James 1: What Is Temptation and What is Sin?
Published on LastGenerationTheology.org on 2006-01-29 03:36Z.
Outline James Chapter One
There is considerable confusion in some minds today about the concepts of temptation and of sin. Thus we devote our time to exploring these topics as found in James chapter one.
James 1:1 Greeting
You might be interested to know that actually, this is the book of (Greek) Iakobos, or (Hebrew), Yaakov. English should say “Jacob,” but we have “James.” Nor can we blame this one on Martin Luther, who translated the Greek literally, Jakobus. Some people have problems with his book, and feel that it cannot be reconciled with Paul. But they actually reconcile together perfectly. Both James (Yaakov) and Paul (Shaul) were Jews, Semites, led of the same Holy Spirit, and we may be sure, teaching the same doctrine of sin as found in every other part of the Bible.
Yaakov launches his epistle declaring himself to be a servant of Jesus Christ. His namesake in Genesis was Yaakov, originally, the supplanter. But this man is a follower of Christ. His letter goes forth to the twelve tribes wherever they are.
James 1:2-4 Necessity, Blessing, and Outcome of Tested Faith
It is a good thing to find oneself thrust into temptation. Temptation is often a positive thing, as we are about to be told. There are a diverse range of temptations. Verses three and four tell us that the testing of our faith produces patience, and that a matured patience means a fulness in one’s experience. Testing and temptation are good.
James 1:5-8 Futility of Double-mindedness
The Christian must learn to trust God. It is no maturity that seeks to evade testing. Tests cannot be evaded. Tests will come. But it is with faith and wisdom that we must face them. It is the fearful person, the double-minded person, the person who thinks he can take a shortcut, who wavers. He is not interested in trusting God or in learning or growing. He is caught in the moment and in the moment he does not want to be tested. He sees testing and temptation from the negative standpoint, and hopes either to dodge the challenges of present reality or to work his way through his immediate problems as superficially as possible, with as little exercise of faith and wisdom as possible. He is not interested in thinking his way through and endeavoring to “think God’s thoughts after Him,” or in having to trust anyone but himself.
He is double-minded, inclined to moral eclecticism. He will do what fits the moment. If it is the optimum in self-interest to be good right now, he will be good right now; if it is the optimum in self-interest to be evil right now, he will manifest evil. His commitment to right is either weak or non-existent. He is not growing, not learning; only rusting, only strengthening in himself his previously cultivated darknesses. According to the Scriptures how much should he expect to receive? From God, nothing at all. God has called him to exercise faith, but faith is needed for temptation and testing, not for the easy kind of life he is trying to live. He prefers not to be tempted because he has no desire to grow, but to hide in his small little world.
James 1:9-11 Rich and Poor Both tested
The dispersed followers of Christ were often persecuted and poor; the settled, sometimes prosperous. Jewish cultural expectation said that if you were poor, God was against you, or if rich, then He was blessing you. Yaakov assures the trial-beset followers of Christ all across the world that the rich are tested too. In fact, the blessings enjoyed by the rich are fleeting. Ultimately, and sooner than they imagine, comes judgment. Our business now, whether of high or low estate, is to submit to God’s providential working to remake us after His image.
James 1:12 The Reward of Testing
This book of the Bible has in it two blessings, one here in verse 12 and another later in verse 25. The reward for the man who endures temptation is the crown of life. Remember, the double-minded man was trying to avoid temptation. He was also thus avoiding blessing, avoiding the crown of life. The person who loves God is willing to undergo His testings; the man who loves self only is willing only to endure the minimum.
James 1:13 God Cannot Be Tempted With Evil
God cannot be tempted with evil. That which is destructive to moral life is in opposition to Him. Now remember, God is omniscient, that is, He is all-knowing. You cannot surprise Him. He can see the end result from the beginning. So try this. Come along and explain to God that He is wrong about outcomes; that the end-result of evil is not suffering and sorrow and destruction. Try explaining that to Him. See how far you get.
