The Faith Work Out: "The Voices Within" – James 1:13-27

If you walk into a psychiatrist’s office today and say, “I am hearing voices in my head!” They will likely lock you in a rubber room. Yet, after a careful study of the scriptures, I have a message for you. I don’t know how to break the news to you, so I will just be blunt. By their definition – You are a sick person. You may look and feel well, but you have a severe illness that is increasingly showing itself in your behavior. It is not a physical illness – it is a mental one. I know, this is hard to hear, but it is true. When you came to know Jesus Christ as your Savior, and you surrendered your life to Him, you joined the ranks of the millions that carry within them a second personality. You have, what psychologists have termed, a “dissociative identity disorder” – also popularly known as “multiple personality disorder”.  Before you leave in a panic – I should tell you that it is not fatal. In fact, the lack of it is fatal.

You see, in your case, this is both NORMAL and EXPECTED in everyday life. A multiple personality disorder is characterized by at least two distinct and relatively enduring identities that alternately control one’s behavior, while (at times) omitting important information to the other personality not completely explained by ordinary forgetfulness. I don’t know if you have been made aware of this disorder – but knowing about it is essential to your long term success as a believer. Failure to understand that you have multiple voices within you can lead you to fail in following Christ.

What am I talking about? Let me pose it this way:

The first voice: the fallen conscience

Before you came to know Jesus, the Bible says that you were physically alive, but spiritually dead. Ephesians 2 recalls that believers were dead in sin, but God made them alive to Him when they surrendered to Jesus. The Bible defines “spiritual death” as disconnection from God – a state that happened when Adam and Eve severed the spiritual umbilical cord of constant spiritual living giving sustenance to God at the Fall in the Garden. Physical death occurred in them because spiritual death already too place in them. Their children, as a result of their sin, filled the world with many spiritually dead people (the human default position) that are walking about us every day – with no living connection to God as their Lord and Master – yet! They still have the chance to submit, but they have not yet done so. Yet, those people still have a voice within them called a “conscience”.

The “conscience” is that echo within of both the latent memory of a long ago relationship with God through Adam – kind of an impression stamp of right and wrong on a subliminal level , and the faint voice of those influenced by a real walk with God in more recent times (the faint echo of a grandma that walked with Jesus). That conscience is not wholly formed, and often can be seared into believing wrong assumptions of an ever-changing world view. It is therefore wholly unreliable and often superstitious and naïve. It was probably best pictured in my youth by two little men that hung out on the shoulders of the cartoon character Fred Flintstone, when he was trying to make a decision. One work a red suit and held a pitchfork – like the classic devil image. Another possessed a halo. In any case, the cartoon underscored that inside a man are several voices – a call to do “right” and a call to do “wrong” as seen through a fallen world view, disconnected from God in spiritual death.

The second voice: the Spirit of God

When you and I came to Christ, we invited the voice of God to re-establish Himself within us. We asked God to re-connect the umbilical cord of life, pictured by Jesus in His “vine and branches” saying of John 15:

John 15:1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. 3 “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. 5 “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.

In that short selection of Jesus’ words from the night in which He was betrayed and faced the Cross, we see a simple truth. We are re-connected to God by our choice to serve and submit to Him. Later Christians would learn that the voice of God inside was accomplished by the provision of the Spirit sent after the Ascension of Jesus. Believers draw our spiritual vitality and sustenance from the Spirit, and cannot live a godly life apart from His Divine connection. We need our life to come from His life connected like an electric cord powers a device. Unplugged, we become spiritually useless. Plugged in, we have power as a conduit for whatever purpose our maker intends. Yet, here is the startling truth: That connection adds an entirely new personality to the mix of our being. The voice of the Spirit of God is not the voice of our fallen man, nor the echo of the conscience – though the Spirit can prompt the conscience at will.

The third voice: The old man of flesh

Adding to the confusion within us as the Spirit cleans up the rooms of our life and encourages us to walk vigorously in our faith, a third voice emerges within us. This voice is indelibly linked to the conscience, but is much, much more. It is the voice the Bible refers to in various ways. Sometimes it is called the “flesh”. Other times is it referred to as the “old man” within each believer. This voice is the inner part of us, left over from our days in the fallen state, and still in the process of becoming like Christ through a lifelong battle. Believers identify the process as “sanctification” – the process of truly becoming practically what the Bible says I already have become positionally in Christ. Through the whole of that process, the third voice shouts to be heard, and is a constant distraction. Paul fought this, in spite of his strengths and triumphs in Christ. He wrote about it Romans 7:

Romans 7:14 “For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.

