Discussing God’s Work in Our Trials
Discussion questions this week are from Pastor Joe’s Sunday sermon, “Trials and Temptations.”
As usual, these questions are designed to spark heart-level discussion in your Life Groups. They’re not meant to be a sermon quiz or feedback generator. Simply use some of the content from the sermon to dig into the most pressing needs in your group. If it just takes one question, that is fine. If you use all four, that is great, too. You know the routine. The goal is your Life Group’s discussion on how the gospel impacts and changes the nitty-gritty circumstances we face everyday.
Joe mentioned that many churches (and Christians) tend to fall into two different ditches when it comes to “theological depth” and “practical help.” One ditch is to major on doctrine and worry less about making specific connections to everyday life, while the other ditch can so concerned with everyday life that they short-circuit foundational truths about God.
In light of these ditches, and recognizing that we all have different instincts, in which direction do you think you lean the most?
[Take a minute and have each member think about this. It will help you get a sense of your group’s personality, and how you can help each other. For example, if your entire group really loves theology and tends to major on doctrine, then it’d be good to note that and be especially intentional about connecting the dots between doctrine and life.
The Elder Affirmation of Faith at Cities Church includes a statement that reads:
We believe that God, from all eternity, in order to display the full extent of His glory for the eternal and ever-increasing enjoyment of all who love Him, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His will, freely and unchangeably ordain and foreknow whatever comes to pass.
If God ordains and foreknows whatever comes to pass, then that includes trials, and yet James is clear: the trials are not from God in the same way that God’s gifts are. Joe explains,
The key for James here [in verses 13–17] — and it is a deep, profound, complex theological truth — is that, while all things are from God, all things are not from God in the same way. We could say it like this: Good things are from God directly. Bad things, hard things, evil things (like trials and temptations) are from him indirectly. Or, God is the source, origin, and author of good things, because he is good; he is not the source, origin, and author of evil things in the same way, because he’s not evil or tempted to evil. In other words, there is a crucial asymmetry in God’s ordaining and sending of good and evil.
How does that “crucial asymmetry” intersect with your own stories of trials and temptations? What kind of impact do you think this truth might especially have on your posture toward God’s gifts? How does it change the way you receive God’s gifts when you consider that they are “coming down from him” with a peculiar specificity?
[In other words, consider for a moment that God’s gifts not just a sequence of events over which he is sovereign, but they are directly given to you from him. How does that impact our gratitude?]
Pastor Joe explains first stages of sin mentioned by James:
- Stage 1: God gives good gifts, which we desire to enjoy.
- Stage 2: Those desires go astray, and we begin to want things at times or in ways or in degrees that God has forbidden. Desire is now enticing and luring us away from God and toward evil.
- Stage 3: Desire conceives and gives birth to Sin. We pass from temptation to concrete, deliberate, willful disobedience to God.
- Stage 4: That willful disobedience grows and becomes stronger until it gives birth to spiritual death. We have hardened our hearts.
Given these stages of sin, there is no sin that isn’t serious. Joe mentioned that the sins we typically regard as “little sins” are especially dangerous. He writes,
We are so tempted to think that we can be a little bit pregnant with sin. We want to play with the lures, dabble in fantasies, nurse small grievances. We fondle our lusts or our pains or the wrongs done to us, and we think, because the sins seems so small in comparison to some, that it’s no big deal. Until it is a big deal. The reality is that giving in a little makes it harder to resist next time. Sin grows; it matures; it snowballs. Every small choice in Sin’s direction hardens the soul in that direction.
If you were to think about your life, where are some areas that you are susceptible to coddling “little sins”? Think about those for a moment, and then imagine what it would look like if those sins were full-grown, all the way down to Stage 4.
[Encourage your group to confess these little sins to one another, and to repent, despite how “small” they might seem. Let your group become an active means of grace in calling one another to never give a pass on sin.]