“But each person is tempted when he is lured (baited) and enticed (reeled in) by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” James 1:14-15
It is true that the Devil is the “accuser of the brothers” (Rev 12:10). But, it is also true that the Devil gets falsely accused as well. It is easy to pin our shortcomings, failures, and sins on Satan. After all, he entices us, manipulates us, deceives us, and tempts us. True. However, one of the more concerning trends within evangelicalism is ascribing more power to the Enemy than he really holds. First, the Devil is not omnipresent (everywhere). He is a created being, an angel, and he is only capable of being in one place at one time. Granted, he has a host of angels that follow him, but the Devil himself is not omnipresent. Moreover, Satan is not omniscient (all knowing). That is, demons do not know our thoughts. Nowhere in Scripture is this power demonstrated by the Enemy. Finally, the Devil isn’t omnipotent (all powerful). The Christian worldview is not dualistic, meaning, Satan and his Legions are not equal in power to Almighty God. In short, the Devil didn’t make you do it. Even if he tempted you, he can’t make you do anything.
We don’t need the Devil in order to sin; We can manage very well on our own! In last Sunday’s sermon text, James says that “each person is tempted when he (or she) is baited and reeled in by… his (or her) own desire.” James uses a fishing metaphor to illustrate how we all have different desires that tempt us like bait. But notice, it isn’t the Devil doing the fishing! Nope, it’s our own desires that bait us and reel us in! As James will later elaborate, these desires are “lusts of the flesh” and idols of the heart that demand worship. In context, every trial (v. 12) presents a temptation to turn to “functional saviors” rather than God. In seasons of stress, pain, and chaos we run to what gives us comfort. We long for something to “take the edge off.” James exhorts his readers to be careful- these things can be bait that will reel you in. And, to state the obvious, the thing about bait… is you don’t typically realize it’s bait (until it’s too late).
James switches metaphors from fishing to conception: “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” There is almost an element of humor here: Desire gets pregnant and has a baby: Sin. Sin grows up and goes wild! When our kids are little, don’t we all say something like, “This kid is going to be the death of me.” Literally, that is what James says about your sin baby. Desire (which is not sin) leads to sin which leads to consequences. Your functional saviors, says James, will ultimately kill you if left unchecked.
So, here’s the moral of the story: The Devil didn’t make you do it. Your desires produce sin which produce consequences. But, here’s the encouragement… Continuing the conception/birth metaphor, James writes, “Of his own will (desire) he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures” (v. 18). This is James’ way of saying that we’ve been born again. The Word gives life and with that comes faith and repentance. So, like James I encourage you: Don’t take the bait. In times of trial, don’t yield to the temptation of your desires, idols, and functional saviors. Only Jesus can satisfy the longing of your aching soul.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Pastor Matthew S. Rickett