Temptation: It's Origin & Consequences

(James 1:13-15)

Rev. Bryn MacPhail

Temptation. We all face it. Yes, even as Christians we find ourselves constantly besieged by it. But why is it that we so often yield to it?. The problem is that few of us take temptation seriously. In fact, we entertain temptation until the threat of acting it out becomes undeniable, and by then it may be too late. At this stage, our temptation has now become our sin. The insight we gain from James chapter one shows us that the only suitable response to temptation is to cut it off at its roots - our thought life. This is where all sin is originally conceived.

My purpose in this sermon is to acquaint you with the origin of temptation and the seriousness of its consequences. James outlines this in three points: First, he tells us what the origin of temptation is not. Secondly, James tells us what the origin of temptation is, and thirdly, he makes us aware of the consequences of temptation.

Let us now take a look at the text. To better understand what verses thirteen to fifteen are saying it is necessary for me to briefly introduce some of the verses that precede them. It is also necessary for me to differentiate between the "trials" referred to in verse two and twelve and the "temptations" experienced in verses thirteen and fourteen because both come from the same greek noun "peirasmos" but denote different things. Trials and temptations are actually two sides of the same coin. However, we should infer that when the verb of "peirasmos" occurs in verses thirteen and fourteen it is purposely distinguished and translated as temptation, rather than as a trial because of what is indicated by the words "evil"(v13), "evil desire"(v14), and "sin"(v15). Since we know from verse two that trials should bring us "pure joy" rather than "evil", what is being referred to here must be temptation. Thus Vine's dictionary correctly recognizes this by defining "peirasmos" as both "trials with a beneficial purpose and effect" and as "trial definitely designed to lead to wrong doing, temptation"(Vine 1140). This distinction is extremely important because trials and temptations command different responses . Trials call for perseverance because they are from God, James also writes, "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial"(v12). Trials are also intended for good - that is, to make us "perfect and complete"(v4). It would be foolish, therefore, to run from a trial that will certainly strengthen our faith. Temptation, on the other hand, must be resisted because Satan intends it for evil and it brings only "sin" and "death"(v15). The only suitable response is to flee from evil(2Tim.2:22) and to resist the devil(Jas.4:7).

1. James' first point tells us what the origin of temptation is not.

The truth is, when faced with tremendous temptation, we often blame others, our circumstances, the devil, and even God . In fact, we have been blaming God since the Garden of Eden when Adam said to God, "The woman You put here with me, she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it"(Gen.3:12 emphasis added). Eve quickly follows that up by saying, "The serpent deceived me and I ate"(Gen.3:12). Adam first blames God, then Eve, and Eve, in turn, blames the devil. We commonly call this "passing the buck", and unfortunately we do it all the time. Someone has once said, "To err is human; to blame it on the divine is even more human." How true this is of all of us! This is precisely what James is trying to refute in verse thirteen when he writes, "When tempted, no one should say , "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone"(Jas.1:13). God sends trials , not temptations.

The assertion that God cannot be tempted is stressed by a rare verbal adjective "apeirastos" which means "unable to be tempted" or, "untemptable". The sense is that God is unsusceptible to evil. Because He cannot be tempted to sin, James reminds us "nor does He tempt anyone"(v13) to sin. God has never tempted us to sin because He cannot! It is a moral impossibility.

2. James' second point tells us what the origin of temptation is.

Having made a powerful defense of the character of God, James now describes the source of temptation, "each one is tempted when by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed"(v14). James knew very well that Satan is busy tempting believers(Jas.4:7), but he also knew that the root of the problem is our own evil. The word "enticed" is the translation of the greek word "deleazo" which means primarily, "to lure by a bait". By using this word James is speaking metaphorically , likening our enticement to lust with a fish lured to a bait. This metaphor is important because it distinguishes from Satan dropping a net and catching a "fish" involuntarily from him lowering the bait for the "fish" to voluntarily approach and latch on to. This verse shows that we are not helpless victims, but rather beings who are able to choose or resist the "bait". James could not be more explicit. The source of temptation is not God, or even the devil, but man's own sinful heart .

