It is not a matter of “If” but “when”. In verse 13, James does not say, “If” you are tempted, but “When” you are tempted. Jesus said, “Temptations to sin are sure to come” (Luke 17:1) and we must always be diligent to resist every temptation. When we are tempted, we need to remember three very important truths: 1) God is not the source of our temptation 2) Sin has serious consequences, and 3) We must be on guard against deception.
- The Source of Temptation (13-14). God is not the source of temptation. This is important to know because we may believe that God is being unfair to us when we are undergoing a trial/temptation. God cannot be the source of temptation because He “is not tempted by evil, and He Himself doesn’t tempt anyone.” John wrote, “God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in Him” (1 John 1:5). God is purely good and incapable of sin. Therefore, God cannot tempt anyone to sin because it would be completely against His own nature. God is not the source of temptation, but He is the One who allows trials to come in order that our faith may be tested and authenticated. James now reminds us that even though God permits the trial, He never tempts us to do evil. If we are not careful, our trials may lead us to question God’s goodness. Sometimes we may think that God is being unfair to us. As we have learned thus far in our study of James, trials are the testing of our faith and allowed by God to mature our faith. The source of temptation is our “own evil desires” (14). The reason we too often sin is because sin is enticing. In other words, we sin because we want to sin. If we had no desire to sin we would resist. Edmond Heibert wrote, “Temptation has its source not in the outer lure but in the inner lust.” Our inner lust desires to be satisfied and when we see something we greatly desire we pursue it. The danger with temptation is that we get more than simply pleasure; we get pain. This is like a fisherman using a worm to catch fish. The fish is enticed by the worm and oblivious to the hook. So too are we enticed by the pleasure of sin and unaware of the pain of sin.
- The Consequence of Disobedience (15). There are consequences for sin. James writes, “after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown it gives birth to death.” Yielding to temptation results in sin and “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). Let this truth be perfectly clear, we cannot sin without consequences. Unbelievers sin and the result is ultimately spiritual death. Revelation 20:15 tells us that “anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” Christians are not in danger of spiritual death because we have been forgiven of all our sins and granted eternal life (John 3:16). Christians can, however, give into temptation and sin against God. The result is not spiritual death, but spiritual grief. Ephesians 4:30 says, “Don’t grieve God’s Holy Spirit. You were sealed by Him for the day of redemption.” Clinton Arnold has said, “the Spirit does not depart when sin is committed. Instead, the Spirit deeply grieves over it. Paul presents this as a truth that should motivate believers not to indulge their sinful desires—whether this might be filthy talk, stealing, uncontrolled anger, lying, or any other vice.”
- The Warning of Deception (16). In verse 16, James warns us not to be deceived. Peter likewise cautions us to “be sober minded, be alert. Your adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour” (1 Peter 5:8). What are some ways in which we can be deceived and what is our solution?
- Freedom from Consequences. Not only do we grieve the Holy Spirit with our sin but we bring grief upon ourselves. When we are tempted, we are enticed to enjoy the pleasure of sin and we are deceived into believing that there will not be any consequences. Many Christians have suffered great grief because of sin.
- Bondage of the Past. One way in which we are deceived is when we are tempted to dwell on the past. Our enemy is crafty and will try to make you ineffective in the present by getting your mind focused on the past. While there is nothing sinful about remembering the past, we are never called to dwell on it. If there is a particular sin in the past, remember 1 John 1:9 tells us that “if we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” While it is impossible to look back over your life without regrets, the gospel helps us stop dwelling on our failure and to start dwelling on Jesus’ faithfulness. When you are tempted to think about the past, don’t forget Jesus and His amazing grace. We must allow God to use our past failing to work present faithfulness. Consider the Apostle Paul, he was a persecutor of the church (Phil 3:6) but that did not keep him from being an Apostle and proclaiming Christ everywhere he went (Gal 1:16) The grace of God frees you from bondage.
- Fear of the Future. Another way in which we are deceived is when we are tempted to dwell on the future. In other words, we must also not be paralyzed in the present by our fear of our future. It is good to consider the future and plan accordingly, but we cannot live in tomorrow. The problem with dwelling on the future is that we become focused on what might happen. Too many Christians are presently living in fear of an unknown future. The question they usually struggle with starts with: “What if…?” What if something bad happens? Too many people are miserable today because they are living in a hypothetical tomorrow. Zig Ziglar once said, “Worrying does not take away tomorrow’s problems it takes away today’s peace.” While we do not know what tomorrow brings, we know who brings tomorrow! A better “What if…” question is: “What if God really will take care of me?” “What if I really can trust God with my life?”
When you are tempted to sin, resist it at all costs. Resist it because you know that God does not want you to sin. He allows trials to test your faith and to help you grow in spiritual maturity. Resist it because you know the severe consequences of sin. You know that sin grieves the Holy Spirit and brings grief into your life. Let us not be deceived, but let us be alert. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has come to “seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Our joy is to join our Lord in this great mission.