And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. James 1:13-15
In James 1:1, we are told that various troubles will come our way. We live in a broken, fallen world, and we will face broken, fallen experiences. The various troubles that come our way include temptations to sin.
Up to this point, James has been encouraging us to remain faithful and obedient to God when life gets hard. He has told us that God will give us wisdom as we trust Him and seek to do what is right and that God will be working in our lives through our difficulties to grow us in spiritual endurance. James has also assured us that we will be blessed and rewarded for our endurance.
Here, in verse 13, though, James calls us to remember something…we are not to blame temptations to sin on God for God is never tempted to do what is wrong and never tempts us to do what is wrong.
Instead, James tells us that temptations come from our own desires which, corrupted by our sin nature, turn into lusts. Not all our desires are bad. Some are good and natural. But even our good and natural desires can become lusts and tempt us to make wrong choices.
For instance, there is nothing sinful about being hungry and wanting something to eat. That is a normal and natural desire. But, for Esau, the normal desire for food became lust to fill his belly and led him to sin when he sold his birthright to his brother, Jacob, for a bowl of stew (Genesis 25:29-34). It is our own lusts which entice us and drag us away.
Lusts lead to sinful actions, and if those sinful actions are not repented of and dealt with, they ultimately bring death. As Romans 6:23 tells us, the wages of sin is death.
What might James 1:13-15 look like played out in our lives?
- A desire for sex entices us to lust and drags us into pornography and sex outside God’s design.
- A desire for financial security entices us to greed which leads us to steal and lie and hoard.
- A desire for justice entices us to unrighteous anger and bitterness which drags us into retaliation and vengeance and injustices of our own.
- A desire for comfort entices us to self-protection and drags us into control and manipulation.
These are just a few examples to get us thinking. I’m sure you can come up with many others. The list is endless.
There is a growing tendency in our nation, even in Christian churches, to see a better world as humanity’s greatest need and an imperfect society as humanity’s greatest struggle. The assumption is that people make wrong choices because the world they live in is unfair and imperfect. If we can fix the world, make things fair and society more perfect, people will naturally stop making wrong choices. But, that is not what God says.
God says humanity’s greatest struggle is with the sinfulness of human hearts and humanity’s greatest need is for this sinfulness to be dealt with through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.
An unfair society and a broken, fallen world may reveal the depth of our sinfulness, but they are not the cause of our sinfulness. Our circumstances can work on us like gas works on a fire, but we are born with the fire of sin burning in our hearts.
Of course, Christians should live loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind and our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39). We should do what is right, love mercy, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8). But, we will never create a world good enough to solve the issue of sin, evil, and death outside the finished work of Jesus Christ. If we could, Jesus wouldn’t have needed to come and die and rise again.
Here’s the hope…
When we are tempted, God is faithful. He will not let us be tempted beyond what we can stand, and He will show us a way out so that we can endure. Remember, faithful endurance is the goal according to James 1:12.
The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.
I Corinthians 10:13
Now, when it says God will show us a way out, it isn’t saying that God will necessarily remove us from our circumstances, but that God will provide a way of obedience.
The way of obedience may not be easy. It may be a hard path, but His promises will carry us, and His Holy Spirit will empower us. God’s desire for us always is that we endure, and He will provide all that is necessary for us to endure.
It is comforting to know that Jesus understands our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15). He was tested in the same way we are, but He didn’t sin. Maybe you wonder how someone who never sinned can understand our weaknesses.
Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology, put it this way:
Many theologians have pointed out that only He who successfully resists a temptation to the end most fully feels the force of that temptation. Just as a champion weightlifter who has successfully lifted and holds over head the heaviest weight in the contests feels the force of it more fully than one who attempts to lift it and drops it, so any Christian who has successfully faced a temptation to the end knows that that is far more difficult than giving in to it at once. So it was with Jesus: every temptation He faced, He faced to the end, and triumphed over it. The temptations were real, even though He did not give in to them. In fact, they were most real because He did not give in to them.
In the incarnation, the second person of the Trinity took on human flesh. Jesus is fully God, but He is also fully human, and in His full humanity, Jesus understands our weaknesses. He understands hunger, pain, rejection, exhaustion, betrayal, anxiety, sorrow, etc. And, having never sinned, He understands the full weight of the temptations we face for He bore up under them without faltering. He is our High Priest and also our empathetic friend.
When we are tempted to sin, that temptation does not come from God, but from our own lusts, and every temptation to sin comes with an opportunity to obey and endure.
We are born sinners who sin. In a very real way, each of us can look at ourselves, our lusts, our sin proclivities, and say, “I was born this way.” What we can’t say is God is tempting me toward my lusts and sin proclivities. God is only ever working for our good and His glory. If we choose sin instead of the way of obedience He has provided, that’s on us.
This is hard news as it forces us to own our lusts and wrong choices, but it is good news for God has provided the answer to sin and death in His Son, Jesus Christ, and before we can receive His gift of salvation, we must acknowledge our need of it.
Placing our faith in His death and resurrection, our sins are forgiven and the power of sin and death in our lives is broken. We are given new hearts and new desires and the gift of the Holy Spirit who is always at work in us and through us helping us to patiently and faithfully endure.
It’s a wonderful comfort to know that when temptations come, God is for us, desiring that we do what is right and providing the opportunity and strength for success, and when we fail, Jesus is our advocate in heaven. We can run to Him confessing our sin, repenting of it, and knowing that because of His death and resurrection, we will not be rejected or condemned (1 John 1:9; Romans 8:1). In Jesus, we are forgiven, restored, and loved with a steadfast love.
(Next week, I’ll be looking at James 1:16-18.)