A point of clarification is necessary here. We know that temptation is not a sin in itself(And how do you know that Bryn?), because we know that Jesus was tempted and yet we are certain that He was without sin. What is important then, is how we respond to temptation. How we respond to temptation determines whether or not we have sinned. Do we let ourselves be lured towards the bait? Or do we flee and seek shelter under our Rock? Martin Luther once said that, "we cannot prevent birds from flying overhead, but we can surely prevent them from making a nest in our hair".

3. James' third point makes us aware of the consequences of temptation.

James turns then from the source of temptation to the course of temptation. James moves from snare imagery to conception and birth imagery: "Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death"(v15). Once the "hook" is in, there is a dreaded three-generational course: evil desire, sin, and death(Hughes 49). The inevitability of this "sin" is stressed by the birth imagery; one cannot reverse the course of conception. To be precise; there are two births. Once desire is conceived it inevitably gives birth, and sin is born. Sin inevitably grows up and gives birth to death. Thankfully we have been saved from death by Christ.(!!!) Though we are exempt from the second birth - that of death, the first birth - that of sin is inevitable once evil desire has conceived. The only possible solution then, is to prevent conception . That means to avoid entertaining any evil desire or temptation. David writes in Psalm 139, "(Thou) art intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O Lord, Thou dost know it all"(Ps.139:3,4). Why then, would we ever feel free to indulge in gross sins in our imagination when we know that God is the audience to our thoughts?

Two things should now be abundantly clear to you. First, you should realize that you are temptation's fundamental catalyst. It certainly isn't God and it isn't even the devil, "but each one is tempted when, by his own desire, he is dragged away and enticed"(v14). Secondly, you should realize that evil desires, when entertained , will certainly give birth to sinful acts. Perhaps not in the form you imagined, but in some shape or form all unchecked lusts will give birth to sinful acts(v15).

So why is it that we so often yield to temptation? Why is it that we cannot turn off the T.V. when we should? Why are we never able to pass up that second or third dessert? And why do we seldom attempt to extinguish bitter and unfruitful thoughts about others? It is because we either forget or neglect to employ the ample tools provided for us in Scripture to fix a broken-down thought life.

You may now feel like I have "brow-beaten" you with this doctrine of temptation, but let me assure you there is relief from the bondage of temptation if we heed three important biblical principles:

  1. We should avoid evil attractions. Don't expose yourself to activities, images, or conversation that provoke evil thoughts. If watching certain television programs stir up improper images, don't watch them. This is what Jesus meant figuratively when He said, "If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out, and throw it from you; for it is better that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to be thrown in hell"(Matt.5:29)

  2. We must feed on the Word of God. The Psalmist writes "Thy word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against Thee"(Ps.119:11). The Word insulates the mind. It fortifies the soul from evil thoughts. Only as we effectively wield the Sword of the Spirit can we mortify our fleshly imaginations(Eph.6:17).

  3. And finally, we need to resist the devil and draw near to God. James answers the dilemma he poses in chapter one in chapter four, "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you"(Jas.4:7,8). Satan may plant the bait, but you don't have to bite. When we resist the devil, he will flee. When we show no interest in the bait, Satan will retreat until a more suitable bait is found. Our job then, is to simply swim away from the bait and seek shelter under our Rock and our Redeemer(Ps.19:14). Amen.

*Works Cited*

Gaebelein, Frank E. The Expositor's Bible Commentary(Hebrews-Revelation) . Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981.

Hierbert, D. Edmond. The Epistle of James . Chicago: Moody Press, 1979.

Hughes, R. Kent. James . Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1991.

MacArthur Jr., John F. The Vanishing Conscience. Vancouver: Word Publishing, 1994.

Robertson, A.T. Studies in the Epistle of James . Nashville: Broadman.

Vine, W.E. Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers.