But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. (James 1:14-15)
From as far back as Adam, Even and forbidden fruit, the human propensity to pass the buck seems almost ingrained, as if we’re born with it. In one sense – that being that we were all conceived and born in sin – this is entirely correct, but it does not mean that’s something we cannot do anything about. It emerges very early on – our children seem to have a natural, automatic response quite early on to find someone or something onto which to shift the blame and avoid trouble. Certainly, we never had to teach them that. On the contrary, we spend the a good portion of their formative years teaching them not to do it.
How we respond to whatever teaching we receive determines what we become. Some of us will learn to recognise and break the habit, or at least not allow it to control our actions. Others will ignore it to the point were they spend their lives passing the entire game reserve, never mind just one single buck. What’s important, though, is that we recognise that this is an innate tendency. We all have a place somewhere on the deflection scale. It’s an instinctive but fleshly defense mechanism, but one which we can control. It’s also the determining factor in our response to temptation.
This is, of course, an entire subject of study and cannot be completely covered her. But there are two common misconceptions – or perhaps misrepresentations – which cloud the issue and enable us to smudge the lines until it’s a comfortingly vague grey area where we can hide from real responsibility and accountability.
The first of these misconceptions, highlighted in verse 13 of today’s passage, is that “God made me do it.” He’s sovereign, after all. That means He’s in control of everything, right? He knew we were going to do it. It’s a trial. He sent the temptation like He did with Job. Round and round we go, justifying ourselves by shifting the responsibility to God and ignorning the glaring truths of free will – our choice – and the fact that the Bible very clearly states that God Himself cannot be tempted and does not tempt us.
It’s really important that we understand this. What does temptation, if we do not resist, lead us into? The answer is simple: sin. Anything God does is first conceived – thought about, established and made – within Himself. In order for Him to tempt us, then, He must first have the sin within Him. This is obviously utterly impossible. Sin cannot and will not ever be a part of the essential nature of God. He may recognise its existence, but He cannot formulate a temptation to sin.
At this point, I’m sure many are asking about Matthew 6:13. Doesn’t this say ‘lead us not into temtation?’ It’s a verse that is reponsible for a lot of the confusion and incorrect understanding, and it comes down to the matter of translation. The real Hebraical meaning of the word translated ‘temptation’ is, in fact, ‘trial’ or ‘hard testing.’ Trial or testing is not, and never will be, temptation. A trial may include or result in our being tempted, mainly because human nature is at its weakest when under trial and instinctively looks for the quick or easy way out or for something to make us feel better. But the temptation is not the trial, it’s merely a symptom of it and a response to it.
Which brings us to the second misconception. “Satan made me do it.” I personally feel, in dodging our own accountability, we give the enemy way too much credit. Job provides us with the key to understanding both the role of Satan and the role of God. First, Job’s story is one of trial, of hard testing. God allowed Satan to be the instrument of this. The purpose of it all was not to tempt Job but to destroy his faith in God. Any temptation Job experienced came through his wife and his friends and had nothing at all to do with either God or Satan. It was an entirely human, fleshly activity and response.
The real truth is that Satan doesn’t need to tempt us because we do a very good job of it ourselves. Yes, he does ‘fan the flames,’ as it were. Think of Eve for a moment, and the significant fact that the serpent simply asked about the tree. The temptation already existed inside of Eve. So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise… (Genesis 3:6). Satan didn’t ‘create’ the temptation. He simply made use of the weakness that already existed inside her.
Laying every temptation – and our failure to resist it – at the devil’s door is a cop-out that firstly, accords him way too much glory, and secondly, as a result, allows him way too much control. We are, in effect, acknowledging that he’s the boss. One thing we can be sure of is that he’ll take what he’s given. We may think we’re making him accountable, but what we’re actually doing is giving him a free pass to then proceed to control us through this particular temptation. Rather a sobering thought, isn’t it?
In learning to resist temptation, there is one single truth that we simply must take hold of:
Temptation is me. It’s not God, and it’s not the devil. Today’s verse reveals this very clearly, and without any comfortable grey, fuzzy bits to hide behind. Temptation originates in our own desires. It originates in the fleshly pursuit of self gratification that exists in all of us. Temptation is, and always will be, all about me. It’s about our personal, individual weaknesses that ruled us before coming to Christ.
But aren’t we all ‘new creations’ in Christ. Yes, we are, but this is positional, i.e. it’s our position in the spiritual. The flesh, however, still remains, which is what Paul referred to in his discussion about the conflict between doing right and doing wrong. We still exist in the pysical, and the old man is therefore still in us. Our walk with Christ is the process whereby we gradulally eliminate the old man and assert the new. The level to which we manage to do this based entirely on how far we are submitted to Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. Part of this process is dealing with our temptations.
Consider this for a moment: If either God or Satan were the source of temptation, they would then be able to ‘inflict’ it on us at will and in equal measure irrespective of who we are. Yet we may find two brothers, for example, raised by the same parents, in the same home, according to the same rules and principles and taught by the same teachers. One may yield entirely to the temptation of pornography, while the other has absolutely no inclination to even consider it. Why? Because our temptations are ours. They exist within us and are the product of our desires. What we desire within manifests as the temptations we will encounter.
It’s not an easy truth to accept. We have a tendency to ‘rate’ temptation on some kind of scale of perception by which some are worse than others. There is not such hierarchy of temptation in God’s eyes. We’re all tempted and all our temptations are equal. The only real difference is that they’re individual to each one of us. But there is a joy in this truth, because knowledge is power. The result of not resisting temptation is sin. We first have the desire, which manifests in the the temptation, but temptation itself is not sin. It is acting on it that is sin.
This is the first thing to take hold of. Being tempted means just that. I was tempted. Sin only occurs when we indulge the temptation in order to gratify the desire. Up until that moment of action – or moment of choice, really – we have not sinned. This should bring encouragement to all of us. Temptation is the inner voice that whispers ‘wouldn’t it be nice to…’ Sin is the out response that says ‘let’s do it.’ We do not have to beat ourselves up over the thought providing we recognise it and resist it.
The second wonderful truth is that, in being honest with ourselves, we can escape the bondage we create through our own ignorance. Remeber that what we believe determines what we are. If we believe God or Satan is responsible, we are bound by that. It prevents us dealing with temptation in the proper way, which means that we can never overcome it. It is the truth that sets us free and the lie that keeps us bound. Satan’s role in temptation is primarily this: to deceive us into believing the lie.
We will struggle with temptation throughtout this life. It’s the nature of the world. But Jesus, who is truth, is the one who works in us to bring us to the place of victory. Before we look to the outside, we must have the courage to look within. What is in us is usually the greater battle.
Jesus, thank You that you came to set us free by being the truth in our lives. Give us the courage to face our weakness with honesty, and the strength to deal with the flesh in us the only right way – by taking it daily to the cross. Thank You that You never tempt Your people, but that you have provided the way out from under it.