At first it is a mere thought confronting the mind; then imagination paints it in stronger colours; only after that do we take pleasure in it, and the will makes a false move, and we give our assent. -Thomas a Kempis
Ahh, temptation. The first thing that comes to mind is all the wicked sins that have made up episodes of Law and Order: SVU. There was a time when I loved to watch that show. Feel free to judge me. It definitely was not the best thing to fill my mind. I still watch far too many other shows that aren't much better. I have always been curious about what it is that causes people to do truly horrible things. You know, the things that everyone agrees are horrible, the stuff so bad that even the agnostics and atheists and lukewarm Christians are appalled by.
In walks James, talking about trials and testing and I'm feeling pretty comfortable. Trials. Perseverance. Maturity. Complete. Okay. My suburban trials have been like a slow curve on a back road (thanks for the image Over the Rhine), not LA rush hour traffic, fine as long as I don't fall asleep. But then James smoothly downshifts to temptation. Again, I'm only half listening until someone (a translator) uses the word desire. We can't blame God for that, as much as we'd like to. If we go back and look at Proverbs 19:3 (if you are a little like Martin Luther and struggle accepting James' word on anything) and we are told that it's the foolishness of man (what's in his own heart) that gets him off course and then he wants to turn around and blame God for it. We could go back even further, to the garden, and get the same response from man. It's not my fault. God made me this way.
But back to temptation, it is really about our desires. Agreed? According to Beth Moore, the Greek word for temptation in James 1:12-15 is epithymia which translates desire or craving. But there are two kinds of desires, good, healthy desires and then unhealthy ones. Dr. K.A. Richarson's definition for epithymia in the context of James 1:12 is deformed desire. Even good God-given desires can become deformed. We can see evidence of that all around us. In us, unfortunately. And we want to excuse it saying, but I was born that way.
Yes, I was born a sinner with unholy desires. That doesn't mean that unholy actions are excusable.
Here's the moment where the appropriateness of transparency decision needs to be made. Within moments of my Bible falling open to James my heart fell open and the Holy Spirit reminded me of my own deformed desires, my cravings. I'm not going to embarrass you or myself by laying completely naked in these words. But my suburban desires are much more rampant. I have desires that have slowly crept over the line of healthy to unhealthy, crossed the yellow line on that curved back road. We are bluntly reminded by James, our most honest friend, that we are ourselves are on Addiction Road and it often doesn't look anything like five lanes of LA traffic.
Our fuel might be a deformed desire for sex, drugs, alcohol, food, power, money, approval, love, or that one thought in your head at this moment as your eyes glide over the list to assure yourself you've escaped deformed desire.
If you, like me, have found you have not escaped, keep reading, there is hope for us!
Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
I have been intentionally studying James and using Beth Moore's study Mercy Triumphs to help me facilitate my study. I am posting some of my most significant learning moments from my week of study.