Temptation: being attracted or enticed to pursue some course of action or thought. Generally we use it in a negative way; being enticed to do something that we should not do. Temptation takes many guises and forms; but one constant is that we all experience it. We even see Jesus tempted in the wilderness after his baptism, and the author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus was tempted in all the ways that we are.
James has something to say about temptation that I believe is worth paying attention to.
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. – James 1:13-15 NIV
James takes it for granted that we will be tempted. And he makes it clear where that temptation is coming from. We should not blame God for our temptations, nor should we follow Flip Wilson’s example and blame the devil. And ultimately it is not the fault of the chocolate, the girl in the skimpy clothing, or the TV commercials that are the source of my temptations. Instead, James tells me that I am the source; or at least my own desires.
I have no desire for tobacco products; whether cigarettes, cigars, a pipe or chewing. There is just no appeal there for me, regardless how they are portrayed in commercials,or how many other people seem to enjoy them. And because I have no desire for that product, there is no temptation to smoke or chew. Alcohol and drugs also have no interest for me, there is no desire for these things, and thus they are not a temptation.
But I do have a desire to look at women who are either scantily clad or wearing revealing attire. It is something I have had since at least junior high, and I suspect that I share with many other men. And that desire makes it tempting to click on frequent links like “Hot Tennis Wives” at the bottom of many sports pages on the web.
Desires are a part of who I am. And temptations come from those desires; and there’s not a lot I seem to be able to do about desires and the temptations they bring; apart from avoiding situations where unwanted desires will be fed and lead to enticement. But I do have some say in how I respond to temptations.
Do I give in to the enticement of temptation, or do I resist it? Sometimes giving in to the temptation is harmless. The little snickers bar that calls my name will generally do me no harm, so long as I keep them to a minimum and am physically active enough. But the “Hot Tennis Wives” can be a problem. Clicking that link will fill my mind and imagination with images that may take a while to displace. And worse, it makes it easier to click on the next link, and the next link, and the next link; ultimately taking me somewhere I have no business being.
And this is the progression that James is talking about: desire gives birth to temptation; temptation succumbed to leads to sin; and ultimately sin can lead to separation from God. Not all desire is going to tempt us to do wrong. Temptation does not automatically lead to sin. And giving in to temptation does not immediately separate me from God. But it is something I need to guard against.
So how do I avoid falling into this trap? I can offer a couple of suggestions that are helpful to me. The first is to avoid places or circumstances where the temptations are the strongest. Playing with fire is not a smart game to play. And the second is to get good at running; away from temptation. It is nearly impossible to not encounter “Hot Babe” links on the internet. But I can run from them, not allowing them time to take root and grow. I don’t have to click on the link; nor do I really need to even consider it; just scroll on by.
When I was still a young man, someone told me, “You can’t stop a bird from flying over your head. But you can stop them from building a nest in your hair”. You can’t always avoid temptation, but you can determine that you are not going to allow it to build a nest.