Passing the Buck

by Scott Brooks

James 1:12-15


If you’re visiting we’re currently studying the book of James. It’s found towards the end of your Bible. If you don’t have a Bible a good version to buy is the ESV version. Bring it with you on Sundays. We are committed to teaching right out of it. Follow me, make notes in it. James who is the brother of Jesus was writing people who have just become Christians. He’s trying to help them understand how to live as a Christian. His concern here at the beginning is the trials they are facing and making sure they know how to handle them. Let’s read chapter one verses 12-15.

These brand new Christians were facing a new trial, “Who am I supposed to blame when I mess up?” We call it passing the buck. “Passing The Buck”, according to historians who figure this stuff out, say this phrase got started in poker games back in the 1800’s. The buck is an object passed to the person who wins in order to remind them that they must be the first person to give money for the prize in the next game. The buck was short for buckshot because that’s what they usually used. Harry Truman made it mainstream with his campaign statements, “The Buck Stops Here.” He even had a sign with that phrase on his desk in the Oval Office. Passing the buck is now known as passing the blame. Yogi Berra, a famous baseball player and coach, once said, “I never blame myself when I’m not hitting. I just blame the bat and if it keeps up, I change bats. After all, if I know it isn’t my fault that I’m not hitting, how can I get mad at myself?


In verse 12 we’re going to skip over the crown of life because we touched on this when we were looking at verses 2-4. James brings up the topic of trials and tests. There is a long record in the Bible about God testing His people. In Genesis 22, it specifically states that God tested Abraham by asking Abraham to sacrifice his only son. Abraham obeyed God convinced that God would provide for him. God blessed Abraham for passing the trial. God tested Israel in the wilderness with the manna and water to see if they would follow him. Judges is full of God sending test after test after test to His people or to a specific person. Job is one of the famous tests. Satan wanted to test Job’s faith and God allowed him to be tested. God tested Israel by leaving ungodly nations around Israel to see if they would obey Him. The Bible makes no attempt to hide the reality that God tests His people. But we’re not supposed to think that He tempts us. It feels like a fine line doesn’t it? Literally leading into a place that will test our hearts and our obedience and our faith, how is that not the same as temptation? The result feels the same.

The famous verse out of the Lord’s prayer only seems to make this worse, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil”. Why would we have to pray to God not to lead us into temptation? I’ve often wondered, “So if I don’t pray this will God lead me into temptation? Do I have to maintain this prayer and what happens if I don’t?” For James to write this implies that this was a line of thinking people had. Given the Greek and Roman mythologies that existed the culture had this ingrained thinking that misfortune and temptation was caused by the gods. They blamed everything on the gods. Good and the bad. When Job was going through his test, his property was taken, his kids were killed, his body was covered with sores and his wife told him, “You are still holding fast to your integrity? Curse God and die.”(Job 2:9 ESV)


There are two elements we need to have in mind as we seek to answer this. One is free will. Why do I say free will? It’s the unstated but assumed reality as soon as temptation was mentioned. Free will is this created ability to choose for God or choose contrary to God. It’s found throughout the Bible. God’s desire was to create people who loved Him and worshipped Him. For this to be genuine love it has come from the person’s own free will rather than be coerced. The result is that a person could also choose to reject God. And through the Bible God over and over again highlights those moments where that love is tested. We see the person’s choice and the subsequent consequences. We’re free to choose temptation or obedience.

The second element of understanding God’s role in testing and temptation is to understand who God is. First, James says “God cannot be tempted with evil.” It’s an impossibility. This is an absolute. God is Holy and Righteous. Temptation is an impulse to sin /evil. There is isn’t any desire to sin in Him. There is no darkness in God. Not even a hint or a shadow. To even tempt someone else implies that that desire is in Him. Let no one ever say God has an evil desire in Him. Ever. And the obvious follow-up statement is “and He himself tempts no one”. Whatever conversations someone has about temptation, James wants to make sure above all things, any conclusion where the buck is passed to God for tempting someone is false, wrong, lies, evil thinking. In light of this the Lord’s prayer, “Do not lead us into temptation” is a prayer by the believer wanting to avoid sin calling out to God, “Do not permit us, do not allow us.” Block the way to it. Or do not permit Satan, the tempter, to be allowed to tempt us. At the end of the day though I like how James Hughes said it, “It’s a moral impossibility for God to be tempted or tempt others.” (James: Kent Hughes pg 46) All logic must flow from this reality.


Before we try to figure this all out, I think it’s at least worth pointing out another common thread that plays out in temptation. Blaming others. Oh we love free will and choice but as soon as it gets to paying for our choices to embrace temptation we’re ready to pass the buck and God often is the easy target to blame. When the Bible starts out at the very beginning we read about Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit. What does Adam do when God confronts him? “The woman you gave me to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Adams first response is to blame. He blames God and then he blames Eve. It’s your fault God. When God asked Eve she said, “The serpent deceived me and so I ate it.” She was no better.

