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Words of Life

Sweet Temptation

By Randy Robison August 10, 2014 Words of Life

“Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials,” James tells us, “knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” Ordinarily, this is counterintuitive. The testing of our faith tends to cause anxiety, fear, confusion, or irritation. What kind of trial can cause us joy?

James goes on in that first chapter to define it. We know it as “temptation.” After stating that temptation never comes from God, he explains the process (and it’s important to note that temptation is a process). “Each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.”

When we look at the Greek connotation of each term, we see this: temptation starts with a strong need or desire. We translate it as “lust,” but it’s not necessarily sexual. It can be a strong need for food, money, respect, justice, and other things, many of which are not negative on their own.

Consider the temptation of Christ, who was “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).  After fasting 40 days in the desert, He was tempted when Satan appealed to His hunger. “If You are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” Eating bread was not a sin. Jesus later broke bread with His disciples in the act of communion. After such a long fast, Jesus had a legitimate need for food, but Satan put the thought in Jesus’ mind to fulfill His need in a way that was not of God. Jesus resisted the tempter and did not sin. Interestingly, Satan later tempted Christ by quoting scripture!

What we see here is the concept of temptation as an idea to fulfill a legitimate need or desire in a way that is not of God. Resisting temptation, therefore, can only be accomplished by knowing God’s will in every circumstance. It goes beyond obedience to a set of rules, as under the Old Covenant law, and into a life of being led by the Holy Spirit.

It should also be noted that temptation may or may not lead to sin; it is not sin itself. Otherwise, Jesus would have sinned just by hearing and contemplating the ideas of Satan. He was tempted, but He did not sin. Therefore, temptation is not sin. That’s why I pointed out in last week’s Words of LIFE that your thoughts of lust, anger, and every other ungodly impulse do not define you, but  instead provide an opportunity to cash in on the promise that we can overcome in this life. That’s where the joy comes in.

But let’s finish this process of temptation. First, there’s the need or desire. Then, James says, “each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.” The Greek terms we translate “carried away” and “enticed” have hunting and fishing connotations. Exelko means  “drawn out” or “lured.” Deleazo means “caught by a bait.”

Last month, my family went to Colorado for our summer vacation and I took our children fly-fishing. The scenario provided the perfect illustration for temptation as we whipped imitation flies to the surface of the water, just above some peacefully-resting rainbow trout. They were simply minding their own fish-business when we drew them out with these artificial lures. The water was clear enough to see some of them react to the sight and sound of the fly hitting the water. They were exelko (drawn to the lure), but not yet caught. Those that didn’t take the bait were spared the frying pan, but those that acted on their desire for a snack were deleazo (caught by the bait). We are the same way with temptation. We get an idea, often from outside our own brains, and it draws us out. We can be enticed and caught by it unless there is some intervention.

James continues, “when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” The Greek sullambano means “conceived” as a woman becomes pregnant, but also means “seized” or “taken as prisoner.” There is a marked hostility to the action. When we take hold of an ungodly idea, it wants to take hold of us. The “gives birth” step, tikto in the Greek, is similar to a child’s birth or the bringing forth of fruit from a seed. This is where the ungodly idea goes from thought to action, which always leads to its natural end: death. Obviously, we don’t immediately die when we sin, but the word thanatos also carries the idea of darkness, separation, and spiritual misery.

We need One who has conquered death in order to have victory over our sin. At the same time, understanding this process of temptation – having a need or desire, being lured by an ungodly idea, getting caught in it, becoming a prisoner to it, then carrying it out and suffering the consequences – enables us to better stop it. This is a daily occurrence.  This is where spiritual warfare becomes tangible. Through Christ, this is where we can have victory, which is why we can find joy in it.

This truth is also why the idea that “all sin is pretty much the same” becomes dangerous, especially when we fall victim to the Old Covenant law that equates a wrong idea with a wrong action (anger with murder, lust with adultery). Consider this fact: the very word Jesus used for “anger” in Matthew 5 is the same exact word Paul used in Ephesians 4 when he said, “Be angry, and yet do not sin” (orgizo in the Greek). If anger is a sin, you cannot be angry without sinning!

I would contend that an impulse of anger, lust, and a whole host of ungodly ideas are a violation of the old law, but not actually sin. Instead, they begin the process of temptation. Rather than feeling disgraced or defeated by the temptation, we should rise up and “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Overcoming temptation requires a more aggressive approach than remorse or shame. We do not allow ourselves to become prisoners to the tempting thoughts, but actively seize them and demand they submit to God through the power of Jesus Christ.

Fighting temptation on our own provides mixed results. Sometimes we may win, but sometimes we will lose. But these ungodly temptations have no choice but to bend to the will of God. When we give them to Him, they cannot prevail. We must stand firm in our faith in Jesus Christ, confess our temptations without guilt or shame, and demand that they surrender to Him.  When we endure in this, James says, we will “let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

In this there is great joy.


Randy Robison is the author of Rise Above: How to Go Faster, Farther, and Higher in Your Faith.

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