The Journal of Biblical Accuracy
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Lusts, temptation and sin

As the title shows, this issue is about temptation and how it may affect -if it succeeds at what it aims - our fellowship with God. We are not going to cover everything about temptation, as this would require more than one issue. Instead, we will be concentrated on the well known passage of James 1:14-15, documenting what is said there with four examples from the Word.

1. The tempter

Since we speak about temptation, it would be good to first introduce the one that is mainly involved in it, and who for this reason is called "the tempter". Thus going to Matthew 4:3, we read:

Matthew 4:3
"Now when THE TEMPTER came to him [Jesus], he said, If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread"

What is recorded in the above passage, belongs to the temptations that Jesus suffered in the wilderness. The one that was tempting him was the devil, who for this reason is called "the tempter". This title is also used for him in I Thessalonians 3:5, where it says:

I Thessalonians 3:5
"when I [Paul] 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"

The tempter’s job is to tempt, to try, so that to make the one that is tried to fall. As it is evident from the above, the one that does this is the devil.

2. James 1:14-15

Having introduced the tempter, let’s now move to the central passage of our article i.e. to James 1:14-15. There it says:

James 1:14-15
"But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lusts and enticed. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin when it is fully grown, brings forth death"

Regarding the word "lusts", this is the plural of the Greek noun "epithumia" that occurs 38 times in the New Testament and it is translated (KJV) 32 times as "lust", 3 times as "concupiscence" and 3 times as "desire". Apart from the three times that is translated as "desire", in all the other cases it is used with the meaning of a lust of the flesh, a lust of the old man, a sinful desire, therefore, a desire that is contrary to God and His will. That the lusts of the flesh are not at all pleasant to God, is evident from Romans 8:5-8, where we read:

Romans 8:5-8
"For those who live according to the flesh [old nature] set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the spirit [new nature], the things of the spirit. For to be carnally minded is DEATH, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God"

The carnal mind that is enmity against God of course includes the desires of the old nature as well. It is for such desires that James 1:14-15speaks about. He is not referring to the desires of the new man, for these desires are very pleasant to God and cannot lead to temptation.

Regarding now the phrase "but each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lusts and enticed", this does not mean that a temptation is born only as a result of desires of the old nature nor it also means that every time that someone is tempted, he will necessarily be drawn away and sin. That such a view of the above passage cannot be correct, is evident by the fact that Jesus Christ "WAS IN ALL TEMPTED AS WE ARE, YET WITHOUT SIN" (Hebrews 4:15). Was Jesus tempted because he was drawn away by lusts of the flesh? If he was drawn away, he would have sinned. But he neither was drawn away, nor he sinned, though he was tempted IN ALL. What therefore James 1:14-15 tells us is not so much how a temptation is born, but how it obtains its purpose (sin). Temptation is always (implicitly or explicitly) a work of the tempter, the devil, and it will obtain its purpose (sin), if we are drawn away and enticed by the lusts of the old man, so that to go after them, fulfill them, and sin.

Perhaps a better understanding of the above, may be achieved by some examples from the Bible. In the next, we will examine four such examples, starting from I Timothy 6:9.

2.1 I Timothy 6:9

There it says:

I Timothy 6:9
"But those who DESIRE to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and in many foolish and harmful lusts [epithumies] which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows"

We saw that temptation attains its goal (sin), when one is drawn away and enticed by the lusts of the old nature. As it can be seen, one such lust is also the lust to be rich, that according to the above passage, leads to temptation, to other harmful lusts, and at the end to destruction. We can conclude therefore, that to desire to be rich is NOT the will of God, but will of the FLESH1.

This of course does not mean that God does not want us to lay up treasures. However the treasures He wants us to lay up are not on earth but in HEAVEN. As Jesus Christ said:

Matthew 6:19-21, 24-25
"DO NOT lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; BUT LAY UP for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. FOR WHERE YOUR TREASURE IS, THERE YOUR HEART WILL BE ALSO.....No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. YOU CANNOT SERVE GOD AND MAMMON [it is an Aramaic word that means "riches"]

It is impossible to serve both God and riches. You will either choose to serve riches, in which case you may wonder after sometime, what happened to the Word that once sounded so sweet to your heart (Matthew 13:22), or you will choose to serve God in which case you will have your needs covered abundantly (Philippians 4:19, Matthew 6:25-34) and a great eternal treasure waiting for you in heaven.

2.2. Eve and the serpent

Another example where we see the devil working deception and enticement so that to make the one that is tempted to do things contrary to God’s will, is in Genesis 3. In Genesis 2 God had commanded the man that "of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die" (Genesis 2:16-17). Therefore, Adam and Eve knew that it was not God’s will to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But Genesis 3:1-5 tells us:

Genesis 3:1-5
"Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, "Has God indeed said, "You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?" And the woman said to the serpent, We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, "You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die." Then the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be as gods, knowing good and evil".

