Written by Paul J. Bucknell on November, 19, 2019
Tracing the Source of Temptations and its Importance — James 1:13-15
13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. (James 1:13-15)
All Scripture is true and trustworthy, and so there are no contradictions in the Word of God. Some seemingly contradictory issues do come up, however. For example, James 1:14 skips over Satan’s part in temptation. “But each one is tempted… by his own lust.” People are tempted by their own lusts. But don’t we all recognize that Satan was involved in tempting Adam and Eve (Genesis 2) as well as Jesus (Matthew 4:1-4)? Each time we get a spiritual picture of temptation, such as in Job, we find Satan’s nefarious presence (Job 1-2). Isn’t Satan part of the temptation process as well? Why doesn’t James speak about this here?
The Key Issue
Some conclude from this passage that temptations stem from one’s lust. They ignore outside spiritual forces because James does so. So what are we to understand here? Why do people fall into sin? Why does James not at all mention Satan here?
If we are going to wrestle with temptations properly, then we must identify what this verse is saying. Some have excluded Satan’s part in temptation because of James 1:14 plus excessiveness. Yes, we should reject the understanding: “Satan made me do it.” But this doesn’t mean the evil one does not tempt.
From a simple look at this verse, James tells us that our sin and lust is the source of temptation, not the evil one. James is right, of course, but this does not mean the evil one has no part in temptation. James only does not mention it here.
When a Christian believer comes away understanding that the source of temptation comes from their lusts, however, they run into another misunderstanding. After wearying himself over his inability to overcome temptation, he might figure that he cannot overcome his inherent weakness. This is a wrong conclusion, but I can see why some would believe this when only looking at his defiling lusts in light of James 1:14.
This article shows what James 1:13-15 means, and why we need to be careful about our secondary conclusions. It is critical to believe that through God’s grace we can overcome our sin. The moment we stop believing this, then we will give up hope persevering in God’s grace. Many have given up hope on overcoming temptation. It is easier for them to believe the psychiatrist than to believe God.
Though temptation stems from our lusts, the secondary conclusion that Satan is not involved in the process is wrong. Let’s see what James 1:13-15 does teach.
The Teaching of James 1:13-15
The purpose of James 1:13-15 is not to trace how a person is tempted but to assure us that the sole responsibility of our sin is ours.
(1) Who is responsible for our sins? (James 1:13)
Jame’s chief concern here is not to state how temptation works but to highlight the true source of sins. It doesn’t look like that at first due to the process highlighted in verse 14-15: temptation…sin…death. James, though, is not focused on the process but that Christians do not conclude that God is responsible for our sins. Believers, for example, might reason God allowed evil in the world or that the Lord doesn’t do enough to protect them. James refuses to go in this direction with his reasoning but instead strongly emphasizes that God is not at all responsible for our sins.
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. (James 1:13)
The context for this verse is seen by James’ emphasis, “Let no one say….” This is James’ point: God is not responsible for our sins. God is not the Tempter, nor does He tempt.
Whenever we conclude that God is partly or wholly responsible for our sin—whether due to theological or practical reasons, we are wrong. God is not responsible for our sins. He does not tempt us but wants us to overcome. Notice how, in James 1:5, we can ask Him for wisdom how to handle difficult situations. The Lord graciously works for our victory.
(2) Our Lusts, Not Another (James 1:14-15)
James goes from absolving God’s hand in our temptation (13) to pointing out the responsibility of sin (14-15). The responsibility belongs wholly to man (“each one”) and his choices (e.g., lusts).
14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. (James 1:14-15)
Sin is not God’s fault but man’s full responsibility. From the beginning, people tried to pin the blame of his sin on another (Genesis 3:7-13): “He made me do it!” “It’s his fault!” James, however, clearly teaches the guilt of sin belongs to the person who sinned. The fault is not with God, nor is it with our environment, Satan, demons, or our parents, etc. James does not deny that they might have had a part in the process, but zeroes in on identifying how our sin nature works hand in hand with our lustful desires.
