Considering how temptations come at us, unpredictable as they get, we need to have a ready strategy to deal with them at all times. Without this, we will find ourselves quickly falling into its trap. They come to us late at night, in a Matatu, in a crowded room, anytime and anywhere. So it goes without saying that temptations are with us, and we cannot hide from them. So what is the source of our temptations, and how do we deal with them when they come?
Biblical Definition of Temptation
The book of James has one of the most comprehensive passages on temptation in scripture. In James 1:2, James starts by imploring, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds…” This statement seems confusing, even foreign to most people. One of the “trials” James’ audience dealt with was a lack of wisdom on what to do in complicated circumstances (James 1:5) and especially poverty (James 1:9). Another trial that his audience was going through was severe physical and social persecution from the Romans, who opposed Christianity at the time. How were they supposed to be joyful amidst trials such as suffering, poverty, hunger, and even joblessness?
James is encouraging his readers to be joyful when they are tested. He mentions that their trials are good because they will develop in them “steadfastness”, which will lead to their maturity in their faith (James 1:3-4). Those who consider their trials a thing worth being joyful about remain steadfast in faith and enjoy the Lord and all his blessings (James 1:12). When we look at trials as the tests they are and remaining steadfast means that no matter how difficult things get, we always remember that there is a choice to worship Jesus despite the circumstances. We should therefore count even the trickiest trials of life as “all joy” (James 1:2) since we know it will lead to stronger faith and a better relationship with God.
Trials vs. Temptations
The contrast of counting our trials as “all joy” is letting “temptations” take hold of us, leading us to sin and death (James 1:13-15). During trials, it is normal to desire (James 1:14) to escape suffering, poverty, hunger, or joblessness. However, we should be careful not to give sin a foothold during such times. Trials will naturally cause us (our weak flesh) to focus on the pain and the inconveniences it brings at the expense of finding joy in obedience despite the hardships. This is a common occurrence as we see young men and women fall into sins like prostitution and stealing because of financial challenges. Logically, it might make sense as someone is only trying to make ends meet. But one needs to count the cost of sinning against God. Is it really worth it (James 1:2-4, Isaiah 59:1-2, Jeremiah 5:25)?
The “temptation” during a trial that James 1:13-14 warns about comes about as one elevates the pleasure of relief from their current trial, dwelling on how amazing it would be to have their trials lifted. Concerning money, for example, one can be easily fixated on how relieving having it will be so that they get to take care of all of their debts and needs. Therefore, this fixation on money will put one in severe temptation. If not careful, one might be determined to make money by any means, even if it means sacrificing spiritual growth and closeness to God. In such a situation, instead of looking to the pleasure or relief that brings temptation, look to the joy and relief God has offered (James 1:17-18) and think about the crown of life he’ll provide in heaven (James 1:12).
The Source of Temptation
Some people will say God brought these circumstances into my life to justify giving in to temptation. Others might add It is God who tempted me to walk away from him, and it was too much; that’s why I gave in. However, James tells us that God does not tempt anyone (James 1:13). A holy God can’t sin; therefore, he can neither be tempted nor tempt anyone (James 1:13). God does not even think of evil, so how could he be tempted, much less tempt someone?
Therefore, we must desist from blaming God for the temptations in our lives but instead realize that we’re tempted by our own evil desires (James 1:14). These are stimulated by dwelling on the temporal worldly pleasures which blind us to the eternal joy that comes with obedience and steadfastness to God.
When tempted to blame God, we must take responsibility for our sins and repent (James 4:8-10). James helps us realize that the sin that leads to death (James 1:15) is our greatest threat in life, not the trials we face. The difficulties we face may be daunting, but giving in to temptation will bring us the greatest destruction of all, death (James 1:15). So don’t look at your painful trials and feel pity for yourself; this is not beneficial. Instead, have an honest look at your heart to see if you’re allowing temptation to take a hold of you and ask God for help to stand firm in the faith (Hebrews 2:18, 1 Peter 5:8-10).
Remember, God is the source of all good things in our lives (James 1:16-18). He is the one who has rescued us from our sins (1 Peter 1:3); why then would he tempt us to do that which he rescued us from? God also does not let us face temptations that are beyond what we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). He is also careful to provide a way of escape from every temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13). Even as we face temptations, Christ gives us strength to overcome the temptations that come our way (Hebrews 2:18). At the heart of his plan, God truly cares for you. Remember this truth so that you do not fall into sin’s trap.
How to Overcome Temptation
Upon looking at ourselves and seeing that temptation and sin come from our evil desires, how then do we overcome them? To begin with, we should turn our eyes from ourselves and to God. One way of doing this is by humbly receiving what God brings our way and remaining steadfast, clinging to him in faith. To strengthen our faith, we must remember that he will make us stronger and help us see him as glorious above everything else (James 1:4, 12). Another helpful way of overcoming temptation and strengthening our faith is by meekly receiving the word (James 1:21). This can be done by having an intent look at the beautiful truths in the scriptures and being careful to live them out (James 1:23-25). When we do this, we will be blessed with a rich understanding of who God is and the benefits of living in obedience to him. Temptations overcome through faith in Christ may scar us, but these scars will be a memory of how faithful our God is, reminding us that he brings greater joy than anything this world can offer (Hebrews 11:24-26).