Summary: The process of temptation and sin and how to short circuit the process.
When it comes to the sin in our lives, for many of us our first reaction is to blame someone else, perhaps even something like this.
[“The Devil Made Me Do It” video]
In a lot of ways, things haven’t changed a whole lot since Adam and Eve in the Garden. Let’s look at how they respond to God after they both sin by eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. First let’s see Adam’s response:
The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.”
(Genesis 3:12 ESV)
At first glance, it seems like Adam is blaming Eve for his sin, But a closer look reveals that he is actually blaming God, because God is the one who brought Eve into his life. After all, Adam went to sleep one day and when he woke up there was this woman next to him – a woman he never asked for. So his sin must be God’s fault.
How about Eve’s response?
Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
(Genesis 3:13 ESV)
Once again, at first glance, Eve seems to be blaming the serpent. But who made the serpent? That’s right, God created him. So therefore, in Eve’s mind, God is ultimately responsible for her sin as well.
By the time that James writes his letter thousands of years later, not a whole lot has changed. Apparently a lot of the Jewish believers in the early church were also blaming God for their sin as well. So let’s see how James addresses that kind of thinking. Open your Bibles and follow along as I read in James chapter 1 beginning in verse 13:
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.
(James 1:13 ESV)
Let’s skip down to verse 16 right now and then we’ll come back in a moment and look at the verses in between these two “bookends”.
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
(James 1:16-18 ESV)
James begins and ends this section of his letter by pointing out that anyone who believes that God is the source of temptation in his or her life, and therefore ultimately the cause of his or her sin, is deceived. Since these verses provide us with some important principles that will help us to make sense of the practical teaching that is contained within the “envelope” they provide, let’s begin with…
Some general observations
1. Everyone is subject to temptation
Just as he did in verse 2 that we looked at last week, James chooses to use the word “when” and not “if” when describing those who face temptation. And when we get to verse 14 in a moment, we’re also going to see that James refers to “each person”. When we put those two ideas together the unmistakable conclusion is that everyone is subject to temptation in their lives.
As I mentioned last week, the word that James uses here that is translated “tempted” is the verb form of the same Greek word that was translated “trials” in verses 2-12. As we discovered then the word simply means “testing” and it has neither a positive or negative connotation. In verses 2-12, the trials that James described were clearly being used by God in a positive way to demonstrate the genuineness of our faith and help us to become more mature disciples of Jesus.
But in the passage we’re looking at this morning, we’ll see that the testing is more of an inner attraction to do wrong. Ultimately, the difference between a “trial” that God can use for our good and a ‘temptation” that draws us away from God depends on how we respond to our circumstances. When I respond to my circumstances by living my life according to the principles in God’s Word, God uses those circumstances as a means for my spiritual growth. But if I choose to disobey those principles, those same circumstances can become a temptation that pulls me away from God.
2. God cannot be the source of temptation because of who He is
This is the essence of James’ argument. Because of who God is – holy and good – He cannot violate His own character and have anything to do with evil. And He is certainly not going to do anything to cause someone else to be drawn to evil since that would violate who He is.