“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.” James 1:14-15
I used to work in a church office and we were often contacted by prisoners in jail who wanted us to visit and usually to try to intervene with the law on their behalf. They almost always gave the same story, “I found myself in jail.” As if they were innocently living their lives and suddenly looked up to see bars all around them. It’s just one example of the human mantra, “It’s not my fault!” And it’s as old as humanity itself. In the Garden, at the scene of the first sin, Eve blamed the serpent and Adam blamed Eve and even God. But the Lord knew the truth then, and he knows the truth now. As our key verse clearly says, we are tempted by our own evil desires. No one ever just wakes up unexpectedly in the pit of sin. There is a progression and we are wise to recognize where it all begins.
James lays it out:
Man’s own sinful desire
The lure of temptation
Taking the bait
Sin is born
The final outcome: Death
At the heart of all sin is our innate sinful nature and our own sinful desires. Paul explained it in Romans 8:5 saying, “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires.” The Bible offers us countless examples of this truth. King David showed a previous bent toward lust with many wives, and when he was tempted with the beautiful Bathsheba, he answered that call. The same was true of his son, Solomon, who “loved many foreign women” (1 Kings 11:1). He had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines – that’s a thousand women – and “his wives led him astray” (1 Kings 11:3). In fact, sexual lust was, and continues to be, the most “popular” desire among human beings.
Judas was tempted by wealth; the gospels reported that he was stealing from the funds for the poor even before his betrayal of Jesus (John 12:6). When the temptation was offered to earn thirty silver coins, his desire overwhelmed him and he turned on his Friend.
Satan goes for our desires, which are often our weaknesses. Money, sex and power are the usual enticements into sin and death, but there are more than we can conceivably count. Every person has their own desire, their own personal lure, and be assured Satan knows it. He has devised a scheme just for you and just for me, tailor made to match that craving inside us. We answer to the temptation that calls out to our innate desires. If your desire is for material possessions, he will pull you into the mall, or entice you with advertisements for the newest shiny thing. If your desire is lust, every TV commercial for lingerie will catch your attention and he will make certain you get plenty of pop-ups for sexual sites on your I-phone. Want power, prestige, fame, a high? He’s got just what you’re looking for.
But Satan is not the one that God will hold responsible. We are all held accountable for our own desires. King David warned his son Solomon, “The Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought” (1 Chronicles 28:9). He knows that while Satan sets the trap and pulls the string, you and I are to blame for crawling in to take the bait. Our hearts – our desires – will deceive us and lead us into self-destruction (Jeremiah 17:9).
Our only way of escaping his trap is to have but one desire: God.
God wants to be the desire of your heart and mine. Nothing can drag us away into sin if the desire of our heart is to please and honor the holy, sovereign Lord of the Universe. We will still face temptations, but if our one and only desire is to be like Christ, those temptations will fail to entice us. Jesus resisted temptation because He had no evil desires. His desire was only to do the will of His Father, therefore He had no pull to the temptations of the devil.
One of the church’s favorite verses is Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desire of your heart.” I have it highlighted in my Bible too. But we tend to overlook the first part in favor of the second. We hone in on “He will give you the desire of your heart,” but rush past the requirement expressed just before it: “Delight yourself in the Lord.” In other words, if your heart yearns for God alone, He will give you your heart’s desire. And after that desire is met in all His fullness, any other gift He chooses to give to you is “icing on the cake.”
If we are serious about living pure and holy lives, especially in this culture, we must adopt the attitude of Asaph who proclaimed: “Earth has nothing I desire besides you…God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25, 26). When God is our heart’s desire, He will make sure we have the desire of our heart.
Holy Father, I know my desires are not often pure and the enemy know it too, as he casts his temptations before me. My only hope is for you to be the sole desire of my heart. I can’t do that on my own Lord, I need you to change my heart. I want you to be my heart’s desire. Amen.