The issue of temptation is a complex one for Christians. Jesus instructed his followers to pray that they would not be led into temptation and Paul wrote that God always provides a way of escape for believers who are enduring it.
In 1:13-16 of his letter James is instructing Jewish Christians who were suffering for their faith in Jesus and undergoing temptation at the same time. Some of them were making wrong deductions about the troubles they faced. One deduction was that God was tempting them to sin in their difficult circumstances. The obvious point that James makes is that we must think correctly about God in order to avoid such a deduction.
Why did they make this deduction? I suspect that they tried to deduce truths from God’s secret will and ended up contradicting his revealed will. We know that God’s secret will involves everything in life – he is in complete control of everything. James’ readers found themselves in situations of difficulty, which they would have realised was part of God’s secret will for them and an expression of his sovereign control. Surely then God would allow them to sin in order to escape their problems! James replies that God will never ask them to disobey his revealed will in any circumstances. So they now knew that when they were tempted, they were not being tempted by God.
Instead, James says that temptations came from their desires. He likens the consequences of temptation to the experience of every person – each was conceived, then was born, and then grew up. The desire is the conception, the birth is sin, and adulthood is death. So the sequence is desire, sin and death.
Obviously, the conception is hidden – that is true naturally and it is true with regard to a sin. No one can see the origins of it. The individuals themselves know that they want it, but no one else can see their desires. We can hide the motives behind our words or actions. But then comes the moment of sinning, and it becomes public.
What is the death that follows on here in James’ illustration? I think he means that giving in to temptation has effects that are like death. Here are a couple of examples that affect Christians.
Every time they sin on purpose, every time they choose to give in to temptation, they lose communion with God until they repent of it. Giving into temptation also results in them not producing spiritual fruit, so they look lifeless. Those effects are forms of spiritual death in the sense of James’ illustration.
James gave this warning because he loved his fellow believers. He warned them, not because he thought they were weaker than him, but because they and he belonged to the same family. But he also wanted them to realise their personal responsibility in avoiding succumbing to temptation. And he would say the same thing to us. It is the height of folly for a Christian to play with sin in his or her desires.
(thoughts at a service tonight)