James, Part 6
No one, when tempted, should say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted by evil, and he never tempts anyone else. But each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
In the 1970’s, comedian Flip Wilson made it popular to say, “the Devil made me do it,” to excuse bad behavior. It was meant as a joke, but many of us are willing to believe it is true. The Bible, on the other hand, unequivocally says that we can’t fault the Devil for our sins. So if we can’t blame the Devil, who can we blame? Well, let’s start with this: most of us look at sin as a single action, but God sees sin as a process. James outlines four steps:
Step 1: Desire. Desires are not necessarily bad. Indeed, many of our strongest desires are good. We rightfully want delicious food and satisfying drinks and good sex and restful sleep. These desires are gifts from God and given to us for our enjoyment. The only way these desires can become sinful is when they are abused. James is not teaching about desires in general; he’s talking about evil desires–yearnings that are outside of God’s will.
Step 2: Deception. In verse 14, the person who yields to temptation is described as being “dragged away and enticed.” These are two words from the sportsman’s world:
- “Dragged away” is a hunter’s term that carries the idea of baiting a trap.
- “Enticed” is a fisherman’s term that means “to bait a hook.”
The key to success is using the right kind of bait. No animal will willingly walk into a trap, and no fish will knowingly bite a hook. The trap and the hook must be hidden. This is how temptation works. Temptation always presents us with a bait that does two things: it appeals to our natural desires, and it hides the fact that eventually we’ll regret doing it.
The source of temptation is our own evil desires. It turns out that we build our own trap. Then, using insider information, we bait the trap. Question:
What kind of bait works best on you?
What have you fallen for in the past? What’s out there in the dark that turns you on? If you can answer that, you will know what to look for. But here’s the crazy thing: we often recognize something as a temptation and realize that it’s hiding a hook, but we keep nibbling on it anyway because “we can handle it.” Sure. We can handle it. But, just in case we’re being overly optimistic, let’s look at what happens when we can’t handle it:
Step 3: Disobedience. Evil desires drag us away and entice us. We take the hook. “Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin.” What begins in our mind will eventually play itself out in our body. If I think about something long enough and wish for it hard enough, I will likely be moved to do it.
Can fantasies be dangerous? What’s the harm in imagining yourself in bed with you coworker or your neighbor or your friend’s mate? After all, you would never actually do anything like that. Would you?
God warns us in no uncertain terms that improper desires will deceive us and move us toward disobedience. James uses the analogy of childbirth. When evil desire and deception mate, they have a baby: sin. And babies grow up and become parents themselves.
Step 4: Death. Verse 15 says, “sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” When we get to step four, we see the ultimate price of our sins. It may not happen right way, but eventually our sins will bring devastating results.
- If Lot had known what would happen to him in Sodom, he would have never went, but Lot didn’t consider the consequences. He was too busy admiring the beautiful land surrounding Sodom.
- If David had known what would happen as a result of his lust for Bathsheba, he would have never committed adultery with her. But the bait blinded him.
People have taken these four steps over and over again since the days of Adam and Eve. The lesson God wants us to get is this: when we are tempted, we need to get our eyes off the bait and consider the consequences.
That is the choice before each of us. We can run from temptation, or we can surrender to our darkest desires. We are free to choose the path we walk down, but we are not free to choose the consequences that will follow our choice.
Next: How to overcome temptation.