Here I stand, with the voice of a fallen conscience, the voice of an inner fleshly and debased sinner, and the beckoning and sustaining words of the Spirit. Add to the inner cacophony the outer wooing of the fallen world to do what dead men are doing in their current reveling, and the shouts of the Devil and his fallen angels in their insidious deceiving words – and you will see why walking with God is not as simple of reading the Bible and believing it.  What can I do? James was addressing that very distress in the second half of his Epistle to scattered Jewish believers in the first century Roman world. He offered them a three problems believers needed to confront (and still do), and then solutions to deal with each.

Key Principle: You cannot subdue a foe you do not identify. Identifying the voices within is essential to developing both a defense and a counter-attack that will lead to godly living.

James was carefully instructing the early followers of Jesus that they were incorrect if they thought that following God would be easy. In fact, he argued, God uses “weight training” in the form of troubles to build up a follower and add to them greater endurance for an even greater future work. Troubles are one of the tools of God’s toolbox. They are not always caused by our sin, and not necessarily a reflection that God is unhappy with us. They can be a deliberate weight, placed by a training God, to prepare us for an exciting future.

The problem with trouble is that all the voices within are responding at the same time – and they aren’t all beckoning the same directions. Have you ever been driving in a city you were not familiar with? As you concentrate on both the traffic zipping past you and the road ahead, you are confused by the signs while several friends are urging you to listen to their directions – even when they don’t seem to agree with the signage, or each other. Your frustration builds quickly. In the face of constant troubles and mixed signals, we are tempted to gripe, complain, snap and become very agitated. Troubles exhaust our defenses and leave us in a weakened and vulnerable state. The early believer cried out: “Is God responsible for dangling fleshly desires and enticing our lusts in that hour?” James addresses that in the end of the first chapter. He argued that our misreading of the situation came from a lack of understanding of three critical areas of our spiritual life:

James 1:13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.

When you look very carefully at the short passage, you will not that James breaks down the siren call to sin and explains our misunderstanding about God, our nature and the process.

First, James said we don’t understand God’s nature– so we thing that God is entrapping us to see us fail. James made the case that God trains us by WEIGHT, but now makes clear that He does not train us by BAIT. God doesn’t dangle the fleshly temptations in front of us to test us – that isn’t His way of TRAINING us, and He has no interest in TRAPPING us. James says in 1:13: Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.

Second, James explained we don’t recognize our OWN nature– so we don’t respond properly to temptation’s enticement. In 1:14: “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust”, James makes clear the problem isn’t God’s dangling of temptation, but a strong magnetic pull within toward the wrong. We hunger to do wrong – even as believers. The Devil need not speak, the world need not call – I WANT to do wrong. The old man, the flesh within is still tugging on the rope to pull me toward what I must refuse.

Third, James suggested that we are unconscious of the PROCESS of temptation – so we allow a thought to grow and give birth to an action. In 1:15: “Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” This short sentence offers words of process. Temptation begins as a thought. It can be encouraged by the world or the Devil, but it need not be. It can be a leftover of the fallen thought life. It is nothing more than an appeal in seed form. Here is where we go wrong. We nurture the thought. We allow it to develop and grow. We let it keep us transfixed and attentive to the wrong. As we let it grow, its power over us seems invincible. Yet, if we were to snap away our attention – say by a ringtone of our phone – its power over us would seem to dissipate. Here is the key: Temptation saps from us the will to resist by deceiving us with the promise of pleasure while hiding adverse results that will come from our action. It is a rouse, and that is why James completes the sentences with: “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren”.

There it is. I am ignorant of God’s real nature – so I blame Him when He isn’t doing it. I am unaware of my own inner nature – so I don’t properly identify the voice I am hearing. I am ignorant of the process of temptation, so I allow myself to be tricked instead of putting up a proper defense.

Let’s get very practical with these three problems:

In Galatians 5, Paul offered early believers an abbreviated list of the fifteen works of the flesh or the old man within. He explained the kinds of things we STILL WANT TO DO in spite of the fact that we are indwelt with God’s spirit.

