Are You Really Responsible?
Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God.’ (James 1:13)
Charles Templeton, a newspaper reporter from Toronto, after a night of carousing and drunkenness, says that he had a conversion experience. By 1945 he was preaching with Billy Graham at Youth for Christ rallies around the U.S. and Europe. He began, however, to have doubts about the authority of Scripture and even began questioning God’s existence because of the suffering he saw from World War II. The last I heard he was ill, near death, and still an atheist. The sordid details of Roman Catholic priests who plied their paedophilia on young boys rightly incites anger and disgust, but are the victims of paedophilia justified in living ungodly lives and practicing atheism? And the alcoholic who blames his problems on his spouse or upbringing is failing to take responsibility for his sin. And what about your sinful propensities and practices? Who are you blaming?
In a culture in which we sue McDonalds for our own obesity we should not then be surprised that many blame God for their problems. James, the half-brother of Jesus, is moving us back to the holiness and powerful Christian living of Pentecost, a height from which the church had already fallen; and he does so by promoting the pathway to holiness, telling us to rejoice in every circumstance, to see God in every trial, but also to see the devil in every temptation. James tells us three important things in this verse.
First, temptation happens. No doubt about it! Adam was tempted (Gen. 3). So was David (2 Sam. 11). So was Jesus (Matt. 4). And so are all of us (1 Cor. 10:13). And these temptations come from the outside.
Second, when we face these temptations we must never say that God is the one tempting us, moving us, inciting, inducing, or seducing us to sin. God is never the culprit. By this I am not saying that he does not test us. He certainly put a severe test before Abraham (Gen. 22). Nor am I saying that evil is not part of his sovereign plan. He is the author of calamity (Isa. 45:6-7, Amos 3:6) and he raises up people and nations to do their evil and to bring judgment, all the while holding them responsible for their sinful actions (Jer. 51:20-26). Nor am I saying that God does not stir up people to do what they desire to do. Joseph came to see that while his brothers meant evil, God used it powerfully for good (Gen. 45:5-8). Nor am I saying that God does not give people over to their own wickedness so that they may be judged (Rom. 1:24ff).
And third, James tells us why we must never lay our sin on God. Why not? Because he is perfectly holy and therefore incapable of doing evil, including tempting or seducing anyone against his own will to sin. The three-fold declaration by the seraphim ought to make clear this truth (Isa. 6:1ff).
What does this mean, then? Quite emphatically, James is saying that you alone, not God or anyone else for that matter, are totally responsible for your sin. Adam tried to pass the buck to Eve and we have been trying to do the same thing ever since (Gen. 3:10-12). Understand this vital principle – you will never grow in gospel holiness until you acknowledge you alone, not God or anyone else, are responsible for your own sinful behaviour. This may be easy to say but it is very hard to practice daily. Until the alcoholic, for example, stops blaming his wife, friends, childhood trauma, or the devil’s tempting influence, then he will never make progress in holiness. Until the man given to outbursts of anger with his wife or children acknowledges that he is the culprit, not the tense circumstances of living with too little money, too little time; then he will make little progress in biblical holiness. Until the man addicted to porn quits blaming his miserable marriage or job, saying he only wants relief and a little pleasure; will he make progress in ‘casting out the demon’ of decadent passion. This is fundamental to gospel holiness. Quit passing the buck. Quit blaming God, your past, your circumstances, or the devil. I am not saying that these are not present, but you alone are responsible for your sinful actions.
So, what must you do? After the transfiguration of Jesus (Mark 9:2-8), when he came down from the mountain with Peter, James, and John, Mark tells us that they came upon a dispute between religious leaders and Jesus’ followers (Mark 9:14-29). A man had brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus and his disciples were unable to heal the boy. This boy had serious problems – the demons threw him to the ground, he foamed at the mouth, ground his teeth, stiffened out, and was periodically hurled by the demons into the fire or water. The desperate father no doubt lived in perpetual fear and vigilance, waiting for the day when the demons finally succeeded in killing his son and taking him to hell. What anguish, fear, and sorrow! When Jesus addressed the father he responded by saying, ‘If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us!’ Jesus responds with a question of incredulity, ‘If you can!’ In essence he is saying, ‘What do you mean, “If I can.” Of course I can. All things are possible for him who believes.’ The father then uttered those famous words, ‘I do believe; help me in my unbelief.’ Jesus displayed his authority and power by casting out the demons, rendering the son completely healthy and fit.
You are like the man who says, ‘I do believe. Help me in my belief.’ On the one hand, you do believe you have a new heart that loves God and hates sin, that you have the righteousness of Jesus which cleanses you of all your filth, and that you have the holiness of Jesus by the Holy Spirit so that you may obey his commands (Ezek. 36:25-27). On the one hand you know you have the divine nature within you (2 Pet. 1:3-4) which means you have all you need pertaining to life and godliness. And on the one hand, you know God is faithful to finish the good work he began in you (Phil. 1:6). But on the other hand, you look at your own sinful thoughts, values, motives, attitudes, speech, and behaviour and know no good thing dwells in your flesh, that the wishing to do good is present in you but the doing of the good is not, that when you do the very thing you do not want to do, then it is no longer you doing it, but sin that dwells in you (Rom. 7:18-20).
What must you do with your sin? I am speaking in general terms; here’s what you need to do – just as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him (Col. 2:6). You received Jesus’ righteousness by faith, being cleansed of all your sin. You simply believed, trusted in him, in what he did on the cross, to satisfy the Father’s wrath, to take away your sin and guilt. Like one who trusts his parachute completely to save him when he jumps from the plane, so you trusted in Christ’s redeeming death and resurrection. You put all your trust and confidence in Jesus’ redemptive work. Likewise, do the same with your holiness and sanctification. Simply ask Jesus for his holiness and watch him fill you with his presence and power that very moment.
Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.
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