12 Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.
14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.
15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.
Temptation: have you ever had a day in your life that has been completely devoid of any form of temptation? It certainly seems to be a central part of living life in this world, each of us sinners with sin natures facing the continuous onslaught of the invitation to sin, be that enticement from outside of us or within us.
Today’s verses touch yet again on another picture, if not two, that will help us to ponder the nature of temptation and to see it more clearly for what it is. If we were to compare verses 2-4 to a tree blowing in the wind, the forces against that tree causing growth by the roots going deeper, the parallel would be temptation and trials and the propensity for growth by endurance in obedience to the Lord. We return yet again to that concept in verse 12 on the issue of endurance, that the man who endures temptation is blessed. The term “blessed” refers to being privileged or fortunate, and this ties very much into verse 2’s “count it all joy when you fall into various trials”; both verses instruct us to look at temptation as a possibility for growth, one speaking to the beginning of the process and the other (v. 12) speaking to the completion of the process.
The second part of v. 12 tells us, “for when he has been approved.” The word “for” here is a word speaking to cause: why is the man or woman who endures temptation blessed? Because when they have been approved (referring to tested and proven), “(they) will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love him.” This may be a good spot to plug in a concept for the Christian life: why don’t we just go to Heaven upon salvation? Why don’t we find life easier and better in a growing fashion after salvation? Part of the answer lies in two reasons. First, to prepare us for glory, which is called sanctification. Secondly, because the winds blowing against all who call themselves Christians will either make them grow their roots deeper in the Lord or it will blow them off of the path along the way. Only those with genuine relationships in Jesus, rooted and anchored by the indwelling Holy Spirit, will remain. The Christian life is a proving ground and a battleground, but it has never been a playground.
Receiving the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him speaks to receiving the reward (crown) of eternal life promised to those who love Him. Remember 1 John 4:10 which says, “We love Him because He first loved us.” Love for God is always God-born, not reflective of the virtue of any believer in bearing that love themselves. It is one of the elements of the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23 (note that these are not the “fruits” of the Spirit, but the singular “fruit” of the Spirit). All along the way to eternity for every believer, there is a line connecting us to the end; there is no part of the Christian life that does not give us bearings on our destination. If we are headed to Heaven, there will be signs along the way of the Spirit’s presence and the growth of character. Heaven is not and never has been a reward for the morally virtuous, but rather a gift started in faith and carried out in a life of following God, led by the Holy Spirit within.
Verse 13 now hones in on the concept of temptation as to where it comes from. It is further fleshed out in verses 14 and 15. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. God is not the Author of sin, though He does permit it within His sovereign will. This does not mean that He approves of it, but that He allows it for His purposes. If He did not allow for its existence, there would be no Devil nor many of the things we see in our world, or even in ourselves. The cross is a great example, by the way, because ungodly sinners nailed our perfect Lord to the cross, providing salvation through His death and resurrection but nonetheless on account of sin.
God is not a tempter; on the other hand, remember that God does test with the intention of proving. Temptation is the act of enticing with the intention of causing another to stumble. God’s heart is not to cause us to stumble, but there are times He will allow us to face difficult circumstances to prove our hearts, refine us, and prepare us for usability down the road in unforeseen circumstances and things of the like. I like to think of the difference between temptation and testing like bowling: temptation is the gutters, but testing would be like bumper bowling, God intending to redirect us as He moves us towards Him.
By the way, why can’t God be tempted by evil? God is holy and righteous and just. He is perfect and pure in ways above our understanding. Temptation can only work if the internal inclinations in a person are towards something forbidden; God cannot be tempted for there is no inclination in Him towards doing something against His character. The sin nature drives humans towards defiance of the character of God.
Why is it important for James to remind the Christians he was writing to, as well as us, why God is not the author of sin? I think it because, in part, we are inclined to blame God for our failures if we are not careful, but drawing that conclusion would simply not be true. God can neither be tempted by sin, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.
So where does temptation come from? Verses 14 and 15 help us to understand the dynamic of temptation. “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” There are potentially two pictures going on here in the text: first, think of a fish that is drawn to bait. While the bait is cast and maneuvered to get a fish’s attention, it is the fish that is drawn to the bait. It is the fish that bites and it is the fish that gets itself caught. Hunting and fishing are more of a game of knowing the inclinations of the animal that the hunter is seeking to catch. Because we have sin natures and particular desires at times given our circumstances, our inhibitions or lack thereof, and many other inputs, temptation only works on us if we seek what our hearts already desire. No one gets tempted by those things which they don’t desire within, and many times it’s the end result that the heart is after, not necessarily the sinful pathway to get there.
If I was the Devil and wanted to tempt you, I’d spend a lot of time studying you and your habits first; then I’d go to work on you. I’d watch for moments of weakness in your resolve, or the resolve of others, that might be used against you. This is the nature of temptation, and that is why it is so fitting that Peter says in 1 Peter 5:8, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” Jesus says to the disciples in Matthew 26:41, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Combine the idea of being unsuspecting prey with the call for being watchful and prayerful and the issue of temptation should become more clear. Paul writes to Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:9, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition.” The language surrounding temptation is that of hunter and prey; we must watch our own pridefulness in ignoring the dangers that lurk every day. Humility before God is one of the best ways to protect yourself from the power of temptation.
Verse 15 says, “Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” We as readers should hear a shift from a hunting or fishing imagery to that of conception and birth. Verse 15 is using pregnancy as an analogy to understand the end game of sin. When desire conceives in the heart, the joining of temptation and action take place and produce sin; this follows much along with the idea of verse 14. Remember, temptation is not sin; acting upon temptation is. It’s best to remove yourself from temptation, though, because it somehow saps the resistance over time, doesn’t it?
There must be an agreement made between temptation and desire for sin to be produced. Sin, much like a child in its mothers womb, when brought to full term brings forth death. It’s not the easiest thing to interpret, but my theology teacher in seminary likened this verse to the anticipation of a baby only to have the child still-born at delivery. Imagine the excitement, the planning, the naming, purchases and painting, the hopefulness of a relationship all to be dashed in a moment. Sin does this: we get lured by unrealistic hopes and find that it comes and crushes those hopes because it was only a snare to wreck our lives and divide us from God. The worst part, though, is to be so blind as to not see a wrecked life for what it is, or to not consider distance or deadness to God as a problem, which it is. Satan’s grand schemes are to keep the spiritually dead blinded and dead to God, and to make Christians numb to their blessings in Christ and the needs of this world. If Satan could just get us to all believe that we were powerless, hopeless, and beyond the grace of God, oh how he would press upon that.
Step back from whatever you may be facing or being tempted in today. Realize that you are a target and wakeup. Do not be used by the Devil against God, others, and even yourself. God is not your enemy, but He does offer hope and help in facing your enemy.
Preach the Gospel to yourself again: Jesus Christ died for my sins and took the punishment I should have received that I might not endure the wrath of God by putting my faith in Jesus. I am not loved or accepted by God for what I’ve done, but for what He has done for me. I am justified by grace through faith alone. Nothing can separate me from the love of God. These are truths we must remind ourselves of, and when we forget them, it’s quite easy to fall prey to bad thinking and ruts of despair. Don’t do that; go to God. He loves you and He is always ready to help you. Be watchful and be humble.
Thank you for your time and I hope this devotional is a help to you as you consider God’s word from James 1:12-15. If you have any further questions in regards to any of these devotionals, please feel free to ask. Thank you!