James Series: Conquering Temptation (1:13-15)

October 13, 2019

 

Conquering Temptation

 

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires. Then when desire conceives, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is full grown, it gives birth to death.

James 1:13-15 (NET)

 

 

How can we conquer temptation?

 

Again, James is writing Jewish Christians who have been scattered throughout the ancient world because of religious persecution. He comforts them by teaching that God is in control of their trials, using them for their spiritual maturity. Therefore, they should rejoice and persevere in them (Jam 1:2-4).

 

With that said, James realizes that with every trial comes a temptation. In fact, he uses the same Greek word throughout Chapter 1 for both trials and temptations. They always come together. When God placed the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden, it was a test to prove the faith of Adam and Eve. However, with that test came a temptation, as Satan tempted them to eat of the tree. When God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his son in Genesis 22, there was also a temptation. The temptation was to not trust God and therefore disobey him. With Job, God allowed Satan to bring various trials into Job’s life—financial, family, and physical health trials. God allowed Satan to do this in order to prove and build Job’s faith, while Satan’s purpose was to hurt Job’s faith—by tempting him to curse God. Trials and temptations always go together. We can either grow through our trials or be crushed by them—wandering further away from God (and others) because of them.

 

Therefore, James addressed this reality when writing these suffering Jewish Christians. His purpose was to equip them to conquer temptations that came alongside their trials. Likewise, we must realize with our trials, there are various temptations which we must respond appropriately to. James doesn’t say “if” tempted but “when” tempted (v. 13). Temptation continually happens to us all, so we must be prepared for it.In this study, we’ll consider principles about conquering our temptations.

 

Big Question: What principles about conquering temptation can be taken from James 1:13-15?

 

To Conquer Temptation, We Must Resist the Urge to Blame Others

 

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one.

James 1:13

 

When James commands these believers to not think of God as tempting them in their trials—inciting them to do evil—it was because he understood human nature. Since Adam’s fall in the garden, humanity has been prone to evade responsibility. When God asked Adam if he ate of the forbidden fruit, he immediately blamed God and the woman. He said, “The woman whom you gave me, she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it” (Gen 3:12). Then, the woman blamed the serpent. Now, this is humanity’s natural tendency—to blame others and evade responsibility. Therefore, they are quick to blame parents, friends, bosses, churches, the government, etc. Sometimes, they even blame the sin itself by calling it a disease or an orientation, as if there was no choice involved. Ultimately, people blame God. Proverbs 19:3 says, “A person’s folly subverts his way, and his heart rages against the Lord.”

 

These Jewish Christians might have been especially tempted to blame God because of pagan influence from the societies they lived in. Pagans commonly blamed the deities for everything. Since pagan deities originated from human imagination, they had human desires, including their flaws. They were lustful, deceptive, short-tempered, and generally evil. They warred with one another and people. They came down and had sex with women, deceived people, etc. Therefore, some Jewish Christians might have thought God was the same. To combat this, James said God cannot be tempted by evil nor will he tempt anyone. Essentially, James said the God of the Bible is not like pagan deities—he is absolutely holy and perfect and hates sin. As Scripture teaches, God hates sin so much that people deserve death for one sin (Rom 6:23). Because God is also loving, he sent his Son to die for the sins of the world, so we might have salvation through faith in him (John 3:16). It was important for these believers to understand God’s character, so they wouldn’t blame God, but also, so they would be victorious over temptation. If we become angry at God and turn away from him, especially in trials, we lose the ability to stand against temptation.

 

Interpretation Question: In what ways are people tempted to blame God for their sin?

 

1. Some blame God for allowing certain circumstances. They might say, “Why did God allow that accident or difficulty to happen?” or “Why did God allow me to marry this person?” Because of their circumstances, they rebel against God—doubting his goodness and love for them.

 

2. Some blame God by saying (or implying) they were created a certain way. Not all blame God directly, they simply say, “This is just who I am!”, “This is my personality!” or “I was born this way!” Since it seems normal to them, they declare God understands and approves.

