“No one undergoing a trial should say, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ since God is not tempted by evil, and he himself doesn’t tempt anyone. But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desire.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever had one of those moments when you did something and then immediately thought, “Where did that come from?” I suspect we all experience that from time to time. We get caught in a raw moment and react in a way that catches us and everyone around us entirely off guard. The same kind of thing can happen with temptation. James here, though, tells us we shouldn’t be quite as surprised as we are.
Temptation can be rough stuff. Especially when we’re actually trying to fight it. We’re fighting the Romans 7 battle and actively seeking to do what is good and right and true. We’re actively crying out to God for help. We’re trying to keep our minds off of whatever it is. And yet everywhere we look, there is a reminder of what we don’t want to think about. There’s pressure to get into it.
At some point along this battle, we start to wonder if it’s God Himself who’s setting all this nonsense before us. We start to wonder if maybe He’s the one leading us into temptation. Not so fast, James says. God doesn’t tempt anyone. Evil isn’t something that can even exist in His presence. He is holy and good and that’s that.
The tough truth about temptation is that it’s not something that comes from without. It’s always something that comes from within. Temptation comes out of the things we desire. When we find ourselves in a moment of particularly intense temptation, the right question to ask is not, “Why God?” but rather, “What do I want?”
What is it you really want? Do you want recognition? Do you want wealth? Do you want pleasure? Do you want control? Something else? Is what you want something that is good in context, but you are seeking it at a time or place or way that isn’t? What do you really want?
Once you’ve answered that question, you can move on to a second one: Why do I want this? Do you feel like you didn’t get it when someone else did? Are you trying to soothe your conscience or a wounded ego and you think this is a balm that will do the trick?
After this second question gets answered sufficiently, you can begin to sort out whether or not this is something you should have. This question is just as hard as the first two because we are so prone to self-deception. Jeremiah said that the heart is deceitful above all else. We can sell ourselves on anything. Anything.
So, answer this one carefully. Hold up your answer against the Scriptures. Don’t simply settle on no and move on either. Because if the want isn’t addressed, you’ll keep coming back to it again and again. If the answer is no, work to understand why it’s not good. Is it not good because it’s simply not good and it won’t ever be? Or, is it not good at the present moment or the particular path you were seeking to take to get it? This is where some of that wisdom we talked about this morning can come powerfully into play.
With these three questions answered, we can start to move forward with greater intentionality and righteousness. We can stand against temptation with greater confidence and resolve. We can begin to see our desires changed so that temptation becomes less frequent, and maybe, less potent. That sounds pretty good to me.