What we think and believe are so central to our lives, affecting the way we feel, act, and how we relate to others. More than anything else, our beliefs about God are determinative. Just consider the words of God through the Prophet Jeremiah:
· This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord. (Jer. 9:23-24).
For instance, if we do not know that God is kind to us, we might believe that every misfortune is for the delight of a sadistic god. Such a belief will transform our entire life and the way we treat others. If God is sadistic, then there is no reason why we shouldn’t be sadistic!
It is important to understand our hardships from the point view of a God who loves us so that He is working every painful circumstance for good (Rom. 8:28) to make us more like Jesus (2 Cor. 4:10-11).
Instead, we have a perverse tendency to think that God is trying to make us sin through the hardships. The Book of James tries to correct this tragic thinking:
· When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:13-15)
For God to coerce us to sin is “evil,” according to James. He insists that God is above such a thing. There is no evil in Him! Yes, God brings hardships and hardships heighten temptations. However, God’s purposes aren’t evil, and He does not coerce us to sin. Instead, His purposes are loving and righteous. He wants us to see our sin and to humble us in the process.
God certainly allowed me to get stuck in the traffic-jam, and this tempted me to get angry. God even knew that I’d get angry and sin. However, he meant this for good to humble me and to make me more like Jesus. Nevertheless, despite God’s intentions and knowledge that I would sin, it was still I who sinned!
Moses had explained to Israel how this humbling process was necessary:
· Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order [for you] to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. (Deut. 8:2-3)
God had humbled Israel for their own good so that they’d cling to His every word! However, He didn’t cause them to sin. Instead, Israel had to take responsibility their sins, confess them, to repent and return to their God. God intended that Israel would be so humbled that they would no longer trust in themselves and their own judgment but instead trust in God’s Word! There could be no humbling if Israel had been convinced that it was God who caused them to sin and rebel. Instead, this belief would just cause bitterness! I too am humbled by my failures, not by a failure imposed upon me!
Likewise, James counsels us to take full responsibility for our sins rather than to say, “God made me do it.” We do this in many ways. We might say, “The devil made me do it” or “The Fall deprived me of my freewill and moral responsibility. Therefore, I am not guilty.” Others justify themselves by claiming, “God made me this way. So it must be okay!” Others stake their defense on nurture or nature:
· “This is just the way I am,” or “I was traumatized as a child.”
Although these excuses might contain some truth, they do not relieve us of the responsibility for our behavior. James places the onus entirely on us:
· Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. (James 1:14)
To believe otherwise usually means relying on a defective understanding of God – “God made me do it!” While blaming God for our misfortunes and failures might feel good temporarily, in the long run, it creates alienation from both God and society.
If we do not learn to accept full responsibility for our lives, we will not succeed anywhere – on the job, in the marriage, raising our children, or with God. The only way that my wife and I can be restored is through truth – the full acceptance of our responsibility for wrong-doing and confession.
This is just one illustration of how important it is to think correctly about God and also ourselves. However, this same principle can be applied to every doctrine of the Bible:
· Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him... (2 Peter 1:2-3)
We need to pray that God will teach us to think correctly, especially about Him!