 

James’ point is clear: people will never conquer temptations they encounter if they continually blame God or others, and neither will we.

 

Application Question: In what ways have you seen or experienced this tendency for people to blame others and avoid responsibility? Why are people so prone to this?

 

To Conquer Temptation, We Must Recognize Our Depraved Nature

 

But each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires. Then when desire conceives, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is full grown, it gives birth to death.

James 1:14-15

 

In this text, James is not focusing on outside temptations such as the world and the devil; he will do that later (cf. Jam 3:15, 4:4, 7). He focuses on our primary enemy—our own desires. God is not our problem James says; it’s the evil nature that we are born with it. In Matthew 15:19, Christ said it this way: “For out of the heart come evil ideas, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” Likewise, in Galatians 5:19-21, Paul said:

 

Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, depravity, idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, envying, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and similar things. I am warning you, as I had warned you before: Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God!

 

John Calvin described James’ purpose as “to teach us that there is in us the root of our own destruction.”[1]

 

Yes, in order to conquer temptation, we cannot blame God, others, the devil, the government, or anyone else. We must look ourselves in the mirror and recognize how bad our nature really is.

 

Because our nature is so corrupt, God did two things for us:

 

1. At the cross, the power of our sin nature was broken.

 

In Romans 6:6, Paul says, “We know that our old man was crucified with him so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” This doesn’t mean that we no longer have a sin nature; it just means that on the cross Christ conquered it. We are still tempted by it, but we are no longer slaves to it—our inability to defeat it has been removed. Paul said this reality is something that believers should “know” and that we must constantly “consider.” In Romans 6:11, he said, “So you too consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” After we build a correct theology of our sin nature, we must accept Christ’s victory over it and battle from that reality. Knowing that we have victory over a certain sin or inclination is very important. It gives us encouragement to fight even when it seems like we are losing. It helps us fight the lies of the enemy who says we’ll never get free or that we’re not even a Christian.

 

Our fight against sin is ‘similar’ to Israel being sent into the promised land to conquer the cities with giants in the book of Joshua. The victory was won because God said it was, but they still needed to go fight the battle in faith. If they doubted God or weren’t obedient to him, they could still lose and even become enslaved. However, the victory was ultimately a sure thing, and that is true for us as well. As the Israelites fought based on God’s promise, we must fight based on what Christ did for us on the cross—he paid the penalty of our sin and broke the power of it. Yes, we are still tempted, but the victory is ultimately ours. The outcome of the war was settled 2000 years ago, but we must faithfully fight our battles until the war is over. Because of Christ’s victory, we don’t have to be slaves to sin, doubt our ability to walk in victory (even after failures), or doubt the ultimate outcome. It was settled on the cross; therefore, we must take courage in our fight and fight in faith.

 

2. In addition, at salvation, God gave us a new nature to fight against our sinful inclinations.

 

Paul described this in Galatians 5:16-17

 

But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh. For the flesh has desires that are opposed to the Spirit, and the Spirit has desires that are opposed to the flesh, for these are in opposition to each other, so that you cannot do what you want.

 

This battle inside us has often been described as two fighting dogs, and the dog who wins is the one that we feed. We must live in the Spirit, by constantly being in God’s Word and obeying it, fellowshipping with saints, serving, worshipping, etc. But, not only must we live in the Spirit, we must starve the flesh. We must avoid things that would excite our sinful nature or strengthen it. As we do this, our Spirit becomes strong and conquers the flesh, and we start to have sustained victory over our sinful inclinations. When we fall into sin, we should look at those failures as hunger pains. We are not feeding the Spirit as we should. Like Paul said, if we live in the Spirit, we will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh (Gal 5:16).  

 

A great deal of becoming spiritually mature is learning how to live in the Spirit instead of visiting it—where we start consistently reading the Word, praying, attending small group and church, serving, etc. In addition, part of spiritual maturity is learning how to starve the flesh. The immature often stir up their flesh through their TV watching, music listening, and the friendships they cultivate—therefore they continually succumb to it. With the mature, like Paul, they declare that “nothing good lives” in them (Rom 6:18)—realizing the power of their flesh—and they aim to flee temptation and pursue righteousness with other mature believers (2 Tim 2:22).