Galatians 5:19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

  • Impurity (akatharsia) uncleanness in a spiritual sense
  • Sensuality (aselgia) license to indulge
  • Idolatry (eidolatoria) worship of other than God
  • Sorcery (pharmakia) drug use for pleasure
  • Enmities (echthra) hostility
  • Strife (eris) quarreling
  • Jealousy (zelos) heated rage
  • Outbursts of anger (thumos) passionate boiling over
  • Disputes (erithea) from a day laborer meaning ‘overly ambitious’
  • Dissension (dichostasia) standing apart
  • Factions (heiresis) creating parties or sects
  • Envying (phthonos) burning desire for another’s property
  • Drunkeness (methe) desire to dull mind to refuse pains
  • Carousing (komos) hunger to party and revel

Here is James’ point: The world may beckon to you to do the things on that list. Satan may dangle the supposed benefits of participating in some of these deeds – but the central problem in the believer’s life as it regards these things is NEVER GOD baiting you, and is MOST OFTEN your own INNER FLESH.

James answers the three problems with three answers.

If we think God is BAITING us, we need only recognize the Bible’s revelation of God’s true nature in James 1:17 “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” God’s nature is always GOOD, never changing, ever offering us gifts that will COMPLETE us – not harm us.

If we fail to recognize the voice within us beckoning us to do wrong, we let temptation grow to produce sin – and that kills the good things in our future. We need only remember that God has answered that tempting siren with the implanted TRUTH of His Spirit. James 1:18 says: “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.” God began a new birth process in us with the words of truth He has planted deep within us. As we nurture the truth by careful study of His Word, truth will grow in strength inside us. God deliberately responded to the growth of lust and powerful temptation within us by planting the seed of yet another growth process to overtake the first one. He has planted truth to shout down temptation’s lies. Within us is the beginning of God’s retaking of His lost creation. The first paint touches within us bear the changing tints toward perfection that God will one day use to repaint the whole of creation. Within us, the Great Artist has begun His final masterpiece – and it is one of TRUTH. God BEGAN in us – but will recolor His entire world, covering over every stain of the deceivers foul colors.”

James doesn’t just leave us with facts, he leaves this essential subject with the process of victory over temptation.

He lays out steps and warnings that will help us face tomorrow with more effectiveness than we had yesterday. Look at his words:

First, to overcome temptation, I must slow down my response so that I can hear God’s truth voice, and not default to my flesh. He says: James 1:19 This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.

Second, to overcome temptation, I must change what I surround my life with on the outside, and deliberately starve out the flesh within. I must go on an internal witch hunt for evil – routing all lies and deceptions, and turning the light on to the shadows of my heart. James 1:21 says it this way: “Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness…”

Third, to overcome temptation, I must recognize the answer isn’t within me naturally, but it is a spiritual growth process of truth that was seeded in me by God Himself at my salvation. I must nurture truth while cutting back lies. I must listen to words of truth, study words of truth, and allow the word of God to grow in me.  James 1:21b says it this way: “…in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.

Let me be very clear: Believers that starve themselves from the Word, that eat only the “pre-chewed” words of our favorite preacher, or revel in the pabulum of popular sentiment will not stand up to the powerful pull toward temptation. The world is beckoning your lusts within. The enemy is fanning the flames of the fallen system. The flesh hungers to have the old feelings back and ignores the damage old practices had in your life. The word implanted in you is your defense. It is a God-given shield to repulse temptation’s power. Yet, if it is starved, it will become ineffective. Feed the Word within, or suffer the walk without.

Fourth, to overcome temptation, I must demand in myself the need to ACT on the truth, not just ascribe to the theory of it. I must challenge the temptation to be satisfied by a mind change that doesn’t lead to a change in behavior. James 1:22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.

It is important that our walk with God be more than just a theory. At the close of the chapter James included some tests to make sure this wasn’t happening. He wrote: James 1:26 “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. 27 Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

Look at those words carefully and three practices emerge that will help you evaluate if you are living out the truth.

  • First, my mouth must change if temptation is being mastered. Loose lips sink lives. If I am gaining victory in my heart by allowing the Word of Truth to overcome the deception default settings, it will sound out on my lips.
  • Second, my hands will get busy to help those who are in need if temptation is being marginalized. I will show a change of heart by a change of priorities. I will desire to be other person centered and not self-centered. The flesh champions SELF – the surrendered to God champion the WEAK.
  • Third, my clothing will be unstained if temptation is being routed. I will show that God’s truth is cleaning me, displacing the errors, by the lack of enduring stains I walk around displaying. God has a way of cleaning us up that shows to anyone who will take the time to truly observe. The best way to avoid getting more stains on ourselves is to be particularly careful about where we are and what we are doing. If I am in a place that is terribly dirty – I must walk all the more carefully, paying attention not to move to closely to the surfaces of things that will stain. If I am handling people who are dirty, as sometimes God calls me to, I must be careful how I handle them. The desire to help must not cause us to drop our guard from the possibility to be disqualified. Many a man or woman in ministry has made that terrible mistake.

