If we are having a problem with sin dominating our lives, that means that we are actually having a problem with temptation. Indeed, before sin is ever committed, we are first beguiled and lured by our passions that give birth to sin. James makes that clear in his epistle: “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (Jas. 1:13-15). As Guy N. Woods observed, James presents in these verses one of the most remarkable pictures of sin in the Scriptures.
IDENTIFYING THE ISSUE
We must begin by understanding that the word “temptation” is used in two senses in the Bible: (1) In the sense of proving, trying, or putting to a test— God does sometimes test our faith and loyalty to Him as in the case of Abraham (Gen. 22:1). (2) In the sense of enticing to do evil— God does not tempt any man in this sense and neither can He be tempted to sin. As James deals with the subject in this sense, he lets us know that all such temptation is from the devil. After all, he is identified in the Scriptures as “the tempter” (Matt. 4:3; 1 Thess. 3:5). Here is where we need to sharpen our sensitivities! Satan is the culprit behind the fall of man and who provides us with the opportunities to sin. He is the one who stirs up our passions and desires and who encourages us to transgress God’s will.
When I visited congregations in Malawi several years ago, I used an illustration repeatedly that always received a good response from my audiences. I once heard Bill Davis say that African brethren love animal stories, so here was the tale I related: One time a man was walking in the snow on a wintry day and he came across a snake frozen in the ice and almost dead. It was a poisonous reptile, but it was also a beautiful specimen with bright, orange skin. The man was moved with compassion for the creature and he decided to take it home and nurse it back to health. In time the snake became his “pet” and he learned to love it. One day, for no apparent reason, the snake buried its fangs into the man’s left arm and pumped venom into his body. As he was dying, the man cried, “Why have you done this to me? I took you into my home and nursed you back to health. You have returned my kindness by biting me and now I am going to die.” To that the snake replied, “S-s-shut up you s-s-silly man. You knew I was a s-s-snake when you took me in.” So it is with the devil! If we compromise with the devil and don’t recognize him for whom he is, “that old serpent” (Rev. 20:2) will gain advantage over us that will lead to our destruction.
Satan is such a smooth operator that he can run us through the process of temptation before we fully comprehend what has taken place. Do we recognize temptation for what it is? Do we really understand what temptation is all about? James breaks it down for us in great detail, explaining that we are tempted when we are “drawn away” of our own lust. Yes, it begins with an evil passion, or desire, to do what is forbidden. That desire is what Satan uses to lure us astray. Vine gives this explanation: “To draw away, or lure forth, is used metaphorically in Jas. 1:14, of being drawn away by lust. As in hunting or fishing the game is lured from its haunt, so man’s lust allures him from the safety of self-restraint.”
Once our lust is stirred up, then we are “enticed.” This is actually a fishing term, literally meaning “to lure by a bait.” It is the same word used in 2 Pet. 2:14 where Peter writes of “beguiling” unstable souls. What great visual symbolism James is using for our edification! A fisherman wants to pull in a fish by hooking it, but first he has to disguise the hook by giving the fish a reason to bite. That’s why he chooses some kind of bait that will lure the hungry fish into his trap. Likewise, Satan “baits” us with an opportunity to sin by making it appear to be attractive and pleasurable!
WHEN SIN IS FINISHED
A key to resisting temptation is to understand what is really happening beneath the surface and to see sin in its true light. James strips sin of its alluring power: “Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” While Satan would have us to view sin as pleasurable and desirable, James assures us that sin and death go together. Someone has said that this is the LSD of the Bible– lust, sin and death. MacKnight says, “And sin being brought forth, it immediately acts and is nourished by frequent repetition, till at length it gains such strength, that in its turn it begets death, which destroys the sinner. This is the true genealogy of sin and death. Lust is the mother of sin, and sin is the mother of death, and the sinner is the parent of both.”
YIELD NOT TO TEMPTATION
How can we find the strength and help to overcome temptation? One of the keys is to get our minds off of the present moment and to focus on the eternal. A fleeting moment of self-indulgence or self-gratification is certainly not worth jeopardizing our souls over! Let us be like Moses who was able to see the big picture. How did he have the commitment and good judgment to resist the temptations associated with the power and riches of ancient Egypt? Heb. 11:24-26 provides the answer: “By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasure of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches that the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward.”
As the old hymn says, “Yield not to temptation, for yielding is sin; Each victory will help you some other to win. Fight manfully onward, dark passions subdue. Look ever to Jesus: He’ll carry you through. Ask the Savior to help you, comfort, strengthen, and keep you; He is willing to aid you– He will carry you through.” Amen!
Article written by: Billy D. Dickinson