- Overcoming Destructive Desires
- James 1:13-18
- Lyndol Loyd February 10, 2019
James 1:22 – “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.”
Here are the true stories of two red-blooded men. The first man was a leadership legend. His ascent to national power was nothing short of meteoric. In record time, he went from zero recognition to being a household word.
So successful was he as a national leader, and particularly as a military leader, that one day his generals came to him and said, “We are so fit as a fighting unit, we will wipe out whatever enemy we face. You don’t even need to lead us into battle anymore. You stay back at the capital, put up your feet and relax.”
This national leader decided to go to bed early one night. He couldn’t sleep so he got up and took a walk on the roof of his palace. Just a couple of rooftops over he saw a very beautiful woman taking a bath. He watched her for a while and desire grew within him.
He sent for her and seduced her. The rest of the story rivals a Shakespearean tragedy. There is a pregnancy, murder of her husband, slander, and finally the death of a child. This is the story of King David and Bathsheba.
The second story is also of a red-blooded man. But, in this case, the aggressor was a hot-blooded woman, the wife of the highest-ranking military leader in the country. One day her husband hired a new personal assistant who was not only effective in managing the family fortune and estate but also dashingly handsome. Alone in the house with this attractive new employee, the general’s wife started to make passes at him.
First, her efforts were subtle. Then she threw all caution and restraint to the wind and began to throw herself at him. However, this young man would not respond to her sexual advances, which only served to make her want him more. One day she grabbed him and tried to take off his clothes. Being a red-blooded man, he must have experienced at least a moment of temptation, but rather than giving in, he made a mad dash out of the house.
Why? Because he knew that having an affair with this woman would dishonor the God he worshipped. Who is this resolute young man? His name is Joseph, and you can read his full story in the book of Genesis.
David and Joseph both faced difficult temptation due to human desire. One of them ran headlong into sexual sin, with all of its consequences. The other dashed for the door and the moral high ground of sexual purity.
So why was the one able to fend off destructive desires and the other was not? Why did one wind up wrecking a whole string of lives and the other end up being one of the most honored men in the land?
Perhaps one decided to explore temptation and then got sucked in; the other sought to maintain inner boundaries and fought it at every turn.
This is where James is very helpful to us:
“13 And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. 14 Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. 15 These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.
16 So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. 18 He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession.”
James speaks a direct truth to us here concerning where temptations come from. However, sometimes it is difficult for us to comprehend the impact of temptation that gives way to sin has upon our lives. To help us wrap our minds around it, I want to share a short cartoon strip from author, Donald Miller’s best selling book, Blue Like Jazz that makes my point.
There once was a Rabbit named Don Rabbit.
Don Rabbit went to Stumptown Coffee every morning.
One morning at Stumptown, Don Rabbit saw Sexy Carrot.
And Don Rabbit decided to chase Sexy Carrot.
But Sexy Carrot was very fast.
And Don Rabbit chased Sexy Carrot all over Oregon.
And all over America, all the way to New York City.
And Don Rabbit chased Sexy Carrot all the way to the moon.
And Don Rabbit was very, very tired.
But with one last burst of strength, Don Rabbit lunged at Sexy Carrot.
And Don Rabbit caught Sexy Carrot.
And the moral of the story is that if you work hard, stay focused, and never give up, you will eventually get what you want in life.
Unfortunately, shortly after this story was told, Don Rabbit choked on the carrot and died. So the second moral of the story is: Sometimes the things we want most in life are the things that will kill us.
That’s the tricky thing about life, many things we think we want the most will kill us. All too often the things we desire are not good for us. There is a passage of scripture found in John 3:19-21 that talks about how easy it is for us to love darkness and how hard it is to love the light.
“This is the crisis we’re in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God. Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won’t come near it, fearing a painful exposure. But anyone working and living in truth and reality welcomes God-light so the work can be seen for the God-work it is.” (MES)
Destructive desires come in many shapes and sizes. The one thing we can be certain of is that we will all face temptation and destructive desires on a regular basis in our lives. It is part of the package we call being human.
The question is not, “Will we face destructive desires?”, but “How will we face them? How will we face powerful urges, passions, and feelings that sweep over us?”
Destructive desires are not limited to sexual feelings and temptations.
- How do you deal with strong feelings of wanting to take revenge when you have been wronged?
- How do you handle wanting to win at all costs, even if you have to stomp on some people to do it?
- How do you deal with strong feelings of jealousy, envy, or hatred when they sweep over you?
James teaches us that whenever a dark desire gains steam, it did not come from God. James wants us to know that it is not even remotely possible that God would ever trigger any form of darkness in you.
We can’t begin to play mental games and say that God is teaching us through temptation. This is a lie. We can’t pretend that playing on the edge of sin will strengthen us in the long run so it must be good, and maybe even from God. James tells us that if it is dark, dishonoring, or destructive, God has nothing to do with it and neither should we.
