Saturday, July 18, 2009

God and Temptation

A little theological reflection on the nature of God as described in James 1:13-15. In essence the passage says we should not succumb to blaming temptation on God because he is not tempted by evil and cannot tempt anyone.

First of all, what is temptation? A working definition might be, “it is the seductive presentation of evil to my will through my mind or senses.” As “seductive” is it a lure, an attraction to me. It is something some part of my will wants to engage in. I may even see some benefit in it, exactly because it is seductive. There are evils that present themselves to me that are not seductive. Serial killing is in no way a lure to me – there is nothing within me that thinks that might be fun or beneficial. So temptation cannot simply be the presentation of evils, but of seductive evils.

As a “presentation of evil” it is something contrary to God’s moral will in my life that I become aware of through any set of means. I cannot be tempted by an evil I do not know about or am not thinking about. But if I see it, am told about it, reflect upon it, or become aware of it in any way, it is a potential evil that is presented to my will.

Is temptation itself a sin? I don’t think so. Dallas Willard states in Renovation of the Heart that, “Choice is where sin dwells.” If I choose to engage, I then sin. And I might add that if I chose to allow myself to be tempted, I sin.

So James says God cannot be tempted by evil. That is because by His very nature there are no seductive evils in the world. God, as omniscient, is aware of all evils - all thoughts and behaviors contrary to his moral will, but he is repulsed by all of them.

Therefore, it is contrary to God’s very nature to tempt anyone. God is repulsed by all evil, and therefore cannot and will not attempt to lure anyone into evil. No action of God’s in my life is a temptation; they are all good. If, however, I sin as a result of what God is doing in my life or in the world, it is because I am drawn away by my own desires (James 1:14-15).

This takes us to a couple of important conclusions about Christian maturity. First of all, growth in the Christian life is not a matter of getting rid of temptations as such, but of the changing of our desires. As our desires change, it will be the case that fewer and fewer evils will be temptations, but to focus on getting rid of the temptations first is putting the cart before the horse, and becoming a bit of a works oriented legalist.

And secondly, how should our desires change? They should become like our Heavenly Father’s desires, for he is good and there is no change in his character. God in Christ is our example of the formation of our desires here on earth.

1 comment:

cv said...

Good points.

"Dallas Willard states in Renovation of the Heart that, 'Choice is where sin dwells'.”

True dat! And the relationship between self-discipline and choice is well worth dissecting.