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.
James begins his letter with a counter-cultural call to count it all joy when we encounter trials of various kinds. This admonition is foreign to the world in which we live. Organizations and worldviews have been built and thrive on the very premise that we should avoid trials at all cost, and in turn, we should never be happy in them, much less joyful. However, joy and happiness are two very different things. Happiness is dependent on one’s circumstances, while joy is dependent on one’s position. Joy, or more importantly, joy in Christ, can be found and proclaimed from the deepest of valleys even when happiness is fleeting and transient. He tells us to do this for one simple reason: it builds steadfastness. It gives us what my Papaw used to call “stick-to-it-iveness.” A better word might be perseverance. Trials teach us to stay in the fight, or better yet, they teach us to trust; to trust Jesus as our stay and our power, the source of our joy.
In verse 12, the passage speaks again of the benefit of remaining steadfast in the trial, whatever it may be. James goes so far as to ensure us all that doing so brings more than professed or felt joy, but it even brings us a crown of life, an eternal reward with Him. Then, the text takes a seemingly odd turn. James immediately begins to unfold something that may at first seem completely unrelated to trials and the determined, Spirit-driven proclamation of joy; Temptation.
What on earth does temptation have with enduring trials and expressing joy in them? Why would he jump from speaking of trials to telling us how to deal with sin? The dictionary defines temptation as a desire to do something, especially something wrong or unwise. In this particular context the desire is on to return to a place of comfort, to a place where we are in control and there is no pain or discomfort. However, in a more general sense, temptation and the development of sin can be carried into all aspects of our walk with the Lord.
The enemy entices us with all sorts of things, with myriads of vices. Most people think temptation comes purely from without, from things “out there” in our world. While the substance of the consummation of our temptations may be external, the origin of the desires comes from the place we least expect, from within our own hearts. In this particular passage, even the devil himself is left out of the discourse of blame. The onus and responsibility of temptation is placed squarely on the shoulders of each individual and our sinful desires to self-indulgence, self-promotion, and self in general.
Another way to think of temptation is using a simple formula: Temptation = Desire + Opportunity. Being tempted isn’t a sin. Jesus Himself was tempted, yet, without sin. You and I have the same power He called upon through the Holy Spirit to subdue the desires of our broken flesh and resist the pull of temptation. Sin is far less a moment in time, one simple act, as it is a series of developments. A series of taking opportunity to give in to selfish desire. The act of sin is but an intermediate stage preceding the death of its consequence.
Given the role of opportunity as it gives expression to our selfish desires, it is important to minimize the opportunity for the enemy to capitalize on our present sinful desires. That is why we don't go to certain places or engage in opportunistic activities we already know will feed our flesh instead of stirring our affections for Jesus.
Next we will discuss the act of sin itself as well as how and why we go from Desire + Opportunity to actual sinful action.