grown and matured in our lives, how can we be saved? No simple matter of patching our behavior up or 20 steps toward a better you. Can’t be fixed from the outside. Problem is born on the inside, in the heart. Then how to remain steadfast under trial, and resist temptation? Who can deliver us from this body of death? Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who gives us the victory! We cannot rescue ourselves, or face temptation on our own strength. What sin conceived in us is intertwined with our will and desires so that there is no one righteous, not one. No remedy in ourselves.
7.      But God has sent His good and perfect gift down to us in Jesus Christ. God, by His will gives us a new birth! v. 18 contrasts a second birth, a heavenly birth from above, that God wills in us, by His Word of Truth. The answer to our lost estate is to be born from above! God conceived us by His will and has given birth to His children, so that we might have life instead of death! Just as temptation conceives and gives birth to sin and death, God’s solution is that His Word and will conceives and gives birth to righteousness and life in us. You are in Christ a new creation. Your life is now “hidden with Christ in God!”
8.      What does that mean for you and your struggle against temptation? Not alone; not even just “powered up” by Jesus’ help. It means that your life is encapsulated, is hidden together inside of Christ’s life, so that His victory becomes your victory! Consider the first verse again: “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him.” Christ is the man who remained steadfast under trial. He defeated the devil’s temptations at every turn, He remained faithful to God in all hardships and difficulties. With unwavering faithfulness, He sought God’s will only—and all the way to the cross. And since Jesus is victorious, His victory becomes ours as well—joined by faith. In Him you can find strength—God is faithful to show the way of escape in temptation. Not beyond what we can bear. Jesus sympathizes with our weaknesses, tempted as we are. We can hang through trusting Him.
9.      Jesus’ steadfastness rewarded with the crown of life—His resurrection, and He now promises to grant us the same crown of life—victory over sin and death, to all who love Him. In Him and through Him we can be steadfast through trial. The seed of God’s Word has already been planted and has conceived and born new life in you. It will blossom forth and give fruit as the Spirit works in you to give glory to God. This is entirely by God’s willing and grace, not by our own will or power, as John reaffirms (ch. 1): “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” By God’s will you are alive in Christ, you are born for life—so rejoice in His will for you and hold fast to Christ in every temptation and trial. He has worked life in us, where before there was only sin and death. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. In what way is Jesus both the man who remained steadfast under trial, and also the one who gives us the crown of life? Luke 4:1-13; Hebrews 2:18; 4:15; John 11:25-26. What is the crown of life? 2 Tim. 4:8; Rev. 2:10

  1. Why is it impossible that God would be the One who tempts us, or that God would ever do evil? Ps. 5:4-6; Matt. 19:17.

  1. What in us gives temptation and sin its first foothold according to James 1:14? Cf. Gen. 4:7. How should we resist temptation? See Jesus’ example in Luke 4; Ps. 141:3-4; 1 Cor. 10:13

  1. How does James’ imagery of the maturation of sin help us to understand its accumulative and deadly influence? Ps. 7:14-15

  1. How does God’s constancy bring us comfort? Jam. 1:17; Mal. 3:6. What is the second kind of “conception and birth” that God works in us, instead of sin? Jam. 1:18; John 1:12-13; 3:3; 1 Pet. 1:3. How is this our hope and confidence in the face of evil and temptation? How does this reassure us that only God can deliver us from evil?

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