God cannot be tempted by evil because He can see where it lands; He can see where it ends, what the outcome is. And there is nothing beautiful at the far end of the rainbow. The end result of sin is death; death comes through sin. So you cannot tempt God by telling Him that sin comes out differently than it does. He will not be persuaded.
But this has tremendous significance for Immanuel, because if Jesus is going to come here and live as “God with us” (Matthew 1:23), if He is going to be tempted “in all points like as we are” (Hebrews 4:15), then He is going to want to surrender something to the Father: omniscience. If Jesus walks the earth with the preview video running all the time, He will have an unfair advantage. He will not be able to have the same experience He otherwise would. Is there any evidence for this surrender of knowledge in the Bible? Mark 13:31, 32:
Heaven and earth shall pass away: but My words shall not pass away. But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.
Neither does God try to entrap man with evil or in evil. He is trying to repair us rather than rule us out. He shows us the wounds so we can cooperate with Him in the healing process, because part of being human is exercising free will. This is part of the image of God in us—choosing with a knowledge of moral values. To charge God with tempting us with evil is to say He is not so moral as He has portrayed Himself.
James 1:14, 15 Temptation and Sin
Remember, this book is a portion of the Greek Testament just as important as any other. Seventh-day Adventists have significant elements in common with the understanding of sin in Judaism. Denominationally, our primary statement about human nature is found in Fundamental Belief #7 where we specifically say
When our first parents disobeyed God, they denied their dependence upon Him and fell from their high position under God. The image of God in them was marred and they became subject to death. Their descendants share this fallen nature and its consequences. They are born with weaknesses and tendencies to evil.
We don’t say more than this, for the believers who first stepped out to follow God and become Seventh-day Adventists were careful Bible students and the centuries of tradition and Babylonian wine common to Christianity were gladly surrendered to the circular file.
Yetzer Hara and Yetzer Hatov
Our understanding of sin is far more Semitic than Latin.
In Judaism, it is believed that all are born with the yetzer hara, the inclination to evil. But there is more than one inclination. God also begets in one, it is believed, the yetzer hatov, inclination to good. The yetzer hara is with one from the beginning, but the yetzer hatov is begotten at the age of accountability (when the child arrives at bar (boys) or bat (girls) mitzveh (commandment), i.e becomes a son ro daughter of the commandment. Life involves the choosing between the yetzer hara and the yetzer hatov, the evil and the good inclinations.
Each person is given free will, but we must not understand that people are born neutral, exactly in the middle. Each person begins with an inclination to evil that is much stronger than any inclination to good.
We readily see the parallel between the yetzer hara and our expression of man’s being “born with weaknesses and tendencies to evil.” Our view is a match with the Greek Testament, unlike the Latin, Augustinian view that makes temptation into sin. The problem isn’t that Seventh-day Adventists are too Jewish, but that too many non-Seventh-day Adventists are too Roman!
Discussion of the yetzer hara goes back to Talmud. Was the view of Yaakov the same as that of the Talmud? We don’t have that detail for sure. But we do know that Yaakov’s view is ours, and we find it in the next two verses.
Exploring the Death Sequence
James 1:14, 15 outlines what we might call the sequence of death. It includes a clear representation of the process of temptation:
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.
We see a three-step process:
Just to reinforce our understanding of the precision of this statement, realize that underneath the English word “then” in the translation of v. 15 is the Greek word eita, a particle of succession. This is a time marker that definitely separates the conception of sin from the process of temptation that preceded it. Sin is distinct from temptation. To be tempted is not to transgress God’s law.
First is drawing away, enticement. An object is presented to you, and you come toward it to investigate. Investigation need not be evil. The word for lust (epithumia) means to draw close, to breathe upon.
Some years ago while colpourtering (these days they call it “Literature Evangelism”) in Oregon I knocked on a door. It opened and there stood a naked woman. She said nothing, just stood there. I was a bit surprised at this instant discovery. Somehow it had never occurred to me that such a thing might happen. I was at a loss for words. But I knew one thing. I was not going through that door to make a presentation!
