“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any many man.” James 1:13
In verse 12 the Church of God is admonished to endure temptation. And the man who endureth temptation is blessed because, when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him. Failure to endure temptation implies, we understand, that we succumb to these forces of evil. Is there anyone, then, who might attempt to justify his surrender to the powers of sin by means of an appeal to God, that he was tempted of the Lord, and that therefore the Lord is actually responsible for his succumbing to temptation? Let that man know that God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man.
The first matter of note in this text is the declaration, that God does not tempt any man. It will not be necessary to dwell at length on the meaning of temptation. Attention has been directed to this concept in our treatment of the preceding verses. It is evident, however, from verse 14 that the words of this text, verse 13, “when he is tempted”, do not merely refer to the fact that the Christian is continually attacked and molested by the forces of sin, either from within or without. To be sure, the child of God is at all times “tempted”, urged by the forces of evil to forsake the way of God’s covenant and walk in the paths of evil. Besides, this is undoubtedly the teaching of Holy Writ in verses 2-4 of this chapter. But it is evident from verse 14 that this is not the meaning of verse 13. According to the succeeding verse, “every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.” Hence, to be tempted, according to verse 13, signifies that sin actually takes hold of my conscious life, that I experience within myself the desire to walk in iniquity. We are tempted, therefore, not merely in the sense that the forces of evil would lead us away, but also because we experience within ourselves the inclination to pursue the path of evil.
In connection with this “being tempted” we read that we are not tempted of God, and that He does not tempt any man. The problem which confronts us in this text is self-evident. On the one hand, how must we harmonize this expression with the sixth petition of our Lord’s Prayer, which reads: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”? This petition evidently implies that we never merely fall into the midst of temptation. Verse 2 exhorts us to count it all joy when this occurs. The petition of the Lord’s Prayer clearly teaches us that God somehow controls also our walk of life and that it is He Who therefore casts us into temptations. And, on the other hand, we must continue to maintain the sovereignty of God over all things. The Scriptures abound in expressions which emphasize this teaching. The sins of Joseph’s brethren, the cursing of David by Shimei, and the numbering of the people by Joab upon the command of David, although sinful acts as far as these various persons are concerned, are nevertheless also attributed to the living God. The Lord alone is always in supreme command. And this does not merely signify that He controls our actions, that, somehow, the Lord controls and guides all things. But this sovereignty of Jehovah definitely implies not only that He has determined the destiny of every moral creature and indirectly attains unto his goal, but also that He and He alone realizes every man’s appointed end. Yet we read in this text: Let no man say when he is tempted that he is tempted of God, for God tempted no man. To be tempted, therefore, is not of Him. What, then, can be the meaning of James?
In the first place I would call attention to the fact that James expresses here a subjective fact. Every man experiences in his own life the truth of this text. When the child of God finds himself in the midst of temptations, being seduced on every side and urged to forsake the only true God, and he experiences within himself the urge to do evil, he discovers in his own subjective life and consciousness two things. On the one hand he is conscious of the desire to do the wrong. It is not his experience that he is compelled to do that wrong but he is aware of a desire to walk in that particular evil. And, on the other hand, this desire is accompanied by the conviction that this evil is contrary to the will of God. This conviction is present not only in the sphere of the church, where we experience in our consciousness the holiness of God, but also among’ all men. God does not leave Himself without witness. Man is convicted of the fact that he is in rebellion against the holy will of God. Besides this, Scripture everywhere abounds in the admonition, not that we seek sin, but to flee sin and seek the ways of the Lord.
In the second place, we must bear in mind the viewpoint of this text. To be tempted means, as we have noted, that we are aware of the desire unto evil. That this is not the will of God and that therefore He does not tempt man cannot mean, we understand, that in this respect, as far as our inner life is concerned, He does not sovereignly control the actions of men. God is always in absolute command. The question here is not that of divine sovereignty. It is purely ethical, spiritual. Temptation presupposes the urge, the desire unto sin. God never tempts, never works sin as desiring it, never urges unto iniquity because He delights in evil. Sin, although it always occurs according to the sovereign counsel of the Lord, always remains the object of man’s own sinful desire and choice, whereas Jehovah continuously hates evil and is spiritually far from it. Sovereignly the Lord always operates through the will of man, sovereignly because He worketh all things according to the counsel of His will, but always so that it is man who loves the evil and commits it as the object of his own morally free desire and choice.
