James 1: 13-18 How Faith Works in Resisting Temptation

1. By not blaming God (v.13)

Every trial has its temptations. In fact, the same Greek word is used for trials in v.2-12 as for temptations in v.13-15. When enduring trials, there are the temptations to not be steadfast, to doubt and to not follow God’s ways. Likewise, every temptation is a trial of our faith and obedience. James has made it clear that God tries us. Does it follow that He tempts us also? God is sovereign over all things, including my temptations, but God NEVER entices me to do evil. This is actually the point of Jesus’ instruction about prayer in Matthew 6:13, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Temptations to sin are inherent in the trials God does lead us into so we are to pray for deliverance from the former while enduring the latter. Praying in this way helps me to “watch and pray that [I] may not enter into temptation” (Matthew 26:41). If, however, I blame God for my temptations and believe that He is luring me into sin, I will not resist temptation. I will turn God’s sovereignty into an evil fatalism that blasphemes God and destroys me. Real faith doesn’t work that way.

God is never the tempter because He cannot be tempted. He is pure and holy without any inclination to do evil, for to do evil would be against His own nature and will. Tempting someone to do wrong is itself wrong. God can never be tempted to tempt me because it is impossible for Him to even desire doing wrong. Does this mean that Jesus’ temptations were not real since He is God? No, the temptations were very real to Christ’s human nature. He desired the bread Satan was offering because He was hungry (Matthew 4:1-11). The temptation was to use His divine power to satisfy Himself rather than submitting to the Father’s will in humility. He was truly tempted as a man in our place as the new Adam, but the divine nature of Christ could not be tempted (what desire could God even have for bread?). We cannot blame God for our temptations to sin.

2. By understanding how it works (v.14-15)

Who then is to blame for our temptations? Many want to blame Satan. The devil made me do it. James will tell us that whenever Satan is involved, all we have to do is resist him (4:7). For now, James tells us that our temptations actually come from within ourselves. Our own desires lure and entice us to sin. We are sinful at the very heart of who we are – at the most basic level of our desires. If, like God, we had no desire for sin, all the allurements in the world would never work. But like a fish wanting a worm, we get taken in by the lures hook, line and sinker. Here again is why I must value God’s work of trying me more than my own comfort. Desire directs my life.

James changes the metaphor in v.15 to conception and birth (Proverbs 9:18). Desire conceives when we decide to fulfil the desire and gives birth to sin. Jesus taught that lust precedes adultery and sinful anger precedes murder (Matthew 5:21-30). It begins in the heart and comes out in the life. All sin begins in our desires (Mark 7:21). We must guard our hearts above all else because it is the fountain spring of all else (Proverbs 4:23). If sin is allowed to mature, it will bring death. We are to mature in faith by steadfastness through trial and against temptation. But failing to do that will allow sin to mature and kill us – because our faith is proven to be false. This pattern James describes is exactly what happened to Eve in Genesis 3:6-9. She saw the bait of the fruit and desired it. When that desire conceived she took it and ate it and lost the crown of life. The same pattern is seen with Achan in Joshua 7:19-25 and King David in 2 Samuel 11:2-19. Knowing how temptation works and using some spiritual birth control, will help us resist it.

3. By being certain of God’s unchanging goodness (v.16-17)

James now ties together v.13 with v. 14-15. I am never tempted by God and I am always tempted by my own desires. My wicked and deceitful heart (Jeremiah 17:9) will want to reverse that. I must not let it. Instead, I must be completely convinced that God only gives good and perfect gifts (like wisdom v.5). He never changes in His goodness as the Father of lights. He never casts a shadow; He has no dark side. All He does is good and for my good as His child (Matthew 7:9-11). The darkness is in me. I can trust that He is doing good to me by my trial and know that any temptations to sin in the trial are of my own making. Any good that comes is from Him and to His praise, while any bad is from me and to my shame. If I look to His goodness, I am helped to resist temptation.

4. By living out the new creation (v.18)

I must also look to what God has done in me. I can resist giving birth to sin because God has given new birth to me. He brought me forth in regeneration as a new creature in Christ – the firstfruits of the new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). He did this sovereignly by His own will through the means of the word of truth. Since God has done this, I know that He will finish what He started (Philippians 1:6) and can persevere through trials and against temptation by His powerful grace. The “word of truth” is used through the New Testament as a reference to the Gospel (2 Corinthians 6:7; Ephesians 1:13; Colossians 1:5; 2 Timothy 2:15) which the entire Word of God is all ultimately about (Luke 24:27, 44). God’s Word gives us new life and is essential to our living that new life, especially in resisting temptation.