The Three Stages of Temptation

Temptation is typically gradual. There's more going on behind the scenes before one gives in to full-blown sin. Russell Moore explains the three stages of temptation:

  1. The question of your identity: James told the poor and the beaten down to “boast in his exaltation” and told the prosperous and the up-and-coming to glory “in his humiliation” (James 1:9–10). Why? James understood that temptation begins with an illusion about the self—a skewed vision of who you are. The satanic powers don’t care if your illusion is one of personal grandiosity or of self-loathing, as long as you see your current circumstance, rather than the gospel, as the eternal statement of who you are. If the poor sees his poverty as making it impossible for him to have dignity, he is fallen.

  2. The confusion of desires: James of Jerusalem told his flock that they’d certainly face the sting of temptation and that they’d be tempted to blame it on God. “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’” James wrote, “for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13). This probably doesn’t seem like a problem for you. Reader, I doubt you would ever say, “I just feel that God is entrapping me to leave for Acapulco a fake ID and my company’s retirement funds in small unmarked bills.” The danger is that we might see our temptations as a normal part of the fabric of the universe, as the way things are supposed to be. That’s true for both believers and unbelievers. We must recognize that “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (James 1:14). The human story, after all, starts with a man who blames God (“the woman whom you gave to be with me,” Gen. 3:12) for the fact that he fell to his own twisted desires.

  3. The challenging of your future: Desire gives way to sin, James warned, and “sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:15). Temptation only works if the possible futures open to you are concealed. Consequences, including those of Judgment Day, must be hidden from view or outright denied.

Learn more about Russell Moore's Tempted and Tried.

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