Last time, James spoke about trials; this time, he speaks about temptation. Though he uses the same Greek word for both, their meanings are far different, as the context shows. Trials are outward tests that God uses to detach us from the world and attach us to his Word. Temptations come to weaken and even wipe out our faith. They come from the world around us, the devil beside us, and appeal to the evil heart within us. When they come, James in his blueprint for Christian living reminds us how to battle them.
Put the blame where it belongs
People have always tried shifting the blame for temptation. Some point the finger at the “old evil foe” (Christian Worship 200:1). Of course, Satan has much to do with sin, but he is not the only or the closest one to blame.
Others have tried shifting the blame to God. Perhaps they don’t use the exact words of James, “God is tempting me” (1:13), but that’s where their excuses finally point. Pilate reached with dripping hands for a clean towel, and Adam blamed Eve. Both said, “Don’t blame me. Blame God who made me and the world the way we are. Blame him for the people and the things around me.”
Yet James tells us, “God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone” (1:13). Because he is absolute holiness, he makes no contract with evil. Instead, he keeps us from temptation to do evil or gives us the power to repel what the devil, world, and flesh bring. The blame for temptation lies with man’s own “evil desire” (1:14). Our flesh and the devil only put the match to the charcoal already within us.
Move over, Adam and Pilate. We too would rather shift than shoulder the blame for temptation. Like the photographer, we use the touch up of excuse to try for a flattering portrait. But that doesn’t change the real me. Always it is, “I am tempted of my own evil desires.”
As Christians we should not think that we have the old Adam tightly enough in check. Like the slickest magician, he can slip out of the tightest knots and pick the securest locks. “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall,” Paul warned (1 Corinthians 10:12).
Put our trust where it belongs
James repeats that warning and then reminds us that when temptations come, we need to put our trust where it belongs.
Though we cannot shift our blame or sins to others, God can and did. He laid our iniquity on his Son and with his wounds healed us (Isaiah 53). Now through Word and sacrament he enables us to walk the path of the prodigal back to the Father’s house.
When battling temptations, we need to remember that though we cannot by ourselves sin no more, with Christ we can try. With his power provided in Word and sacraments, we can start standing upright in our falling-down world.
- In Luke 11:4 we pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” What answer does 1 Corinthians 10:13 give us for that prayer? God doesn’t tempt us to sin. But when he allows the devil, the world, and our flesh to do so, he provides the strength we need to resist temptation. As he strengthens our faith through Word and sacrament, he also increases our ability to resist temptation.
- What do Genesis 8:21; Matthew 15:19; and 1 John 2:16 tell us about the origin of temptation? The first two passages point us to the sinful nature that we inherit from sinful parents. We call it “original sin” because it comes from our first parents, Adam and Eve. The third passage speaks of the sinful world around us which is constantly tempting us to sin.
- What comfort does Hebrews 4:14,15 offer us when facing temptation? Our Savior Jesus, as the God-man, faced all sorts of temptations from the devil and the world around him. But he defeated them all. He knows what temptations his believers face. From him, our “big Brother,” comes not only pardon when we fall but also the power for us to resist.
This is the third article in a series on the book of James.
Author: Richard Lauersdorf
Volume 107, Number 09
Issue: September 2020