James 1:13-18 - Understanding Temptation
Updated: Feb 5
When we have this well-rounded understanding of the doctrine of sin, we begin to understand just how serious it is. We also see our great need for a Savior.
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Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin,and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
As a novice high school distance runner, it was easy for me to finish in the top three of the 3200 meter races at our local track meets. With a few wins under my belt, I thought I was pretty fast. However, once I moved outside of our local area and began to compete in regional and state meets, it became clear that I was not the “speed demon” I thought I was.
I did not have an accurate picture of who I really was in the world of running. Once I realized the truth, I quickly saw where I stood in relation to the competition. I saw my weaknesses in form, in training, in endurance, and in speed. Having an accurate picture of my running ability enabled me to become a better runner.
The same can be said of sin and temptation. Having an accurate picture of sin and temptation enables us to become better followers of Christ. We see where we stand in relation to God and we are made painfully aware of our weaknesses.
James gives us a fuller picture of sin and temptation in these few verses. He helps us to see ourselves for who we really are. And, in doing so, he prepares us to grow in our faith and run the race set before us.
An important distinction James helps make in this passage is that temptation is both active (external) and passive (internal).
We are well aware of external temptations. We are tempted to lust by the images we see flash across a screen. We are tempted to steal when we see that which we covet left unattended. Being tempted to sin in this way is not sinful. Jesus experienced external temptation in every way just as we do, yet without sin. But James is not speaking of external temptation in this passage. He is speaking of internal temptation.
He says, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”
Did you catch it? We are tempted to sin by ourselves! This type of temptation is sinful for it springs from a fallen and corrupt nature. This puts us in stark contrast to God, who in the previous verse “cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one.”
What fallen creatures we are! When we have this well-rounded understanding of the doctrine of sin, we begin to understand just how serious it is. We also see our great need for a Savior.
And what a Savior we have in Jesus Christ who lived a sinless life, gave us his righteousness, and satisfied God’s justice for our sin at the cross. With this understanding of sin and temptation, James enables us to run the race with greater endurance as we flee from sin and rejoice in our magnificent Savior.
Rev. Jonathan Craig is a State Capitol Minister in Tallahassee, Florida.