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By Ted Schroder,
March 11, 2018

"When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone....'"

The oldest excuse for giving in to temptation is that of Adam: "Don't blame me; blame Eve." Eve said, "Don't blame me; blame the serpent." James is saying here: "Don't blame me; blame God, blame Nature, blame how I am made, blame my parents, blame my circumstances, blame my lack of opportunity."

We live in a culture where the prevailing wisdom is that we are justified in our actions if we believe that God or Nature has made us the way we are. "We are born this way...." This is the justification for many who choose alternative lifestyles, differing sexual identities, and genders. It is also the justification for anti-social behavior and refusal to accept the work requirements necessary for education attainments, occupational training, and healthy family life. Some people justify their lifestyles on their conception of their ethnic identity or a stereotype of masculinity or femininity. Instead of seeing ourselves as all made in the image of God with a vocation to wholeness and holiness in Christ, there is the temptation to see ourselves as members of one identity group or another with the freedom to fulfill that group's vision of itself as different from others, yet mainstreamed into society so that we can be accepted.

Any behavioral preference is justified on the grounds of 'just being myself.' My self-fulfillment is predicated on what I want and need without regard to any other authority or tradition. I am, who I am, because that is how I am by nature and choice. I cannot be held accountable or responsible because that is how I am made. I am not responsible for these strong feelings and appetites which I am not able to control. What I am and what I do is determined by my orientation.

It is a characteristic of human nature to evade responsibility for doing what is wrong. We are always looking for excuses for our bad behavior. "Someone else made me do it!" This justification is as old as the ancients. Homer has Zeus complain: "It is incredible how easily human beings blame the gods and believe us to be the sources of all their troubles, when it is their own wickedness and stupidity that brings upon them sorrows more severe than any which Destiny would assign." (Odyssey, 1:32-34) Proverbs 19:3 makes the point well: "A man's own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the Lord."

James states the obvious: "God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone." God may test us to strengthen our faith but he does not tempt us to do evil. God cannot be unjust or unfair in his dealings with us. By definition, God always does what is right, because he is righteous.

James goes on to place the inescapable responsibility for evil on humanity. "Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed." Each one of us has a fallen nature that rebels against God, against good, against doing that which is right. Jesus said, "For from within, out of men's hearts come evil....All these evils come from inside..." (Mark 7:20,23) Jeremiah prophesied: "The heart of man is deceitful and desperately wicked." (Jer.17:9)

That is why human reason, by itself, without the revelation of the Holy Spirit, cannot understand the things of God, and the spiritual realities of the kingdom of Christ. Human reason is infected with this disease of evil desire. It is human reason, darkened by sin, which cannot argue correctly. Our self-diagnosis is faulty. We think we know that is right for us, what we are by nature, how we think God has made us, but our reason deceives us. Our own evil desire drags us and entices us. Being weak creatures, we are seduced by our desires which conceive and give birth to sin. James means by "sin" some act or thought in which we are knowingly disobedient to the perfect will of God for us. It is something to which we give our consent.

He uses the image of conception and child birth. The first act is when desire is allowed to linger and grow in the heart, to be conceived there. In our thought life we fondle it and enjoy its presence and possibilities allowing our imagination to run wild with its pleasures knowing that it is our private and secret fantasy that no one else knows about. The longer we harbor these illicit desires (also called lusts); the longer we foster and encourage them, they grow and give birth to outward actions. They grow so strong that they cause us to go into labor and produce actions that we claim to have no control over.

This is the problem of people addicted to destructive habits. It is the problem of addiction to self-indulgence, gambling, buying lottery tickets, participating in violent video games, to endless watching of seductive sexual television series, to viewing internet pornography. I have a friend, Jay Haug, who runs a ministry for Christian men who are addicted to pornography. (See www.LivingWithoutLust.com )

"Sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death." The longer a person cultivates evil desire and allows it to grow and take over his life, the more likely it is to cause spiritual and social death. Jesus said, the longer evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly are allowed to take root and grow, they will make us unclean and cut us off from God.

Our Western culture has embraced the pagan religion of Nature where the individual can choose to do whatever he or she wants to do and to become whatever they desire without reference to God and the teaching of Jesus in Scripture. Christians are called to witness to the truth even when it is unpopular and misunderstood. St. Paul had to make a stand in Corinth when the purity of the Gospel was challenged. "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God." (1 Cor.6:9-11)
Human reason may argue that whatever we claim to be and to do is legitimate and should be accepted and affirmed by all. But we believe that God wants to wash us, sanctify us and justify us through the Cross of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. That is the Gospel. No matter what we were God can transform us into the image of Christ. We can be delivered from addictions and become whole and holy in Christ. Love offers the hope of deliverance.

Breathe, O breathe thy loving Spirit into every troubled breast;
Let us all in thee inherit, let us find the promised rest.
Take away the love of sinning, Alpha and Omega be;
End of faith as its beginning, set our hearts at liberty.

Finish then thy new creation, pure and spotless let us be;
Let us see thy great salvation perfectly restored in thee:
Changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love and praise.
(Charles Wesley)

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