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The Anatomy of Temptation - Understanding and Overcoming Temptation - An Exposition of James 1:13-18

Posted by James P. McGarvey , 30 April 2016 · 1620 views

(I gave this message on April 24, 2016 at Miramar Evangelical Free Church in Miramar Florida.)


When I was five years old I had my tonsils removed. One reason the surgeon was successful in removing my tonsils was that his medical training included a course in human anatomy. He studied the human body, the various parts that make up the human body, the function of those parts and their location. Therefore, he was successful in removing my tonsils rather than my kidneys.


James is giving us an anatomy lesson in verses 13-18 of chapter one. It is the anatomy of temptation, particularly the process that takes us from temptation to sin. Please know from the outset that temptation itself is not sin. But James gives us the anatomy of temptation so that we can understand what takes place when we allow temptation to lead us into sin.


Note the greater context of this passage. James spoke about trials in the first part of the chapter. We looked at this last when I was here six weeks ago. James says we should expect trails. James tells us that trials are of great value to the believer. If we respond to trials in the right way they lead us to spiritual maturity.


What is the connection between trials and temptation? Remember six weeks ago I suggested that every time we face a trial we come to a fork in the road. We have two choices. We can either seek the Lord or we can turn away from the Lord. Here is the connection. With every trial there comes an opportunity to either prove God's faithfulness or yield to temptation as we go our own way.


What are your circumstances this morning? Are you facing a trial? Then you are probably facing temptation. Perhaps your trial is a temptation, a besetting sin or other area where you are struggling. James identifies the process we go through when we allow temptation to lead us into sin. In other words, when we yield or give in to temptation. It's a four-step process, verses 13-15. I want to look closely at that process with you this morning. Then we will look at three ways to overcome temptation, in verses 16-18. Notice first of all, the four-step process from temptation to sin.


Right up front, James sets the record straight with this disclaimer. "When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone." In other words, James says, "Don't play the blame game with God!" God is not the source of temptation. He may allow the temptation but He is not the source of the temptation. James tells us that temptation begins with our own evil desires. That is step one in the anatomy of temptation verse 14, step one, evil desire (lust), "but each one is tempted when by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed." Temptation begins within us, what is within the human heart. In other words, in step one James identifies the role our evil desires play in this process. The word translated "desire" or "lust" (NASB, KJV) is a morally neutral word. The context determines its use, therefore the New International Version translates it "evil desire."


Now, we all have desires. We cannot live without certain basis desires. I assume most of you, if not all of you, have had something to drink in the last 24 hours. Probably all of you have had something to eat in the last 24 hours. Presumably all of you have slept in the last 24 hours. You get the idea. Our desires serve a purpose. Our thirst leads us to drink. Our hunger leads us to eat. When we feel tired we take a nap or go to bed.


But if these desires master us, instead of serving us, then thirst can lead to drunkenness, hunger to gluttony, being tired to laziness. James says that the process from temptation to sin begins with our own evil desires. Jesus described the human heart this way, "...For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly. These evils come from inside and make a man unclean." (Mark 7:21) This is the universal condition of every human heart. The Bible is clear that we are born with an evil heart. So here's the first principle: Principle number one, temptation is possible because of the evil desires within us.


James is saying, there would be no temptation if our desires did not provide a point of contact for the temptation thus creating the opportunity for a response. In other words, if I don't have a desire for something, I can't be tempted by it!


When I was a young boy living in Japan, one day my mother served us oyster stew for lunch. My first sip of broth was my last. My Mom said, "Sit there till you eat it." I sat at the lunch table for hours that day but never ate another bite. I have never had a desire for oysters since. You cannot tempt me with oysters! If you don't have a desire for something you cannot be tempted by it! Temptation begins with the evil desires within us.


The second step in the process from temptation to sin is deception, verse 14b, "but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed." There is always something in a temptation that will appeal to some desire within us. Verse 14 says he is tempted when "he is carried away and enticed" (NASB) "drawn away and enticed" (KJV) "dragged away and enticed" (NIV) by his own lust or evil desire. ESV "Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire."


James uses two metaphors here, one from the world of hunting and one from the world of fishing. Let's look at the first word, "dragged away," drawn away" or "carried away." It comes from the world of hunting. It's also translated "to lure forth." It's like baiting a trap. A hunter uses bait to entice the animal to the trap.


