In this blog post, I wanted to look at a biblical description of temptation to sin and in the next one, we’ll see how to resist temptation. For now, what is temptation? I like Chuck Swindoll’s definition: Temptation is the motivation to be bad by being promised something good.” We all struggle with it. It might be to get wealthy through dishonesty, or to climb the corporate ladder by stepping on others along the way, or to find sexual pleasure by being disloyal to a spouse?
James 1:13-15 describes temptation to sin this way: “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. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” This paragraph has four unchangeable truths about temptation.
The first is that temptation is inevitable. We can’t escape it. James says, “Let no one say when he is tempted” not “if he is tempted.” We can’t just run from the battlefield to avoid temptation. The battlefield will find us, regardless. We can do our best to avoid tempting situations, but sooner or later, temptation will find us. All of us will be tempted to sin.
Secondly, temptation is never God directed. This is because God is holy. He “cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” Nevertheless, it is part of human nature to blame God for our temptations and sins. Remember when God talks to Adam after the first man succumbed to temptation and sinned. His response to God was, “it was the woman . . . whom you gave me” that caused Him to sin. Not only does Adam throw his wife under the bus, but He blames God: You gave her to me. That’s exactly what we do. Remember, God allows us to be tempted but He is never the One who directs the temptation.
Third, temptation is an individual matter. Every person is “carried away and enticed by his own lust.” Each of us has a different area of weakness that temptation is trying to exploit. One person has a longing for wealth, another has a pattern of dishonesty. Someone else is driven by ego and a desire for recognition while another person has an innate desire to pass on inappropriate information. The tempter does not waste his time tempting us in areas of strength. He realizes what each of us longs for—individual desires and unique lusts—and he zooms in on those.
Finally, temptation always follows the same life cycle. It begins with conception, when our sinful desire and temptation meet. That’s what James means by “When lust has conceived.” But after conception, James says the next step is that temptation “gives birth to sin.” Temptation in and of itself is not sinful. It’s only when we act on the temptation that it gives birth to sin. And “when sin is accomplished” it produces the final aspect of the life cycle of temptation, it yields “death.” James is talking to believers, so I don’t think he is referring to eternal separation from God, when he says that sin “brings forth death.” It might very well be that sin will lead, ultimately to physical death. But more likely, I believe James is using “death” in a figurative sense, referring to a quality of life. When we fall into the enticing embrace of evil, it results in a deadly lifestyle.
Sounds bleak, doesn’t it? Well, in 1 Corinthians 10:13, Paul reminds followers of Jesus that we’re not compelled to fall into temptation and sin, but that God always provides a way of escape. Next week, we’ll talk about the multiple paths of escape that God has graciously given us. Until then, let’s remember, God is not the one who’s tempting us; But He is the one who has forgiven us and who graciously gives us gifts that we might live life and live it to its fullness.