"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" (Jas. 1:13-15)
In these verses, James quickly corrects anyone who would say that God, let alone the Devil, made you do something wrong. God is not in the business of trying to get us to fail. The responsibility lies with us.
James 1:13 is a very important verse in the Bible. It tells us that God is not in the business of tempting people. God doesn’t try to get us to fail, and he doesn’t get a certain fiendish delight when we do. God wants us to succeed when we face trials and are tempted to find the wrong way out. There are certainly stories in the Old Testament that sound like God was tempting someone (e.g., Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22). But the New Testament gives us the fullest understanding of how it works. Satan may tempt us (e.g., 1 Chron. 21:1). But while God allows us to be tempted, he does not tempt us himself.
James 1:14-15 also makes an important distinction between temptation and sin. It is not sin to be tempted to do wrong. It is sinful to act on that temptation, to make a choice for that temptation. Of course, one can make a choice of this sort with our minds, not only with our bodies. But this is not a matter of a passing thought. We can’t keep thoughts from running through our heads, and it would be foolish to try too hard to stop them. Then we only end up having more and more thoughts about them. The key is not to let them give birth to choices and intentions. That is when sin is conceived, and we are on our way toward death.
It is human nature to make excuses. Psychologists call it rationalization. We are uncomfortable with the consequences of our actions, so we try to explain them away. These verses reek of the kinds of excuses a person might make. The Devil made me do it. Still worse, someone might suggest that God was testing them, so it’s his fault. But James lays the blame squarely on us. It was your evil desire that led to this sin, he says. You let it seduce you rather than running away. Not only that, but you let it give birth to sin. I am to blame, he says, not someone else, not my circumstances, upbringing, or environment. The blame stops here.
Father, help us to take responsibility for the wrongs we do. Only when we accept our guilt can we get forgiveness.
“No evil dooms us hopelessly except the evil we love, and desire to continue in, and make no effort to escape from.” George Eliot