Suddenly (I do not recall thinking of this, just doing it), I reached into my bag and grabbed a Happiness Digest (Steps to Christ), and said “This is for you!” and thrust it through the screen door into her hand (part of the mesh was missing). Without another word I turned and walked rapidly away. I did not even recall whether she was attractive or not. I was a single man, a Christian man, and I knew that there was immediate danger from this quite uninhibited stranger. Years later I read this:
The most crucial factor is what happens while one is at the point of temptation. “If we would not commit sin” then our course is marked out: “shun its very beginnings.” How is that accomplished? “Every emotion and desire must be held in subjection to reason and conscience. Every unholy thought must be instantly repelled.”
There are thoughts and feelings suggested and aroused by Satan that annoy even the best of men; but if they are not cherished, if they are repulsed as hateful, the soul is not contaminated with guilt, and no other is defiled by their influence (Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, March 27, 1888).
He is allowed to suggest and arouse them, we are allowed instantly to repel them. The temptation is offered, but we decide whether to accept the siren call. How do we think Jesus operated in such case?
Certainly, if Satan is allowed to suggest and arouse thoughts in “the best of men,” Jesus was “the best of men.” So when Satan suggested a thought to Christ's mind, what did Jesus do? He kept every emotion and desire in subjection to reason and conscience. He prayed in faith. He refused to give His consent. He refused to purpose the sinful act. He shunned its very beginning. Inspiration tells us,
As a man He supplicated the throne of God till His humanity was charged with a heavenly current that should connect humanity with divinity. Through continual communion He received life from God, that He might impart life to the world. His experience is to be ours (Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 363).
To be tempted is not to sin or incur moral penalty. We want to shun the very beginnings, keep emotion and desire in subjection to reason and conscience, instantly repel every unholy thought. And so we have the counsel of these verses in Yaakov. Our foe wants us to feel contaminated every time he sends an unholy thought our way. But we need not own even one such thought. Repel it instantly! Do not own it, do not give it your consent! You are Christ’s purchased possession. He owns your mind. He gives you freedom to choose. And He warns you, and urges you, and shows you the death sequence.
James 1:16-18 God Gives Rebirth
The next verses continue to inform us that temptation to sin does not come from God. Every good gift and every perfect gift has its source in God. What are the gifts spoken of here? The opportunity to grow is a gift from above. Apart from God we would choose the evil. Our nature is inclined that way. We are born with a bent to evil. Left to ourselves, we would, ultimately, fully commit ourselves to selfishness. We are not born fully committed.
But how can we grow? It is because our Father is not the source of moral darkness but of moral light. He does not vary or have shadows within. He is holy. And His gift is no mere testing, but He rebirths us through His word of truth. So we face our world and its slime-pits, minefields, mud-bogs, quicksands, but we do it with a renewed and renewing nature. We are not dropped here to die, but rescued here to live. If we are willing. God’s intention is that we not learn by experience the death sequence.
Think about it. Did God intend for Adam and Eve to sin? If He did, then He intended that they should be (1) tempted, (2) that lust should conceive and result in sin. If He intended for them to sin, then he intended for them to die. But He warned them against wrong choices with the very warning that death would be the result (Genesis 2:16, 17). No. God’s plan was that they should avoid it from the beginning, shun, repel, control, resist.
James 1:19, 20 Receive Instruction
The superficial life, as we noted, seeks to avoid growth. But Yaakov pleads that the hearer/reader would receive instruction. God does not permit you to fall into situations that you cannot survive with His help. But we still have choice. So we can go where we ought not. We can plow boldly into some situation we have no business becoming involved in. But is God leading us there? Yaakov warns that there is a process of seduction, and too often we are our own seducers. Instead we must walk in the path that God is marking out for us. It is never the way that leads to feeling instead of faith, to foolhardiness rather than wisdom. We have to go against our favorite flavors.
James 1:21 Receive Transformation From God
Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.
