The Truth About Temptation and Sin

This morning we’re going to be in James 1. I’ve already preached through verses 1-12, and in those verses James has been instructing us on the correct way we should think about the trials in our lives, that we should view them as an occasion to rejoice because the testing of our faith produces in us endurance and leads us to humility as we are forced to realize that we are not able to deal with these trials ourselves, that we must rely on and trust in God. And our trials help us to grow in our understanding and trust in God, culminating in our receiving the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Today we’re going to look at verses 13-17. If you missed any of the previous sermons you can go to the church website and listen to those.

13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. 17 Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. (James 1:13-17)

I am so thankful this morning not only for the salvation God has given to us, but also for the clear instructions on the way we can live our lives in a way that brings glory to Him. And anything that will hinder our living for His glory, He instructs us on how to deal with those things. Here James, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, instructs us on the truths that we need to know in order to correctly understand our own temptation and sin, not so we can continue to live in them, but so that we can deal with them in a way that glorifies God. James in these verses is not talking about any specific sin but is talking in a very general way. Later in this chapter he will talk about specific sins, but here he is speaking generally about the nature of sin and temptation.

We can sometimes think and feel that God has given us a trial that is too hard to bear, taken us beyond what we can stand. We can feel that God is actually even leading us into sin. We can doubt the goodness of God or rightness of God’s actions towards us as we view our circumstances as coming from a sovereign God, and in His sovereignty we may think He is overwhelming us. In our minds sometimes we can even believe and give voice to the idea that God is forcing us to sin. James gives us the correct understanding of God’s holiness and His holy intentions.

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. (James 1:13)

When we are tried by God, instead of running to God through prayer, through reading of His Word, through seeking godly counsel, we can determine in our own mind that, “It is too much, I have had enough, and I am going to take care of this,” and we respond in a sinful fashion. James makes it very clear to us that God has no role in tempting us to sin. When you or I choose to sin, that’s not God, it’s us. To say that God is tempting me to sin is to accuse God of enticing or alluring me or attracting me to sin, and when we do that we are calling God a sinner. God forbid! But that is what we can think and sometimes voice. But this idea that our temptations and our sin is somehow God’s fault is not a new idea. We see this even at the beginning. Turn with me to Genesis 3. We’ll take a look at part of this story as it unfolds. This is after Adam and Eve have sinned by eating the forbidden fruit.

8 They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” (Genesis 3:8-10)

We see for the first time in this relationship between God and man, fear and shame.

And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (Genesis 3:11)

Now at this point if Adam was going to take full ownership for his sin, he would have just said, “Yes God, I did eat from the tree you commanded me not to eat from.” But we all know that’s not what he said. Instead we see our original human father Adam laying down the pattern of shifting the blame for his actions, and mankind has been following his example ever since. Nothing has changed.

Adam said – “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:12)

Adam’s logic goes something like this, “I didn’t have anything to do with this woman being here, I went to sleep single and woke up married, you God are responsible for her and my relationship with her, and she is the one who gave me the fruit. So God it’s your fault and it’s her fault, even though I ate the fruit.” Adam’s argument didn’t hold water then, and it does not hold water for us now. Did Eve have a little bit better response when talking to God? Let’s see…

Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:13)

She is saying, “I ate it, but it was not my fault. It was the serpent who deceived me. I thought I was getting one thing by eating this, but I got something else. So I ate, but it’s not my fault.”

Can you guys relate to how Adam and Eve responded? I can! I have done and said these same exact things as Adam and Eve. In my own mind and even sometimes out loud I have blamed God for my own sin, my own temptation, not willing to take ownership of it, but that is what God is calling us to do. How many times have we made excuses, blamed everyone else for our sin, everyone but us? “God, you gave me this job that is stressing me, this husband or wife who doesn’t pay me any attention, these children with such bad attitudes, these parents who just don’t listen to me, they don’t understand me, so it’s not my fault when I respond in a way that’s sinful.” That can be the pattern of thinking we have. But James gives us the correct way to think about God and who He is in relation to our temptation and our sin. James rightly asserts that God cannot be tempted by evil, which is another way of saying that God is holy! 

A few weeks back during the opening I was talking about God’s characteristic of being all-knowing. And I said that God knows everything about everything, which in reality was an incorrect statement. It was wrong because God has no experiential knowledge of sin. That is the one thing God does not know about. Sin is not part of His character or His actions in any way! God is pure and immaculate in moral character. 

Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You cannot look on wickedness with favor (Habakkuk 1:13)

Your way, O God, is holy (Psalm 77:13)

Asaph, who wrote this Psalm, is saying that all of God’s actions are holy, everything the Lord does is holy. Psalm 111:9 tells us that His very name is holy. Isaiah 54:5 says that He is called the Holy One of Israel. In John 6:69 Peter says the same about Jesus, that he is holy. Peter says, “We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.”

You and I may be tempted to sin by Satan, by demons, by other people, but we are not tempted to sin by God! From Genesis to Revelation there is an unbroken declaration that God is holy, and we must be firm in our belief and settled in our hearts and minds that God is holy and He is not tempting us to sin. We must understand and believe that truth. 

God is sinless, separate from sin, and He created the angels and mankind (Adam and Eve, our original parents), as moral creatures with a free will, who of their own free will chose to either obey or disobey Him. And because of the sin of our original parents, sin entered the world and you and I were born with a distinct disadvantage from them. You and I were born with a nature that is sinful. 

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me. (Psalm 51:5)

That is the truth of it for all of us. So the blame for temptation and sin is not external; it is not on God, it is on us!

Mathew Henry said, “Those who lay the blame of their sins either upon their constitution or upon their condition in the world, or who pretend they are under a fatal necessity of sinning, wrong God, as if he were the author of sin. Afflictions, as sent by God, are designed to draw out our graces, but not our corruptions.”

As a result of sin entering this world, corrupting the world and us, we all know that the world is hard, life is hard, and there are some moments and some days that are much harder than other. Times of sickness, death of loved ones, betrayal, loss of work, sometimes loss of the physical things that we enjoy, homes, cars – that is the world we live in. But in all these things, in all these trials, God is at work in our lives drawing us to Him in order that we would begin to look each day more and more like Christ. That we would begin to think more like Christ, to have attitudes more like Christ, to have a heart more like Christ.

If God is not the cause of temptation and sin, who or what is? James tells us in verse 14 that we are.

But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. (James 1:14)

This Greek word ἐπιθυμία, which means strong desire, is usually translated as desire or lust. Is just having a strong desire for something in and of itself wrong? The answer is no. The Bible gives us examples of good and right desires and God honoring ways in which to pursue them.

In Psalm 34:12 David asks the question, “Who is the man who desires life and loves length of days that he may see good?” So David is saying there is nothing wrong with wanting to enjoy life or live a long life, and if that’s your desire, here is how you pursue that, from verses 13-14: “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” 

Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 3:1, “It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.” To desire to serve God as pastor or elder is a wonderful thing to desire. Then Paul lays out how you would pursue that desire in a way that reflects the character of God, starting in verse 2, “be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity.” And Paul continues on through verse 11, including deacons in the discussion as well.

The point of these two examples is that you can have a strong desire for something that is right and is in keeping with the character of God, and you can pursue that desire in a way that reflects the character of God, and that is not lustful in the way James is talking about. This is what James is describing in the context of verse 14 and into verse 15. Through God’s Word we have already established that God is holy, He is pure, He is immaculate in moral character, He is not the one tempting us or causing us to sin. Not only that, but God is also calling us, His children, to be like Him!

but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:15-16)

So God is holy and He is calling us to be like Him by clinging to Him, clinging to His character, His will, His ways, and to turn away from evil. And any desire we have that does not line up with the character of God and the word of God has a high potential for becoming a lust in our life. There may be something in the desire that is pulling us away from God. And desires we have that are luring us and enticing us away from God and the things of God, they are definitely lusts. If we find ourselves ignoring the word of God in pursuit of anything, we are lusting after that thing. If we find we are disregarding godly counsel, pressing forward with what we want regardless of what God’s Word or God’s people have to say about it, we are lusting after that thing. Listen to what happened to Eve!

When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. (Genesis 3:6)

Eve was drawn away from God and His word to her own desire for a fruit that was in her estimation more important than God and His commandment. I’m not wanting to pick on Eve this morning, because Adam was in the same boat, but the text gives us more detail about her. 

You and I are lured away from God by the things that affect us on an emotional level. We find them pleasing and desirable. Not necessarily intellectually at first, but they stir up emotion in us. If you think about advertisement, that’s what it’s designed for. Think about a soda commercial with people dancing, and music, those things have nothing to do with drinking soda! But what the advertisers are trying to do is stir in you a desire, stir in you an emotion that will lead you to buy their product. I’ve seen this in talking to realtors over the years. They say that people buy homes emotionally. They have their list of requirements, but at the end of the day they get emotional about homes and they buy them. That’s why our desires often overcome our intelligence, because they have already tapped into our emotions.