Temptation is always a work of the devil, "the tempter", and here we see him working his profession very well. Thus, he first challenges with a question what God had said. Then, seeing the woman’s reaction, he moves to a complete disagreement with the Word of God, promising to her that if they ate, they would become as gods, knowing good and evil. But, obviously, he was deceiving her. As II Corinthians 11:3, tells us:

II Corinthians 11:3
"the serpent DECEIVED Eve by his craftiness"

Also I Timothy 2:14 says:
"the woman BEING DECEIVED, FELL INTO TRANSGRESSION"

Comparing the temptations of the Lord Jesus Christ recorded in Matthew 4:1-11 with the temptation of Eve here, we can see that in both cases the devil first tried to deceive them. Really, when for example he promised to Jesus that "All these things [all the kingdoms of the world and their glory (Matthew 4:8)] I will give you if you will fall down and worship me" (Matthew 4:9) he was obviously trying to deceive him2. Yet he blatantly FAILED. As Matthew 4:10 tells us, regarding this temptation:

Matthew 4:10
"Then Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! For IT IS WRITTEN, "You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve."

Jesus was NOT deceived. Had he been deceived, he would have walked against the will of God (the "written" of the above passage) and he would have sinned. But as the Word says: he "was in all points tempted as we are, YET WITHOUT SIN" (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus was not deceived but he ADHERED to the Word of God. As a result the devil, seeing that his attempts were unsuccessful, left him (Matthew 4:11). On the contrary, Eve, being enticed and deceived by the adversary, NEGLECTED the word of God and...

Genesis 3:6
"when she SAW that the tree was good for food, that it was PLEASANT TO THE EYES, and a tree DESIRABLE to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate"

Being stimulated by the devil, the woman disregarded the Word of God, was drawn away following her senses3, and as a result she (and her husband) sinned and died4.

2.3 David’s numbering

Another example where we see the devil moving someone to act contrary to God’s will, is in I Chronicles 21. There, starting from verse 1 we read:

I Chronicles 21:1-4
"Now Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel. So David said to Joab and to the leaders of the people. "Go, number Israel from Beersheba to Dan, and bring the number of them to me that I may know it." And Joab answered, "May the Lord make His people a hundred times more than they are. But my lord the king, are they not all my lord’s servants? Why does my lord the king DESIRE this thing (II Samuel 24:3) ? WHY SHOULD HE BE A CAUSE OF GUILT IN ISRAEL?"

The regulations regarding numbering are recorded in Exodus 30:11-16. There, in verse 12 it says:

Exodus 30:12
"When you take the census of the children of Israel for their number, then every man shall give a ransom for himself to the Lord, when you number them, THAT THERE MAY BE NO PLAGUE AMONG THEM WHEN YOU NUMBER THEM"

Obviously therefore, if a census was not done according to the regulations of Exodus 30, a plague would strike Israel, which is exactly what happened in our case. Really, II Samuel 24:15 tells us:

II Samuel 24:15
"SO THE LORD SENT A PLAGUE UPON ISRAEL...."

The very fact that a plague came upon Israel because of the numbering, shows that David didn’t follow the relative regulations of Exodus 30. As Eve, he knew the Word of God BUT HE NEGLECTED IT5. We are not told what exactly Satan did to make him to walk contrary to God’s will, but we are indeed told that it was HIM that moved him to do so, making the sin (i.e. a numbering without following the regulations of the law) to look DESIRABLE (II Samuel 24:3) IN his eyes. What was the effect of David’s act on God is recorded in verse 7:

I Chronicles 21:7
"And God WAS DISPLEASED WITH THIS THING;"

God is indeed pleased when we do His will, and He is indeed displeased when we do not do His will. The tempter’s job is to deceive us so that to make us neglect the Word of God, and do things that, being not God’s will, are sins. As David said, confessing his sin:

I Chronicles 21:8
"So David said to the God "I have sinned greatly, because I have done this thing; but now I pray, take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly"

Whenever we sin, we are deceived and "do very foolishly", though we may not understand it that time.

2.4 David and Bathsheba

Finally, the last example that will be examined here is in II Samuel 11-12 and refers again to David. There, starting from verse 1, we read:

II Samuel 11:1
"It happened in the spring of the year, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the people of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. BUT David remained at Jerusalem."

The Word in this verse, apart from the historical information that it gives us, it also contrasts (see this "BUT" there) the fact that though it was "the time when kings go out to battle" David stayed.....home. This was certainly not something usual for such a bold and brave man as David. But let’s carry on.