Those who trap African ring tailed monkeys to put in zoos, say they are one of the difficult animas to catch alive. The Zulu tribes people, however, have little difficulty. Knowing of the monkey's love for the seeds of a certain melon that grows on vines they simply cut a small hole in the side of one of those melons. The ring tailed monkeys come and inserts their paws into the melon through the hole grabbing a handful of the prized seeds. The problem is, when the monkey clenches his fist holding on to the seeds, he cannot remove his hand from the melon and is easily caught alive. You see, the monkey is trapped by his desire for the seeds.


James says that is exactly what is involved in this process from temptation to sin. The temptation appeals to something that we desire, and when we go for it, our desires become a trap. We are trapped by our own evil desire and give in to the temptation.


Then James uses a second metaphor, "but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed." The word "enticed" is literally "to bait a hook." It is from the world of fishing. Our kids learned to fish in Lake Welleby behind our house. Success at fishing depends in part on knowing what bait to use. Sarah learned to start with catching the small minnows along the shore with a net. The tiny minnows were then placed on a very small hook to catch the shiners. Then the shiners were put on a larger hook and they went after the bass. "Temptation comes from the lure of our own evil desires." (NLT)


Notice that bait always does two things. First of all, it always appeals to our desires. Fish don't bite on a bare hook. It's the worm on the hook that attracts the fish. Bait always appeals to something we desire. Secondly, bait always hides the truth. In other words it always deceives. An animal would never approach a trap if it knew the true purpose of the bait. If it knew its life was in jeopardy. The bait hides the consequences of yielding to the temptation. Principle number two, there is deception in every temptation. Therefore our evil desires drag and entice us to go after the bait hidden in the temptation.


In 2 Samuel chapter 11 we read that David was on the roof of his palace from where he saw a beautiful woman taking a bath. He evidently desired what he saw. What he saw appealed to an evil desire within his heart. And being the king he sent for her and committed adultery with her. What he saw with his eyes appealed to the illicit sexual desires within his own heart and he fell into sin. Remember, if you do not desire something you cannot be tempted by it.


In the process that brings us from temptation to sin, the first step is desire. The second is deception. The third is disobedience verse 15, "then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin." Evil desire left unchecked will lead to disobedience. James changes the metaphors to that of the birth process. Everything being equal, nine months after conception, a mother gives birth to a child. This third step, involves the will. It's when we make a decision. We decide to take the bait. We decide to give in to the enticement. We choose to disobey.


Principle number three, when we yield to temptation, we take the bait. Remember temptation appeals to our desires but it hides the truth. In the process of temptation to sin, this is the step when we choose to take the bait, and that decision results in sin. Therefore, this is the pivotal step in the process. This step involves an act of the will. A choice is made. Remember in this process of temptation to sin we always have a choice.


This is the step in that process where we have the opportunity to say no! In this anatomy of temptation, the first step involves the emotions, our desire; the second step involves the intellect, we’re deceived; the third step involves the will, we take the bait, we choose to disobey. This is followed by the final and fourth step, "and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death" verse 15. This is the theme of the Bible from beginning to end, from Genesis to Revelation. Sin results in death. When sin is "finished" (KJV), "accomplished" (NASB), or "full grown" (NIV), it gives birth to death.


James continues the metaphor of the birth process. Once a baby is born, if you feed it, care for it, it will grow up. Inevitably when sin grows up it produces something. It produces death. When you yield to temptation, inevitably something takes place. Principle number four, yielding to temptation always has a consequence.


When you yield to temptation you might not die, but when you yield to temptation there will always be a consequence and often, it will affect others as well as yourself. Sin always gives birth to judgment. Romans 6:23, "for the wages of sin is death."


Back to David and Bathsheba. David sees a beautiful woman taking a bath. First came the desire, an illicit sexual desire for another man's wife, then the deception. David felt the satisfaction he would gain in that act of adultery was more valuable than anything else at that moment. After all, David had the power, he was the king; and the opportunity, her husband was away at war. The risk was minimal, so he thought. David was deceived. So step three, in an act of disobedience, he grabbed the bait. He then faced the consequences. If you read the twelfth chapter, of 2 Samuel, and the chapters that follow, chapters 13, 14 and 15, it's a horrible series of events that takes place. Bathsheba conceives and gives birth to a son, but he dies in infancy. Later, one of David's daughters Tamar is raped by her half brother Amnon. Then two years later, Solomon, the full brother of Tamar, in revenge, kills his half brother Amnon who had raped his sister.


