James 1:13-15 lays out the process of temptation which leads to sin. James gives us some principles to remember when temptation comes our way. When we are enticed to do wrong, either by promise of pleasure or gain, we must remember what James said. First, temptation is inevitable (verse 13—“when”, not “if”). Second, temptation (i.e., “the solicitation to do evil”) is never directed by God (verse 13). Third, temptation is an individual matter (verse 14). Sin occurs when we agree to the temptation and get involved with it. Fourth, temptation that leads to sin always follows the same process. There are four steps involved in giving in to temptation: (1) the bait is dropped, (2) our inner desire is attracted to the bait, (3) sin occurs when we yield to temptation, and (4) sin results in tragic consequences. To be aware of these principles from our text is to be armed in the face of struggling with temptation.
Temptation is a personal struggle. Different individuals have different struggles. There are things that tempt me that might not tempt you; and there are temptations you struggle with that I do not. I have never struggled with alcohol or drugs (that does not make me righteous; nor better than anyone else). You could put the finest whiskey in front of my face or the purest of cocaine under my nose and I would not feel the slightest pull of temptation. There are things that have never tempted me; there are some things that used to tempt me but they don’t anymore, because I have overcome them; and there are some things that have always tempted me and still do—but they may not be temptations to you at all. Again, it is “when”, not “if”, we are tempted. Temptation is a present reality; it plays no favorites; it knows no barriers. It will do no good to say, “If I isolate myself I can avoid temptations.” Jesus, in the wilderness, was about as isolated as one could get but He was not immune to Satan’s solicitation to sin. You cannot run away from temptation, in fact, you should not try to! The task of Christianity is to produce “new creatures” (2 Corinthians 5:17) who can live in the world and not be changed by it. It is not a sin to be tempted and God never makes us feel guilty for living in a world which tempts us.
I think any man who decides to preach (work with a local church; proclaim the gospel publicly) is tempted to pride. I believe it takes just a little bit of presumption and it takes some self-confidence to think that you have a right to stand before a group of people on a regular basis and to think, “I have something to say to you”. I think I will have to struggle with that as long as I preach; that is, not to let self-confidence fall over into the area of pride.
How should I deal with that temptation? I could quit preaching—but that is not how the Bible says to handle it. The Bible says to abide or remain under the test but not give in to the enticement to sin.
How do we go about dealing with temptation personally? Let me suggest that we discipline our desires so they do not meet with bait that God would not approve of. What will help us with that ability to discipline our desires? Notice two thoughts in James 1:15:
1. Deception is the first device of the devil. The devil does not want us to think about the process of temptation to the point of sin. He wants us to just focus on the temporary pleasure to be gained if we involve ourselves with the bait. There is temporary pleasure in succumbing to temptation—but the lie and deception involves the long term result if we give in: “…and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death” (v15). The devil will not tell us that if we consume the bait that we are the ones actually being consumed. That is why I say that deception is the first device of the devil. That suggests a second thought.
2. Perception is the first defense of the Christian. You cannot defend yourself against an attack if you do not see it coming. But when we understand the process of temptation to sin, we can take steps to disrupt it. We can study James 1:13-15 and say to ourselves, “Where can I break this thing down and keep it from going all the way to death?” I cannot avoid temptation altogether; cannot avoid being confronted by the bait (the devil is too good a fisherman)—but if I can discipline my thoughts, then I will have a better chance of not being lured by the bait. To continue to dwell on the bait is to court disaster! May I suggest that we think about Philippians 4:8 and consider how the example of how our Master dealt with temptation in Matthew 4:1-10.
We must do whatever is necessary to keep from dwelling on the bait. God, I believe, uses temptation to strengthen us. And temptation resisted leads to a man’s ennoblement.
Ira L. Lynn
P.O. Box 2007
Lindale, TX 75771