II Samuel 11:2-3
"Then it happened one evening that David arose from his bed and walked on the roof of the king’s house. And from the roof he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beutiful to behold." So David sent and inquired about the woman. And someone said, "Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?"

David saw a beautiful woman whom he liked and he inquired about her. From the incoming information, he knew that this woman was married with Uriah the Hittite. One would expect that since David knew this, he wouldn’t even think to approach her for he knew very well that according to the law (Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22), this was a sin whose penalty was death. Well.... unfortunately David didn’t think the way one would expect. II Samuel 11:4 tells us:

II Samuel 11:4
"Then [AFTER he knew that Bathsheba was married with Uriah] David sent messengers, and took her; and she came to him, and he lay with her, for she was cleansed from her impurity; and she returned to her house. And the woman conceived; so she sent and told David, and said, I am with child."

In verse 1 David stayed home instead of what was usual for a king: to lead his people to the battle. In verse 2 he got up from his bed to have a walk exactly at the time that Bathsheba was bathing. In verse 3 he inquired about her and he learned that she was married. I don’t know whether something was going wrong with him till here, but I do know that something was certainly wrong with him in verse 4, as he slept with a married woman whom he also made pregnant. From that time onwards, the one sin was succeeding the other. Verse 6-12 tells us:

II Samuel 11:6-12
"Then David sent to Joab, saying, "Send me Uriah the Hittite". And Joab sent Uriah to David. And when Uriah had come to him, David asked how Joab was doing, and how the people were doing, and how the war prospered. And David said to Uriah, Go down to your house, and wash your feet." So Uriah departed from the king's house, and a gift of food from the king followed him. But Uriah slept at the door of the king's house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. So when they told David, saying, "Uriah did not go down to his house", David said unto Uriah, "Did you not come from a journey? Why did you not go down to your house?" And Uriah said to David, "The ark, and Israel, and Judah, are dwelling in tents, and my lord Joab, and the servants of my lord, are encamped in the open fields; Shall I then go to my house, to eat and drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do this thing". Then David said to Uriah, "Wait here today also, and tomorrow I will let you depart. So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day, and the next."

David’s "solution" to the problem that he himself created, was to send Uriah to his home, so that to sleep with his wife and be charged with her pregnancy! But Uriah didn’t "co-operate". He couldn’t afford the ark of God to be out in the field, his co-warriors to fight and he be at home sleeping with his wife. It is not accidental that the Word of God classifies him as one of the thirty seven "mighty men whom David had" (II Samuel 23:8, 39). Uriah was certainly a faithful soldier of David, though David was not faithful to him.

Having failed to deceive Uriah, David went further. Verses 13-15 tells us:

II Samuel 11:13-15
"Now when David called him, he ate and drank before him; and he made him drunk. And at evening he went out to lie on his bed with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house. In the morning it happened, that David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. And he wrote in the letter, saying, Set Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retreat from him, that he may be struck down and die."

It is really difficult to believe that a man who was moved by God (II Peter 1:21) to write a considerable part of His Word, and whose name the Word refers hundreds of times, wrote also such a nasty letter that he sent by the hands of his own victim! However, let’s again recall that what we are reading here are not acts of David as a man of God. David was NO longer walking as a man of God, when he did these things. Instead, he was out of fellowship with Him, at least from the time that he slept with Bathsheba. But let’s carry on:

II Samuel 11:16-17, 26-27
"So it was, while Joab observed the city, that he assigned Uriah to a place where he knew there were valiant men. Then the men of the city came out, and fought with Joab: And some of the people of the servants of David fell; and Uriah the Hittite died also........And when the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she mourned for her husband. And when her mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son."

David finally succeeded in his plan and killed Uriah. He would now expect that he would have no problem as no-one, apart from few people, knew what was done. But the story does not stop here. For though almost no-one knew what had happened, GOD KNEW IT. So let’s see what He did:

II Samuel 11:27, 12:1-12
"BUT THE THING THAT DAVID HAD DONE DISPLEASED THE LORD. Then the Lord sent Nathan to David. And he came to him, and said to him: "There were two men in one city, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had exceedingly many flocks and herds. But the poor man had nothing, except one little ewe lamb which he had bought and nourished; and it grew up together with him and with his children. It ate of his own food and drank from his own cup and lay in his bosom; and it was like a daughter to him. And a traveler came to the rich man, who refused to take from his own flock and from his own herd to prepare one for the wayfaring man who had come to him; but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him." So David’s anger was greatly aroused against the man, and he said to Nathan, "As the Lord lives, the man who has done this shall surely die! And he shall restore fourfold for the lamb, because he did this thing and because he had no pity." Then Nathan said to David, "YOU ARE THE MAN! Thus says the Lord God of Israel: I annointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your keeping, and gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if that had been too little, I also would have given you much more! WHY HAVE YOU DESPISED THE COMMANDMENT OF THE LORD to do evil in his sight? You have killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword; you have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the people of Ammon. Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because YOU HAVE DESPISED ME, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife." Thus says the Lord: "Behold I will raise up adversity against you from your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, before the sun. So David said to Nathan, "I HAVE SIN AGAINST THE LORD."

