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Battles with Temptation

Truth in Love 280

How should we think about what James writes regarding trials and temptations, and the wisdom God promises?

Oct 12, 2020

Dale Johnson: Today, I am excited to have with me Lance Quinn. Lance is one of our board members here at ACBC. Many of you are familiar with Lance in his pastoral ministry and his ministry to ACBC throughout the years. He serves faithfully. I love this brother. He’s so helpful to me in my role here as Executive Director.

A little bit about Lance, he prepared for vocational ministry at several different institutions. He holds a Master of Divinity degree, a Master of Theology degree, and a Doctor of Ministry degree (he’s a well-educated man) from the Master’s Seminary in Los Angeles, California. He’s also received a Doctorate degree from the Evangelical Theological Faculty in Leuven, Belgium. Lance has been in ministry for 35 years—over 20 of those as senior pastor, most recently at Bethany Bible Church in Thousand Oaks, California. Lance and his late wife Beth have eight adult children and a growing number of grandchildren. What blessings, Lance.

It’s so great to have you here on the podcast to talk about this particular subject, which is so needed. Thank you brother for joining us.

Lance Quinn: Great to be here with you, Dale.

Dale Johnson: Lance, you delivered a talk not long ago at our Annual Conference, which this year we had to do in a digital format. In your plenary session at our Annual Conference, you spoke about this particular issue of temptations from James 1. You spoke about the fact that the Greek word in the biblical text in the context of James 1 that’s often translated “test,” “temptation,” or “trial” is actually the same word.  What then is the theological and practical difference between this idea of a “test” from God or a “temptation” from Satan given that it’s the same word that’s used both for positive, helpful tests from God Himself versus a negative type of destructive temptation from Satan?

Lance Quinn: Well, that’s a great question. This particular first chapter of the letter from James, our Lord Jesus’ brother, is a very important biblical passage for counselors. And obviously even for just Christians in general. You and I might be familiar with the first couple of verses in James 1 beginning in verse 2, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

The word there for trials, as you mentioned Dale, is actually a word that is used in a negative context in this chapter for “temptations,” but it’s the same Greek word. In a positive context like here in verses 2-4, it’s talking about trials because all Christians go through trials. And the one who brings such trials is God Himself. We know that because verse 5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” God does bring trials. He tests Christians in order to bolster their faith, to bring steadfastness, to bring endurance. So the idea of trials comes from God to mature us, to make a steadfast, to give us a bolstered faith so that we might grow into the likeness of Christ.

But if you go down in James 1 particularly to verse 13, you have a very different word in our English translation. I’m using the English Standard Version, but it’s the same Greek word peirasmos. In verse 13 it says, “Let no one say when he is tempted.” Well, that’s the same word as trials. Immediately, what we’re hearing is a different context and in this context you’re talking about someone who is battling sin in their heart. How do we know that? Well, it says in verse 14-15, “But each person is tempted [there’s that word again] 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.” Two different contexts—the first being positive, the next being negative, but it’s the same Greek word peirasmos.

When God is bringing such a trial, He never solicits us to do evil. When it’s in a negative context, that same word is in a sense transformed into a very negative one, so that it ceases to be just a trial, but it’s a temptation. Here in James 1, it actually doesn’t mention Satan—at least by name. It doesn’t say, “Satan is leading you to be tempted into sin.” It actually says when we’re tempted, we are led or lured or enticed by our own desire, which of course means I don’t need Satan to be a sinner. James does mention Satan in other contexts (even in James 4:7 it says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you”), but here it’s talking about the Christian who is tempted by his own desire. When that word peirasmos is used, it does mean tempt, and not just trial, because it’s coming from a source. In this case, the source is my own remaining sin, the sin of my heart.

This is a very interesting chapter—one positive, one negative. The positive is that you and I are being led by God to be tested. That word tested in verses 2 and 3 is the word dokimos. It means to be approved, or to be tested, or to be refined in the fire, so that all of the dross, the impurities, my remaining sin, is burned away so that I can look just like my Savior Jesus Christ.

This is a very important text for counselors. If I were to use this in a counseling context, I would explain what I’ve just said, but I would make sure Christians understand who need to be counseled, want to be counseled, that it is our desire that sometimes is our own worst enemy.

Dale Johnson: You make several interesting points. I wish we could go back and talk through some of that. But as we think about the testing and the trial, you make an interesting distinction about what it produces. Does it produce something that’s healthy in relation to God, that’s righteous and good in us? Or does it produce something that’s evil according to our own desire? When the biblical writer—who you mention is actually James, the brother of our Lord—when he speaks in verses 1-5 about this testing of the Christian’s faith and what it produces as over against that idea of doubting, the doubting of the believer and what it produces.

How can a biblical counselor practically use this passage in James 1 to encourage both the one trusting God in the midst of their trial, as over against the doubting believer who’s instability is wreaking havoc in his or her spiritual life?

