The Source of Temptation
What is the source of our temptations in life? The traditional answer has been: the world, the flesh, and the devil… and this is a biblically accurate picture of where sin and our temptations to sin are sourced. The apostle John wrote in 1 John 2:16 – “For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.”
Before Genesis 3, everything was perfect in the Garden of Eden. But when the serpent (who is identified as Satan throughout the Bible) tempted Eve, she heeded the voice of the serpent and fell into sin. She was tempted by Satan; her flesh was enticed by his appeals; her eyes were attracted to the fruit… and she ate. She yielded to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – “you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” But it was all a lie.
When temptation to sin presents itself, it usually looks like a short-cut to something we really desire. It may even be associated with a legitimate desire sought by an illegitimate means. Or it may be a natural, God-given desire pursued in an ungodly way. In other words, temptation often appears as a short-cut to something we want for ourselves. In James, the temptation is linked to an unholy desire. Sin is looking to satisfy any desire apart from faith in God. For, as Romans 14:23 says, “whatever is not from faith is sin.” Apart from faith, everything we do is sin.
Previously in James we learned that God sends trials to build our faith in Him. God never sends temptations to sin, but He does allow temptations to come. There are times when a trial becomes a temptation because we responded in a way that lacks faith. But God wants His people to have strong faith that sees temptation from afar and is wise to avoid it. In today’s passage from James, we’re going to see how Christians should respond to temptation by understanding the source of temptation. James 1:13-18. In honor of God and His Word, let’s stand.
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. 15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. 18 Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures. [NKJV]
[Prayer] In this ‘down-to-earth’ passage about temptation, James is teaching Christians about the source of temptation as well as the way to have victory over temptation by remembering what is true about God. First, let’s consider the source of temptation…
I. Temptation is rooted in our own sin nature, not because God is tempting us (13-15).
Your first question about this proposition and about the point James is making may cause your mind to focus on the first temptation and the first sin. If temptation is rooted in our own sin nature, how was Eve tempted? Even though Adam and Eve had no sin nature at creation, Satan used deception to offer something that appeared both good and perfect, but it didn’t come with God’s blessing. Satan’s offer was in direct violation of God’s expressed will.
Most sin is an enticement to something that looks appealing to our senses. Every sin offers a promise of pleasure or gain – that’s what makes it tempting to us. With a sin nature already inclined to seek what God forbids, we are easily tempted by the world, the flesh, and the devil. But as believers, we have a new nature within us. God has made us new on the inside even though we continue to war against our old nature – our remaining corruption. The temptation that assaults us, which James is dealing with here, never comes from God. Look at verse 13…
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.
The first thing to notice here is that temptation in this life is inevitable. He doesn’t say “if” he is tempted, but “when” he is tempted. You and I will be tempted throughout this life. The word for “tempted” here is the same word earlier translated “trials”; they have the same root. What makes them different is the context. While God does use trials to build our faith, He never sends temptations to lure us into evil. So context is critical to both translation and interpretation.
God wants His people to know how to respond to temptation and confrontation. When caught, our first instinct is self-preservation. We want to blame someone else. In our heart of hearts, we’re still just like Adam. When God confronted Adam with his sin, Adam said: “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate” (Gen. 3:12). Adam indirectly blamed God by blaming his wife who had been God’s gracious provision for him. James 1:13 is telling us that blaming God is always wrong. Your temptation doesn’t come from God. So where does it come from? Look at verses 14 and 15…
But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. 15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.
These verses describe a process. There isn’t a person on the face of the earth who isn’t subject to temptation in this life; that’s “each one” means. It describes a universal inclination. Temptation begins with being drawn away. This is from an old word that describes how wild game is lured into baited traps. In the same way, temptation holds out the promise of something good, only to entrap us. After being drawn away by our own desires, we are then enticed. The word for desires is lusts. It’s the strong desire of the fallen soul to acquire something to satisfy or fulfill the flesh. And enticed means “to capture” or “to catch with bait”.