 

In order to conquer temptation, we must recognize the root. When we blame others, we focus on the wrong culprit. It doesn’t mean Satan and others don’t have any responsibility; it just means our victory is based on recognizing our sinful nature and conquering it through the Spirit. Are you living in the Spirit and therefore conquering the flesh, or are you succumbing to the flesh by not prioritizing your spiritual life?

 

Application Question: In what ways have you experienced more consistent victory over sin when “living” in the Spirit instead of inconsistently “visiting” it? How is God calling you to grow in “living” in the Spirit and “starving” the flesh? How would you encourage a Christian with Scripture who is continually succumbing to a sinful inclination or action?

 

To Conquer Temptation, We Must Recognize Its Course and Abandon It

 

But each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires. Then when desire conceives, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is full grown, it gives birth to death.

James 1:14-15

 

Next, James describes temptation’s course and ultimate end. It is clear that temptation is not static—it is always leading one in the direction of death and destruction. James’ clear implication is that the longer we stay on the course, the more prone to sin and its devastating consequences we will be. Likewise, the earlier we abandon the course, the more victory and less consequences we will experience.

 

Observation Question: What is temptation’s course?

 

Temptations steps are often summarized by four words beginning with “D”:

 

1. Temptation begins with “deception.”

 

The verbs “lured” and “enticed” are very instructive. “Lured” was used of a hunter setting a trap to catch an animal, and “enticed” was used of a fisherman baiting a hook to lure fish.[2] With fishing specifically, the fisherman hides the hook inside the bait, and the fish is drawn to the delicious looking bait, which is hiding the deadly hook. In a similar manner, we are enticed and lured by temptations to do evil.

 

The deception is that sin is always presented as fun, exciting, fulfilling, and as if we can’t live without it—that’s the bait. However, the consequences which ultimately lead to our destruction—is the hook. Eve would never have eaten from the tree, if the temptation was, “Eat this, you will constantly fight your husband. The discord in your marriage will show up in your children’s lives. Your oldest son will kill your youngest son. Eventually, the whole world will be destroyed because of your offspring’s evilness!” No, the deception was, “Eat this and you will be like God!” Temptation starts with the deception. It shows the fun of hanging out with friends or the fulfilling of some desire; it doesn’t show the continually worsening after-effects.

 

Therefore, in order to stop the process of temptation, we must recognize the deception—the hook which will eventually hurt us and others. We do this by preparing for temptation by knowing God’s Word. David said, “In my heart I store up your words, so I might not sin against you” (Ps 119:11). Like Christ being tempted in the wilderness, we must respond to every wrong thought with God’s Word and then turn away from it—shut the TV off, close the book, change the conversation, leave the situation, stay away from the potential temptation, etc.

 

2. Deception aims to cultivate evil “desires.”

 

The word “desires” is neutral—it can refer to both good and bad desires. In the context, it refers to natural desires fulfilled in an evil way. There is nothing wrong with being hungry, but when we continually overeat, it becomes gluttony. There is nothing wrong with leisure—sleeping and watching TV—but when we do it too much, it turns into slothfulness. Sexual desire is good. It was meant for people’s enjoyment inside the marriage union of a male and female and to produce offspring. However, when it happens outside the marriage union, it is sexual immorality. Likewise, we are constantly tempted by our evil desires and consequently dragged away from God and his perfect will for our lives.

 

To stop the temptation process at this point, again we must recognize ungodly desires and repent of them. If we fight temptation on the heart level, it will never become an action. Paul described spiritual warfare as taking our thoughts captive and bringing them into submission to Christ (2 Cor 10:5). As we repent of these thoughts, ask for God’s grace to overcome, and fill our mind with God’s Word, we can control our sinful desires. In Psalm 119:37, David prayed, “Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.”

