"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".
There is the common tendency to blame God for our yielding to sin. We might not directly blame Him, but there are more subtle ways to shift blame. The frequent heard defense for yielding to sin is, "I’m only human", which implies that the sinner could not help himself, and thus the blame is shifted to the Creator. We can blame God for our problems by complaining that He should have created man immune from temptation, without a free will, or, should have never allowed Adam and Eve to be tempted by the serpent. Others blame God for giving them a human body with all sorts of physical desires and needs. Some might even view God as intentionally setting them up to fail, that is, God is out to get them. One writer noted that the Greek word rendered by in the above verse, is usually translated from in other passages. Which means that it is not enough merely to avoid blaming God for being the direct instigator of some temptation. We must not even imply that He is remotely responsible. Do we ever dwell on the following thoughts? "I wouldn’t sin if God hadn’t allowed sin to happen in the first place". "How can I resist temptation when I was born into a sin-cursed world?" "It’s unfair to demand moral perfection of imperfect beings". "God expects too much, His standards are so unreasonable".
God Cannot Be Tempted By Evil
This statement should help us sleep better at night. There is absolutely nothing in God that responds to evil in a positive manner. There is no desire for evil in God, in fact, God never even toys with the idea of abusing His power or doing something evil. In contrast, God is totally good and pure (1 John 1:5; Titus 1:2; 1 Peter 1:15). Seeing that God is completely free from evil, it would be impossible for Him to ever entice others to sin.
Tempting and Testing
The words tempt or temptation can be used in a good and bad sense. In a good sense, God does allow people to be tested to see if their faith is genuine. In this sense, God tested Abraham, "By faith Abraham, when he was tested" (Hebrews 11:17), and God allows our faith to be tested through various trials (James 1:2-4; Romans 5:3-5). In James 1:13, God makes it very clear that He never tests people withevil, "God cannot be tempted by evil". God will allow your faith to be tested, but He never purposefully tries to entice anyone to sin and He never uses evil allurements. We can therefore have the confidence that God is always pulling for us, God never sets us up to fail, God isn’t out to get us, and all the various trials in life are all designed for our moral improvement. Even when we are being enticed to sin, God is there making sure that the temptation is not beyond our ability and that there is a clear way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). Often our problem is that we view trials or hardships as an enticement to evil. We even blame God, "God, the reason I am angry is because You have failed to see that my life be trouble-free". It is easy to think that we would all be more loving, kind, and patient if we lived in a perfect world and that the only reason why we start thinking evil thoughts is because of some external problem.
"But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust".
"But", God is not responsible for our evil thoughts, which means that man was not created to sin, God did not set us up to fail, and that the answer to temptation is not a perfect world, or the absence of all physical trials. "Each one", this pattern of temptation is true in the life of every human being. One is enticed to sin when he or she is carried away (to lure forth, as in hunting or fishing game is lured from its haunt), and enticed (to lure by bait, temptation is the pull of man’s own evil thoughts and wishes), by his own lust, man isn’t enticed by Adam’s sin, or the sin of his parents, but by his own lust. Man does not sin due to circumstances, determinism, fate, predestination, natural forces beyond his control, genetics, inherited factors, or the whim of various gods.
- But someone might argue, "How can God blame me for yielding to lusts which God created in me?" The truth of the matter is that God made us with desires, which are pure and noble, but we are the ones who misuse and pervert such desires into hurtful and selfish attitudes and actions. God didn’t create us with any evil desires, which means that whatever lusts are presently in our hearts, are of our own making. The word lust can be defined as, "the lusting of a will which is not in conformity with God’s will" (Herman Cremer, Biblico-Theological Lexicon of the New Testament Greek, p. 188). And, "Desire, craving, longing…desire for what is forbidden" (Thayer p. 723).
