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Friday, December 24, 2010

External Forces?

I've been thinking lately about James 1 and how it talks about sin being the product of a larger process. I've included the passage below for reference.

13 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.
14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

What stands out to me in this passage is something I'm not convinced we think of correctly. Namely, I'm speaking of temptation. I would say there are two popular misuses of temptation that seem to underlie a false understanding of the word.

1. Temptation is Sin

With the first misuse, I would say there are two ways this can manifest. The first way would be people who believe that temptation itself is sin, and the second would be when people use the words tempted and sinned interchangeably and theres no discernible separation. Both of these would be in contrast to the line of reasoning laid out in the passage, as well as Hebrews 4:15 where it says that Christ was tempted in every way, yet was without sin. Sometimes it may seem like we sin immediately when tempted, but we can't be fooled into thinking that means there's no separation. We can't import our experience of our own sinfulness into the doctrine we study.

2. Temptation is External

The second portion is probably a bit more subtle. We know from the passage that god does not tempt us, although as we see earlier in James 1, he does ordain the trials to test us.

The first question in my mind is always "how does that work?". If God doesn't test us, but ordains the trials isn't that basically the same thing? As I've been thinking about it, I think the answer might be in verse 14. God ordains situations in our lives that may tempt us, but the temptation comes from our own desires, not the situation itself.

At first, when I thought of this, it was a bit disparaging. One more part of the process that reveals my sinful desires. Then I started realizing what the opposite side of the coin would be. What if temptation were actually external? For starters, the best thing a trial could do for me is just give me practice fighting sin. If temptation were caused completely by external events, there would be no advantage to discerning the heart, renewing my mind, or turning my desires from sinful to Godly things. The entirety of sanctification would become a trench warfare against a limitless enemy. The only goal would be to fight well enough to not get overrun, but the temptation would always be present, and would continue as long as I did.

However, if temptation is a result of my own desires, then as I fight to change those desires to ones that glorify God, the temptations lessen. Not to say they cease or don't flare up, but as the internal desire is changed, the catalyst situations become less tempting as there's not nearly as much desire to tug at.

I guess what I'm saying is maybe if we stopped looking at the external forces so much and started looking at what they're pulling at, we'd realize it's our desires that need changing, not our situation.

Jeremy Peggins, Building Bookcases Writer

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