Lance Quinn: I think as a counselor, here’s the way I would approach that. If you are determining as you’re sitting across from someone or your discipling someone, and you’ve both got your Bible open to James 1. If it’s positive, if it’s coming to a believer who is grieved over their sin, they’re desiring to grow spiritually, they’re very sincere, I would take them to James 1:2-4. I would explain what we’ve just said in your first question and then I would go to verses 5 and 6, which says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting.” I would say to that person who’s earnestly wanting to deal with their sin, I would encourage them that they can avail themselves of two things: wisdom and faith. This is why the Bible so practical for us!

The wisdom that they don’t possess in order to deal with their trials—that wisdom comes from God. So what do you do? You pray and you ask God for wisdom. Now, I don’t think when you ask God for wisdom, He’s going to give you something out of the sky, as it were. He’s going to illumine your mind about passages of Scripture that you’ve read, that you’ve learned perhaps even as a child, from the sermons that your preacher may give you, your own Bible study, a friend’s encouragement giving you Bible verses that you can use in your own life.

However the vehicle of that wisdom comes, it’s you asking God for it and He brings (as I like to say) the Word of God, the Spirit of God, and the people of God to you. When you have that kind of wisdom, you will be directed to pursue this trial so that it produces in you an endurance in your Christian life. And you do it without doubting. You do that by asking God for an increased faith. Right there practically in verses 5 and 6, you’re being told what are the the tools that you have at your disposal: wisdom from God and faith that allows you, instead of doubting, to grow. Faith is like a muscle—increasing the strength of your understanding of what this trial is and it ultimately produces for you a kind of endurance.

Now when you turn it over in James 1:13-16 to the negative issues of someone having a desire for sin, and then that sin according to verse 14 is a sin that you’ve been lured and enticed into doing, which means that you have other forces at work. Your remaining sin in your heart that you have to deal with like a spiritual battle like no other, and you also have Satan and his devils who are fighting against you at every turn, and then of course you have just the allurements of the world. Do you see the opposites, here?

For me, the idea is taking your counselee or your disciple and showing them the two ends of James 1, as it were. You show them the positive, you show them the steadfastness, the endurance, the wisdom, the faith. And then you show them the backend, and the backend is when you are tempted it is because you are lured and enticed by your own desires. Then you start talking to them about their motives, their desires, their will, those things that are leading them into sin. When they are aware of their motives, then you can begin to take them back to James 1:2-4, and you can show them how the positive can overcome the negative.

Dale Johnson: That’s so helpful, and I’m even thinking about this for our counselors. This is how the wisdom of God should be the backdrop of how we see people’s lives. When an event is happening in their life, it’s not so much the event in-and-of-itself. God is really helping us to understand, it’s how people respond. I’ve always thought about that question that asked, “If any of you lacks wisdom.” That trial reveals something about us in our lack of the wisdom of God.

As you mentioned toward the end, we see the negative. When in James 1:14-16, he speaks about this progression of temptation into sin, this is an important idea that we as counselors or pastors need to understand as you think about engaging with people. This idea that we are lured and then enticed to consider, to contemplate sinning, to respond not according the wisdom of God, but according to the wisdom of man or our own desires. Then our desire leads to sin and then sin to death, this type of progression.

How does a person counsel someone else to prevent them from being on this slippery slope of progression of sin to death?

Lance Quinn: Well, I think the first thing is what verse 16 says. That is, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.” Understand this: Sin is real, Satan is real, the world and its allurements are real. What are you putting into your mind? What are you saying as you coach yourself? Do you place God’s Word in your mind and heart so as to battle these forces of evil, including even the remaining sin of your heart? And if in fact, you are entertaining the subject matter of the world. What do you listen to? Who do you listen to? How much do you ingest God’s Word, as over against how much you ingest the world’s goods, the world’s philosophy of how to live life?

I would begin to ask someone that you’re discipling, counseling, “Tell me how much time you spend in God’s Word daily, versus how much time you spend with social media or television or some form of what you put through your eyes or your ears in terms of what your mind is apprehending.” In the end you will inevitably find, I think, a kind of temptation that has been grown in the soil of worldliness, of satanic enterprise, and a person’s own lustful desires. And if you can choke that off, if you can put the good kind of pesticide of God’s Word to choke out the worries, the strategies, the philosophies, and the temptations of the world, you’ll be a lot further along in accessing the wisdom of God through faith in Christ than you ever thought possible. And you’re going to be even then more greatly victorious as you see a growth in grace and a precipitous fall from those things that once fell you in your sinful temptations.

Dale Johnson: This is the important work that the Lord has called us to do in counseling, when we minister the Word. We can help someone to see when they’re on this progression and to warn them. As you were thinking, I could not help but the Word of the Lord coming to me from Colossians 3 that we let the word of Christ dwell in us richly and that be the backdrop by which we see the world. That way when trials come, we respond according to what’s in our heart in what we desire. We desire the Word of the Lord. It’s easy for all of us to start hearing the noise, the ideas that come from the world, and we get swept away in our desires. Lance, this is so helpful as we think about battling temptations and spiritual warfare.

And again, I want to recommend to you the resource of his plenary session from our recent Annual Conference that we provided digitally for you. Lance, thank you so much for being here. Thank you so much for giving us this insight. I think this is rich, practical wisdom that counselors can employ in a counseling room even tomorrow. Thank you, brother.

Lance Quinn: You’re welcome.