Temptation wins when it gets you to stop trusting God and start thinking you need to take matters into your own hands.
As Martin Luther once said,
“That’s the sin underneath all our sins.”
Which sounds strange, the sin underneath our sins.
But, he’s saying as we look at our actions, this sinful choice that we’ve made, we also need to look underneath that sinful choice, and ask, what’s motivating that action?What is the sin underneath that sin? And as Luther says, the sin underneath all our sins “is to trust the lie of the serpent that we cannot trust the love and grace of Christ and must take matters into our own hands.”
In other words, why do I lie?
I don’t believe God’s really good as He says He is.
Why do I worry?
I don’t believe God’s really as good as He says He is.
And while we can make up all kinds of excuses as to why the sin was so attractive, it ultimately comes down to the fact, we are believing lies about God.
Specifically, we are not believing He’s actually all that good.
Which, as we’ve been looking at James chapter 1, we’ve seen that James, is like, is absolute craziness.
That we as believers would ever believe God’s not good.
Because, big picture, verse 17, absolutely everything that’s good in our life comes from Him.
The way James puts it, it’s like He’s showered good down on us.
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.”
Which means, if you have good in your life, it’s from God and that God who gave you all that good doesn’t change.
He’s not good one day and then not good the next. He’s just consistently always good.
In James’ words, “He’s the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”
Which is obviously, like a word picture.
The Father of lights.
It’s like, if you look up at the stars, the sun, the lights, you might say, God is the Father of them all.
And in the context here, I think, stars, sun, and lights represent all that is good, pure and holy. You know how sometimes we use words as pictures and light can be a picture of all that is good and so as we look up at the sky and see these stars and remember that God is the one who created them, we are reminded of just how good God is.
On a sunny day with the light coming down on you, it’s like you are swimming in a sea of goodness, which obviously is a cool illustration, but the problem is, of course, you can only take that illustration so far.
Because, while the sun and the stars and lights are awesome and beautiful, the sun and stars aren’t always shining down on us.
Sometimes it is light out.
Sometimes it is not.
I mean, you can’t count on nature to stay consistent, and yet.
Even the best things in this world change.
God does not.
He’s just unendingly always good, which means, of course, that this God who has showered so much good down on us, already is.
Not going to suddenly stop.
He’s completely worthy to be trusted, which, obviously, the Bible’s always telling us, this is like one of its big themes, and yet, even though the Bible’s always telling us how good God is and even though we do have all kinds of evidence in our own lives of God’s goodness to us one of the things that makes temptation so tempting and pursuing holiness seem so difficult.
Is that it can be really hard for us to believe that.
We’re just so quick to doubt God.
Which is why in verse 18, James is like.
I see how it is.
Let me bring up one of the absolute best and supreme examples of how good God’s been to you as Christians and that is how you even became Christians in the first place.
We just go back to that vision of Isaiah which we were talking about in a previous post, where Isaiah was standing in the presence of God, and he was seeing God as holy.
We’ve got a problem.
Obviously, because we are not and like Isaiah, we are kind of crying out woe is me, I deserve to be punished, which is a good place to start, but, that is not where it ends, because what does God do, God provides a means of forgiveness, and we know that’s Jesus Christ, right, God punishes Jesus for what we’ve done so we can be forgiven.
Which is huge.
It gives us our motivation for pursuing holiness.
Because, it’s not any longer, how do I pursue holiness to somehow earn favor with God, we see that’s nonsense, because we are way too sinful for that, instead, it’s how can I pursue holiness, because of this great forgiveness God’s provided me in Christ.
I am saying is important.
The thing is.
If that was all there was to the gospel, we would still have a problem, actually and this is where you have to make sure you follow me.
You say, if I am standing in the presence of a holy God and I realize I am not holy and I cry out for forgiveness and I am forgiven, how can I still have a problem?
What’s the problem?
The problem is how in the world am I going to live a holy life from this point on?
Do you see what I am saying?
I’ve got the why.
I just need the how.
Because, when you look at yourself closely.
It not just that you need to be forgiven of what you did. Your problem goes deeper than even that. It’s also that you need to be transformed, in terms of who you are.
Otherwise, when you read James 1:14 and 15.
“But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”
There is no way you can really stop that from continuing to happen, because we are all so fundamentally broken, which when you are really gripped with that, makes you ready to be amazed, by how good God is.
