Why comes temptation but for man to meet
	And master and make crouch beneath his feet,
	And so be pedestaled in triumph?

--Robert Browning

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created (James 1:12-18).

Life is temptation. It pursues us through childhood, adolescence, adulthood, old age and senility–right up to the gates of heaven. It entices us at work and play. It intrudes into our thoughts and dreams, and even into our prayers. "Temptations to sin are sure to come," Jesus said.

God could have spared us from such enticement, but he has determined not to do so–for good reason: "God permits temptation to sin," said Augustine, "to transform it into greater good."

"Bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness," C. S, Lewis said. "They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse within us until we try to fight it…."

Temptation makes us aware of "the strength of the evil impulse within us," and reveals the fragile stuff of which we’re made. It humbles us. It makes us more reliant on God’s strength, and therefore less likely to yield.

James goes so far as to say we are "blessed" by temptation (the same word found in Jesus’ Beatitudes) for when we have persevered (resisted temptation) we will receive the "crown of life." James uses a word for crown that in his day referred to the olive wreath given to those who competed in the games and ran well. The crown of life is a winner’s crown given to one who has run life’s race, finished strong and is "pedestaled in triumph."

Though God allows temptation he is not the source of it, James assures us. "When tempted, no-one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone" (James 1:13).

It is not in God’s nature to draw us into sin. No, we are the problem. As Pogo, that wise old possum put it, "We have met the enemy and he is us," We are tempted when we are "dragged away and enticed" by our own desires–our longings for something other than God, or something more than God has chosen to give us.

Sin begins with a bare thought. Then we allow our minds to fantasize–focus on the thought and embellish it. We linger over the fantasy; we feel the pleasure it initially bestows. Then we assent to it’s urges and act upon them, after which we taste sin’s lethal fruit–guilt, regret, sorrow, boredom, alienation, a hunger and weariness that has no cure. That’s how temptation "gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to (soul) death."

Later on, James will tell us that there is another dynamic at work: an evil personality behind all temptation (James 4:7). It is our adversary the devil who plays upon our pride and other sinful proclivities, who "baits" us, to use James’ exact word, hooks us and draws us into sin. Jesus described him as a "liar and a murderer" (John 8:44), a devious, homicidal maniac akin to Dr. Hannibal Lecter, the psychiatrist turned psychopathic killer in The Silence of the Lambs. Lecter was called "Hannibal the Cannibal," because he ate his victims. Satan likewise is skulking about, "looking for someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8). He is a predator always on the prowl, hungry for flesh–and we are his prey.

Like most psychopaths, however, Satan is suave and charming. "He hath power to assume a pleasing shape," Hamlet said. He is a gentleman with civil manners and impeccable taste. He was high—born and therefore can insinuate himself into good company. He surrounds himself with beautiful people and makes their behavior–even deviant and dangerous behavior–look good to us. We read about their life—styles and "eat it up," as they say, not knowing that we are the ones who are about to be consumed. Satan is up to no good.

God, on the other hand, is nothing but good, and has nothing but good in mind for us: "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." He is the creator of light–all that is good and true and beautiful–and the one who gives us light. There are no shadows or darkness in him, no double—dealing, no deceit, no duplicity. He is pure truth.

By means of truth God "chose to give us birth…that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created" (James 1:18). This is another way of saying that God’s purposes are wholly good. In contrast to Satan who wants to take life, God longs to give it. The "word of truth" is the means by which life was originally given and the means by which it is sustained and brought to completion. Through truth we become God’s "first—fruits–the cream of the crop, the crème de la crème, the very best that a man or woman can be.

How, then, can we avoid being taken in by Satan’s menace and deceit? By taking heed to God’s word. Here’s how it works.

Satan’s proposals always begin with a feint, a false lead, a lie, some subtle twist to the truth which, if acted upon, would tear us away from God and terminate us. His proposals rarely seem evil–our minds are repelled by obvious evil. More often they come in under the guise of good. Satan adds a tincture of grace and beauty to every lure lest we recognize its lethal toxicity. It’s so easy to be taken in.

We must meet every one of Satan’s lies with truth–meet it when it first enters our minds. Thomas à Kempis said, "Temptations are more easily overcome if they are never allowed to enter. Meet them at the door as soon as they knock, and do not let them in.

The way to fend off Satan is to meet him at the beginning before he gathers strength and overwhelms you. Meet him with a word from God and banish him, as you would dismiss some obnoxious traveling salesman, before he gets his foot in the door. Remind yourself of some word that God has given you that speaks to the particular lie Satan is advancing and submit yourself to that truth.

That was our Lord’s response to the devil’s temptations. Satan’s strategy was to taunt Jesus into disobedience, but with each assault, our Lord seized upon a specific text: "It is written…." In each case he countered Satan’s deceit with a corresponding truth and humbly submitted himself to it.

That’s what James calls "perseverance"–a dogged determination to pursue holiness when the conditions of holiness are not favorable. It is resisting the devil by recalling what God has asked you to do and determining by his grace to do it. It is the way to overcome the evil one. "One little word," says Luther, "will fell him."

I’m reminded of a Far Side cartoon I saw some years ago, depicting a woolly mammoth lying on it’s side dropped by a tiny arrow. Two awe—struck cave men stand side—by—side with bows in their hands, gaping at what they had done. "We’ve got to remember that spot," one says to the other.

Satan has a soft, unprotected underbelly: he is vulnerable to God’s Word. To that end we must give ourselves to knowing his Word, hiding it in our hearts (Psalm 119:11); meditating on it day and night (Psalm 1: 2); allowing it to "dwell in (us) richly" (Colossians 3:16). Satan’s power lies in deceit; our weapon is truth. "Our defense is sure."

According to Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus was trying to get home to his wife and kiddies and was having a hard time doing it. Along the way he encountered the enchanting and dangerous Circe whom, it was said, turned men into pigs.

When Odysseus successfully avoided her attractions, she confided in him that sterner tests lay ahead–the Sirens, those lusty, luscious maidens whose island lay along the straits and whose songs lured travelers away from hearth and home.

Circe advised Odysseus to have his men plug their ears with wax and tie himself to the mast. Odysseus, however, had another, better idea. He did have his men plug their ears and he did tie himself to a mast, but he also had his friend Orpheus, who was also an accomplished musician, sit on the deck and make a melody so sweet it would turn his heart away from the Sirens. In that way he "stood the test." He stayed his narrow course and made it home to his beloved Penelope.

So, when Satan begins to croon one of his alluring, fatal tunes, sing to yourself the lyrics of God’s Word, "sing and make music in your heart to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:19). This is Paul’s "way of escape" (1 Corinthians 10:13). It’s the only way to get through.

David Roper