Temptation. We have all experienced it. We have all succumbed to it. We have all regretted it. We can knowingly walk right into it and seek it out, and sometimes it sneaks up on us when we are unaware and doing well. Sometimes we have the strength to turn and walk away and sometimes we are weak and want whatever momentary pleasure into whose eyes we are staring.
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.
– James 1.13-15
This verse is the cornerstone for considering the source of temptation in our lives. God is good; He would not tempt us because He Himself cannot be tempted. Therefore the evil must be of Satan, the enemy, or, as this verse states, from within ourselves.
However, we must broaden our perspectives a little to gain a fuller understanding of the infinite power and goodness of God. Jesus was born of a virgin and raised by his parents in Egypt and Nazareth to fulfill prophecies (Matt 2). When He was grown, He was baptized by John the Baptist as the sign of the beginning of His ministry and preparation for the cross (Matt 3.13-17). Immediately after the Holy Spirit descended upon Him and He was announced as the Savior of the World,
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”
– Matt 4.1
The first act of the Spirit upon the person of Jesus Christ was to lead Him into the wilderness to be tempted. By the devil. Yes, Jesus was fully God and yes, there is a mystery to the triune nature of the Godhead, and there undoubtedly was the presence of the Spirit upon Him during His thirty years leading up to this point, but there was an anointing of the Spirit in the form of a dove and lightning when Jesus was baptized and His ministry began. And step one of the ministry was Jesus’ temptation. By the direction of the Spirit. Who is fully God, too, by the way.
It is extremely clear that the devil did the tempting. Jesus fasted for forty days and nights, and then He became hungry, and then the devil came to Him. “Prove yourself” the devil tried twice, playing off Jesus’ hunger and claims of deity (Matt 4.3, 5). Then He tried to tempt Jesus with power: dominion over the world, if He would only worship Satan (Matt 4.9). But Jesus successfully withstood the temptations and when the devil left Him, angels came and ministered to Him (Matt 4.11).
But the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness for the purpose of this temptation. And that at the end of 40 days communion with God! God is sovereign over our trials, struggles and temptations. While He Himself does no evil, He ordains such events in our lives to shape us, teach us and make us into the people He wants us to be.
This is why Jesus taught the disciples to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever” (Matt 6.13). God does lead us into temptation on occasion. But this petition expresses the desires of the heart of the believer to not sin, and to avoid its wiles completely. We know, however, that Peter and Job were both turned over to Satan, by God, for testing, or sifting, as Jesus said.
So then we understand that every temptation, though evil and of ourselves or of the enemy, is a tactful plan of God to bring about our holiness. God is not anxiously sitting up in Heaven biting His fingernails whenever our flesh grows loud or the enemy sneaks up. No, He gives permission for our resolve to be tried. And with each temptation, He provides a way of escape (1 Cor 10.13).
So trust God. Pray as Jesus taught us to pray, that we would not be led into temptation. But cling to Him when you are, knowing that it is for your good, growth and holiness. Trust His wisdom and sovereignty, and choose to honor Him. And when you do fall, confess your sins and remember that He is gracious and that Jesus has already paid the penalty in full for your sin.