Finally, to overcome temptation, I must study carefully the Word of God and daily walk in it. Nothing will displace deception like truth. I cannot clean out deception; I can only fill my heart with truth and allow the deception to be displaced by the filling process. In truth terms, ignorant Christians are easily defeated Christians.  James 1:25 says:  But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.

Here is the painful truth. I am called to walk with God and be His emissary in a fallen world. On the outside I will confront the enemy and gird on my armor. Around me, I will face a constant onslaught of spiritual zombies – dead men and women walking toward me. If that isn’t enough to cause me to want to quit, I must face these foes with multiple personality disorder. I will hear the powerful voice of the flesh – the old man within – beckoning me to my past life. I will trip over a confused and seared conscience that has been badly warped by the ungodly world view I was brought up inside. Should I quit? Well, if left to myself – yes, definitely.

But then, I have not been left to myself. I have been impregnated with the word of truth. It is growing inside me. God’s Spirit has entered my being. I have His Word in my hands, and I can have it in my heart. I have fellow brothers and sisters in Christ that are willing to lock arms and struggle in the fight with me. I have two thousand years of history of family that was doing just what I am doing. I have the active participation of the angelic world blocking for me, and moving in support of God’s work. I have the promises of God’s Holy and unchanging Word – which cannot be nullified or blunted. I have the King of all creation – the Lord above all power – the Supreme Master above all authority pulling for me. Should I quit? No, not at all.

It is true: You cannot subdue a foe you do not identify. But I have spotted the foe. I have heard his voice both within and without. I know where truth is found – and so do you.

  • Need we fear an enemy that has far less power than our Father?
  • Need we despair at a foe that can be washed from our heart by the steady and deliberate pouring in of truth?
  • Need we feel overwhelmed by inner beckoning when we know it is a deceiving voice?
  • Need we fall helplessly to old sinful patterns when we have been granted a way to escape into the truth?

It is time for believers to make the choice to stop pandering themselves. We will not become what God desires while shifted into “spiritual neutral”, living out our lives like the time for obedience has not yet arrived. We must immediately, actively and passionately to pursue holiness. It is nothing more or less than separation from defiling things. We must remember that God is watching – not just in church – but on the job, in the living room, and through our computer screen.

The world is hell bent on destroying all fibers of morality in short order. What was obviously wrong yesterday is questionable today and on its way to being hailed as an inalienable right tomorrow. We all see the dark clouds forming, but I know something the lost world does not know! The clouds of darkness have a pure and beautiful SUN above them. They are not the final future – they are another marker that man has no answers apart from His Creator. They will all see His face soon enough.

Though there are significant voices that would disagree with me, I am forced to conclude that, practically speaking, we have as much of God as we choose to have. I am obliged to conclude that God is able to do anything in us that we will allow Him to do. In our limited earthly terms, He appears to have limited Himself to only one restriction in working inside us – our will. If we choose not to allow Him to work – He will respect our desire and allow us to flounder and fail. His work in us is, in effect, our choice. It is not that He is not able to do it all, it is that He is not willing to force our submission. He has left that part up to us. No amount of theological posturing can make God responsible for my submission to Him. I must take responsibility for my decision in taking up His Cross and following Him. Every lesson I learn that weakens that resolve serves to build in me the sense of victimization – but does nothing to make me more like Christ. I am called to choose because I can choose. I am called to follow because I must follow. I am called to submit because I can submit. The bottom line is not His willingness or His ability – it is mine.

If you don’t think you have what it takes to overcome sin – you are wrong. God is within you. Truth has been embedded within you. If you are a Christ follower, you KNOW it is there. Water the seed with the Word. Prop it up with the stakes of spiritually encouraging examples. Ask God for the continued nutrients of affirmation and guidance of wise counselors. He has not begun a good work in you to cut it off and let it wither. He will perform it in you if you will not stubbornly block the work of His Word and the power of His Spirit.