Our desires are unique to us. For instance I do not have a particularly strong desire to drink alcohol, and if I chose to I could have a glass of wine and stop at one drink and not continue on to get drunk. That’s just not an allurement for me. But there are others who for them alcohol of any kind is a bait that would lure them away from God and hook them, just like a fish that is lured from its safe place in the water to bait that is the kind of food it likes. If you’re fishing for a fish that likes flies, and you put something besides flies as your bait, you probably won’t catch that fish. But if you put flies on the hook, you’ll probably catch that fish. In the same way there are particular things that are unique to us. What happens to you and I when a desire we have that would lead us away from God meets a temptation and we are snared or hooked or caught?

Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. (James 1:15)

The first part of Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages of sin is death, and James here in this verse shares with us the process of how that comes about. When we have a strong desire for something that will lead us away from God and when temptation comes together with lust, it conceives sin. Just as you’re either pregnant or not, you are either at the point of sin or not. When sin has been given its full expression in our lives, its end is always death. Sin is the offspring of our temptation and lust.

We as believers don’t have to be afraid of or worry about death; we have already been brought from spiritual death to life, and we belong to Christ, we are sealed by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30). We also do not have to worry about eternal death, being eternally separated from God. But even though we don’t have to worry about those two kinds of death, sin can still bring death to our lives as believers in so many ways. Death to marriages – people don’t get divorced out of love for God, but because of sin in one or both parties. Sin can bring death to relationships between parent and child. Sin can bring death to friendships – people who have been friends for years but are lured away by sin and relationships are destroyed. Sin can bring death to ministries – men and women who have been gifted by God to minister in the body of Christ and who have sometimes served for years ministering, but they are then carried away by their own lust, and the unrepentant sin in their life brings death to their ministry.

We see it in the body of Christ from time to time on a large scale. Some prominent pastor or leader in the church is disgraced – we see them on the news or on the internet – due to some pattern of sin that has been exposed, and that sin brings about the death of their ministry. Those are the big, well known cases. But all too often, in churches all across this country, there are men and women who are not famous and there are no news headlines, but who are snared, caught, and captured by lusts in their lives that turn into sin they refuse to repent from, and their ministries have been murdered as a result. I say this as brother who grieves for those this has happened to, and I long to see God, who is able to bring dead things to life, work in their hearts in ways that only He can in those circumstances. Pride, arrogance, hatred, dishonesty, and sensuality are just a few of the sins that have been born into the lives of God’s people, and have caused death and destruction in their lives. And if we are unwilling to address the sin in our lives, it can even bring about physical death. We see this in 1 Corinthians 5:5 and 11:30.

Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. (James 1:16)

This is the deception – looking back at the verses we have already covered – we can think that what we are lusting after will do us good, that it is a good thing. We can deceive ourselves into thinking that sin won’t have consequences. 

Can a man take fire in his bosom And his clothes not be burned? Or can a man walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched? (Proverbs 6:27-28)

The answer is of course no and no! But temptation and sin tries to make us believe the answer is yes. That’s the deception. Then, looking to verse 17, the deception is that we ourselves can get what’s good. That we can, in our own power, get what’s good. Satan convinced Eve that she could determine for herself what was good and she could get it herself. Neither turned out to be true. And neither is it true for us!

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. (James 1:17)

Anything that is good and anything that would do us good comes from God. That includes most importantly the magnificent and perfect gift of salvation for us. Paul tells us this as he’s comparing Adam to Christ.

But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. (Romans 5:16)

Praise God for such a great salvation! Even when we stumble and give in to temptation, the God who is perfect, sinless, the God of light, He is there ready and waiting for us to repent. There is repentance and forgiveness available to us in God. He is not like the sun and the moon and the stars which sometimes come and go in the heavens. His brilliance is unmatched and His light never dims or fades. 

I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star. (Revelation 22:16)

He is our light unto salvation and eternal life. He does not change, He can be trusted, He is not tempting us. Every trial is designed to draw us to God, not away from Him. 

As we think about temptation and sin in our lives, and as we think about the holiness of God, I would like for each of us to make a list of the things that we strongly desire and evaluate those things, measure and compare them with the Word of God to see if they are in line with the character, commands, and likeness of God. Looking to see if those desires are leading us to a closer relationship with God or if they are lustful temptations that are working to lure us away from Him.

As you go through that list, if you find you are struggling, then talk to a brother or sister in Christ that you know and trust, talk through that with them. The elders are also here to help you help you think through those issues as well.

13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. 17 Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. (James 1:13-17)