That’s like the set up.
If I am sitting here thinking.
I am fundamentally a good person.
And the reason I am doing bad things is because of my circumstances or something, then I am going to be always doubting God and always giving in, and I am never really going to see what makes people so excited by the gospel.
And I am certainly not going to understand why Christians trust God the way they do.
It’s only when I’ve begun to appreciate just how absolutely helpless I am on my own.
That I am ready to be stunned by how good God is.
When God saves a man. He changes the man. That’s the point.
It’s not just that He forgives him. And stops there. He actually gives him new life.
“Of his own will he brought us forth.”
And he’s talking about salvation. He’s describing what it means to become a Christian and his way of describing what it means to become a Christian.
Is to say, God brought us forth, which is talking about this miracle we describe as the miracle of regeneration.
Or you might even say of, the new birth.
I want to talk with you about holiness over the next couple of weeks.
But for a lot of people, even a lot of people who are going to church and who are saying they are Christians, they have no interest in holiness or changing and so I can talk forever about how to become holy but it’s not going to be of any help to them, and it’s not because they don’t know enough information, it’s because they are not really Christians.
Oh they think they are.
Because their parents were.
Or because they go to church.
Or because they say they believe certain facts.
Or because they maybe had some sort of emotional experience at one point.
Or because they like to sing even.
Or because they don’t want to go to hell, they think that’s what makes a person a Christian, and James is like, being a Christian is so much more than that, being a Christian is God bringing you forth.
And the phrase he uses literally means God gave us life. Or you could even say, God birthed us.
In other words, the picture of someone becoming a Christian is that of someone being born.
Of a new life.
Wasn’t there before.
Should be familiar to most of us.
Because it’s the picture Jesus used when he was talking to the religious leader, Nicodemus.
You remember back in John 3? Where there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus. He was a ruler of the Jews, John tells us. And he came to Jesus by night. And said to him, ‘Rabbi,’
I am quoting John.
“We know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.’”
Maybe you think, a pretty good start.
This man was religious. He was a Pharisee. He prayed, I am sure. He was known as being a good person, serious about the things of God, and he’s even coming to Jesus here, at some risk, to himself, and he’s acknowledging at least that Jesus was a miracle worker who was sent by God.
For, a lot of people, they would be wondering, how can you be more of a Christian than this and yet none of this actually makes him a Christian according to Jesus which is why he answers him the way he does.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
I have heard some people say.
I am a Christian.
But I am not born again.
Which makes absolutely no sense.
Because Jesus says here it’s impossible to see the kingdom of God, which means at least basically, being a genuine Christian without this supernatural work of God.
In your life.
There’s no one who is a Christian who hasn’t been born again, and there’s no being a Christian, without being born again.
It’s a requirement.
A basic part of.
The very definition of becoming a Christian, which means we should make sure we understand it.
What does it mean to be born again?
That’s the first question.
It is an idea that some people seem a little confused about, but it really shouldn’t be that confusing, I don’t think.
It is a miraculous work of God that happens in your inner man.
That’s being born again.
I am saying.
When someone becomes a Christian something actually happens in them.
The way Paul puts it.
In 2 Corinthians 5:17.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come.”
Which is a way of saying, obviously, salvation, real salvation, changes you.
There’s no one who is a Christian who is not in Christ, and there is no one who is in Christ who is not a new creation, and being a new creation means. .
There’s been a change to your very nature.
To who you actually are.
The old has passed away.
The new has come.
Which is why, when the Bible talks about being saved.
It talks about it.
Not just like going to church. Or trying to do some good things. Or being born into a Christian family.
But instead as being like being made a new creation, or like being born again, or like rising from the dead, or like dying to sin and living to righteousness, or like putting off the old man and putting on the new, or like being ingrafted into a new tree, or like having a divine seed implanted in the heart, or like being made partakers of the divine nature.
In other words.
It is a big, big, big thing.
It’s not just some little human decision.
You made one time.
It’s God giving you new life.
John Owen who is this old, old theologian defines regeneration as a“new, spiritual, supernatural, vital principle or habit of grace, infused into the soul, the mind, will, and affections, by the power of the Spirit, disposing and enabling believers to a lifestyle of spiritual, supernatural, vital acts of faith and obedience.”
I know is a really long definition, but this is good stuff.
Maybe a simpler definition comes from this theologian named Louis Berkhof.