Then you read of the horrible rebellion of Absalom against David, where he tries to take the throne from his own father, and it ends in another tragedy, as Absalom looses his own life. Did David pay a price for his sin? You bet he did! Were others around him affected by his sin. You bet they were.


Is there a consequence for our sin? You bet there is. When you're tempted to open up the internet, and go to that site you have no business being on; when you're tempted to watch that film or television program that appeals to the wrong kind of desires within you; when you're tempted to begin or continue that relationship with someone that you know is not consistent with God's will; when in your business you feel there is something to be gained from a little deception, being a little misleading in what you are saying about a product or service. James is saying, our evil desires will lure us away, drag us away and deceive us. The bait of temptation will always offer us something we desire, but it will also deceive us into overlooking the inevitable consequence of our sin. Giving in to temptation might not kill you but for every temptation you give into you will pay a consequence.


This is the anatomy of temptation, the process that leads from temptation to sin, desire, deception, disobedience and death.


Secondly, James gives us three ways to overcome temptation in verses 15-18. James gives us three ways to resist temptation. First of all, look ahead to God's judgment verse 15, "Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death." We have already looked at this truth. When faced with a temptation, we must get our eyes, off of the "bait" and look ahead to the consequences of taking the bait. This should act as a deterrent to giving in to temptation.


Remember that the very nature of temptation is that it deceives. The bait covers the truth, and the bait hides the consequences. Galatians 6:7-8. Notice the warning against deception that prefaces Paul's words. "Do not be deceived, God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; The one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life."


James gives us three ways to overcome temptation. First look ahead to God's judgment. Secondly, acknowledge God's goodness, verses16 and 17. Again, notice the warning against deception, "Don't be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows."


James emphasizes the true character and purpose of God. He says four things about God. First, God gives good gifts. But, not only does He give good gifts, the way he gives gifts is good. Literally it is, "every giving good." You can give a gift, but diminish the gift by how you give it. When you are invited to a birthday party, what is the unwritten expectation with the invitation? You feel obligated to bring a gift. Perhaps you want to go to the party, but don't really want to spring for the gift. In contrast, James says not only does God give good gifts, but the way he gives them is good.


Thirdly, James says God gives gifts continuously, over and over and over again. And lastly, God never changes. Why is this so important? When we go through trials; when we face difficult challenges; when we face temptation; Satan wants us to doubt the goodness of God! Here's the danger. If we doubt God' goodness we are vulnerable to temptation.


Back to David, chapter twelve. David did not remember the goodness of God when he gave in to the temptation and committed adultery with Bathsheba. After the affair, David had a visit from the prophet Nathan. The prophet told David the story of a poor man who had been mistreated by a rich man. The rich man had many sheep and cattle. The poor man had only one ewe lamb. It grew up with him and his children. The poor man shared his food with the lamb. The ewe lamb drank from his cup and slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him said Nathan.


When a traveler came to visit the rich man, the rich man took the poor man's ewe lamb killed it, cooked it and served it to his guest. When David heard the story he was incensed, because of the injustice, exclaiming that the rich man deserved to die. 2 Samuel 12:7-9, "Then Nathan said to David, 'You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel says: 'I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave you your master's house to you, and your master's wives into your arms. I gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if all this had been to little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? "


David had forgotten the goodness of God! He was deceived by the temptation of his own evil desires and grabbed the bait, with no regard for the goodness of God past, present and or future! There is a sense in which when we face a temptation and give in to our evil desires we are repudiating the goodness of God!


Jesus clearly identified what sin has to offer. Speaking of our enemy, He said, John 10:10, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;" That is what sin has to offer us! Contrast that with what Jesus offers, "I have come that they may have life
and have it have it to the full." New American Standard Bible, "might have it more abundantly", New Living Translation, "my purpose is to give life in all its fullness." That is what Jesus Christ offers, abundant life! Jesus is unmasking the deceitfulness of sin in that passage. What Christ offers is true lasting joy, true living, true fulfillment and true satisfaction. When we yield to the temptation seeking satisfaction by gratifying our evil desires, by seeking fulfillment in sin, we are saying in that moment, Jesus Christ does not satisfy! We are saying there is something better than what He offers. There is a sense in which we are rejecting the goodness of God. Pastor Warren Wiersbe, "God's gifts are always better than Satan's bargains. Satan never gives any gifts, because you end up paying for them dearly."


