The Devil Made Me Do It?
In his penetrating analysis of sinful temptations, James very clearly and directly identifies the source of our temptations as our own desires (James 1:13-14). When tempted to sin, we must not blame our circumstances, we must not blame other people, we must only blame ourselves. Difficult life circumstances can be the occassions for our temptations, but they are never the cause.
But what about Satan's role in our temptations? After all, Scripture elsewhere is explicit about the fact that the devil has an active interest in "helping us" into our sin and rebellion. This was true for Eve (Gen 3:1-13), Job (Job 1), Peter (Luke 22:31), and Judas (Luke 22:3). The Devil is specifically identified as the "tempter" in relationship to Christians (Matt 4:3; 1 Thess 3:5). The apostle Peter famously calls the Devil a "roaring lion," who prowls around "seeking someone to devour" (1 Pet 5:8). Paul calls us to actively take up the shield of faith, so that we can "extinguish all the flaming darts" that the evil one throws at us (Eph 6:16).
In light of this, why does James not even mention Satan in his analysis of our temptations to sin? Is he denying that spiritual warfare is involved? I don't think so. The point that James makes is that ultimately, we sin because we want to. We sin because we let our own desires carry us away. The reality of spiritual warfare and Satan's involvement in our temptations does not change that basic truth. With everything Scripture says about Satan's power, one thing he cannot do is clear: he cannot cause us to sin. He cannot force us to sin, anymore than our circumstances can force us to sin. Spiritual warfare is real, and it certainly increases the pressures of temptation, but we are not helpless victims who must do his bidding. Even with Satan involved, it is ultimately our desires that lead us into sin. If we truly loved the Lord with all of our heart, mind, and strength, then Satan's tempting would fall on deaf ears.
The apostle Peter illustrates the point. Satan is clearly involved in his fall into sin (Luke 22:31). Yet, we do not find Peter claiming "the Devil made me do it!" Rather, he weeps bitterly and repents. He knows that he was responsible. This is why he can later call all believers to "resist him, firm in your faith" (1 Pet 5:9). It is possible to resist the devil. By God's grace, we will.
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