When our circumstances are difficult, we may find ourselves complaining against God, questioning His love, and resisting His will. At this point, Satan provides us with an opportunity to escape the difficulty. This opportunity is a temptation. There are three facts we must consider if we are to overcome temptation. In Part 1, we saw the first fact: God’s Judgment. Today, we will consider the next two facts.
God’s Goodness (James 1:17)
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly Lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
One of the enemy’s tricks is to convince us that our Father is holding out on us, that He does not really love us and care for us. When Satan approached Eve, he suggested if God really loved her, He would permit her to eat from the forbidden tree. When Satan tempted Jesus, he raised the question of hunger: “If your father loves you, why are you hungry?”
The goodness of God is a great barrier against yielding to temptation. Since God is good, we do not need any other person (including Satan) to meet our needs. It is better to be hungry in the will of God than full outside the will of God. Once we start to doubt God’s goodness, we will be attracted to Satan’s offers; and the natural desires within will reach out for his bait. Moses warned Israel not to forget God’s goodness when they began to enjoy the blessings of the Promised Land (Deut. 6:10–15). We need this warning today.
James presents four facts about the goodness of God.
God gives only good gifts. Everything good in this world comes from God. If it did not come from God, it is not good. If it comes from God, it must be good, even if we do not see the goodness in it immediately. Paul’s thorn in the flesh was given to him by God and it seemed to be a strange gift; yet it became a tremendous blessing to him (2 Cor. 12:1–10).
The way God gives is good. It is possible for someone to give us a gift in a manner that is less than loving. The value of a gift can be diminished by the way it is given to us. But when God gives us a blessing, He does it in a loving, gracious manner. What He gives and how He gives are both good.
God gives constantly. “Coming down” is a present participle: “it keeps on coming down.” God does not give occasionally; He gives constantly. Even when we do not see His gifts, He is sending them. How do we know this? Because He tells us so and we believe His Word.
God does not change. There are no shadows with the Father of Lights. It is impossible for God to change. He cannot change for the worse because He is holy; He cannot change for the better because He is already perfect. The light of the sun varies as the earth changes, but the sun itself is still shining. If shadows come between us and the Father, He did not cause them. He is the unchanging God. This means we should never question His love or doubt His goodness when difficulties come or temptations appear.
If King David had remembered the goodness of the Lord, he would not have taken Bathsheba and committed those terrible sins with her. God had been good to David (2 Sam. 12:7–8), yet he forgot God’s goodness and took the bait.
The first barrier against temptation is a negative one: the judgment of God. This second barrier is positive: the goodness of God. A fear of God is a healthy attitude, but the love of God must balance it. We can obey Him because He may chasten us; or we can obey Him because He has already been so generous to us and because we love Him for it.
It was this positive attitude that helped to keep Joseph from sinning when he was tempted by his master’s wife (Gen. 39:7-9). Joseph knew all his blessings had come from God. It was the goodness of God that restrained him in the hour of temptation.
God’s gifts are always better than Satan’s bargains. Satan never gives any gifts because you end up paying for them dearly. Achan forgot the warning of God and the goodness of God, saw the forbidden wealth, coveted it, and took it. He became rich, but the sorrow that followed turned his riches into poverty (Josh. 7).
The next time you are tempted, meditate on the goodness of God in your life. If you think you need something, wait on the Lord to provide it. Never toy with the devil’s bait. One purpose for temptation is to teach us patience. David was tempted twice to kill King Saul and hasten his own crowning, but he resisted the temptation and waited for God’s time.
God’s Divine Nature Within (James 1:18)
In the exercise of His will, He brought us forth by the Word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.
In the first barrier against temptation, God says, “Look ahead and beware of judgment.” In the second barrier, He says, “Look around and see how good I have been to you.” But with this third barrier, God says, “Look within and realize you have been born from above, and possess the divine nature.”
James uses birth as a picture to explain how we can enjoy victory over temptation and sin. The Apostle John uses a similar approach in 1 John 3:9, where “God’s seed” refers to the divine life and nature within the believer: “No one who is born of God will continue to sin because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning because they have been born of God.” Note the characteristics of this new birth:
It is divine. Nicodemus thought he had to reenter his mother’s womb to be born again, but he was wrong. This birth is not of the flesh: it is from above (John 3:1–7). It is the work of God. Just as we do not generate our human birth, we cannot generate our spiritual birth. When we put our faith in Jesus Christ, it is God who performs the miracle of the new birth in us.
This birth is gracious. We do not earn it or deserve it; God gives us spiritual birth because of His own grace and will. We are “children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:13). No one can be born again because of his relatives, his resolutions, or his religion. The new birth is the work of God.
This birth is through God’s Word. Just as human birth requires two parents, so divine birth has two parents: the Word of God and the Spirit of God. “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:6). “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring Word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to bring about the miracle of the new birth (Heb. 4:12).
This birth is the finest birth possible. We are “firstfruits of His creatures.” James wrote to Jewish believers and the word firstfruits would be meaningful to them. The Old Testament Jews brought the firstfruits to the Lord as the expression of their devotion and obedience. “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops” (Prov. 3:9). Of all the creatures God has in this universe, Christians are the very highest and the finest! We share God’s nature. For this reason, it is beneath our dignity to accept Satan’s bait or to desire sinful things. A higher birth must mean a higher life.
By granting us a new birth, God declares He cannot accept the old birth. Throughout the Bible, God rejects the firstborn and accepts the secondborn. He accepted Abel, not Cain; Isaac, not Ishmael; Jacob, not Esau. He rejects your first birth (no matter how noble it might be in the eyes of men) and He announces you need a second birth.
It is this experience of the new birth that helps us overcome temptation. If we let the old nature (from the first birth) take over, we will fail. We received our old nature (the flesh) from Adam and he was a failure. But if we yield to the new nature, we will succeed; for that new nature comes from Christ and He is the Victor.
A child in Sunday School explained the matter in simple terms. “Two men live in my heart: the old Adam and Jesus. When temptation knocks at the door, somebody has to answer. If I let Adam answer, I will sin; so I send Jesus to answer. He always wins!”
Of course, this new nature must be fed the Word of God daily, so it might be strong to fight the battle. Just as the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to give us spiritual birth, He uses the Word to give us spiritual strength. “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every Word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).
No matter what excuses we make, we have no one to blame for sin but ourselves. Our own desires lead us into temptation and sin. God is not to blame. He has erected these three barriers to keep us from sin. If we heed the barriers, we will win a crown (James 1:12). If we ignore them, we will find a coffin (James 1:15). Which will it be?
1. Read Psalm 107. How many times does the Bible use the word “good” or “goodness” in reference to God? What manifestations of God’s goodness do you find in this psalm?
2. What are some of the ways God has expressed His goodness to you?
- How do you explain difficult circumstances as expressions of God’s goodness?