 

3. Evil desires lead to “disobedience.”

 

James said when desire conceives, it brings forth sin (1:15). He leaves the hunting and fishing terminology and begins to use pregnancy terminology. Sin does not only refer to a specific act, it refers first of all to an accepted and nurtured ungodly thought. Christ said that to lust after a woman is to commit adultery (Matt 5:28). It’s important to consider that James says desire leads to sin, which means desire or to be tempted is not necessarily sin. When tempted both from within—from our sin nature—and also from without by the world and the devil, we are not sinning. In fact, since “tempted” is in the present tense that tells us that temptation will be constant and continual. We are bombarded with temptation all the time. Temptation becomes sin when we choose to continually think on it, which cultivates our sinful desires. If we see something provocative, it’s not a sin to see it, it’s a sin to continually look at it and cultivate the evil desires that arise from seeing it. If we have a wrong thought, we haven’t sinned, it’s the acceptance and cultivation of that wrong thought which is sin.

 

The fact that being tempted is not a sin is very important to consider because some Christians are especially sensitive to sin (which is good), but because of this, they get really discouraged when constantly tempted with wrong thoughts or inclinations. Satan can essentially depress and immobilize them by constantly attacking. He will even tempt them to think they’re not even Christians because of their struggles! Because of this reality, it is crucial to remember that it is not sin to be tempted. This will be our battle while living in bodies affected by sin and living in a sinful world. Growing in spiritual maturity doesn’t mean that we will battle temptation less; it just means that we will become more victorious over temptation and that temptation will have less power over us.

 

4. Disobedience leads to “death.”

 

After sin is birthed, sin that is fully grown gives birth to an even uglier child called “death” (1:15). To be “full grown” refers to going from cultivating a sinful thought, to practicing a sinful action, probably to making the sinful action a habit, and so on (v. 15). Sin always has drastic consequences, which is especially true for children of God. In Hebrews 12:7-8, the writer says that every child of God receives discipline, and if we don’t, we are illegitimate. When a child of God is in sin, God rebukes them through his Word, often times by his or her reading the Bible or through another believer. If they don’t repent, God disciplines them through trials which are meant to turn them away from sin and back to God (cf. Heb 12:5-6). (1) However, when a child of God continues to live in rebellion, God may ultimately discipline them by allowing an early death. This is what happened with the Christians in 1 Corinthians 11. They were abusing the Lord’s Supper, and in 1 Corinthians 11:30-32, Paul said this to them:

 

That is why many of you are weak and sick, and quite a few are dead. But if we examined ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned with the world.

 

Part of God’s discipline for these believers who continually abused the Lord’s Supper (and one another by doing so) was an early death. Therefore, James warned these believers against continually practicing unrepentant sin, and consequently, experiencing an untimely death because of God’s discipline. Ananias and Saphira experienced early deaths as well (Acts 5:1-10), and John warned the believers in Ephesus of the same thing (1 John 5:16-17).

 

(2) In addition, since James is writing to some who professed Christ but weren’t truly saved (cf. James 2, faith without works is dead), he also might be saying that continually practicing unrepentant sin might prove that they are not saved—which ultimately results in eternal death. Eternal death is separation of the body and soul from God eternally (cf. Jam 5:19-20). Since James continually used the Sermon on the Mount as a template for the book, unsurprisingly, Christ taught the same thing as well. In Matthew 7:22-23, Christ said:

 

On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!’

 

These professing believers who continually practiced unrepentant sin while professing to know the Lord were ultimately eternally separated from God. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Paul also warned believers that the continual practice of unrepentant sin might prove false faith:

 

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God.

 

It is not that believers are saved by their works or kept by them; it’s that a continual life of sin may prove that one had never been saved—that they never truly “knew” the Lord (Matt 7:23). Those who are born again are new creations in Christ (2 Cor 5:17), and there should be changes in their lives, including how they relate to sin. First John 1:6 says, “If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.”