Does anyone else see how ridiculous it was for Adam to blame Eve and God and Eve to blame the serpent? God put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden. It was the original test. But they had God right there with them. So real. So divine. How in the world could they blame someone else for their own decision and their sin? This is human nature. To blame others rather than take responsibility. We are factories of blame. We produce it by the truck load. It’s not my fault. It’s their fault. It’s her fault. It’s his fault. It’s my parents fault. It’s the job. It’s my background. It’s my whatever but it’s certainly NOT my fault. And James comes along and says, “You can’t blame God.” So who do we blame?


James goes for personal responsibility. Not so popular, but he makes his point, “We’re the ones with the desire to do evil. We’re the ones that get lured and enticed.” James says temptation starts when someone “is lured and enticed by his own desire.” The words that James uses to talk about temptation are fishing words. I knew I like James. Any guy who works fishing metaphors into the Bible has my vote. I totally get it. Lured is the hook in the bait that drags the fish away. Enticed is the bait or the appearance of food. Temptation is a lot like fishing. Each fish doesn’t bite on the same thing. Bass fishing is different than fly-fishing is different than ocean fishing. Every fish is enticed in different ways. But one tried and true method that works in all three places. The worm. Classic.

Temptation is like a fishing lure. Temptation comes out of a God-given desire that seeks to be met outside of God. That’s the test. It’s what we do with the desire: either choose God’s path or choose our own path? We all are tempted in different ways. And just like in fishing one lure is unattractive and repulsive to one fish but totally entices another fish. You ever notice how repulsive someone’s else’s desires are but ours totally entice us? What temptations have you been struggling with? Sit back and think about this. Every one of us has been tempted this past week. Every one of us. Such is the life of anyone on planet earth. We’re all on level ground here this morning. What desires did we have this week that we met outside of God’s plan? On our own? It looked so good right? It seemed so real? Right? It promised to feel really good, right? That desire and temptation told us everything would be better if we did it, right? Wrong!


Mother: Desire: James moves on from talking about the lure and enticement into a logical progression of temptation. Desire/Temptation now changes to a woman – actually it’s more a like a family tree. It’s not a slam on women but an illustration. Desire lures us into sin. This idea of conceived is the word nurtured. When desire is nurtured it’s like a pregnancy. What a vivid idea. Desire can be nurtured, cared for and protected just like a pregnancy. One day it will give birth to sin. It’s so true isn’t it. We can nurture evil desires. We can think about it. Dream about it. Fantasize about it. Protect it and hide it. Hurt, revenge, bitterness, lust, gossip, coveting, pride – we all do this. Sometimes this can go on for hours, days, weeks, months, years? It’s a vivid image. Any of us nurturing evil desires? Keeping hold of them? Making our plans? It’s so hard to resist them. They seem so real. So right. Like it really is the only option.

Daughter: Sin: But at some point the mother of evil desire will give birth to a daughter called sin. Sin is the act of eating the fruit – taking the bait and getting hooked. It’s giving in to the temptation. It’s failing the test to choose “for God” and instead choosing, “against God”. Sin is evil, right? It’s not just issues. It’s not just child-rearing, it’s evil. Evil. And this daughter called sin will not take years to grow up it. It’s like she grew up over night, even instantaneously. because then she immediately has a child – now the granddaughter – and that child is death.

Granddaughter: Death: And that’s just how it happens. Once sin has been chosen, death is immediately born. Death? Do you feel the shock of this family line? This is nothing like what it is supposed to be. James is not saying that a Christian loses their salvation. He’s saying simply that sin brings death. The effects are death. It impacts our relationship with God – our relationship with God is still there but the fellowship – that intimate connection is affected by the death sin gives birth to. Shame and guilt are now in the relationship. Death in relationships. Spouse. Children. Friends. Work. Life. Death starts to bleed out in everything.

CONCLUSION: The Buck Stops Here

Hebrews 4 says that Jesus was tempted in every way but did not give in to sin. God promises us in I Corinthians 10:13 that no temptation has taken any of us except what’s common to all of us. But God will provide a way of escape. There is a path out of temptation. That path is not making a vow, “I never do it again. I won’t do it for another week.” The path is through the cross. We talk a lot about how the cross of Christ washes away our sin. But the cross also destroyed the power of sin. In Christ and the cross, sin has no power over us. He crushed the power of sin. We can live free of sin. We can choose God instead of temptation, sin, and death.

Some of you are sitting here today flirting with temptation or overcome by sin and death but you can’t seem to stop it. If you have given into temptation the only path out out is confession. It is saying, “The Buck Stops Here. I can’t blame God. I can’t blame others. It’s me. I sinned. I’ve done evil.” At our church we’re committed to this idea that until a person embraces true confession of sin we are still bound to the sin and the death it brings. Some of you are terrified to confess what you’ve done but you’re also terrified of not confessing because you can’t go another day feeling that death. I have seen more emotional and spiritual healing happen in people and in me when we simply admit, “I sinned. It was evil. I was wrong. I can no longer blame others or God. I did it and the buck stops here.” It’s the most terrifying moment but it’s is when life truly starts. If God is moving in you right now to confess I would find someone spiritually mature you can go to. Talk to them.