The American spirit is one like never before in human history. We do things the way we want. We are built on an individualistic society. It’s all about us. Unless a tragedy happens. And then we bind together like most nations.
But you can get whatever you want. We have songs like Frank Sinatra’s “I Did It My Way” and lyrics like, “You can get it if you really want it but you must try, try, and try.” Focusing on ourselves so much may lead to selfishness.
But others consider things like ambition a positive character trait. Many chase the goal of getting to the top of the pyramid. But it’s very lonely at the top. And the problem with such a “Me mentality” is that it can also get us into trouble.
The flesh desires what it desires. It can hold us hostage by promising us things that will leave us high and dry. Temptation can even be considered positive in our society. We give into our desires all the time. Most people don’t think anything of it.
But once we become citizens of the different kingdom, the kingdom of heaven, God expects more of us. Temptation isn’t a good thing anymore. It leads to sin and displeasing our Father and the Lord. The Bible talks a lot about temptation. So in the next posts in our “Holiness Matters”series, I’m going to be talking about temptation from the Bible’s perspective.
One of the clearest and most concise approaches to talking about how temptation affects us comes from the book of James. Pastor James tells us that temptation comes from one place. He convicts us with powerful preaching about the origin of temptation
But before we get into what he has to say about temptation, there is a key Greek word from the New Testament that we must understand. It will be the basis for most of what I share about temptation. The word for “temptation” in the New Testament actually has three different meanings.
What I mean by this isn’t that it has three meanings per se but that he has three different contexts. The first weekend understand it is through the word “trials.” James talks a lot about the trials of life and the many trials we will face in our lifetime. This is a positive approach to the word in most of the Scriptures. God uses trials to improve our character and strengthen our faith.
Secondly we can understand this word in the New Testament is “testing.” Tests are also generally a positive thing as far as the Scriptures are concerned. We may not like trials or tests because of how we must deal with them, but the New Testament sees them as ways that God works on our character.
The third way we understand this word is through the concept of “temptation.” This is the negative understanding of the word. It is always used in a negative sense. Temptations are not good and they go against what God wants for us. Temptation leads to sin and sin does not take us toward God. Instead it separates us in our relationship with him and others.
So we come to James who begins to talk about trials. He starts in James 1:2-4. He stresses that there are many kinds of trials. This is important for the book because as you continue to read, he gives you trial after trial that you must face as a believer in Jesus.
One of those trials is temptation. In James 1:12-18 one of the greatest preachers of the New Testament describes the trial of temptations and how to overcome it. He starts with the positive. Anyone who can overcome these trials, stand fast in them, endure to the end of them, will receive the crown of life from God (James 1:12).
But then he moves into the negative. Apparently, he needed to address the idea that people would blame God for temptation. But he gives two reasons why God doesn’t tempt us. First of all, he is not the source of temptation. And second, he doesn’t operate through temptation (James 1:13).
No, God is not the source of temptation. Instead, we should blame ourselves. The source of temptation is our own passions and desires (James 1:14). James uses two illustrations to show how dangerous temptation is.
First, he approaches it with a hunting illustration to show us how temptations drag us in until we are helpless and end up sinning (James 1:14). The two words “lure” and “entice” are to hunting terms where a hunter lures his prey with a trap. He makes the trap look really good by bating it with something the animal can’t refuse.
Temptation does the same thing to us. It baits us with an irresistible object of our desire that over promises we will get more than we can imagine. You’re on a diet but you see the most delicious double chocolate cake in weeks. You know it’s not good for you. But you could cheat just this once. And that is how the bait works.
Temptations prey on our desires and if we don’t have them under control, they will win us over into temptation. But once we have agreed to the temptation and given into the desire, we have been enticed and the trap snaps on us. We have fallen into its clutches.
The second illustration James uses to explain how desire works and drives us into sin are the terms of birthing and conception (James 1:15). Temptation has lured us in and enticed us using our desires. But those desires don’t just drag us into temptation.
Our passions and desires turn into monsters. They conceive sin because they drag us in by temptation. When we give in to the things that entice us, we have sinned. We have broken our relationship with God and with others.
But it’s not over. Temptation and desire work together and continue to grow in us. We continue to sin and fall deeper into it. The conception is only beginning of this little baby called sin. It grows up and as it gets bigger and bigger, it turns into the road to death.
Most babies are cute but sin is the ugliest baby in the world. As we continue to let it grow in us it sucks us in even more. Before we know it, we’re facing the result of our sin, death. The Bible teaches that all sin leads to death. And that’s it. At the end of our lives, sin has won us over and causes death in us. First the death is spiritual. But it turns into physical death.
If we blame God for temptation that leads to sin and death James reminds us that God doesn’t use temptation. He isn’t the source of temptation. It’s our desires. We must not deceive ourselves into thinking it’s his fault.
Instead of deceiving ourselves about the source of temptation, we must believe that God is for us instead of against us (James 1:16). Temptation is an evil thing that comes from inside of us. But God is the source of every good gift we have ever received (James 1:17).
He is not shifty like temptation. He doesn’t promise things that never satisfy. The best gift he has ever given us is the opportunity to be one of the first fruits of his creation (James 1:18). When we speak of our own desires, we will ourselves into sin. But God used his will through the word of truth, telling us who we really are in him. Our desire is to please our flesh. His desire is to make us his children.
So James takes us from the negative to the positive when it comes to temptation. We want to do things on our own but that only leads to death. God wants to make us the best part of his creation. He wants to show us what we can truly become only in him.
So this is the first example of how the Bible talks about temptation. Temptation is a dangerous adversary that leads us right into sin and death. But we have a better future with God, who wills us into every good gift and never promises what he can’t deliver.
James gives us a strong impression of a good God who only gives good things. Leave a comment and tell me what you think about how James characterizes temptations, desires, and God’s will for us.