We are fully responsible for our sins and conduct; we are the culprit. “By his own lust” James emphasizes the guilt or blame is with the sinner.
(3) What is the outcome of sin?
The process or path of temptation does not need to be elaborated on here, as I have addressed it elsewhere. Let us focus on James’ teaching. Temptation accompanied by our lusts leads to sin and to our death.
While temptation is part of the process, it does not clarify the issue of responsibility. It is not the world, God, Satan, or our parents who are accountable for our sin. The person who sins is accountable; it is they who die (Ez 18:4, 20). The death of our bodies proves that we are the ones who are liable for our sin. This is the reason James traces sin to death. (This is parallel to Paul’s logic in Romans 5:12-21.) The presence of death signifies one’s sinfulness. It is wrong, therefore, to pin the fault of our sins on anyone else, no matter how problematic the battle with sin is. God did not tempt us.
James powerfully states two things: God is not at fault, and we are fully accountable for our own sins. He does not speak about the involvement others might have in our sinful choices. But by stating that we are fully responsible, James hints that these other things also are not the cause of our sins.
Once we acknowledge that we ourselves have sinned, then we can sense the implications of our accountability. For example, we may seek forgiveness in Christ once we confess our wrongs (1 John 1:8-10). By stepping out of the ‘blame game’ that Adam and Eve taught us, we can move on to acting responsibly. (There is no doubt that people are unwilling to forgive others because they blame others for a certain situation, blinding them of their own accountability.)
When we do, then we can see the need for forgiveness through Jesus Christ, God’s Son, who died on the cross for our sins. And with forgiveness, repentance is nearby. Our lives are changed.
A possible reason for James’ argument
Perhaps, James argues these things to knock out any self-righteousness. These believers justify themselves by blaming others, even God. They neglect their duties before God (James speaks much about the works that should follow salvation) and wrongly esteem themselves. We are not sure of their situation, but James wrote some believers who blamed God for at least some of their sins.
The Question of Satan
Some might wonder, “If Satan plays such an important part in temptation, then why doesn’t James mention him?”
James’ chief point is to move us from blaming God to putting the full blame for sin on our own lives. If I lusted for a woman, then it was not Playboy, the woman, Satan, or God’s fault, but my own. If James brought up Satan or the world’s association with temptation (1 John 2:15-17) here in James 1, then he would have further confused his audience.
James does believe Satan negatively affects our lives. James 4:7 says, “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” Satan does tempt. James, however, does not speak about Satan in James 1 because he is convincing us that we are completely responsible for our sins.
Only when we can accept that we are responsible for our sins, can we begin to understand how other factors come into the process of temptation.
James 1:13-15, then is not addressing how we are tempted but the fact that God is absolved from any responsibility for that sin. We sinners are fully responsible for our sins.
You might say, “No, I don’t want to sin.” But think about it, somehow you or I get to be convinced that sin is the best choice. When we choose to follow our sinful desires, it is because we came to think it best. Our belief shifted from God’s will to our own false belief.
We choose to follow our sinful desires because we come to believe they are best.
“Faith’s Triumph Over Temptation” strategically shows how we, as believers, end up sinning—even though we have a holy nature. Our victory over temptation does not come from our personal resolve, though self-discipline can help much. Our most significant opportunity to overcome temptation comes from isolating how the evil one uses lies and deceit (James 1:16) to move us from righteousness (the place where we do not want to sin) to sinfulness (where we are convinced it best to sin).
Bible Study Questions on James 1:13-15
- What is the main point of James in James 1:13-15?
- How does verse 13 confirm that main point?
- What are some reasons people might assert God is partly or wholly responsible for our sins?
- Do you believe that God is somewhat responsible for your sins? Why or why not?
- How does James prove that the sinner is fully responsible for his sins (see 1:14-15)?
- Why do you think James doesn’t mention here Satan’s part in tempting man?
- How do we know Satan is involved in the temptation process?
- Why can we only find forgiveness once we confess the full guilt for our own sin (1 John 1:8-10)?
- The author states, “We choose to follow our desires because we think they are best.” Do you agree? Why or why not?