“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death” (James 1:13-15).
Love for God and lust for sin is the great Christian dilemma. You sincerely want to honor God, but something nags and tugs at your heart and pulls you toward things you know displease your heavenly Father. The Christian dilemma rages within everyone who loves the Lord Jesus. In fact, it really only occurs within genuine disciples of Christ. One of the surest indications that one is truly born again is this inner conflict with sin. The apostle Paul confessed, “on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin” (Rom. 7:25).
Although Christians have a new nature, sin remains and must be addressed, but we can’t blame God for our temptations. We’re tempted because we have a sinful nature, which is characterized by lust. Lust is desire, especially for that which opposes God. God told Adam and Eve that they were free to each from any tree in the garden. Their desire for those fruits was legitimate, not lustful; but the desire to eat from the one tree that God had denied them was, by definition, lust.
James noted something about lust that we often overlook. It’s ours: “each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.” Lust doesn’t sneak up on us. We’re born with it. It’s part of our package as descendants of Adam. When David confessed, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Psa. 51:5), he wasn’t blaming his mother for his sins of adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah. He acknowledged the sweeping extent of his own lust. He recognized the profound effect of sin: “The wicked are estranged from the womb; these who speak lies go astray from birth” (Psa. 58:3). He flatly denied the notion that everyone is born innocent, until they actually commit sin.
Whenever we’re tempted, one of two things will happen. Either our own lust will carry us away by enticements and produce sin, which brings death, or we will take captive our own thoughts and subject them in obedience to Christ. Paul wrote: “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,” (2 Cor. 10:5).
To combat our lust, we have to recognize it for what it is. God warned Cain, “If you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Gen. 4:7). He described sin, not as a playful pet, but as a wild beast, crouching in pursuit of its prey. So, lust will carry us away as a leopardess catches a small animal and brings it to her cubs to eat. The tempting delights lust offers are a trap.
We also need to understand the weapons of our warfare. Paul presented an extended metaphor of the Christian’s arsenal as a suit of armor (Eph. 6:10-17). The purpose of his description, though, was to point us to Christ. We put on truth, righteousness, the gospel (that is, grace), faith, salvation, the Spirit, and the Word of God. Then, we’re to pray. In other words, Christ Himself is our weapon and armor. We fight through temptation by turning to Christ, by seeking Him and His righteousness, and by setting our minds on Him. We resist the devil by yielding to Christ.
As we grow in grace, we find that, it’s not the direct assault that is so troubling, but the random, wayward thought that quietly creeps into our minds and takes hold. At first, it seems innocuous, even pleasant. Little by little, though, it grows and slowly consumes our soul until it produces actions and attitudes that openly contradict the Word of God.
Either we will allow the seemingly harmless thoughts to crouch at the door of our soul, ready to take us captive or we will consciously and decisively take steps to guard our heart and bring those thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ.
May God grant us the grace to overcome.