James wants to clear up the air on this topic. There is an evil force at work in the world. The Evil One, the Devil, wants to destroy our lives. One way he does this is through stirring up dark and destructive desires within us. He wants to use these to destroy us.
By now in our study of James, we have discovered that James loves to use powerful images to imprint spiritual truths onto our minds. This section of James holds some of the most poignant images in the Bible. They are so powerful because they connect for every human being. The basic life cycle – conception, birth, growth, death – is used to help us understand the sinister progression of destructive desires.
James is clear that the game plan of the Devil follows an identifiable pattern.
- Conception – It involves the planting of dark desire and the gestation of this desire over time.
- Birth – After a time, this leads to sinful action.
- Growth – Once we act out a sinful desire, it becomes easier and easier to do it again. This sin can take on a life of its own.
- Death – Finally, always, this leads to disaster.
Every sin and destructive desire goes through this same progression. It doesn’t matter if it is stealing from the workplace or cheating in school. It doesn’t matter if it is getting involved in a sexual affair or being addicted to something like alcohol, pornography, or gambling. In each of these instances, it all follows this same progression.
During my time as a pastor, I have found that some people really struggle with the idea of the existence of a Devil or adversary. I’ve even had people come right out and ask me, “Do you really believe there is a Devil who has an agenda to wreak havoc in the lives of people?” It is almost like they struggle to intellectually believe that it is possible.
My response to that question is that I absolutely believe in the Devil; there is an evil one who seeks after our downfall and will do whatever possible to throw us off track from following God’s will. First of all, the Bible teaches it. Second, I’ve seen the devil at work in my own life and in the lives of people all around me. To be completely candid, I find it hard to believe that anyone could believe otherwise.
Look at this world that we live in and you will see endless evidence of the existence of the Devil:
- In this century alone, 60 million people have been slaughtered on battlefields. Most of these wars were waged over issues like border disputes and ethnic differences.
- Every day, more than 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes–one child every five seconds.
- Countless people are victims of sexual abuse each and every year.
- Pornography and child pornography flourish all over the world.
- Murder, gang violence, drug addiction, and other evils are prevalent.
Do I believe that the Devil exists and is at work? You better believe it.
In this sinister cycle of destructive desires, he watches, entices, invites, encourages and then laughs in sheer joy as we experience the pain and emptiness of spiritual death. The devil is alive and is as busy as ever.
James is teaching us that in contrast to the Evil One, whose agenda for us is dark and destructive, God has an entirely different agenda. In His passionate love for us, God wants us to experience life, not death. He wants to pour good gifts into our lives.
The first of these good gifts is spiritual rebirth, the washing away of our sins, our adoption into His family. Then, He wants to give a continual flow of good gifts, blessings, relationships, opportunities, and eternal promises. Above and beyond all this, He throws open the doors of heaven. That is who our God is.
As we wrap up our series on James I want to take us to the closing thoughts James writes which we find in James 5:19-20. In essence, parting thoughts are what we want to leave people with. “19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”
The final verse of the old hymn, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” says,
O to grace how great a debtor, Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, Bind my wandering heart to Thee:
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it; Seal it for Thy courts above.
I didn’t know this until recently, but there are parts of the church who will not sing the third verse as it was written. They have taken the liberty to change the lyrics, omitting the words “wandering” and “Prone to wander,” and replacing them with another idea entirely. They seem to hold to a position that there is a threshold of holiness which once crossed cannot admit even the possibility of a “proneness” to wander from God.
Not James. He is writing his parting shot, and he chooses to remind us of our propensity to stray. So he writes, “My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back….”
So what does James mean by “wander from the truth?” I don’t think he means to decisively walk away from God. The context of the passage indicates he is talking about sin. While we are granted power over sin, I’m not sure we are ever given immunity from its infectious reach.
We don’t need to live in fear of sins return, but rather in awe of the ever-present, every-day mercy of God to uphold, preserve and protect us from its reach.
It harkens back to the ancient declaration of faith known as the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” The mercy I most need as a sinner is not the comfortable assurance of repeated forgiveness for failure, but the humility to constantly know my desperate need of Jesus to save me from presuming on His grace.
The last hard truth James offers us is this one: We don’t typically wander away from God with a willful decision. We wander away from God when we willingly lose ourselves in the shifting shadows and seductive shades of sin.
While I think leaving the God I love is highly unlikely, I do know of my proneness to wander into sin. What I must realize is that the latter, unguarded by myself and unchecked by others, almost always leads to the former. It’s why James puts a premium on the necessity of watching over one another in love.
Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.
Think of it this way, “If I was driving by your house and it was on fire, would you want me to tell you?”
Thank you, James, for the courage to sniff out the smoke from the still smoldering sin in our lives and to let us know. Thank you, brother of Jesus and brother of ours, for never protecting us from His truth so that we might never be shielded from His grace. Thank you, James.