David, DESPISED THE COMMANDMENT, THE WORD, OF THE LORD, as he also had done with the numbering and as Eve also did with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (and as Christ DIDN’T DO, though he was tempted IN ALL). The result? Sin and evil. However, when he was reproved, he regretted, and confessed his sin. Let’s now see whether the Lord forgave him, and what happened with the death penalty of the law. Verse 13 tells us:

II Samuel 12:13
"And Nathan said to David, "THE LORD HAS PUT AWAY YOUR SIN; YOU SHALL NOT DIE."

The Lord PUT AWAY David’s sin AS SOON AS HE CONFESSED IT. His confession also saved him from the death penalty. The phrase "you shall NOT die", obviously refers to the death penalty of the law. This was not done exceptionally for David. God really never desired the death of a sinner but his repentance. As it says in Ezekiel 33:11:

Ezekiel 33:11
"Say to them: "As I live" says the Lord God "I HAVE NO PLEASUERE IN THE DEATH OF THE WICKED, BUT THAT THE WICKED TURN FROM HIS WAY AND LIVE."

What God desires is LIFE and fellowship with Him. That’s why he immediately forgave David, as He also immediately forgives us, when we confess our sins to him.

3. Conclusion

Concluding therefore:

i) The master of temptation, the tempter, is the devil.

ii) We give in to temptation when we are deceived by the adversary (explicitly or implicitly) to go after things contrary to the will of God, as this is declared in the Bible or by revelation. The result is always sin. Really, Eve neglected what God had said regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The result? Sin. David neglected what the Word of God said about the numbering. The result? Sin. He also neglected what God had said about adultery. The result? Again sin. On the contrary, Jesus Christ RESPECTED THE WORD OF GOD. He never neglected it, but he used it to face the temptations of the devil. The result? "He was in all tempted as we are, YET WITHOUT SINS." In other words, let’s seek and be aware of the will, the word, of God and let’s put it deep into our hearts. Let’s hold it there and not neglect it, and the devil will not manage to draw us away and make the temptation to bring the result it aims at: i.e. sin.

iii) If it now happens to fall and sin, then there is a need for confession of our sin to God, who in turn will immediately forgive it. As I John 1:9, 2:1-2 tells us:

I John 1:9, 2:1-2
"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness....My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And he himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world."

As soon as we confess our sins to God, HE FORGIVES US. We saw it with David. He did much evil. He even killed Uriah one of his most faithful soldiers. However, as soon as he confessed his sin, "the Lord put it away". The giving in to temptation means sin and the sin needs nothing else but forgiveness: confess therefore your sin to God, forgive also yourself and those who probably played some role there, ask the forgiveness of those who you probably hurt, get any lesson that you can get, AND MOVE AHEAD.

The problem of the lusts [epithumies] of the flesh is not solved by looking at the flesh and what was done. In contrast, it is solved by looking at God and using to the full extent all that He has given us in the new birth. As Galatians 5:16-18 tells us:

Galatians 5:16-18
"I say then, WALK BY THE SPIRIT [new nature] AND [as a result] YOU SHALL NOT FULFILL THE LUST [epithumies] OF THE FLESH [old nature]. For the flesh lusts [epithumo (the verb form of epithumia)] against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish."

Old and new nature are contrary to each other and this passage tells us how we will not fulfill the lusts of the old nature that bring to temptation and sin. The way is simple: "WALK BY THE SPIRIT [new nature]" (i.e. put on and direct your heart to the NEW man, and to all that God has given you in the new birth), "AND" [as a result], "YOU SHALL NOT FULFILL THE LUST OF THE FLESH" (therefore the devil will not manage, though he will still try, to draw you away so that to sin and destroy your fellowship with God).

 

Anastasios Kioulachoglou

 

 



Footnotes

1. Regarding the material possessions with which one should be content, I Timothy 6:6-8 tells us: "For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And HAVING FOOD AND CLOTHING, WITH THESE WE SHALL BE CONTENT".

2. i.e. to draw him away from the truth, "the written".

3. That’s why such phrases as: "she saw", "it was pleasant to the eyes", "it was desirable".

4. For this death, see the article "Body, Soul and Spirit".

5. Though he was warned by Joab (I Chronicles 21:4)