- Therefore, the lust in this passage is not talking about the normal, inherent desires God gave us at birth. In addition, lust is not something impersonal, i.e., some kind of evil force that comes over us against our will. Rather, these lusts are ours. We have created them by refusing to submit ourselves to God, by becoming proud and arrogant, by wanting to be the master of our own fate, by wanting to control our own world, by wanting to have the first place in all things, and so on. Note Romans 1:24 "Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity", and Romans 1:26 "God gave them over to degrading passions". Degrading passions and lusts are the same thing, but these are evil passions that these people had developed, nurtured, and created. This is one reason why we tell our kids to carefully monitor what they watch and hear, for new lusts can be created in our lives! God is telling us clearly that homosexuality and other sexual perversions are not genetic or natural desires, but rather humanly created and chosen perverted desires (Romans 1:25 "For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie…. 26 for the women exchanged the natural function…. 27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another").
- We learn then, that any evil desire that is presently in our hearts is there because at one time in our own lives, we exchanged one of God’s truths for a lie, and we abandoned the truth in a specific area and selected a falsehood instead. People are not born being greedy, lustful, hateful, and so on, rather, we choose sinful alternatives to the truth that lead us in the direction of those sins.
- If lust were genetic, then we would all have a definite aversion to being good, kind, unselfish, generous, and so on. This is proof that evil desires are not natural. The fact that most people find such qualities attractive, and even long to be this way, is evidence that we were not created with such evil desires. In addition, in the areas of your life where you haven’t yielded to perverted ideas, you still have a strong aversion, not to good, but to evil. Men who still have a wholesome view of sexuality are revolted by fornication, adultery, homosexuality, rape, and pedophilia.
* There is hope! Instead of feeling completely beaten by sin, we need to realize that our struggle against sin can be won. First, Jesus died on the cross for our sins and the benefits of His death can forgive any sin, "but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more" (Romans 5:20). Yes, Adam brought sin into the world, but Jesus brought salvation. Secondly, even after a Christian sins, he or she can be forgiven, hence there is no reason why any humble Christian should feel enslaved to any sin (1 John 1:18-10). Thirdly, let’s be honest, yes there are many temptations in the world, but not every sinful thing tempts the individual. There are many sinful things that have absolutely no appeal to you or me. None of us are tempted by a million things. Actually, the things that actually tempt us are probably limited to a few specific sins.
"When lust is conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death"
Once again, the lust in the above verse is not referring to the natural desires, which were built into the human body. The lust in this passage is referring to desires that have become evil, and such desires are conceived, "the will yields to lust and conception takes place" (Robertson p. 18). Jesus said, "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts" (Mark 7:20). James notes that such thoughts are not inherently part of us, otherwise we would be constantly defiled and hopelessly condemned, but rather, they have a definite beginning point. It is tempting to excuse lust or downplay it’s seriousness by saying, "It is unreasonable to expect anyone to control their thoughts", but Jesus said otherwise (Matthew 5:20-28). Lusting after evil things will condemn us just as surely as an actual overt sinful action. "Some have raised the point of difference in length of time between the lust, conception and birth of sin in James 1:14-15. They say, ‘it is not until the lust yields to enticement that sin is brought forth, therefore, a man can have these cravings and not be guilty of sin until he commits the overt act’" (The Person of Christ, Maurice Barnett, p. 181). We need to remember that James is giving us the order of events and the succession of these events can occur within seconds of each other. Obviously, James is not saying that sin happens nine months after you lust! The time between sin and spiritual death is instant (Isaiah 59:1-2). In addition, the sin in James 1:15 is not necessarily a sinful act, for Jesus noted that sin does happen even when the act has not happened.
I believe it is very important that we stress to people that they don’t have to lust, that it is not simply a natural or normal part of being human. Rather, lust is a perverted desire: "Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (Galatians 5:24); "Flee youthful lusts" (2 Timothy 2:22); "so as it live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men" (1 Peter 4:2). Note, in this last passage, we can still be in the body and yet lust doesn’t have to be a part of our lives at the same time. The truth of the matter is that we cannot have a good relationship with God if we allow our hearts to be filled with evil thoughts and desires (1 John 2:9-11). John simply says, "Love not the world, nor the things in the world" (1 John 2:15). What a refreshing and hopeful message God gives us. There is nothing inherently in us that demands that we must be controlled by evil thoughts. We can break free of such thinking and fill our hearts with good and wholesome desires.
Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church of Christ/(503)644-9017