Temptation is Not Moral Failure

Amy Oden

Insights Blog for Church of the Resurrection

James 1: 13-15

I don’t think of myself as being tempted very often, but that’s only because my temptations are so stealthy. My greatest temptation isn’t brownies or an extra glass of wine. I’m tempted by the approval of others. This gets me in trouble when I rush toward others’ approval before pausing to discern whether what they want from me is a good idea or not.


Early Christians had a fairly sophisticated notion of human desire and behavior. On the one hand, they believed we are free to make choices in our lives – where we go, what we do, who we associate with. On the other hand, we are not entirely free because we live unawares out of our compulsions, anxieties, inner drives, temptations, often our most wounded places.


Temptation might be just another word for woundedness. The things that tempt us often reveal our anxieties, drives, hurt places. We are tempted by things that we think will finally give us what we most deeply want, will satisfy us and ultimately heal these hurt places, but they never do. I’m tempted by the recognition and appreciation of others that I think will make me feel real, worthy, valued. This is the way that leads to death, not to life.


Temptation is not a sign of moral failure. It’s simply human. It’s a sign of something needing attention inside me. Temptation invites me to ask, “What is it I most deeply long for?” and follow that thread down into myself. Some likely culprits are that I want to feel connected or experience fullness or be seen and appreciated.


Into this reality, James speaks a word: God is not the source of our temptations. God is not the source of our wounds. God is the Source of our healing. James reminds me to turn to the Holy One who created me and holds my life. Only there will I find the true ground of connection and value.


Next time you feel tempted, let it be an invitation to ask, “What is it I most truly long for?” and follow that thread down into yourself. See what you discover. Allow God to hold it with you.