Sin Doesn’t Come From Temptation

I grew up thinking temptation was where sin came from. On any given day, I would be going about my business and then temptation would spring to life: a pretty girl would walk by, a friend would launch into a dirty joke, a copy of next week’s test would fall into my hands. It was my duty, then and there, to fight temptation by saying no to it or fleeing from it altogether. Temptation was the enemy. Defeat meant sin.

But the problem is not temptation. The real problem is in the heart where our desires lie. 

Temptation cannot exist where desire does not first exist. You cannot be tempted to do something you do not first want.

The Bible teaches that desire brings about temptation. “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is fully grown, brings forth death” (1:14–15). When does temptation occur? After the desires have enticed us. Temptations do not produce desires, but desires produce temptations.

Temptation cannot exist where desires do not exist. I cannot tempt you to eat concrete, if there is not already something desirous of consuming concrete within you. Since you know that eating concrete would be not only unpleasant but harmful to your body, the temptation would never succeed. In fact, calling it a temptation at all is a misnomer. You cannot call something a temptation that is not tempting in the slightest. For temptation to exist, desire must first exist.

All temptation can do is point out the opportunity to fulfill existing desires. Think about the familiar taunt offered by tempters, “You know you want it.” Temptation holds up the object of our desire and seeks to make it even more desirable.

Only when we focus on our internal desires instead of our external temptations will we be addressing sin at a deeper level. Only when we look at what we want, not just what we do, will we be getting nearer to where the battle for sin is truly taking place. 

And how does change take place at this deeper level? How are the desires of our heart transformed? As we have seen throughout this study, the only way the heart can be changed is by the Gospel. Enjoy Jesus, and he will change your heart. 

Only God can bring this change. So may we follow James’ words from later in his letter, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (4:8). 


But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. 

~ James 1:14-15 NKJV

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 

~ ‭James 4:8 NKJV

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