This divine relation to temptation, expressed in the words, “neither tempteth He any man,” the holy writer bases upon the fact that “God cannot be tempted.” Let us again read the text: “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man.” The relation between the various parts of the text is clear. God cannot be tempted with evil. Therefore tempteth He no man. Hence, let no man say when he is tempted that He is tempted of God.
The words “‘cannot be tempted” constitute in the original one word, which, taken by itself, can be interpreted in a two-fold way: “untemptable” and “untempted”. If we understand the word in a passive sense it means: what is not tempted or proved. This, then, could signify, that God has never been tempted. Never did this opportunity occur or present itself. Understanding this word in an active sense, we would give this word an active meaning, as if James means to say that God does not tempt a man. This would involve us in a mere repetition of the last part of the text. The word must be construed passively. Not in the sense, however, that God never has been tempted, but in the sense that the Lord is untemptable. He cannot be tempted with evil.
Man is temptable. He is not only surrounded by sin. But he himself is also subject to sin. It is true that the child of God has been called out of darkness into God’s marvelous light. But he has but a principle of the new obedience. The powers of evil have therefore a point of contact in our evil nature. The possibility of being tempted is consequently ever present with us. Jesus, too, was tempted. His temptation by the devil was not, of course, a “sham” temptation. He was actually tempted. This, of course, must not be understood as if it were actually possible for the Savior to sin. It is not true that He could have fallen. Nevertheless, although He was perfectly holy and could not fall, He was, sin-excepted, indeed like unto us. He possessed our human nature as under the curse of sin, weakened because of sin. And in that fearful wilderness His human nature cried for bread. Jesus was not a stoic. Herein lies the reality of His temptation by Satan, although we must bear in mind that Christ, from the beginning unto the end, subjected His human nature perfectly to the will of God, and that, therefore, although hungry, He refused to eat because to do so would have been contrary to the will of His God.
God, however, cannot be tempted with evil. He is untemptable. The possibility of temptation simply does not exist with respect to the Lord. Evil has no point of contact in Him. He is, above the possibility of temptation.
For God is light. There is no darkness in Him. God is the sum-total of all good, of all infinite perfections. He is the absolute and infinite goodness, also consciously, so that the Lord is eternally and perfectly devoted unto Himself. God is light. The Lord does not merely possess light. We receive light from God. God has the origin, the uncaused origin, of His infinite perfection within Himself. Hence, Jehovah is the absolute light. He is the only good and can therefore never be devoted unto ought but Himself. Every vibration of the infinite divine being throbs eternally with light, is in Himself an overflowing fount of eternal perfections. Consequently, Jehovah is untemptable. Even as in the natural sense filth cannot affect a fountain of water, so God is exalted above every possibility of temptation. He hates all evil, delights eternally in Himself, lives in an inaccessible light.
Hence, God tempts no man. He is surely the sovereign cause of all darkness and evil, the sovereign predestinator of all things. He also alone realizes His eternal counsel. However, in that sovereign counsel, and also in the realization of that counsel, He never delights in evil; and whereas temptation is seducement unto sin as delighting therein, God never tempts. Eternally He seeks Himself, has willed sin, but always so that it is the act of sinful men and the object of His own eternal hatred, and that it must serve the eternal glory of His Name.
Finally, let no man therefore say when he is tempted that he is tempted of God. How eager we are to say this! How ready are we to lift the blame off our shoulders and lay it upon the Lord! How ready we are because we love and prefer the ways of evil to the ways of the Lord. Let us remember, however, that God cannot be tempted and that He does not delight in iniquity. This receives further emphasis in the verses that follow. We may conclude now by saying that the living God is a light, is too pure of eyes to behold iniquity, hates all evil. The lust to sin is foreign to the infinitely perfect God. To the contrary, we are tempted when we are drawn of our own lust, and enticed. Lust bringeth forth sin. And because God is holy, sin bringeth forth death.