How Does Temptation Work?

Last time we saw that if we want to overcome temptation, we must at the outset put out of our minds all shifting of blame, especially, blaming God. Then where does temptation come from? James says, it comes from us. Though God is sinless, humanity is sinful. Our heart is the source of temptation. He says that “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (Jas 1:14). Though the devil may come at us, tempting us to sin, the temptation itself ultimately arises from within our own hearts. It is our sinful nature that produces sin. This is the reality of the human heart. God says through the prophet Jeremiah, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (17:9).

The Road to Hell

Our temptation to sin comes for our hearts, but how does temptation work?  In chapter 1, verses 14-15 of his letter, James lays out for us the process by which we are led from faithful Christian living, glorifying our Creator and Savior to experiencing the rebellion of sin as we give into temptation. He says, “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 1:14-15). Here we see five steps that lead to death from sin. So, the road that James leads out is one that leads to hell.  But if we know how temptation , we will be better able to stop it and kill sin in our hearts.

1. Deception

First, there is deception. James says temptation begins when we are lured away. Being lured away involves the mind. How does this happen? Because of the deceit of sin. You see, the mind is meant to be the sentinel, watching carefully over the soul by questioning, assessing, and making judgments of the world around us. It’s supposed to ask questions like “Will this please God?” and “Is this according to God’s Word?” But what happens, when the mind is deceived? When what God says is wrong, the mind believes is right? We have the beginnings of temptation. In fact, this is why Satan works so hard at deceit. Think about trying to take down the castle of a rival king or the base of a foreign army. What would your strategy be? In his book, The Enemy Within, Kris Lungaard points out that the hardest way to do it is to make a direct frontal assault. Those inside see you coming and man the defenses.  But if you sneak up to the fortress at night and with your best archers or most skillful snipers begin picking off the watchman and guards, then they can’t warn others. You might easily breach the wall and carry the day. Likewise, sin uses deceit to knock out the watchman of your soul: the mind. Sin presents itself as something beautiful and appealing, but it’s only deceiving you.

2. Desire

From deceptions comes desire. “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” Enticing relates to our affections. If the mind determines that an action is right, the affections should then fall in line and desire, long for, and cling to what the mind said was good. Likewise, if the mind decides something—some idea, some act, some thought—is wicked and sinful and contrary to what God desires, then that thing should be repulsive to us. It should sicken us and be the last thing we would want to pick up off the side of the road. But what happens if the mind is deceived? What happens if it believes sin is good? Then we begin to desire that which God forbids.

3. Decision

This leads us to a decision. “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” (1:14-15). The idea of a desire conceiving sin comes in the will. It is the will puts the soul into action, carrying out what the mind said was good and the affections hungered for. In this case, though, the desire for sin leads to the decision to sin.

4. Disobedience

The desire conceived then gives “birth to sin” (1:15). This is our disobedience. Sin appears in our actions, words, and thoughts. Our life under God’s direction is disrupted. Instead of honoring him with our lives, we dishonor him. What is the result of this sin?

5. Death

Death is the final consequence of sin. Whatever sin pretends to be, it will end in death. Our sinful hearts want us to believe that the consequences for playing around with sin will only be slight—like not as much blessing from God, or a smaller mansion in heaven. But sin is like a cake that’s been left to sit out for several weeks. Under the gloss and glamor of the icing lies a massive pile of molding sugar. It looks wonderful! But take a bite and you’re going to regret it. Forever. The same is true with sin, but only more so. For it leads to death. It’s not without good reason and John Owen said, “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.” Holding this thought in our minds—that the wages of sin is death—is the first line of defense in our striving against the allurement and deceptions of sin.

Knowing how temptation works means we have a fighting chance. But what kind of strategy should we employ against it?  We’ll cover this in our next post.

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