“I’d work harder if my boss would get off my case.” “I wouldn’t yell at my kids if I could just get more sleep.” “I wouldn’t look if she didn’t dress that way.” “I would eat better if I could afford better food.” “I wouldn’t get so mad if my husband would just get a clue.”
We all know we fall short of the mark in many different ways. Yet when we try and figure out why we do, all too often we assume that the problems are external. However, the Apostle Peter tells us “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”(2 Peter 1:3 NIV) Which is it? Have I been given all I need for life and godliness? Or are my circumstances and experiences hindering my pursuit of godliness?
My experience tells me the latter is what is true. I feel like if I had everything I needed to be godly, then I’d have my anger under control, I’d never be tempted to lust, I’d work diligently and rest peacefully. In fact, at times I’ve even been tempted to wonder if God wants me to act a certain way why doesn’t He give me what I need and take away what holds me back? John Newton expressed this disillusionment perfectly in his hymn “I asked the Lord.”
“I thought that in some favored hour
At once He’d answer my request
And by His love’s constraining power
Subdue my sins and give me rest.”
So far, this has not been my experience. Has God, then, let me down? Has He withheld some thing that I need in order to follow Him? In other words, is it really Him who’s tempting me since He’s the one who is in charge of my circumstances?
James tells us clearly “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one.”(James 1:13) In other words, “temptation is not external, it’s internal.” If we were pure of heart, circumstances wouldn’t be tempting to us.
Some use this verse to say that God doesn’t control our circumstances because that would be tantamount to tempting us. That misses the point of the verse and a major theme in James. God allows temptation to come along not to deceive us into sinning. Rather, because He knows sin lies in our hearts, He graciously allows us to enter into circumstances that reveal what is already in our hearts.
What’s the point of all this? Again, Newton says it well:
“These inward trials I employ
From self and sin to set the free
To break thy schemes of earthly joy
That thou may find thy all in me.”