Where he writes, “Regeneration is that act of God by which a principle of new life is implanted in a man and the governing disposition of his soul is made holy.”
The point is, something happens when a person becomes a Christian.
Where before, your mind was hostile to God, when God saved you, He gave you a new ability to understand what you couldn’t understand before.
In fact, the way Paul describes salvation in 2 Corinthians 4.
He says, in verse 6.
“For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness…’”
And, he’s talking about the power of God, in creation.
If we go back.
To the beginning.
That’s a pretty powerful moment.
God saying let light shine out of darkness and it does and he’s saying, that same God who said let light shine out of darkness.
“Has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
Which tells us that, salvation, regeneration, is a miracle, of the same order as creation.
It’s that kind of creation power that’s at work.
When God saves you, He gives you the ability to see spiritually what you couldn’t see before.
I am talking about the beauty of Jesus.
You could have known the facts.
And maybe you could have talked about them and explained them and even preached them. But you couldn’t have seen the beauty in them.
You might have heard the gospel, and to a certain extent, understood the gospel.
But you couldn’t love it.
Until God worked a miracle.
When you became a Christian.
If you really are a Christian.
And I know I keep saying this.
It’s not something small.
It’s not just you went to a church service and heard a nice message and all the sudden said, ok, I will believe, I guess or you grew up in a Christian home and everyone was saying they were Christians, and so you were like, ok, I might as well be a Christian.
That’s not becoming a Christian.
That’s not the miracle of regeneration.
That’s not God bringing someone forth.
Instead, it’s, when God shines a light into your dark heart and through His Spirit, gives you an ability you didn’t have before.
To see the excellency and wonder of Jesus.
If you look at a lot of people who say they are Christians.
They are going to these churches and they are basically hearing, Jesus wants to give you a lot of stuff.
They are like.
That sounds nice, I would like Jesus to give me a lot of stuff.
And someone’s like, well if you want Jesus to give you a lot of stuff and protect you from having bad things happen to you, then you need to come to my church, and you need to do the things I tell you.
And they are like.
I can do that.
That doesn’t sound that difficult.
Or maybe if the church is really serious. They’ll go to this church. And the pastor will say, God loves you and He has a really wonderful plan for your life. And they are like, well that sounds amazing.
And the pastor’s like, you just need to accept Jesus, you need to receive him into your life.
And that’s kind of his gospel message.
God has a wonderful plan for your life and you need to accept Jesus, and so the person’s like, how do I do that, and the pastor’s like, well, do you think you are a sinner, and the person says, I guess I am a sinner, and the pastor says, ok, pray this prayer after me and you’ll be a Christian, and the person prays the prayer and thinks a Christian.
But he’s never truly been born again.
This miracle, I am talking about never took place. He still thinks the way he always thought.
He hasn’t been given this new ability to think, differently than He did before, which is why, it’s no surprise, he has such trouble pursuing holiness.
He’s never really become a Christian.
Because, becoming a Christian is more than just some decision you made or wanting to make your life better than it was before.
It’s God bringing you forth.
It’s God changing the way you think and it’s God changing your very desires as well.
When you become a Christian.
God actually changes what you want.
This is not super Christian I am talking about. This is just basic regeneration. This is just what happens to everyone that becomes a Christian.
I think, some of the most beautiful pictures of this transformation I am talking about, come from the Old Testament.
Probably because those prophets were discouraged, as they were looking at the people of Israel, and realizing, man something needs to happen before these people can actually do, what God wants and so God promises this amazing future work.
Which I think.
Includes this miracle we are talking about, the miracle of regeneration.
For example, listen to the way he says it in Ezekiel 36.
“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols, I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
Which, the image that stands out to me.
Is how before you are saved.
It’s like your heart is a rock towards God and towards holiness, but that changes, when God saves you, because, it’s like He gives you a heart, that actually works.
He fills you with a holy spiritual love, joy, fear and delight.
It’s a new life. It’s a total transformation of the inner person.
And who does this?
If we go back to James 1.
It says, “Of his own will, He brought us forth.”
In other words, we are passive in regeneration.
All this I have been describing is something God does in us and obviously, really, it couldn’t actually be any other way.
Have you ever met a child who could take credit for his own birth?
It’s not the way it works.
A dead man.
Can’t save himself.
