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“Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:13–17 NKJV).
The Subject of Relativism
James’ letter to the scattered believers of the first century is as up to date with the issues facing modern man as any best-selling book in the marketplace. In the paragraph before us, James addressed the subject of relativism, which is sweeping the Western world in this third millennium.
The prophets of this religion preach that morality exists only in relation to the present culture, that is, within its historical and societal context. Thus, there is no room for anything as archaic as long-standing moral absolutes. The relativist argues that all truth claims are valid regardless of their origin or outcome. This philosophy creates a world in which nothing is necessarily wrong and where there are no right or wrong answers to any issues of life. Justice and fairness are not high-level concerns, resulting in no accountability and little, if any, tolerance for real moral discourse. In the mind of the relativist, the end result is that evil does not exist. In fact, in his bestselling 1987 The Closing of the American Mind, Professor Allan Bloom noted that our inability to recognize and identify evil would be a sign that our society is in grave danger. He has been proven to be a prophet in our time.
We live in a culture not unlike the one James addressed. Our world and our educational systems are becoming void of any discussion of moral absolutes. We bow before a myriad of little gods of our own making. The Ten Commandments are viewed as out-of-date and out of touch even though they have served as the basic building block of every decent democracy in history. We should not be surprised by repeated efforts to have the Ten Commandments removed from our schools and wiped off our national monuments. Simply put, relativism actually redefines — in the words of a former president — what the meaning of “is” is.
Morality is a forgotten concept in our culture. Few people ever think about, much less speak of, temptation anymore. Premarital sex is a virtual given. Relativism, this religion of modern man that offers a life with no moral absolutes, is our culture’s chosen altar of worship. Consequently, as the front pages of our newspapers attest in one way or another almost every day, there are basically no restraints on words, actions or relationships in the twenty-first century.
Major moral scandals frequently surface in every field or endeavor. Well-known athletes boast of illicit sex with hundreds of different partners. Others have been caught gambling large sums on their own teams. High-level business executives, who thought they were above the law, have found themselves in lowly prison cells rather than lofty penthouses. And let’s be honest: too many leaders in the Christian faith have been exposed for unsavory double standards.
Clearly, James’s words about temptation in 1:13–17 have never been more appropriate or more applicable than in today’s moral — or amoral — climate. James’s caution speaks to our own culture: “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren” (v. 16). Having addressed external trials earlier in this letter, James then turned his attention to internal temptations. The same Greek word translated in its noun form as “trials” in verse 2 is translated in its verb form as “tempted” in verse 13. The context of these words provides for us the key to understanding their difference. As we previously observed, James was discussing the testing of our faith. He said, “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (v. 2). Now he switched gears to highlight our propensity to sin: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’” (v. 13).
While the very idea of temptation may not exist for proponents of relativism, it is the very heart of James’s words in the paragraph before us (v. 13–17). Beginning at the root, James spoke first about the cause of temptation: it has an internal source. Next, James revealed its course: Like all weeds, temptation has a root (a selfish desire), a shoot (a sinful decision), and a fruit (a sure defeat). Finally, James gave a caution about dealing with temptations that come our way. He warned us not to be deceived about our sin, about our Savior, or about our salvation.
From time to time, we all find our way to temptation’s corner and must make decisions about which way to go. The light turns green. Horns honk. And too many of us make wrong and sometimes costly turns under such conditions… unless we have already decided which way to turn before we get to the intersection.
Just do it! Don’t believe the false religion of relativism. There are today — and there always have been — moral absolutes in life. We need these boundaries. After all, when is a train most free — when it is running on its tracks or when it is off the tracks? On another front, all truth claims are not valid. Since “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17), let’s hear and heed what James said not just to a first-century world but also to the contemporary culture today. James gave us some valuable instruction about which way to turn so that we can be strong before we even get to temptation’s intersection.
Taken from The James Code by O.S. Hawkins. Copyright © 2015 by Dr. O.S. Hawkins. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. O. S. Hawkins has served pastorates, including the First Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, for more than 25 years. For a quarter of a century, he served as president of GuideStone Financial Resources. He is the author of more than 40 books and regularly speaks to business groups and churches all across the nation. All of the author’s royalties go to support Mission:Dignity. MissionDignity.org.
Read more articles by Dr. O.S. Hawkins at: https://www.goodnewsfl.org/author/o-s-hawkins/