After being drawn away and enticed, verse 15 says, desire conceives and gives birth to sin. And when sin grows up, it brings forth death. So James likens the temptation process to physical conception and birth. Only, sin doesn’t result in a new life – it results in death. It all begins in our own hearts. The desires of your heart will determine the direction of your life.
The problem for all of us is that we forget the truth about God; and the less we consider the truth of God’s Word, the stronger the temptations of sin will become. James is writing to warn believers to be on guard about sin in this life. He wants Christians to set their desires and hopes on Jesus, for He alone can fulfill the deepest longings we have. When we are deprived of some choice “blessing” and we wonder why God has not granted that desire for us, we can only trust that He is withholding things that would be harmful to us. And God never withholds anything without somehow compensating us with something far better. When we forget God’s goodness, we become vulnerable to deception and sin becomes a powerful draw when faith is weak.
This leads us to James 1:16-18…
16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. 18 Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.
II. We are deceived into sin when we forget that all good and perfect gifts come from God (16-18).
Verse 16 is a transition verse. At first glance, there appears to be no logical progression from verses 13-15 to verses 17-18. Some scholars have suggested that James has no major premise in mind as he writes this letter; they see nothing more than a random series of disconnected moral injunctions—like NT proverbs. But they’re overlooking an important fact. This isn’t an example of a man writing with Attention Deficit Disorder! The Holy Spirit is addressing these Christians about one major premise: how to respond faithfully to the multiple trials of life.
Temptation is a constant trial for all people—especially God’s people. And without Scripture telling us otherwise, God would be blamed by everyone who doesn’t know the true nature of God. So James goes from describing the process of temptation in vv. 13-15 to the command “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren” to the source of every good and perfect gift. So there’s a progression. From the command in verse 16, he starts talking about how every good and perfect gift comes down from God. God isn’t to blame for your sin. Good things come down from God. Perfect things that you desire come down from God.
The word for deceived in verse 16 means to be led astray or to wander into sin. The original word for deceived is from the same root as our word for planet. The planets were so named by ancient astronomers because their lights appeared to stray from point to point in the sky; while the distant lights (the stars) appeared fixed in their position. So the planets were nick-named “wanderers”. And James is telling Christians to beware of the powerful pull of sin: don’t let the gravity of sin cause you to wander from the established Christian truth of God’s Word. God is never responsible for your temptation to sin; you and I are responsible for our sin.
Then verse 17 seems to continue this planetary illustration with: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” So good and perfect gifts come down from the God who created the heavenly lights, Who, unlike the moon, has no dark side and no shadow of turning. So the whole universe is a brilliant display of God’s unchanging nature! John wrote that “God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 Jn. 1:5).
To these beloved brethren, James is saying that the more satisfied Christians become in the God from whom all blessings flow, the less attractive evil will become. Sin will still exert influence on a believer for the rest of this life, but that influence is waning as the radiant glory of Christ waxes large in our lives. The bigger God is in your life, the brighter and more glorious He appears in your mind, the less and less attractive sin will become and its ability to deceive you will grow smaller as you continually draw near to Him.
We didn’t discover God on our own and we didn’t find Him because our diligent searching. He had to reveal Himself to us. Verse 18 says it powerfully: “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first-fruits of His creatures.”
It was by hearing the Word of God that faith was activated. That’s when life entered the sin-dead heart and sight entered the sin-blinded eyes of unbelief. He brought us forth by the word of truth. James says God brought us forth for Himself… “that we might be a kind of first-fruits of His creatures.”
The source of our temptation comes from within and sin must be dealt with on the inside. All of the external therapies and gimmicks in the world will not deliver a sinner from the abiding wrath of God. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:57). The answer is to turn back to God and look to Him for every good and perfect gift.
(c) Charles Kevin Grant
October 4, 2005