Listen to the way John describes the process in John chapter 1, verse 12.
“As many as received him to them gave he the right or the authority to become the children of God, even to them that believe on his name.”
Which, you say, that’s right.
I believed and I received.
Didn’t I do that?
Look at verse 13, John goes on.
“…who were born, not of the blood,”
Not through family ties.
“nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man,” but of what? “God.”
In other words, you believed and you received because it was the will of whom?
It is a God thing.
Faith, and absolutely everything that flows from it.
Listen to how Jesus says it.
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”
The only way to be saved, obviously is to come to Jesus, and there’s no one anywhere, who comes to Jesus, unless the Father has been at work in Him first.
I am hoping, you are seeing this.
Because it’s supposed to being you how good God is, and how much it makes sense, for you as a Christian to trust Him.
The best thing in your life, obviously is your faith, is your love for Jesus, you know that and where did that come from?
It’s not that you believed and then God caused you to be born again, that’s not actually how it worked. If God waited for you to believe before He caused you to be born again, you would never be born again, because it’s God’s giving you this new life, that actually enables you to even have faith in the first place.
Now you say, how exactly did this happen, then?
James gives us a picture of the process when he says, “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth.”
It’s not very complicated.
He uses the gospel.
Back in Colossians 1:5, Paul talks about the hope laid up for believers in heaven, and he says, of this you have heard before in the word of truth, the gospel. The gospel is the word of truth.
And it’s the power of God for salvation.
There’s obviously some mystery here but this message about how Jesus came and Jesus died and Jesus rose again and ascended into heaven is not just any ordinary message.
It has power.
And as someone goes out and explains this message, God uses that message to draw the people He’s chosen from before the foundation of the world to Himself. It’s like the gospel is calling them to Jesus, and He works in their heart, without them maybe even fully realizing what is going on, and the Holy Spirit uses that message to give a person new spiritual life, and the first thing they do as spiritual babies, is turn from their sins and embrace Jesus.
Their whole life.
And, I guess, I hope you are seeing how this all connects to this subject of how you change, because I can’t really talk with you about how you change, without having first asked you this question.
Has God changed you?
And I am not asking, do you go to church or were you born in a Christian family.
But have you actually been born again?
Because that’s what makes holiness, such a joy and a privilege for us as Christians to talk about.
Not something oppressive.
If holiness seems impossible and you have little desire for it and you don’t hate your sin, maybe it’s because you haven’t actually been given new life.
If you want to change, the first place for you to start is by going to God and asking Him to change you because this is something He has to do, and for believers, it’s something, He has done in us.
This is not just something we would even want for ourselves. Holiness. If God hadn’t already enabled us to want it.
He’s the One who started this whole process of us pursuing holiness.
He’s the one that set us on this path.
And He’s the one that enabling us to walk on the way of holiness.
When we are struggling with sin, it’s so easy to start wondering if God’s really been good to us, but we can’t forget how good He’s been, in even allowing us the privilege of really struggling against sin.
And not just struggling.
As we look back to what happened when we became Christians, we see God brought us forth, for the whole purpose of becoming holy.
That’s what James is saying.
“Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures.”
Now what are first-fruits?
In the Old Testament God had told the nation of Israel, that he wanted certain offerings, and one of the offerings, he was expecting from farmers, was that of their first-fruits.
Which, was obviously the first crop that came up, when it came time to harvest, and that first crop was like a symbol, of all the crops that were coming afterwards.
The picture here is that God has this whole big plan for the universe, we know what’s coming.
This is not the way it’s going to be forever.
There’s going to be a total transformation of the entire universe. God’s going to make everything new. It’s like the whole universe is going to be reborn.
And there’s not going to be anything wrong in it.
It’s going to be absolutely awesome, and actually if you want a small little picture of what it’s going to be like, you know where James is saying, you can look.
You can look at us.
You can look.
At how God’s made us new inside.
Obviously, there’s more coming, that’s why we are the first-fruits, and even as we look at our lives as believers in this world, now, that’s still so corrupted by sin, we have struggles that will not have when Jesus comes again.
But being born again.
At least we have a taste of what’s coming.
And, that’s what makes talking about holiness so exciting, because of course, we are talking about something that’s difficult for us, but we are also talking about something that’s possible.
We can live holy lives as believers.
If we are truly born again, we will.
It’s in our nature now, to pursue holiness.