 

(3) Finally, James might also have in mind how sinful desires commonly lead to death in the sense of murder--including suicide, homicide, abortion, and war. Cain was jealous of his brother Abel—leading Cain to murder him (Gen 4). David’s lust led him to commit adultery and murder (2 Sam 11). Judas’ betrayal of Christ led to shame and ultimately suicide (Matt 27:3-5). James later shares how these scattered Jewish believers were warring with and murdering one another because of their unfulfilled, evil desires (4:1-2). We must realize this when dealing with temptation. Satan desires to steal, kill, and destroy (cf. John 10:10)—his ultimate goal with temptation is to lead people to death and its various forms.

 

Because of the grave consequences of temptation which those believers were especially prone to because of the trials they were encountering, James strongly warned them: Temptation gives birth to sin and then sin to death—either an early death, eternal death, or murder. Therefore, in order to not fall to temptation, one must consider the final outcome—death in its various forms—and abandon the course before it’s too late. We must soberly consider James' warning as well.

 

Application Question: Why is it so important for believers to recognize that being tempted (having a wrong thought, etc.) is not a sin? If God will discipline believers even to the point of allowing an early death, in what ways should this affect how we counsel believers living in unrepentant sin or how the church (as a whole) responds to them?

 

Applications

 

Here are a few further applications to consider:

 

1. To conquer temptation, we must discern our special areas of vulnerability. Though we all experience common temptations, for some people certain temptations are stronger based on exposure or even genetics. For instance, if you put me in a room with cocaine, I won’t have any temptation towards it—because I’ve never experienced it. However, for a person that has, he or she might have a major battle in that area. Satan knows our special vulnerabilities and will aim to lead us into these temptations. Therefore, we must study ourselves and others to help conquer temptation.  

 

2. After knowing our special areas of vulnerability, we must devise strategies to avoid tempting situations. For a person who struggles with great insecurity, he or she needs to avoid things that feed those insecurities. Sometimes for women, that means avoiding magazines that teach that their bodies need to look a certain way or even avoiding people that continually feed those insecurities. For a person that struggles with lust, that means avoiding anything that might stir it up—movies, television, Internet sites, and even establishing, extra boundaries in relationships. For the person struggling with depression, that might mean avoiding activities and thought-processes that lead to discouragement and practicing ones that lift them up. For a person who struggles with temptation towards drunkenness, it might mean not drinking at all and not being around people enjoying that freedom. Often times because of our individual vulnerabilities, we need to take special precautions that others might not need.

 

3. In addition, we should memorize specific Scriptures that help with our special vulnerabilities. Christ used Scripture when confronted with temptation in the wilderness. We should do the same.

 

4. Finally, we should find accountability partners—people that we trust, who will ask us hard questions, and lovingly hold us accountable. In 2 Timothy 2:22, Paul told Timothy, “But keep away from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faithfulness, love, and peace, in company with others who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” Everybody should find these types of people—those who are serious about the Lord and serious about our faithfulness to him. Find them and follow the Lord together—confessing sin to one another (Jam 5:16) and helping each other avoid and conquer temptation. If we lack these people, we miss much of God’s grace given through his body to walk victoriously over temptation.

 

Application Question: What specific vulnerabilities do you struggle with? How do you protect yourself from stumbling in them? How can one find good accountability partners? Who are your accountability partners and how do serve one another in those roles?

 

Conclusion

 

James writes to these saints experiencing various trials and encourages them on how to conquer temptation.

 

  1. To Conquer Temptation, We Must Resist the Urge to Blame Others

  2. To Conquer Temptation, We Must Recognize Our Depraved Nature

  3. To Conquer Temptation, We Must Recognize Its Course and Abandon It

 

 

Prayer Prompts

 

  • Pray for God to reveal more of his character to you and to remove any wrong views or thoughts of him you might have.

  • Pray for grace to consistently live in the Spirit (spending time in God’s Word, prayer, fellowship, and service).

  • Confess your major temptations/distractions to God and ask for grace to conquer them.

  • Pray for God to surround you with godly people to walk with and for him to bless you through them.

  • Pray these requests for others.

 

 

 

 

[1] https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-4-source-force-and-course-temptation-james-113-15

 

[2] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, pp. 342–343). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

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