James, Part 5
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.
Temptation has been around since the days of Adam and Eve, and few of us escape its grasp. I certainly haven’t; temptation has been a lifelong companion. Thankfully, God has not left us on our own to figure out how to deal with it.
Perhaps the best place to start is with a biblical definition of temptation. In the New Testament, the Greek word pierazo is translated “trials” in some passages and “temptations” in others. In essence, pierazo describes things that test us. Tests that come as the result of external circumstances are called trials; tests of character that take the form of inner desires are called temptations.
- In verses 2–12, James discusses external trials and explains how they can help us become spiritually mature.
- In verses 13–18, he turns his attention to the powerful urges inside us that can destroy us and everyone we care about.
Why does God use pierazo to describe both trials from without and temptations from within? Because they are two sides of the same coin: testing. Many of us have learned the hard way about the relationship between the two. One of the most invaluable lessons I’ve learned is how easy it is for trials to become temptations. Here’s how it often happens: we fall into a difficult circumstance, and instead of thanking God for the soul training opportunity, we complain and question his love for us. We begin looking for alternatives, and at this point we are often presented with what seems to be a way out of our difficulties. This opportunity is a temptation.
I could offer dozens of examples from my own life, but more impressive are the many examples found in the Bible:
- Abraham, one of the most esteemed saints in the Bible, is a good illustration. The Lord personally called him to leave his home in Babylon and journey to a new homeland. Abraham trusted God and travelled to the land of Canaan. By an oak tree near Shechem, God affirmed his promise and told Abraham he was now in the promised land. Abraham built an altar to celebrate the good news and made his home in the hills east of Bethel. God blessed him there, but then came a famine. Abraham was unable to feed his flocks–an external trial that was an opportunity for Abraham to trust God. But Abraham came up with another plan: he went to Egypt and lied to Pharoah.
- The classic example of the connection between temptations and trials is found in the account of the Exodus. God miraculously freed Israel and destroyed the Egyptian army in the Red Sea. Moses then led the people toward the promised land. They marched three days and came to an oasis, but the water was bitter. The polluted watering hole was both a trial and an opportunity to turn to God. How did Israel respond? Did they ask God what to do? Did they trust the Lord to purify the water? No. They complained about their circumstances and blamed Moses. They turned the trial into a rebellion.
In verse 13, James says that followers of Jesus are to live according to two principles in regard to temptation:
- First, we must expect temptations to come. Verse 13 doesn’t say “if temptation comes.” It says, “when temptation comes.” You will never grow too old to be tempted, and you will never become too spiritual to be tempted. If you are a Christian, you need to come to grips with the fact that you are not immune to temptation. Hebrews 4:15 says that even Jesus was tempted, so don’t get flustered by temptations. Temptations are not sins; they are just a part of being human. Expect them.
- Second, after we give into temptation, we must refuse to play the blame game. Gotta blame someone? Look in a mirror. Verse 14 says that our own evil desires are the culprits.
Next: How our desires sabotage our best intentions.