James, the brother of Jesus, is the author of this book. It is important to remember that James is related to Jesus by Mary, their mother, as Jesus is the Son of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit. Given that James wrote his book around the year AD 50, we know that Jesus has risen and ascended. Pentecost has taken place and the first Christians, equipped with the Holy Spirit and the ability to speak local tongues, are moving out to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. James is writing to Jewish Christians living in the diaspora, that is, the dispersion of Jews into Gentile nations. His goal is to teach wisdom to these men and women who are amid unbelievers, and perhaps more important, those who belong to pagan religions.
Scripture Interprets Scripture
We do well to notice the context of this pericope. In the verses leading up to this weekend’s Epistle, James encourages the people to bear up under testing of their faith. In summary of the leading section, James wants to connect this testing to spiritual growth. This leads naturally into our section in which James teaches about temptation. In the following section, James exhorts his readers to be doers of the word and not merely hearers. Taken together, James wants his readers to embrace a Christian lifestyle—that is, to recognize that the life of a Christian is often not easy, that by the Holy Spirit we are to resist temptation, and that the natural result of faith in Christ is works in obedience to God and for the benefit of other people.
The account of Abraham and his near sacrifice of Isaac is perhaps the most appreciated story of testing, temptation, and good works for the Lord. Recall that Abraham and Sarah had Isaac late in life after the time that they would normally have children. Now God is calling Abraham to put his son to death. Abraham could certainly relate to these words from James 1:14: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” It would be safe to say that Abraham was enticed by his desire to keep his son. Yet he persevered. Abraham, in fact, experienced all three of the challenges which James offers. His faith was tempted, he experienced temptation regarding the sacrifice, and he was willing to do this good work of sacrificing to the Lord.
Digging Out the Gems
In the Gospel for this weekend, we read, “And He was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan” (Mark 1:13). Mark uses the verb πειρασμον. This is the same Greek word James uses as he writes, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial” (James 1:12). It makes sense that, as Christians, we experience trials in this world. We live in a sinful world and retain our sinful nature until the Lord takes us to heaven. Jesus experienced temptations so that we could face God Almighty “wearing” the life Jesus did on earth. We are wrapped in His success over temptation. One may ask if it were possible for Jesus to succumb to temptation. This is certainly debatable.
Consider this: C. S. Lewis suggested that Jesus demonstrated a life of perfect obedience to God’s Law the same way that a teacher shows us the proper way to shape letters. A teacher wraps his hand around ours and forms the letters for us. The fact that the teacher is unable to form the letters incorrectly is irrelevant. So, the fact that Jesus was successful under temptation merely means that He did not have a sinful nature and would always succeed where we have failed. The result is the same: through faith, we receive the righteous, perfect life of Jesus Christ.
Law and Gospel
James certainly is exhorting us against sin. However, the larger issue is how we understand the cause of disobedience. The temptation is to blame our sin upon our Creator. The wise Christian understands that temptation comes from the world, the devil, and our own sinful nature. James explains that every good and perfect gift comes from above. In other words, sin has its roots in us, and all blessings come from our perfect God in heaven. It is also noteworthy that James points to what he calls our own desire (v. 14). In other words, the devil knows our individual weaknesses. He will prey upon those as he works.
Our comfort is knowing that, just as God provided a substitute sacrifice in place of Isaac, he provided Jesus Christ to suffer and die in our place. We receive the perfect life of Jesus Christ, who succeeded under temptation and shed His precious blood that we would live in a state of grace. The Lord promises to give us strength against sin and pledges His ready grace and forgiveness in Christ Jesus.
Learn more about the Book of James by downloading the Books of the Bible Study Guide.