As soon as we are tempted, we must begin to deny ourselves the wrong desire. Jesus calls us to practice self-denial in our actions even before we do them. Temptations vary according to the weaknesses of each person. What may be an easy self-denial for one may be tough to resist for another. Appetite (Proverbs 23:2), material goods, worldly ambitions, personal prestige (Matthew 6:1-4, 16-21), and sexual desires are very common areas where self-denial is tough for many.
Martin G. Collins
Overcoming (Part 5): Self-Denial
"Temptation" is from the Greek noun peirasmos, which can refer to trials or tests with a beneficial purpose or effect—or to trials or tests designed to lead to wrong doing. The outcome depends on how the tempted person reacts. Temptation of itself is not sin; one must accept it before it results in sin. Thus, it is a forerunner of sin, warning us that the potential for sin is not far away.
Martin G. Collins
How Does Temptation Relate to Sin?
"Proved" ("approved," NKJV) comes from the Greek word dokimos, meaning "stood the test; tested to be trustworthy; of sterling worth, like metal which is cleansed of all alloy." Dokimos or one of its forms describes the successful testing of precious metals and coins, as well as the approval of the tested objects as genuine.
"Crown" is translated from stephanos, which in turn derives from stepho, meaning "to encircle, to twine or wreathe." Stephanos describes the victor's crown, the symbol of triumph in the public games or a contest. It can also be the reward or prize given to honor a person. Though the word can denote a crown of royalty, its more usual sense is the laurel wreath awarded to a victor or a festive garland worn when rejoicing.
In early times, it was a token of public honor for distinguished service. At other times, it symbolized the joy of a wedding or the gladness of a festival, especially at a king's coronation. These early crowns were woven as a garland of oak, ivy, parsley, myrtle, or olive branches. Later, these natural wreaths were imitated in gold.
In James 1:12, the apostle is saying that the man who overcomes trials becomes a man of sterling worth and emerges strong and pure spiritually. But what must we overcome? In Revelation, each of the letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor contains the phrase "to him who overcomes." Later, in a summary statement near the end of the book, Christ says, "He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son" (Revelation 21:7). It is obvious that overcoming is a prime activity in a Christian's life.
Paul says we are in a warfare against "spiritual wickedness" (Ephesians 6:12, KJV). He also writes that "the carnal mind is enmity against God" (Romans 8:7) and that "those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (verse 8). John says those who "overcome the wicked one" are strong (I John 2:14), and then he says we are not to love the world or its lusts and pride (verses 15-16).
We have, therefore, three general areas in which to overcome:
1. We must overcome Satan, his demons, and their evil influence.
2. We must overcome this world and its ways.
3. We must overcome our fleshly, carnal, human nature.
The way that Christ taught to overcome is not only to avoid sin, but to do what is good and right. Paul explains this succinctly to the Christians in Rome, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21). So we see that the crown of life is a crown of righteousness, and righteousness can be defined simply as "right doing." An overcomer is victorious over sin!
Martin G. Collins
The Crown of Life
One might say, "There are so many temptations out there. The whole world is evil. How do we avoid them?" James gives us some ideas, hints, clues, and instruction. First, he tells us that we will face temptation. We cannot avoid it because deception, evil, will come looking for us and especially because we are God's children. Satan is looking to devour us (I Peter 5:8). We will be the targets of his onslaughts of temptation throughout our Christian lives, and we must be ready to face them! But, if we get through them, then we reach our goal—the Kingdom of God, where we have a crown of life waiting for us. We have that assurance and faith in what God has promised us.
Then James says, "God does not tempt us." The apostle says that we are tempted when our desires lure us away. The process can then intensify if we are not strong enough, leading to sin and ultimately to death—the second death, not just physical death. We can be deceived right out of our crown if we are not careful, if we are not strong. (This process of temptation is similar to modern advertising. It works the same way because the same "spirit" is behind it.)
Then James says, in verse 16, "Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren." This is a hint that what he has just said tells us something important about not being deceived. He has just told us that God never entices—tempts—us to accept His way by promising to satisfy our desires. Instead, we are enticed when our desires lead us to sin. God never tempts us to follow our physical desires for self-gratification.
One might argue: "Wait a second. Doesn't He promise us long life? Isn't that a physical desire? Doesn't He promise us health? Doesn't He promise us prosperity? And that our enemies won't overtake us? Doesn't He promise us all of these things?"
