Do any of you remember the old monster movies?
You know the ones that begin by showing the front of an old nostalgic movie theater, and all of the sudden crowds of people come rushing out onto the streets screaming for their lives. Soon after this scene we usually see the monster come bursting out through the front of the movie theater, usually tearing down the “now showing” sign (which ironically bears the monsters own name). Do you remember these images? I do, and I always like what happened next. The movie pauses with the monster front and center while large diagonal letters come across the screen saying, “It came from within!” This imagery of a monster coming forth devouring all in its path is quite descriptive of what is happening in James 1:13-18. In this passage, James describes the anatomy of temptation, and contrary to popular opinion, James says the origin of temptation comes from within.
“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.” (James 1:13)
Some of you may think this verse is out of place because who in their right mind would accuse God of tempting them with evil? Perhaps you’d say, “God is God, He is holy. He is light and in Him there is no darkness at all as 1 John says. This is elementary Christian doctrine. Certainly I would never accuse God of such a thing.” Wrong, I think you would. I think we all would. I think this because when we’re in a trial (like the audience of James is) we’re not in our right mind, and when we’re not in our right mind all sorts of fantastically wicked/sinful things become possible.
We blame God for His providence, for the times we live in, for the people around us, for our circumstances, for allowing tempting things to remain in our path, some of us even blame God for our own evil condition. Didn’t Adam do these things in the Garden? After sinning himself and eating the fruit do you remember what he said to God? “The woman YOU gave me made me eat it!” As if God had laid such misfortune upon Adam in giving him this woman that he was forced to do what he did. Perhaps some of you husbands have said this about your wives to God. “God I’d be a better man if YOU hadn’t given me such foul woman!” Recall David and Bathsheba. Was it coincidence Bathsheba was bathing the same time David was looking out on his roof over the city? Of course not, it was by the sovereign providence of God that Bathsheba and David were where they were. Was it then God’s fault that David didn’t go out with his army to war but stayed home, and just so happened to go out on the roof late in the day at the very time he knows people would be bathing to get ready for bed? Was it God’s fault that David saw her, desired her, sent for her, and violated her? No, it was David’s fault, he wanted the peep show, and once he got it, he wanted more.
This reveals David’s sinful heart, not God’s! It’s almost as if we treat God as Pharaoh and say the way we are is His fault because after all, He requires a brick but He gave me no straw to make it. Puritan Thomas Manton said the reason we say such things of God is because, “there is in man a wicked folly which moves us to measure God by man’s standards, and because we can be tempted to sin we think God can be tempted also, and because we can tempt others we presume God does the same.”
Clearly some of the dispersed believers James is addressing are struggling with this, saying these things, and rather than seeing their trials as sent to them by God for their own growth in grace (thereby allowing them to “count it all joy”), they are blaming God for their trials, and even going so far as to accuse God of tempting them to sin in the midst of their trials.
This should not be so.
Even more, this cannot be so, God cannot do such a thing because that would be altogether inconsistent with His purity and the holiness of His nature. Notice 1:13 – God Himself tempts no one, and it isn’t even possible for God to be tempted with evil. This leaves us with the question of the origin of temptation – where does temptation come from if it doesn’t come from God? James continues and answers our question by descending into our own depravity in the next few verses.