Did God Make Me Sin?
By Fred G. Zaspel –
God and Sin
We have all noticed how trials of whatever kind somehow have built into them a strong potential for sin. Physical suffering, emotional stress, bereavement, persecution — trials of whatever kind — bring with them the temptation to faithlessness, giving up, callousness, bitterness, despair, and a host of other sins. We are also familiar with the Biblical teaching that God sends various trials to test, prove, and improve our faith. In this sense, then, trials can become an occasion of Christian joy. All this is taught us, for example, in James 1:1-18. Trials sent to improve our faith can, in fact, become occasions for faithlessness and sin.
These considerations naturally raise some important questions. If God is the one who sends these trials, and if trials are at the same time temptations to sin, then is it not true that God tempts us to sin? And are not my sins, then, God’s fault? Never mind the devil — God made me do it!
It makes perfect sense. Trials are temptations. God orders all that is. God sends trials. God ordered the circumstances and put me in those circumstances, and that’s why I fell into sin! God tempted me, God did not give success over that temptation, and so it was his will that I sin. God made me sin.
The logic seems flawless. It makes sense. But — it is wrong. James denies it in categorical terms: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me’” (James 1:13). The denial is emphatic and clear: under no circumstances does God tempt us to sin. He does not do that. Not ever. James insists on this.
And to sustain his point the apostle offers his own theological reasoning. “For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone” (v.13). That is, God is not temptable. He is just not susceptible to such inclinations. He is all good, all holy. It would be contrary to his nature to be tempted with sin or to tempt others to sin. Indeed, he “cannot.” It is just not in him to do such a thing.
But then what about all this other theological reasoning we thought was so solid? It makes such good sense, and it seems so logical. The problem, of course, is that it is not entirely Biblical. That is, it does not consider enough Biblical data into the equation. Specifically, such reasoning fails to figure in God’s holiness and moral goodness. More to the point, it does not take into consideration God’s purpose in sending trials. His intent is never to bring us to sin but to test and approve us and to bring about his sanctifying purposes in us. God sends trials as opportunities for us to develop perseverance, to rub off the rough edges of sin, and to bring all the required Christian graces to full development (vv. 2-4). Now of course if we do not respond in faith and pray for the needed wisdom that he stands ready to provide for us (v.5), and if as a result we fall, God is not to be blamed for it. God had no sinister motive to bring us down. What he sent for our good we ourselves made an occasion of sin.
Then Whose Fault Is It?
And so our sin is our own fault entirely. We might at this point fall back again to say, “The devil made me do it!” But James does not say that at all. Rather, he says, “each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed” (v.14). We sin, each of us, because we want to. That’s it. Take away the devil, and we are evil still. Within us lie such evil desires that opportunities for spiritual advance become instead occasions of sin.
The Lure of Sin
I don’t know much about fishing, and I offer this as proof. I took my son to the south Jersey shore, and sitting in our boat together I reeled in the largest fish I have ever caught in my life. I was quite proud of it — that is, until I learned it was too small legally to keep! So now you believe me — I don’t know much about fishing.
But I do know that in order to fish successfully it is best to use some kind of bait. Fishermen often use what is appropriately called a “lure,” something to entice the fish to bite. I cannot for the life of me understand what would be so alluring about a worm or a bug, but I guess if I were a fish I would think otherwise. Somehow, fish are attracted to worms (or whatever) and tempted to bite. But, stupid fish, the joke is on him. He bites, and he is dragged in and becomes the fisherman’s dinner.
James uses terminology in James 1:14 that is used in just such a fishing context: “each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” He reminds us that when an opportunity for sin presents itself, we find it alluring, attractive. And so we bite, and simply by the evil that lies within us we are dragged off into sin. All sin has to do is present itself, present the opportunity, and we do the rest. Our sin is not God’s fault. We sin because we want to. Our sin is our own fault. Something within us finds sin attractive. The tempting voice to sin is not outside us but within us. This is the magnetism of sin — our hearts are ever so inclined.
This is in large part how the Bible resolves the tension of God’s sovereignty and human sin. We participate willingly. We are dragged to it from within. Sin is not because of God but because of us.
We see this everywhere in Scripture. When Adam took the forbidden fruit, he advanced God’s purpose in a very significant way. But nonetheless his sin was his fault — he sinned because he wanted to. When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to set God’s people free, his stubbornness served God’s purpose. But his sin was his fault — he did from his heart what he wanted to do. When evil men took our blessed Lord Jesus and nailed him to a cross, they accomplished the great purpose of the ages. But what they did they did willingly and with evil intent and rebellion. Their sin was their fault.
This is reflective of the “miserable sinner” theology the Scripture emphasizes so often. We are such a mass of corruption, with such a propensity to evil, that we are capable of anything. “Foolishness” is bound in our hearts. We may deny it if we like, but to do so would be to deny the reality of our own personal experience with sin. The evil that we do arises from the evil within us (Matt. 12:33-35).
Even as redeemed men and women we struggle against remaining sin. God in grace through Christ has broken sin’s previously over-powering grip (Rom. 6), but we are men and women caught between two worlds. We have been redeemed out of this present evil world and are citizens of heaven, enthroned with Christ himself. Yet we live in this present evil world and feel the downward tug of it. We are people living in two worlds and are torn in two very opposing directions. We are sanctified in Christ Jesus and feel the overwhelming force of his powerful grace at work in us drawing us to ever higher levels of glory. But in our struggle with sin we are a walking civil war (Gal. 5:17).
This, in turn, is one of the great reasons God has given us his law. It provides for us an objective standard to correct the confused deceitfulness sin has brought to our hearts. The deceitfulness of sin is such that we seldom stop to consider the insanity of it. We do not consider sin’s consequences. We do not adequately consider the evil of sin. There is a blind folly about sin, and we need God’s law to inform our conscience to keep us from justifying what it condemns. What a depth of sin it is that resides in our heart!
This is James’ point. We sin because we want to. Our sin is our own fault. Our will is still tainted with a tendency to evil that has not yet been fully eradicated, and this is why our trials carry with them such occasion for sin. In the words of John Owen, “Temptations put nothing into a man but only draw out of him what was in him before.”
In short, God brought the trial, but not the sin. The sin is ours and ours alone.
Fred Zaspel holds a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Free University of Amsterdam. He is currently a pastor at the Reformed Baptist Church of Franconia, PA. He is also an Adjunct Professor of Systematic Theology atCalvary Baptist Seminary in Lansdale, PA. He is also the author of The Continuing Relevance of Divine Law(1991); The Theology of Fulfillment (1994); Jews, Gentiles, & the Goal of Redemptive History (1996); New Covenant Theology with Tom Wells (New Covenant Media); The Theology of B.B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary (Crossway, 2010). Fred is married to Kimberly and they have two grown children, Gina and Jim.