The Book of James, Part 10:
Temptation: Acknowledge the Danger


Last week I introduced the section, James 1:13-21, which I suggested could be entitled "Breaking Bad Habits".   I quoted Professor William Kilpatrick, that for the first 1800 years after the coming of Jesus, mankind agreed that "God is a righteous god and that His righteous laws ought to rule our conduct."  Today, however, it is evident that society has decided that man is smarter than God, and that man can decide what is right and wrong by looking inward to man instead of upward to God.   Then we looked at several Bible verses where God told us that the mind of man cannot be trusted, and that the heart of man cannot be trusted.  Society may have decided to trust the mind and heart of man, but God has told us they cannot be trusted. We cannot reason to right; we cannot trust our intuition or our gut or our conscience.   God has defined right and wrong and no amount of rationalization by man will change what God has established.  He created order, and his order rules.

Paraphrasing Proverbs 14:12 "People have the amazing capacity to think logically to the wrong conclusion."

We ended last week with Dietrich Bonhoeffer's description of the human condition, especially the human propensity to follow temptation and turn against God.   That quote is too good and too strong and too real not to repeat, lest you forgot what Bonhoeffer said about himself and us.  And he was a devout Christian.

I am going to break up this temptation section into four sections.
  1. Acknowledge The Danger of Temptation    (1:13-15)
  2. Appreciate The Goodness of God    (1:16-18)
  3. Avoid The Appeal of Anger    (1:19-20)
  4. Abandon The Rest of Sin    (1:21)
Today we will start with

    1. Acknowledge the Danger of Temptation     (1:13-15)

Try to remember this verse when fellow Christians start talking about God tempting them.   James tells us it is not God doing the tempting.

If we are going to break the bad habits in our lives, we need to start by recognizing the danger of temptation.  We are surrounded by temptations to sin every day.   Not only are we surrounded, but it is our nature to fall for it.

Temptation is not optional:

Notice that verse 13 says "when he is tempted", not "if he is tempted".  Temptation is not optional.  All of us are going to be tempted on a regular basis.  This is a point we need to emphasize because sometimes people think that once you reach some level of spiritual maturity, temptation will just go away.  But that's not true.  The reason we know that it is not true is by looking at Jesus.  Even Jesus was tempted.

Jesus was the sinless Son of God, but He was still tempted all during His time here on earth.  If Jesus was tempted, is there any doubt that in our sinful nature we will be tempted?

We have talked about the next obvious question, and Ellen raised it last week:   "How would you explain what temptation is?"   It's the urge, or the desire or the inclination to do something we should not do.

Is temptation sin?

Then temptation is not sin.

If not, then what is the difference between the two?

Temptation is the inclination to do something wrong.   Sin is doing it.   If we refuse, manage in some way to refuse to take the action, we stopped short of sin.

This forces us to the Jimmy Carter verse.

The lust for her is translated from the Greek word epithumeo which means to "set the heart upon, to long for".

Oversimplified, Jesus did not say that if I look at a pretty woman, I might as well have slept with her.   But he did say that if I look at a pretty woman and decide to try to get her to sleep with me, the condition of my heart has already crossed the line into sin.

James 1:13 also says

God cannot be tempted.  Temptation holds no appeal for God.  In fact, sin is repulsive to God.  He is repulsed by sin, not attracted to it.  Though we'll never be free from temptation, we do need to pray that we'll learn to see sin and temptation more and more from God's point of view:   That we will see it as the danger that it is. It's not easy to hate evil.  On the outside, evil always appears to be desirable, beautiful, even right or good.  But that's why it's so important to get our understanding of right and wrong from God.  God can help us see beyond appearances to the terrible consequences of giving into sin and temptation.   God can help us see through the filter we put on it, help us to identify what we need as opposed to what we want, what just looks good but in the end is bad.

A young priest was serving in the confessional booth for the first time and was being watched over by an older priest.  At the end of the day, the older priest took the young man aside and said, "When a person finishes confession, you really should say something other than 'Wow!'"

Like that young priest, sometimes we're guilty of being impressed by temptation and sin rather than being repulsed by them.  We need to learn to say "Oh My!" not "Wow!"

On to verse 14:

What does this verse teach is the source of temptation?

Isn't it interesting that James tells us to look inside ourselves for the roots of temptation rather than at our circumstances or at people around us?  He doesn't talk about Satan; he doesn't talk about the depraved society in which we live.  He points us to our own evil desires.  This means we must take responsibility for our behavior.  We are not the victims; we are the perpetrators.  To loosely quote a great philosopher, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

 Verse 14 starts with "But each one..." -

The Greek word for "each one" here is hekastos. It can also be translated "everyone, every man, each person".  What God is telling us is that the statements in this verse apply to every one of us.  We all have evil desires within us that seek to drag us away from God.

Verse 14 says "dragged away".

"Dragged away" is from the Greek word, helko.  It's a strong word used several times;  In John 21:6 and 21:11, it's used of hauling in fish nets.

In Acts 16:19 and 21:30, it's used of crowds grabbing Paul & dragging him away. Maybe the intent here is to drive home the power that evil desires have over us.  They drag us away from the Lord and into sinful behavior.   Remember the Bonhoeffer statement.   This is humanly overpowering.   Only supernatural power can overcome it.

Verse 14 says we are enticed.

"Enticed" is from the Greek word deleazo.  It's an interesting word.  It's from an old Greek word, delear, meaning bait and meant to catch fish by using bait.  This is an image that really helps us understand temptation.  Temptation is the bait that entices us to sin.

How many of you like to fish?  Well, if you like to fish -- or know someone who does -- then you probably know something about fishing lures.  There are all kinds of lures.  In fact, different lures are designed to attract different kinds of fish.  There are lures of every conceivable color and size and shape.  But there is one common aspect of all lures.

What is it?

Lures always have a hook.  That's because the purpose of every lure is to catch a fish.

Temptation always has a "hook" as well. That's because the purpose of temptation is to catch people.

Verse 14 says we are enticed by our own lust.

The Greek word "own" is idios which can be translated "one's own; distinct; private".  Each of us have a special lure toward which we are most vulnerable, our own personal weakness.

Here's a thought based on this word:

First Corinthians 10:13 tells us that we all share a common vulnerability toward temptations.

Issues like purity, pride, materialism and worry are a struggle for all of us.  However, each of us is especially prone toward certain temptations, based on things like personality and past experiences.  For example, if you grew up in a home where you were exposed to a lot of moral impurity, you're going to have greater struggles in that area.  Maybe your temperament makes you more prone toward anger or irritability.  If your parents had alcohol addictions, you may be more likely to have problems with that same issue.

It is important that you know yourself -- know what sins seem to be especially hard for you to resist and avoid those temptations in particular.  Know what situations or places or people are most likely to cause you to trip, and avoid them.   Take preventive measures.   Defend yourself against yourself.   You are your own worst enemy.


Next week:   ...we will go on to:

    2. Appreciate the Goodness of God    (1:16-18)
    3. Avoid the Appeal of Anger             (1:19-20)
    4. Abandon the Rest of Sin                 (1:21)


Reread James 1:13-21 to let the Holy Spirit talk to you about what James is telling us and the changes we need to make in our lives in view of what he tells us.   Maybe one take home from today is that we must take defensive action.   We need to avoid the slippery slope.   Once on it, our chances of climbing back up it are slim.

The Philosopher