“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.”—James 1:13b-14 (NIV)
When I read this (on Saturday, 15JUN2013), I was captured by the contrast between God and us humans found in the contrasting conjunction “but” that connects verse 13 to verse 14. The NIV’s paragraph format has helped the mind reconnect what verse numbers had separated. (Click here to see James 1:13-17.)
It seems to me that James truly was comparing/contrasting God to humanity in how each one responds to temptation. From his explanation of how we are tempted, I saw why God is not tempted and consequently how we can avoid temptation.
First, look at the human situation. We are tempted when we have a desire, when there is something we want. Paul tells us in Romans 8:24 that we will only hope for (or desire) what we do not yet have. If we already have whatever can be hoped for or desired, then we don’t continue to still hope for or desire it. Therefore, our temptation is born out of an emptiness that we feel. We perceive that we lack something, so we become vulnerable to anything or anyone who appears to be able to provide that need. Unfortunately, the enemy of our souls is very good at creating pseudo-providers that tempt us with the promise of meeting our needs (or satisfying our desires).
In contrast, God is never tempted by anything because He never lacks or needs anything. He is The All-Sufficient One. Consider Proverbs 27:7 which says, “He who is full loathes honey, but to the hungry even what is bitter tastes sweet” (NIV). This verse tells us that the person who is satisfied/full/content, will not be tempted by even the most enticing morsel. An examination of advertising will reveal that if a seller cannot “create” (more accurately: find/uncover/expose and even basically exploit) a felt need that can be associated with a product, there will be no sale. Since God has everything and is everything (of any value), He will never feel a need for something outside of Himself (because there is nothing worth having that is outside of Himself).
How, then, does this knowledge of God’s invincibility towards temptation help us humans who are so full of neediness? How does the fact that God is All-Sufficient help us avoid temptation?
The answer is found first in the fact that The All-Sufficient One is able to meet all our needs (and desires). When we let God be our source for satisfaction, the devil will find that he cannot sell us his fake goods because our needs are already being taken care of. In verses 16 and 17 (again, very thankful that the paragraph format has reconnected what verse numbers had separated), James warns us to not be deceived: only God can provide the good and perfect (in other words, the truly beneficial and need-satisfying). In verses 14-15, James has already exposed the gestational process and outcome of buying into the devil’s way to meet a need/desire. So, clearly, we do not want to fall for that scheme. Yet, we still do.
The second aspect of the answer to how we can avoid temptation is found in understanding our needs, or “desires.” Psychology and counseling have been able to shed light on this topic.
When we think of our needs or desires, we typically think of only the most obvious and physical things: money to pay bills, a house, a vehicle, clothes, food. While these things are valid necessities, they are usually complicated by deeper issues. Most Americans have at least something that could be put into each of the above categories: a paycheck or even an unemployment check; an apartment or mobile home of some kind or even a rented room; transportation of some kind—be it a bike or public transport; nobody is running around naked; and food is even being given away to those who can’t afford to buy groceries. So why are we rarely—if ever—content with whatever we have?
We are rarely content with our material possessions because we have deeper needs. At the first level of explanation: we almost always feel the need for more money to pay bills because we have spent and leveraged (via credit cards and loans) what little we did have and have not saved any to pay the utilities and other regular bills, nor have we created new financial resources to repay the creditors. Why, then, did we spend and leverage? The answer to that takes us to the next level of explanation and to a deeper need: we spent and borrowed because we could not wait. And why could we not wait? The next-level answer and need gets us into the various psychological, emotional, and spiritual needs that drive our actions: we need to feel loved, significant, and/or safe, etc.
When we can look beyond the alluring sales pitch of any temptation—be it a literal commercial for a tangible product or a Satan-whispered suggestion to sin, we can discover through Holy-Spirit-guided self-examination what the deepest need is that’s making us vulnerable. And when we embrace the truth that our Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, is our source for all the love, significance, and safety that we could ever need, then I believe we can find the strength—or should I say, the satisfaction/contentment—to say “No” and walk away from even the best sales pitch/temptation.
Thanks for reading!
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Discussion Stimulator: What basic need keeps you vulnerable to temptation?