We’ve all seen it in television and cartoons. The man has a decision to make. It’s a difficult decision. It’s a moral decision. On one shoulder is the little haloed man in white telling him the right thing to do. While on the other side a horned man in red sits, telling him the wrong thing to do. The man is looking back and forth, considering the two options, torn between what is right and what he wants. It’s always meant to be a comical sight. But the reality is that something similar, yet far more sinister, takes place in our minds and hearts every day. Every day we face the temptation to sin. How are we going to say ‘No’? Do we even understand where temptation comes from or how it works?
James helps us answers these questions. In the first chapter of his letter, he says, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 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. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (Jas 1:12-15).
From the outset, we must answer this question: Where does temptation come from? Proverbs 19 says, “When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the Lord” (19:3). The Bible is full of people shifting blame away from themselves because of their sin. But this is one of the most common and persistent blame shifts, even today. We blame our temptation and sin on God. In his commentary on James, Kent Hughes tells the story of a troubled young woman who was gloriously saved, but whose unsaved husband did not follow in the faith. After a year of strife, she began meeting with a Christian counselor. Yet, rather than receive help, she was preyed upon from a wolf in professional sheep’s clothing. It began with sympathy and compliments on her appearance and continued as she showed up for one session dressed and scented for a first date. Everything ended with guilt from multiple liaisons. As she now sat with Hughes and his wife, this woman was bitter and full of rage. She placed all the blame on one person: God. “I asked for God to lead me to the right person,” she said. “And he led me to this man. It is God’s fault! He is to blame for what happened!”
Don’t Blame God
Do you know anyone who’s ever felt that way? Have you felt that way? The problem is that these are just feelings. For James throw a cold bucket of reality on our face when he says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’” (1:13). Why? “for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (1:13). Therefore, we can say with utter confidence that God is sinless. Later James says that God is “the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (1:17). It’s imagery of the constellations, continually shifting according to the seasons of the year. Yet, in the midst of that is God. He never changes, never turns, never shifts in his plan and character. He is the one Constant in world that gives us hope and an anchor for our souls. Thus, though he may allow or even lead us into the testing of our faith—that it might be proven and refined—James insists that this is not temptation. God is incapable of being tempted to sin and therefore will tempt no one else. We is reinforced by what we see elsewhere in the Old and New Testaments. For example, John says, “God is Light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). And Habakkuk says of God, “Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You can not look on wickedness with favor” (Hab 1:13).
If we want to overcome temptation, we must at put out of our minds all blame-shifting, especially, blaming God. Then where does temptation come from? James says, it comes from us. We will explore this in our next blog post.