12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 13 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. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
I've been working my way through the New Testament over the past year or so, and just started perhaps my favorite short book of the Bible, James. Martin Luther is said to have criticized this book, saying that it didn't have anything about the gospel in it. Truth be told, it doesn't - nothing is said about Christ dying for our sins, about Christ as God, about the resurrection, and so on. It does talk about faith in chapter 2 but even that part (faith without works is dead, etc.) can be tough to understand. But, as great as Luther was, he was wrong to say James shouldn't be in the Bible. It's almost a Proverbs in the New Testament, and I love the Proverbs. Sure you may need to look elsewhere for the outright doctrine of justification or penal substitution, but James has a great deal to say to Christians who are suffering, struggling with sin, or need to mature in areas such as partiality, using their tongue wisely, and so on.
All that to say, the passage in James 1 struck me as a "compare and contrast" passage between the two men presented, sort of like Proverbs does over and over. First we have the blessed man, the one who "stands fast" under trial - meaning he successfully navigates life's difficulties, sudden crises, sicknesses, rebellious children, hard times financially - he is the man who loves God through it all and is promised the crown of life after he dies. This is beautiful imagery of the mature Christian who takes to heart James 1:2-3 - "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." Here is a steadfast man, already blessed on account of his walk with God, his love for God, and his steadfast character. He is not perfect, but he is blessed.
The second man is completely different from the first. This man is not only lured and enticed by his own desires, he is audacious enough to blame God for his temptation! James corrects this view by rightly declaring that God is neither tempted to sin nor does he tempt anyone to sin (by allowing difficulty to come into our lives God is NOT tempting us to worry, for example - the difficulty only exposes our heart's inclination to worry and not trust God). The second man gives into his desires because he is weak, immature, and ultimately not living out of love for God but love for himself. The fruit of this kind of living is ultimately death, for sin comes from such desires and death follows as the result of sin.
Here's the point: I am the second man! I read the contrast between the two and desperately want to say "I'm becoming more the first man every day!" and yet I don't know if that is true. Sure there are glimpses of hope, rays of light that shine through when I refuse temptation, trust God, and love Him more than sin. And while Christ is my Savior and Lord, whom I seek to follow with all of my heart, this passage helped me see just how far I still have to go. It is a glorious truth that we are saved by grace through faith, not through works of righteousness... because I don't have any! My hope every day comes from clinging to the cross, putting all my hope in the grace of God who I have offended with my sin and deserve eternal punishment from. Yet I have received grace and mercy, have trusted Him, and each day strive to love and trust Him more. So, while the first man is who I am, by the grace of God I will become more and more like the second, blessed, man and will be with him forever wearing the crown of life. Amen.