But what does He also say when He makes those promises? In almost every occasion, He says, "If you will keep My commandments, then I will. . . ." He always puts a condition on His promises. "If you keep My commandments," then such-and-such will happen. Many of these blessings or fulfillments of His promises—if not all of them—happen because that is how God designed them to happen. Sure, God intervenes to a certain extent in order to work out His purpose, but, like a spiritual law of the universe, if we keep God's commandments, certain things are bound to result.
If we keep God's commandments, we will probably be healthy. If we keep God's commandments, we will live long lives. What does the first commandment with promise say? If we honor our fathers and mothers, then we will live long in the land that the LORD gives us. It is A + B = C. What does the Bible call it? A person will reap what he has sown (Galatians 6:7)! It is cause and effect. So, if we keep the commandments, then there are certain blessings that just automatically accrue to us.
Oftentimes, because God is working with us so closely, He does not fulfill these physical promises to their extremes. He will give them to us as much as we need them or as much as is within His purpose at the time. He is working something greater for us than just satisfying our physical wants or even needs.
What does James say next? The next two verses key us in on the thrust of James' thought. He says, 1) God gives good gifts, and He never changes. So His good gifts are always the same. Next, he says, 2) that He has made us a kind of firstfruits of His creatures. We must put those two ideas together. Why does God give good gifts? To make us His children! This is what He is always thinking about. His purpose is focused on reproducing Himself!
He calls us and converts us by His truth for the purpose of making us His children. All of His gifts are good, and they never change. They are always geared towards His godly ends. All of His gifts are for our ultimate, spiritual good—to make us like Him. Blessings, then, are a byproduct of His way. His good gifts are all leading us toward our entrance into the Kingdom of God and not the satisfying of our physical desires.
How can we apply this? If we understand that God will give us what is good for us, what will advance us towards the Kingdom of God, then what does this say about false teachers? How can we avoid the deception? The clue is that if anyone tries to sell us a belief in which our physical desires are going to be met, then we have a strong reason to believe that the teaching is false.
God will not use that tactic. He will not say, "Follow Me, and you will have a good life. Everything is going to come up roses for you." Instead, He often tells us such things as, "All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" (II Timothy 3:12). Does that sound like "the good life"?
How do we get through this life? By lurching from one trial to the next! Is that not how we are refined? By fire! By trial! By going from one problem to the next and overcoming it. That is just how God's way works because He knows that the best way to produce sons of God is the same way the Son of God achieved His glory. Hebrews 2:10 says that Jesus Christ was made "perfect through suffering."
God is not interested in this life except for what it will produce in the next. This life is a training ground. When, say, a soldier trains, he goes through the paces at boot camp. He is made to follow a regimen. He works hard until he hurts. This life is God's boot camp. Right now, we are in training like an athlete. And no athlete worth his salt lounges, plays, and lives the good life while he is in training.
So James gives us good instruction on how to avoid being deceived. When something is "too good to be true," it is probably not true.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
James 1:12-16 lists the steps leading to sin, beginning with temptation. People rarely stop at just one sin, however, and it is often not long before they add another and another to the chain. Jeremiah describes this course of sin in his day—the same process that is likely to occur in anyone's life: "'And like their bow they have bent their tongues for lies. They are not valiant for the truth on the earth. For they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know Me,' says the LORD" (Jeremiah 9:3). This is a major reason why God uses leaven to symbolize sin. As leaven spreads and does its work in flour, so sin spreads and corrupts the lives of all it touches.
For example, a tragic sequence of events begins in Genesis 37 with one sin whose impact reverberates to this day! Jacob's favoritism (respect of persons) for Joseph irritated his brothers. Their irritation grew to jealousy and flared into hatred. They conspired to commit murder, sold Joseph into slavery, and deceived Jacob to hide their complicity and guilt. What happened to their relationship with their father after this? Did they live in fear that one of the brothers would "squeal" on the others? Did they ever feel guilty for the pain they brought upon Jacob? Did their actions honor him? Did these events intensify his over-protectiveness of Benjamin and, in reality, make things worse for them than when Joseph was with them? Sin produces more sin unless someone stops it by repenting.
John W. Ritenbaugh
What Sin Is & What Sin Does