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Who's To Blame?

Let’s be honest with ourselves. Our problem isn’t simply that we commit acts of sin that we know to be wrong. We then add to the problem by denying or at least minimizing our responsibility for them. Continue reading . . .

Let’s be honest with ourselves. Our problem isn’t simply that we commit acts of sin that we know to be wrong. We then add to the problem by denying or at least minimizing our responsibility for them. We blame God (after all, isn’t he sovereign over all things?). This started in the garden when Adam said to God: “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Gen. 3:12). God then turned to Eve and said: “’What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate’” (Gen. 3:13). As I’m sure you’ve heard said before: Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent, and the serpent didn’t have a leg to stand on!

If we can’t pin the blame on God, we blame our heredity: “My mom and dad set a bad example for me,” or “I was born this way so get off my back.” Of course, the tried and true fallback is to blame it all on Satan.

But it is with our tendency to accuse God that James is particularly concerned in v. 13 of chapter one of his letter. There he says: “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.”

He’s not saying here that God is naïve or ignorant of the nature of evil, nor does he mean to say that people can’t put God to the test (we know that Israel did this repeatedly during their wilderness wanderings, and Jesus was three-times tempted by Satan). His point is that if there is nothing in God that evil may assault, insofar as God is righteous and pure, then from what in God could evil possibly proceed? Since God is himself incapable of feeling an inclination to commit evil, he can’t directly solicit it in the heart of someone else. So, James draws a conclusion about what God does or does not do, in this case, tempt a human to commit sin, based on who God is.

Well, if the source or cause of sin isn’t in God, why do we sin? The answer is given in vv. 14-15 – “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” (James 1:14-15).

It all begins with “desire” (v. 14b). This word doesn’t necessarily mean evil desire. Context must determine if it is good or bad. The desire for food is good, but may become sin if it degenerates into gluttony. The desire for sex is good, but may all too easily be perverted into promiscuity outside of marriage. The desire to enjoy a good night’s sleep is good, but becomes sin when it degenerates into sloth.

Where desire goes wrong is when a person is deceived into thinking that certain unlawful ways of satisfying it can do more for us than obedience to God can. This deception is what he has in mind when he speaks of being “lured and enticed” (v. 14b). Both of these words are taken from the world of the hunter and the fisherman. Just as one might “lure” his prey from its retreat and “entice” it with bait, so also we are deceived by temptation into thinking that it will satisfy us more than anything else can.

James then shifts his metaphor from hunting and fishing, in v. 14, to that of childbirth in v. 15. Temptation provokes elicit desire, desire conceives and gives birth to sin, and sin, once it has taken root in our hearts yields only death.

Thus we see the vivid contrast of James 1:13-15 with James 1:2-12. God’s purpose in sending us trials is to produce in us steadfast endurance, and by means of endurance proven character. And when such trials are successfully weathered, God in grace pronounces us blessed, the reward for which is the crown of life. Temptation, on the other hand, awakens desire in our hearts, and when our wills yield, sin is birthed, the ultimate effect of which is neither blessing nor life, but death.

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