Steps in Temptation


Read: James 1:12-14

In part 1, we learned that everyone without exception faces temptation. We also learned that if a person utilizes God’s grace, there is no reason for yielding to temptation.

After listing ten truths everyone needs to know about temptation, we learned that the word translated “tempt” is also translated “test.” The Greek word family behind the English translations indicates that the term is neutral; there is nothing inherently evil implied by the Greek word family.

We followed this word study with the question, “Where does temptation come from?” We learned that temptation begins in the mind. We also learned that we must learn how to recognize temptation and then capture any thoughts that are not in harmony with God’s Word and bring them into captivity to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).

In this message we will learn there are six steps in the temptation process. The first three are found in James 1:14: “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.” The last three are found in James 1:15, “Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.”

Step 1: Attention

A person cannot be tempted unless whatever is the source of temptation gains his attention. One has to be consciously aware of the source of temptation before temptation is possible.

Once the source of temptation has caught the person’s attention, step two occurs.

Step 2: Attraction

A person can be consciously aware of many things around him but not be particularly attracted to any of them.

However, the Devil knows our moods and our weaknesses and will seek to focus our attention upon something he knows will attract us. This is the meaning of the phrase, “drawn away.” You cannot be tempted to do wrong if there is no attraction, no appeal, no desire toward that which has caught your attention.

The phrase, “his own desires,” does not necessarily refer to evil desires. The word “desire” (epithumia) is a neutral term. Jesus felt this kind of desire when he wanted to partake of the Passover meal with his disciples (Luke 22:15). Paul felt this kind of desire when he wanted to depart this life and go to be with Christ (Philippians 1:23).

There is nothing inherently evil about feeling a desire. The word “desire” (epithumia) simply refers to any strong desire, whether the normal desires of life given to us by God, or to evil desires that have found root in our hearts.

The point James is making is that a person cannot be tempted to do wrong unless something about the temptation attracts him. It is when we feel an attraction for something that is outside the will of God for our life that we need to be on guard. It is as though a “tug-of-war” is going on inside your mind.

Satan will attempt to increase your attraction for the forbidden “fruit” until it acts like a powerful magnet pulling on you.

Then, once your attention is caught and you feel an attraction toward the object of temptation, step three occurs.

Step 3: Allurement

James 1:14 says that a person is tempted “when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.” Satan will see to it that along with the power of desire will be enticement. The word “enticed (deleazo)” involves the idea of “baiting,” just as one places bait on a hook in the attempt to entice a fish to bite the hook. Temptation entices us by using our own appetites and imagination.

And as a wise fisherman knows to hide the hook within the bait, Satan hides his hook. He does not want us to focus on the fact that yielding to sinful desire will eventually bring sorrow, punishment, and death. He tries to conceal from us his avowed purpose for our life:

  • to steal,
  • kill, and
  • destroy (John 10:10).

The Apostle John tells us that there are three primary means that Satan uses to attract our attention and then allure us to sin. He uses the desires of our physical body in general, he uses our eyes specifically, and he appeals to our ego. Satan tempts us to become proud of our accomplishments, whether they be educational, physical, social, or material.

1 John 2:16 call these three avenues of temptation “the desires of the body, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life.” The context of 1 John 2:16 reveals that John is speaking of temptations to fulfill and gratify in an unbiblical manner the desires we face through these three avenues.

John labels the temptation to fulfill in an unbiblical manner the legitimate desires a Christian encounters through his body, or the desires created through sight, or the temptation to pride and self-sufficiency, (the temptation to think more highly of himself than he ought to think—Romans 12), as the forbidden realm of the “world.”

John commands, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.” He then explains the danger of loving the “world.” “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). By the negative use of the term, “world,” John is not speaking of either planet earth, the people on planet earth, or material things in general.

Rather he is speaking of the unbiblical values, methods, desires, goals, and activities of the fallen world order. He is speaking of the world-system of evil.

To love the “world” in the manner that John forbids, means you are seduced by, give yourself to, and find pleasure in fulfilling in an unbiblical manner both legitimate desires as well as illegitimate desires.

When a person chooses to yield to the temptation to sin, he demonstrates, says John, that he does not love the Father. The temptations to sin are not from the Father; they are from the world (1 John 2:15-16).

Similar to John, Paul uses the term “world” with the negative meaning of “the world-system of evil” when he speaks of Jesus’ atonement on the cross. He says, Jesus “gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father” (Galatians 1:4).

He also reminds Christians of the difference between the life they now live by the Spirit, and the life they lived obeying the world-system of evil before they were saved.Paul writes concerning their former unsaved state,

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. (Ephesians 2:1-3)

In Romans 12:2, Paul commands Christians who have fully surrendered their lives to God as a holy, living sacrifice, to “be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

When a Christian becomes aware that any area of his life is being influenced by the world-system of evil, he must do everything in his power to renew his mind, by means of the power of God’s Word and God’s Holy Spirit, and stop allowing that conformity to the world to remain in his life.

In like manner, when speaking of the ungodly world-system of evil, James warns, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4). And Jesus told us that God demands absolute loyalty and obedience to Himself. “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24).

Our allegiance to God must not be divided. Our affection must be focused and specific. When, as a Christian, you become aware that there are ungodly thoughts in your mind, and you feel the allurement to sin that those thoughts bring, that is the moment you are required to make a decision.

You can either choose to allow those evil thoughts to remain in your mind, or you can choose to expel them and replace them with godly thoughts.

Your choice determines whether you are simply being tempted to think sinful thoughts, or whether you are consciously choosing to allow sinful thoughts to remain in your mind. As long as a person does not choose to dwell on the evil thoughts that Satan puts into his mind, no sin has occurred.

Always remember that James 1:15 warns against letting evil thoughts remain in your mind. He says, “when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”



Originally published in God’s Revivalist. Used by permission.

Allan Brown
Allan Brown
Dr. Allan Brown is Professor and Chair of the Division of Ministerial Education at God's Bible School & College. He holds his PhD in Old Testament Interpretation from Bob Jones University and is the author of several books and articles.