A number of years ago, we had a pastor at Hinson that would end every service by saying “God is good all the time. All the time God is good.” I remember some Sundays having my heart echo those words. I remember other Sundays where they were just repetitious words to me. And I remember Sundays when those words were a hard pill to swallow. God is good always…really? If so, why am I going through these circumstances right now? Why am I in pain? Why aren’t things going my way? Why am I falling victim to the same sin over and over? Why is temptation so hard to overcome? Where is God in the midst of this?
I know that I am not alone in asking those kinds of questions. When bad things happen, we ask why. We wonder why God would let these things happen. After tragedies like 9/11 and the Sandy Hook shootings, people ask how a good God would let such horrible things happen.
We probably all know someone who has walked away from God in the midst of suffering or trials. They reached a point where they blamed God and no longer believed that he cared about them. We probably also know someone who has walked away from God to pursue sin that was just too enticing to give up.
James knows how easy it would be for the young Christians that he is writing to, to fall away. They have scattered because of severe persecution. They may very well be asking whether following Jesus is worth it. Or wondering if they didn’t quite understand it right. James begs them to stand firm, to stand the test. He knows what awaits them – the crown of life.
So how do they do that, and how do we do that in the midst of the trials and temptation that we face in our individual lives?
- The character of God is our strength during trials.
- The character of God is our refuge during temptations.
1. The character of God is our strength during trials.
God allows us to go through trials. God even orchestrates trials. This might not sit well with us. Back to that question of how a good God can let bad things happen. The Bible is clear. God can stop bad things from happening, but he doesn’t always. And God even sometimes ordains bad things in order to accomplish his purposes. How can anyone not question why at some point?
In the midst of trials, in order to stand firm, we must keep our eyes fixed on the character of God. We have to recite his promises to ourselves. We have to search Scriptures and meditate on who he is – he is good, faithful, merciful, loving, patient, kind, wise, just, righteous. He is also in control of everything. Therefore, if bad things happen he is in control of them. If he is control of them, they have to be true to his character or else he is a liar. Which means that these things are good and just.
Does that mean that in the midst of trials or pain or suffering we need to be able to say, “This is good!”? No. We don’t have to like our circumstances. We don’t have to pretend to understand them. But we have to continually hold strong to our faith that God is good and kind and caring. We have to entrust ourselves into the hands of the perfectly wise God, believing that he cares for us.
Do you remember hearing about the family from Forest Grove whose two daughters were hit and killed while playing in a pile of leaves this fall? No one could say that it was good that they lost their two young daughters. But this couple has been holding fast to God in the midst of their circumstances. They publically forgave the woman driving the car. They have rejoiced that the girls’ organs could be donated to save the lives of others. They look forward to joining their daughters in heaven one day where they will also join their Lord. They are taking refuge in the character of God. That in the midst of their pain, He is good and he is faithful and they will be ok.
When we are faced with trials or suffering, we can also take refuge in the fact that God hates our pain and suffering too. God did not create pain or suffering. God created a good world. Pain and suffering entered the world as a direct consequence of sin. Sin, suffering, pain, and death are the Curse. God longs to make the world right again, and He will do it in his perfect timing. We can know that God is on our side. God wants us to be free of trials too, and he will set us free for eternity when Christ returns.
I need to offer a word of caution though. We need to be careful how we express these truths to someone who is hurting. The truth that God is good no matter what the circumstance and that his ways are always right and just is meant to be a comfort and a refuge. But they can very easily come across as us being trivial and dismissive to someone in pain. For instance, to tell someone just diagnosed with cancer that its God’s will and they should take joy in it and that it will all work out for good might not be the words of comfort that person is ready to hear in that moment. These are truths we must first preach to ourselves, in the midst of our own trials and suffering.
2. The character of God is our refuge during temptations.
Temptations – they hit us constantly, don’t they? Probably just on the way here this morning, you were faced with temptation.
Want to know the great part? Temptation itself is not sin. Rather temptation is an opportunity to choose sides. Whose side will you be on in this moment? God’s? Or Satan’s?
How we respond to temptation depends on what we are filling our hearts and minds with before the temptation hits. What are our desires? What are we concentrating on?
For instance, if I am concentrating on my need to get to Bible study on time because I am a leader and leaders should be on time and timeliness is a virtue and if I am late I will look bad and I don’t want anyone to think bad of me … and then I hit all red lights and the car in front of me is crawling at snail’s pace and there is a pedestrian who wants to walk across the street so I really should stop for her but that will just make me later, and my blood is boiling and my anger is rising and then my kids struggle getting out of the car and I snap at them, saying hurtful things and reacting in anger. Just think about how my reactions to all of those same stimuli, those temptations, would be so much different if my inner dialogue was one of prayer for the morning of Bible study. If my thoughts were on God rather than on myself. Yes, obviously I am speaking from experience – far more than once. You see, where I keep my mind focused makes all the difference when temptation hits.
James says that we fall to temptation when we are dragged away by our own evil desires.
The Bible Knowledge commentary puts it this way “Unchecked lust or desire or temptation yields sin. Unconfessed sin gives birth to death. Just as right response to trials can result in growth to full spiritual maturity, so a wrong response to lust will result in decline to abject spiritual poverty and ultimately to death itself.”
So how do we avoid such a fate?
“The solution for temptation is a close relationship with the Father and a constant response to his Word.”
When we are faced with temptation we need to take refuge in the character of God.
The character of God drives out our desire for sin.
When we focus our minds and our hearts on the Lord, we want more of Him and less of anything that is contrary to him. Filling ourselves with what is good and pure and right washes away those evil desires that entice us to sin. We see sin for what it really is – ugly and awful. When we are blinded by our evil desires, we don’t see how disgusting sin is. It is only when compared to what is holy that sin really looks like what it is.
The character of God gives us the strength to turn away from sin.
When we are meditating on the character of God, we get glimpses of his extraordinary power. When we see how powerful he is, we can finally see how little power sin actually has over us. Romans 8:37-39 “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Sin has no hold over God, and through the power of Christ Jesus, sin has no hold over us either.
And so we are not slaves to our evil desires. We do not have to be dragged away and enticed. We rest in the shelter of the Lord when we face temptations of any kind.
James wants us to know that we can stand strong and remain faithful whatever trials, tests, or temptations come our way. We can do this because our God is a good God. It is our job to be constantly remembering and knowing and believing in Him and who he is. To do this, we need to be in the Word and we need to be in his presence.