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Tempted by God?


“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.”
(James 1:12-16 ESV)
It was the English poet Alexander Pope who famously wrote in 1711, “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” But I think there would be a better, more accurate, way to say it when it comes to us: “To err is human; to blame someone else is even more human.” Casting blame is a common response to sin. Think of the excuses we come up with: “You didn’t tell me.” “He made me angry.” “I’m too busy.” “It’s his fault.”
We might even blame God. That is precisely what Adam did when he fell into sin. When confronted with his sin by God, Adam replied, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:12, ESV) Notice that Adam not only blames Eve, but he also implicitly blames God for giving him Eve in the first place. So, is Adam right? Is it God’s fault that Adam fell into sin? Was Eve used by God to tempt Adam to sin? Certainly not! James makes it clear in our text that God tempts no one, because He cannot be tempted with evil. No, Adam was responsible for his own sin, and we for ours. As James says, “Each person is tempted . . . by his own desire.”
The Lord may allow trials and testing to come into our lives, as the first few verses of James teach us, but He never tempts us to sin. He does, however, do something about the fact that we often fall into temptation.
Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Jesus “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (ESV) Think of Jesus as He was tempted in the wilderness. For forty days, Satan tempted Him in every way, and yet He never sinned. Why did Jesus allow Himself to be tempted in this way? We certainly should follow Jesus’ example of using Scripture to combat temptation, but that’s not what Jesus’ temptation was all about. Jesus defeated temptation for us. We sin. We fall for all sorts of temptations. But because of Jesus’ perfect, sinless obedience to God even in the face of temptation, we get credit for what He did. And then He took the blame for us. He suffered God’s wrath for all of our sins on the cross so that we might be forgiven and have eternal life.
Therefore, as James says, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” (verse 12) Jesus wore the crown of thorns so that we might wear the crown of life. Rather than tempting us to sin, God is our source of strength when confronted by Satan’s lures, and He is the source of forgiveness when we fall. He is our only source of help and hope, and He is always present for us.
Robert Sauers is pastor of Luther Memorial Church in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, and a member of the CLC Board of Missions.