James gives us three ways to resist temptation. Look ahead to God's Judgment. There will be a consequence for our disobedience. Acknowledge God's goodness and thirdly, depend on God's Resources, verse 18, "He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first-fruits of all he created."


There are three things Jesus does for us. First of all, Jesus understands our weakness, Hebrews 4:15-16. "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Jesus understands! Every time we are tempted He understands. He is familiar with our weakness. He understands the tendency of our heart. We need to remember this when we are facing the temptation of sin. He is there for us, not in our sin, but to deliver us from our sin.


Secondly, Jesus gives us the power and the promises to overcome temptation. Peter put it this way, 2 Peter 1:3-4, "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in his divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desire."


Here is what James is saying. When we face temptation, our sufficiency is not in ourselves but in Jesus Christ. This is the consistent message of the Bible. Galatians 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me."
Galatians 5:16, "So I say, walk in the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of your sinful nature." Philippians 2:12-13, "Continue to work our your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you," New Living Translation, "giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him." That is what James is saying in verse 18, "he chose to give us birth through the word of truth." He is speaking of the new birth experience. This is the fountainhead of overcoming temptation. It illustrates, it conveys the clear teaching, that we face temptation not in our own strength, but as Peter says, we participate in the divine nature.


God's Holy Spirit resides in the heart of every believer, and as we yield to that Spirit, as we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we have a power against sin that the un-believer knows nothing of. What a blessing. Jesus died on the cross and shed his blood - to cover our sin, not just to save us from the penalty of sin but from the power of sin. This is the clear and explicit teaching of the New Testament, that Christ is sufficient for us in the face of temptation!


The promise we are all familiar with. 1 Corinthians 10:13, "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." Jesus is our way out! The reason we can escape is not because we are strong but because He is strong on our behalf, when we put our trust in Him. May I suggest to you, that most of us are living below God's provision for us as we face temptation.


If you are here this morning and are not a believer; that is, you have never been born again, your life transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit, this is what Christ offers you. Call out to Him in repentance and by faith receive His forgiveness. He will transform your life!


Thirdly, Jesus forgives and restores. 1 John 1:9, "If we confess out sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." That is God's promise to you and I. Never let the failures of your past, hang over you, and in and of themselves become a trial or temptation. When we repent of our sin no matter what we have done, yes, even adultery and murder, the blood of Christ is sufficient to cover our sin, and our sin is no longer held against us.


Many believe that Psalm 51 was written by David as he recovered from his sin with Bathsheba. Listen to David's cry. "Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love, according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my inequity and cleanse me from my sin." (verse 2).


Several years ago, a pastor up state fell into sin. For a year and a half he had been in an adulterous relationship with his administrative assistant. When confronted by those in spiritual authority over him he refused to repent. In fact he left his wife and family, and moved in with his lover. Unlike this pastor, David valued his relationship with God more than his sin. When confronted with his sin, he knew the grace of God awaited him and he humbled himself before God and sought His forgiveness. That's one reason I believe God called him a man after His own heart.


But there was another reason. Psalm 51 also records these words, "Create a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast heart within me." Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me." Did David recognize what he had lost through his sin with Bathsheba? You bet he did! Many years before, after being anointed king, but before he became king, David lived as a hunted man in the wilderness running for his life as King Saul and his army pursued him. It is believed that during those years he wrote Psalm 63. Listen to these words birthed in the midst of those life threatening difficult and trying circumstances. They reveal David's heart for his God.


"O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you. On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me" (Psalm 63:1-8)


In his sin David had lost something he valued more than any pleasure or satisfaction sin could offer him, his fellowship with God. He longed for that fellowship to be restored. There was only one road that could lead him to what he had lost, repentance and forgiveness. David evidently knew in some measure what the Apostle Paul wrote about hundreds of years later, 2 Corinthians 7:10, "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret."


Friends, when Jesus forgives, He restores what can only be restored through repentance, knowing His presence, something David had learned was of far greater value than anything sin had to offer. Jesus' word to us this morning, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Literally I will rest you. In other words, Jesus himself is the rest. He continues, "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28,29 NIV)


© James P McGarvey All Rights Reserved

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