Question:

Although I've read it several times before, I was discussing James 1:13-15 with my mother. In many of your explanations of this verse, you explain that Satan uses our own desires against us to break God's laws. I explained to my mother that our desires lead us into temptations and that Satan tempts us with our desires. When it says "But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire." in verse 14, my mom emphasized that it isn't necessarily always Satan that tempts us but by our very own desires, we are not hesitant to satisfy our desire with sin.

This is understandable but should we not put too much emphasis on the flesh? On reading verse 13, "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." When put in the proper context, James is talking about temptations and by whom they do Not come from so therefore the shift turns to Satan. Then continuing on to verse 14, does not James allude to the devil although not explicitly?

An example would be with the temptations of Jesus in Luke 4:1-12. Satan tried to appeal to Jesus' desire of food when he told him to turn the stones into bread. So we can see that although Jesus was hungry, the temptation did not result from the flesh alone but from Satan also. What I'm trying to figure out is this: Can we be tempted by our desires alone or, is it that when a desire within us arises, the devil is always there tempting us? I think Romans 7:14-24 demonstrates that not only does Satan tempt us, but our fleshly bodies are basically "prone" to sin because of our desires. A question raised in my mind which was "Why are we trapped in bodies prone to sin?" However, Paul says "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!..."

We aren't perfect. Christ saved us from our sins and although we may at times sin, if we confess he cleanses and forgives us (I John 1:9). Understanding that we fall at times even when we have the ability to say no to sin, without God we can't save ourselves because humans are just imperfect. Again however, we are to walk in newness of life and the only way to do that is to be imitators of Christ. Denying worldly lust (Titus 2:12) but even yet, with all our efforts, since we will never be "sin free", Christ is the one who saved us. Thanks be to the Lord! I may of gotten a bit off topic with this paragraph but its something re-acknowledged by writing this email.

I have an aunt and her husband who, in my point of view, put too much emphasis on the flesh of our bodies. I haven't truly discussed it with them, but I think they don't believe in Satan. My aunt in the past believed in him, but they've most likely been taught this "teaching" in the church they go to. I don't want to say too much about their beliefs until I truly know, but I think it's true.


Answer:

A part of the problem is that the New International Version changes the word "flesh" to "sinful nature" in many places which reflects the type of confusion your aunt has. It is an old idea that the physical world and our bodies in particular are the source of sin.

See: Do Men Have a Sinful Nature?

If we are born in bodies that are prone to sin without any outside influence, then we run into problem because it is God who makes us. "For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother's womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well" (Psalms 139:13-14). Such a line of reasoning would lead to a conflict with James' statement that God does not tempt men with sin. "Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone" (James 1:13).

That Satan is behind temptation is seen in:

  • "... so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control" (I Corinthians 7:5).
  • "For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor might be in vain" (I Thessalonians 3:5).

James 1:14 tells us the means of temptation is through are desires, but it does not define who does the tempting. It is true that sinners will tempt Christians with sin, but ultimately the one behind it all is Satan. "And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others" (Ephesians 2:1-3). Even when Satan uses others as tools to promote temptation, ultimately you can say he is behind all temptations