“No one undergoing a trial should say, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ since God is not tempted by evil, and he himself doesn’t tempt anyone. But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desire.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever gotten caught doing something wrong? I remember disobeying my parents and throwing dirt clods from our garden at the side wall of our shed when I was growing up. I had invited my cousin to do it with me. The reason I had been told not to do this was because there was a window in the wall and they didn’t want me to break it with an errantly thrown clod. But the dirt clods splattered so satisfyingly against the wall. So I threw them anyway…and you can guess what happened next. I broke the window. Because, of course I did. When my dad asked me about it later, do you know what I told him? You can probably guess that too: My cousin did it!
When God caught up with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening in the Garden of Eden after they had disobediently eaten the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, He started with the man and asked him what happened. Fingers started flying immediately. “It’s the woman’s fault! And really, it’s Your fault for giving her to me in the first place!” The woman similarly pointed her finger at the snake. What was this?
It was the now natural reaction to being caught. It was the shame of sin working itself out by blaming other people for its own faults. Sin naturally brings with it shame and shame is no fun to feel. Shame is the painful embarrassment of having done something we should not do. It doesn’t matter whether the wrongdoing was willful or accidental and revealed to us later. Wrongdoing, or sin, brings shame every single time.
When we feel shame, our first instinct is to hide. Notice that in my story I did not immediately go and confess my disobedience and its attendant results. I ran inside and did something else as if nothing had happened. The second reaction to shame, once our cover has been taken away, is to blame. We look for someone, anyone, or even anything else to point at as the reason for our actions. We were forced into it. We didn’t have any choice. We were the victims, not the perpetrators of the crime. Not a few defense attorneys have used this line of reasoning in hopes of exonerating their clients. Sometimes it works. But we’ll do anything to avoid having to take responsibility and paying the just price for our sinful actions.
Well, yesterday we talked about the fact that sometimes life is hard. Our God allows us to go through trials of varying sorts and it isn’t any fun. Now, if we handle them well and keep our faith and obedience intact, we will be duly rewarded for this. But we don’t always do that, do we?
No, sometimes, rather than rising to the challenge of a trial and shining through it, we deflate like a balloon and sink to the bottom of ourselves. We respond by leaning into our worst impulses. We drift back into some sinful habit we think will be a salve to our frustration or our wounded pride or our exhaustion or whatever other hard emotions we are feeling. In other words, we respond to the trial by falling into sin.
Whose fault is this?
Now, if you already see where I’m going, slow down and really think through this with me because it’s worth the exercise. Sin brings shame which we want to avoid and so we have a tendency to try and blame God for our sin just like Adam did. I may have done this thing You told me not to do, but it’s really Your fault for leaving me in a place where that was even a possible outcome. And if God is to blame for our sin, then we’re not really guilty of anything. He’s the one at fault. He needs to make it up to us somehow. He should have never allowed us to go through that trial.
James here was writing to a group of believers who were in a pretty rough place. They lived in the cities and towns around Jerusalem and their lot was a difficult one. They were facing persecution from the Jewish authorities. They were suffering the effects of a severe famine. They had perhaps been disowned by unconverted family members. They were sick with diseases. It was hard. And the temptation in these kinds of situations is to fall into one sinful pattern or another because that’s familiar to us and it lets us forget about the stress of the situation. This was not something unique to them, but common to all people ever since Adam and Eve ate the fruit.
But just because we sin in the midst of a trial doesn’t mean we will somehow get to skip out on the shame that always comes with sin. And shame isn’t fun to feel. So we try and pass it off. It’s not my fault. The situation I’m in made me do this. Who put me in this situation? God did. Aha! It’s really God’s fault that I sinned. He tempted me into this sin.
Not so fast, says James.
God doesn’t have anything to do with sin. He isn’t tempted by sin Himself and He doesn’t tempt anyone else into sin. He may allow you to go through a trial, but when that trial becomes a temptation, that’s not on Him, that’s on you. It’s on me. If we sin, it’s because we sin. There is nothing or no one who can force us into sin. We never have to violate God’s character and commands. There may be a cost that comes with such a refusal depending on the situation we are in, but sin is never a foregone conclusion. It is always a choice we make.
So, what do we do with this? We own the choice. Own it. When you sin, when I sin, we are always choosing to sin. It isn’t the fault of our situation or someone else or anything other than our own choosing. It may be a well-ingrained choice that is deeply rooted in a habit that needs to be broken, but we always choose to do it. Or at least, we made the choices that put us in a place where we do it. It may be that we are powerless to choose otherwise, dominated as we are by some habit (and indeed, sin is slavery), but we made the choices that put us in such a situation in the first place.
And once we own it, then we can begin to do something about it. Once we own it, we can repent of it honestly and receive the grace Jesus won for us on the cross.
If you are in a place of sin, own it. Then, repent of it and start walking the path that leads to life once again. You’ll be glad you did.