We must lay aside the things that are wrong and dirty and take in their place something very strong: the engrafted word. Notice that there is a way to receive this word. We must receive with meekness. It is not enough to think we can receive the word, but we must receive it with meekness. God’s word is not given like a coat to wear over our crookedness. It is given where there is a receptivity to it. In the book of Acts the magician wanted to buy the power of God, but it was denied Him (Acts 8:17-24). The word must be received with meekness.
We wonder at the apparent powerlessness of the church today. But this can be traced to a failure to receive the word with meekness. One way it comes is with the feeling some develop of intellectual arrival. They begin to think they can explain truth to God instead of listen to God explain His truth. His Word becomes a dead letter to them. They are too busy explaining it to Him to learn by experience its power. New notions and ideas are proposed that are not the working of the Holy Spirit. The church is not benefitted.
The last part of this verse says something quite strong, that God’s word has power (dunamis) to save people. But because God respects our freedom of choice, it is able to work in us only as we cooperate with God’s offer to have it work in us. The last verses in the chapter show the necessity of meekness acted out.
James 1:22-27 Be Doers Not Just Hearers
If God’s word is ingrafted, it will produce an outflow from the believer. Repress good works? No, but express good works, this will be His desire. Many Christians are double-minded because they have been taught over and over again that they must not try to earn their way into heaven. Let me illustrate this. I know a man who has left the Seventh-day Adventist ministry because he bought into a different gospel. He makes sure he goes into the market malls on the Sabbath to prove to himself he is free of legalism. See, actually he is in bondage. He is in bondage to his attempt to prove that he is not in bondage.
Hearing the word but not doing it is very dangerous. Hearing but not doing prepares one to enter into self-deception, because not doing means operating against convictions. One thing the word does is tell us about ourselves. So the illustration of looking into a reflective glass and then walking away and forgetting what we are. But the contrast is the one who looks into the law of liberty. He goes and acts upon the law of liberty. He experiences change because he is proactive for change. He is seeking a better land and he is out, on the way, on the journey.
One Christian looks at himself, at his own character if you will; the other looks at God’s law, Christ’s character if you will. He seeks its perfect reproduction in him.
Remember, the book of Yaakov began with a plea to be willing to receive God’s working. But he wants to claim that God has tempted him, ultimately, that he is not responsible for failure to grow, but God is. But religious talk is empty if it is not accompanied with religious life. Self-deception is again mentioned (vs. 26). Our talk is the index of our walk. Yaakov is not just addressing vain talk in general, although that too shows where we are. But he is addressing talk about the Christian walk and about God that gives erroneous impressions about His ways of interacting with man and of a misguided picture of Christianity lacking a right understanding of the cooperative aspect.
Finally, the ultimate evidence of Christianity is found in the twofold evidences given in verse 27. Delivering the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and remaining unspotted from the world. To visit means to deliver, to help, to aid. The empowered must do what they can for the disempowered, not so that they can remain disempowered, but so that they find the same help in Christ and in His word engrafted in the life. Trials are permitted to build us. It is in delivering that we become live the Deliverer. It is in doing that we become like the Great Doer.
James (actually, Yaakov) chapter one outlines a Christian life that is an active interface of God’s providence actively engaged to help people grow. But God meets considerable human resistance along the way from those He is seeking to help. They want to write off His efforts to grow them as being unuseful temptation sent from God. But God tempts no one with evil. In fact, we must be aware of the process of temptation and shun the very beginnings of evil, rejecting the approach at the stage of early thought formation, or else we will certainly be overcome. God’s word engrafted in us is able to save us (yes, that is what the Bible says!). So we need to be actively living the Christ-life or we will wind up living a superficial life, failing to learn God’s lessons.
Seventh-day Adventists are Bible students. Their view of the Bible’s doctrines is careful, and the understanding of what sin is isn’t based on how we feel about it, but what the Bible says. We are born with weaknesses and tendencies to evil, as others teach, with a yetzer hara and a yetzer hatov. We choose. Deeply damaged by the Fall, strangely depraved and disordered, still our God offers to change us and remake us and heal us. Today is the day to take Him at His word. LGT