From Foothold to Stronghold

James 1:13-18

Illustrations: Call a veterinarian / About instrumental music?

Sometimes, don’t you feel like a salmon swimming upstream against the river of worldliness and immorality that threatens to wash you back out to sea? You want to do what is right, yet Satan is working so hard against you. And some of you are exhausted and others have just given up.

When I mentioned last week that Satan has an arsenal of weapons, I said that Satan is opportunistic –that he is never satisfied with merely a foothold – he is always seeking to expand and diversify. He wants to turn a foothold into a stronghold.

Satan is strategic – he has a plan and he pursues it. He doesn’t operate in a haphazard way. It is a strategy he has used from the beginning of time.
Why? You do what works. [Illust – You’re familiar with football – a football team will study the other team’s game film to find weaknesses and then use plays to exploit those weaknesses. Satan studies your film and he will run the same play over and over exploiting your weaknesses]. As Satan did to Peter, he will do to you – “sift you as wheat” – until he finds your weakness. And then he keeps driving through that same hole.

And when Satan is tempting you to do what you know you ought not to do, he makes it all sound so innocent: He’ll begin by focusing on a need or desire in your life – often a legitimate need or desire. And he will tell you two lies:

First, he’ll tell you that it’s a need that God can’t meet – a desire that God can’t fulfill. The implication is that God is holding out on you. He is failing to give you something. He has something you need and he isn’t providing it. Think about the Devil’s conversation with Eve. Adam and Eve didn’t need anything in the Garden. All of their needs were fully met by God. But even in that situation, the Devil offered his lie: you need something more in your life, and God is withholding it from you. That’s his first lie.

The second lie is - he’ll tell you that he can. Now, he’s not going to tell you the whole truth – just enough to make you think he’s got the answer to your needs. He’s not going to tell you about the negative consequences, the guilt, the broken relationships – none of that will be mentioned. Just that he can take care of your needs.
• You need more excitement? Here, try this.
• You have a physical need? Here, this will take care of it.
• You need to feel more important? Here, this will do it.

The Devil told Eve that the risk of eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was minimal: “You will not surely die.” He held out for Eve only what seemed to be the good aspect of her eating: “Your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” The Devil didn’t tell her that she would destroy her relationship with God or her relationship with Adam, or lose her place in Eden.
The Devil won’t tell you the full consequences of the sin he entices you to commit.
• He won’t tell you what adultery will do to your marriage, your relationship with your children or your reputation.
• He won’t tell you truth about the negative consequences of alcohol or drugs or gambling.
• He won’t warn you that pre-marital sex will scar your life physically, emotionally and spiritually.

The Devil never tells the full consequences of any sin – just how easy it is to take care of your need right here, right now.

In the first 12 vss. of James, James lays out a process – a process in which God uses the trials in our lives to strengthen us – he develops perseverance which produces maturity which makes us complete, not lacking anything. And he concludes that thought by writing – “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (1:12).

In vs. 13, he turns to another process – “When tempted, [you need to know that the word that is translated “temptation” is the same word that is translated as “trial” or “test”] no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (1:13-15). When temptation comes into your life, what path will you choose? Sin is very much a process, not an event. All we often consider is the final act of sin and we say, “Aha! There it happened! That was sin.” But James reminds us that sin begins long before the murder or the affair or the theft. It begins when we consider the possibilities. Satan plants the seed and we will toy with the thought of something we would never consider doing. But the more we think about it, the more it entices us, and Satan starts providing the ammunition – it wouldn’t be that hard, the consequences won’t be that bad, the pleasure will be worth it all. And then, in spite of our better judgment, what we would never have considered becomes a very real possibility.

Eve (Gen. 3:6 “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” – She saw, she took, she ate)
David (2 Sam. 11:2-4 “One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “Isn’t this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her.” – He saw, he sent, he slept)

Sin is a cycle that begins long before the sin is committed. It begins in the heart where desires war and battles are won or lost when a choice is made and a step is taken and the path is followed.

Listen as James describes that cycle of sin:

1) “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed”

The cycle starts when our desires process something in our life – a thought, a look, a feeling, a person, a thing – and say, “I want that.”

I read those words, “dragged away and enticed,” and I think, “it sure would be nice if there were a little more dragging involved.” Most of us go all too readily. We know the path, the ruts are deep, the pavement is worn smooth. We hear the voice of sin, and we say, “Here I come!”

And most of us think, “What’s the big deal? I’m saved by grace. God is in the forgiving business and business is good.” But we need to hear Paul’s words again and again, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”

Now hear this – temptation is not sin – when David saw – he had a choice. When Eve listened – she had a choice. If David had turned and walked back inside, if Eve had looked at the serpent and said, “What kind of a fool do you think I am?” sin would have been averted, God would have said, “Yes!”

When we hear temptation call to us, red flags need to be flying, sirens need to be screaming. When temptation comes, we are under attack and we must take immediate action.

2) But when we listen to the voice – when we react to the stimulus – the seed has been planted. James words it this way: “When desire has conceived.” It is the union of temptation and opportunity. A lot of sins never tempt me because I just don’t give them opportunity – it’s not that they couldn’t tempt me – but because I stay away from opportunity, the two never get together and sin is never conceived.

If there is some sin that gets you over and over, try removing the opportunity. Put distance between you and the source of the sin.

3) “Gives birth to sin”
But once the seed is planted, and the path is chosen, that desire will give birth to sin.
It’s amazing how many people go around sowing wild oats and then pray for crop failure. Gal. 6:8 “The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction.”

Several years ago, a man came into my office, his face was ashen, his body was shaking – the terrible consequences of a sin in his life were about to come crashing down on him. And I had to ask him, “What did you think was going to happen?” He said, “I didn’t.”

James uses the imagery of something living – it is conceived, it is born, it grows, it becomes full grown.
And sometimes, because the sin is so small, and seemingly so insignificant, we don’t take it seriously – it’s just a little exaggeration, it was just a little flirtation, that’s just the way business works. (Anytime you have to use the word “just” to convince yourself something isn’t so bad, you know you shouldn’t be doing it.)

4) Ultimately, sin has one outcome – it may produce short term rewards and pleasures – a high, a rush, an ego stroke. We may convince ourselves that nobody gets hurt – we may salve our conscience by finding some justification for it – but ultimately sin has one outcome. James says, “and sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death.”

Rom. 6:23 – The wages of sin is death.
Prov. 14:12 – There is a way that seems right, but its end is the way to death.
Ezek. 18:20 – The soul that sins shall die

Sin always damages our relationship with God, sin always creates distance between us and God. Don’t ever minimize, never dismiss the disastrous consequences of sin. It was for our sin – every sin – that Jesus was nailed to the cross – sin is always costly – it always breaks the heart of God, because it is saying to God, “Your sacrifice doesn’t matter.”

The Hebrews writer says that anyone who chooses to turn his back on God and return to a life of sin is “crucifying the Son of God all over again.” Don’t think that sin doesn’t matter.

James doesn’t leave us there – He tells us that the temptations used by Satan to destroy us can be the opportunities that God uses to strengthen us. In vs. 16, he says, “Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers.” [Open your eyes – see clearly.] He had said in vs. 5, “Ask for wisdom.” [See these trials through God’s eyes – with his perspective.]

Don’t listen to Lucifer’s lies, don’t buy into Satan’s alibis. The Devil never offers you some legitimate pleasure that God is withholding. Any pleasure that comes with sin always has strings attached. See sin for what it is – Satan is working his plan in your life. And his plan is for your destruction. He wants your head on his trophy wall.

Illustration – Killing a Wolf