James, using the appropriate Greek words, shifts his discussion from temptations in the sense of trials to temptations in the sense of enticements to sin. He warns the reader against blaming God for them. Holding Him responsible is wrong for two reasons (v. 13). First, God Himself cannot be tempted. Second, He tempts no man.
This is the only time that Scripture states the obvious fact that God is immune to evil. There is no chink in His armor, no soft spot in His underbelly, no Achilles heel where evil can penetrate and poison the Almighty’s thoughts.
His absolute righteousness is the first guarantee that He is no man’s tempter, for to solicit evil is in itself evil. But lest we fail to draw out this implication, James states explicitly that God tempts no man. Yes, He allows His children to suffer temptation. They must struggle against the world, the flesh, and the devil. But all these sources of temptation are enemies of God’s righteous order. God permits them to exist because His children grow stronger in divine character as they struggle against corruption. They emerge from life in this world with a practical righteousness that is battle-hardened.
There must have been people in James’s time who reasoned that since God is sovereign, He is the true source of all that happens, both good and evil; further, that the evil He ordains includes the many temptations lining the path of a man’s life. So, in a lame effort to excuse their sin they said, "I am tempted of God."
In our day, we seldom hear this excuse in exactly the same words. We are more accustomed to people saying, "I sin because I just can’t help myself—that’s the way I am—I was born with this problem—it’s part of my nature—etc." Or, "I sin because I am the victim of my circumstances—I had a terrible home life and a rotten education—I was raised in poverty—and besides all this, I am saddled with physical and emotional handicaps." Or even, "The devil made me do it." But all these excuses are equivalent to blaming God.
How can that be? Because God is sovereign. He did not create evil. But as a result of creating moral beings with a capacity for choice, He allowed evil to enter the universe, and He suffers it to continue for a season. Furthermore, He is the direct author of everything good. Therefore, your character, your personality, your environment—all the parameters and dimensions of your life—exist by either His permission or His design. It follows that to throw blame for sin off yourself onto anything else is ultimately to blame God and to say, "I am tempted of God."
Blame-shifting is as old as the world itself. When the Lord questioned Adam and Eve after they had taken of the forbidden fruit, Adam blamed both the woman and God, and the woman blamed the serpent (Gen. 3:12-13).
The true culprit in sin
James provides the final rebuttal of all man’s ingenious attempts to escape responsibility. A man sins for one reason only, because he chooses to sin.
Resorting to figurative language, he compares sin to something born as a result of an unholy alliance between lust and man’s consent. In other words, sin occurs when lust tugs on a man’s heart until he yields and commits sin. Then, as James says, when sin is full-grown and capable of having its own children, it brings forth death (vv. 14–15). Paul agrees: "For the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23).
Notice that James carefully distinguishes between lust and sin. It is not sin to have lust. The word "lust" can translated simply as "desire," and here it clearly connotes a desire for something unlawful, but as James uses the term, lust refers to a desire arising in a man’s heart as an evil suggestion that he can refuse. Lust is a step toward sin, but a step where it is still possible to turn around.
Three kinds of lust
The Bible teaches that we must cope with three kinds of lust—"the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life" (1 John 2:16). There are three kinds because man is a composite being, with a soul and a spirit besides a body. All three parts of man carry the inherited stigma of the Fall. All three are depraved. The body generates wrong desires rooted in biological drives such as gluttony and sexual lust ("lust of the flesh"). The soul generates wrong desires to possess things perceived through the eyes or the other senses ("lust of the eyes"). You obey this kind of lust when you look at what your neighbor has and want it for yourself. And lastly, the spirit generates wrong desires to put self in the place of God ("pride of life"). This kind of lust becomes your master when God says to follow a certain road and you defiantly choose a different road.
It must be understood that every lust is the perversion of a desire for something good. For example, the desire for the nourishment necessary to sustain life is hardly sinful, but in excess the same desire swells to gluttony, a form of lust. Likewise, the desire for sexual fulfillment in marriage is wholesome in itself, but is easily twisted into the desire for immoral sex, another form of lust.
Paul said, "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing" (Rom. 7:18). What Paul means by the flesh is the whole motivation of man in his mortal state, whether arising from body, soul, or spirit. The flesh is the sum total of all of our natural desires. The "no good thing" that dwells in the flesh is the tendency of every natural desire in a fallen world to go to extremes and seek outcomes that would hurt self or others. This lustful tendency of the human heart is one component of the sin nature that we have all inherited from Adam. It is the component that creates the potential for sin.
Yet if I sin, I cannot absolve myself by blaming my flesh, just as I cannot absolve myself by blaming God. The choice to sin resides in one place alone, in my will, a faculty of my conscious mind. The guilty party if I sin is not my flesh, but me, exercising my own power of choice. Any sin I commit is my own fault, period.
The secret to victory
In a fallen world, the will of man is weak in resisting the flesh. This weakness is the component of the sin nature that turns potential into fact. If a man resists the flesh, he is free of sin. As James says, sin is not born unless a man gives in to the lusts that tempt and entice him. Sin is always the result of yielding.
Yet before we are saved, our efforts to resist the flesh have limited success. In one way or another, sin gains the mastery over us. But at the moment of salvation, we become a new creature in Christ (Rom. 6:6; Eph. 4:22-24; 2 Cor. 5:17). Although we do not lose our sin nature, we escape from slavery to sin (Rom. 6:13-14).
Victory over sin may also be divided into potential and fact. The potential rests on the work of Christ, who defeated sin and Satan. It rests also on the indwelling presence of the all-powerful Holy Spirit, who offers us strength to resist temptation. The fact rests again upon man's will. We must decide to fulfill our potential for victory over sin. To make the right choice requires God’s grace, and to implement it requires conscious dependence on the Holy Spirit. If with divine help we set our faces against sinning, we will be able to overcome any temptation to sin. Sin will have no power over us (Rom. 6:13–14).
Jesus set us an example of victory by meeting and refusing every possible temptation. He had all the desires we have, yet He prevailed over every desire to do wrong (Heb. 4:15).
Here are some questions to evaluate whether you are guilty of blame-shifting.