James makes very critical two points in these verses.
- The first is that God does indeed allow trials to come our way.
- The second is that sin arises in us (because we have a sinful nature), not because God somehow tempts us to sin.
What this means in practical terms is simply this: you cannot blame God for your sin no matter how difficult your circumstances. The devil did not make you do it. We sin because sin begins with our own sinful desires, these desires pop into our minds, and then we make a conscious decision to act upon those desires. And our sinful actions earn for us the appropriate wage, death. So, while God allows trials to come our way, God does not “tempt” us to sin. This means that God is not in any sense the author of evil, although God has decreed that evil (which arises in his creatures, not in himself) is part of his grand purpose for human history. On the contrary, says James, God is the giver of every good and perfect gift. God has no sinful desires. God never changes. This is why James says that if we blame God (or someone else) for our own sin, we are self-deceived.
Since God is the author of all good things, James is able to move from the doctrinal import of this to the practical consequences of this for the sufferer. As James puts it in verse 18, “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” God sovereignly brought us forth (a reference to regeneration) through the word of truth (likely a reference to the preaching of the gospel), and that those undergoing these trials because of their faith in Christ, will be the first fruits of creation. In other words, God brought James’ readers to faith in Christ so that they will become the down-payment on what will eventually happen to all of creation–God will remove the curse and every hint, trace, and stain of sin. In the midst of their trials, James’ reader is to consider the fact that while God allows them to undergo this trial, he is not tempting them to sin. Yes, God is allowing their faith to be tested, but as the author of very good and perfect gift, the suffering saint must realize that God himself has graciously given them eternal life through the gospel, and even more, he will freely give his suffering saints boundless wisdom, if only they ask him in faith.
Therefore, at the end of the day, the solution to the problem of the suffering of the saints is one of perspective. The persecuted Jewish Christian to whom James is writing must understand that suffering comes from human sinfulness, not from God. But in ways we cannot fully grasp, God will indeed use these difficult trials to strengthen our faith, to make us strong and steadfast, and to bring his work in us to its ultimate goal–that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
To help us grasp this–which is never an easy thing to so when we are in the midst of trials–James exhorts us to ask God for the wisdom we need to gain the proper perspective. And that wisdom tells us that the theological truth which underlies James’ exhortation is the knowledge that God does not tempt us to sin because he is the author of every good and perfect gift. Because God has brought us forth through the preaching of the gospel, and given us faith, everything which happens to us, does so for a reason. This is the proper perspective we need so that we can count all of these things as ‘joy.”
Since God has begun this work in us by giving us life, God will see his work through to completion. How do we know that? Because God has promised to do this, and because he is the giver of every good and perfect gift, he will give us all that we need. All that he asks of us is that we ask him for what we need in faith, and that we do not doubt. And we can only ask in faith without doubting if we see our gracious God as the giver of all good and perfect gifts. Beloved, we see that good and perfect gift in the person and work of Jesus Christ, both Lord and Christ, as well as wisdom incarnate.