Jas 1:14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.
Jas 1:15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Jas 1:16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Jas 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
Christians have from the beginning understood that there is what is sometimes called an unholy trinity of powers that work against us to cause us to sin; the world, the flesh and the Devil. There is in our flesh a remaining principle of sin that wants to put self above God and everything else. The world is full of tempting things that the flesh wants to make idols of and the Devil tries to bring these two things together in any way he can. While they work in an almost perfect harmony of temptation I think sometimes it is good for us to delineate between the areas each of these have so we know how to battle them.
For instance, the well-known Flip Wilson phrase, “The Devil made me do it” is poor theology at best. Satan can’t make us do anything and generally this is understood that Satan can put thoughts in our minds independent of whether we want him to do so or not and so in some way he, not us, is to blame for our sin. This is something that I have rejected early on in my Christian life and I hope with biblical merit. It assumes that the Holy Spirit and Satan (or his demons, since most would believe that Satan is not omnipresent) both indwell us in some way. I reject that out of hand and neither do I think that Satan can plant thoughts in my mind or speak to me in some way internally. There is no way to battle evil thoughts if he can put them there independently of our will.
I do believe the Devil’s primary area of attack is in our minds but it is from without, not within. He is the mind and power behind the worldly system, the prince and power of the air. It is interesting that he is mentioned very little in the OT. Gen. 3, Job, once in the Psalms, as Lucifer in Ezekiel and in Zechariah. In almost all cases he is seen as the accuser of man. But once we get to the NT he is seen as a liar and a deceiver which is what the name devil means.
How do these three things work together? To build on what I said above, the flesh is remaining sin in us that is full of pride and desires to please self. The world is constantly displaying things that play to our sinful desires. In part Satan uses the world to tempt us to give ourselves over to the flesh. His danger, then, isn’t so much that he tries to get us to do wrong things but tries to get us to want to do wrong things. Our flesh is quite good at doing that which is why the old saying, “The Devil made me do it” really misses the mark.
James 1:14-15 above says we fall to temptation because we want to. If we want to sin less then purify your heart, don’t tell Satan to leave you alone. The Bible never tells us to speak to Satan but to love the Lord with all our heart and to grow in the knowledge of him. The way to sin less is to not find the things of this world as attractive as Christ; to see them for what they are destructive to us and dishonoring to the Lord. And this is where Satan’s tactics come into play.
I think James 1:16-17 speaks more to Satan’s work, Jas 1:16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Jas 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. He wants to get us to believe the world when it tells us that it has what we need. No, every good thing comes from above, not below. Notice how James starts off with do not be deceived. Through the philosophies of the world and the perversion of biblical doctrine, he tries to get us to believe the same lie he told Eve. Once she believed that the fruit could offer her something God couldn’t she was lost. The best way to stop committing acts of sin is to realize where they lead and the damage they do to the kingdom of God. It is to believe God and not the lies all around us.
Sure Satan is happy when we commit sinful actions but what he is really after is for us to love Christ little and this world much. Then we will happily commit sinful acts. And this is what really dishonors the Lord. When a saint hates the sin in his life and does all he can to honor the Lord, then God is honored even though we are still sinners. But when someone who professes Christ lives in such a way that it seems he loves himself more than Christ then God is dishonored in a far more fundamental way.
One of my favorite passages on this subject is 2Co 10:3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 2Co 10:4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 2Co 10:5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. Our battle with sin isn’t so much to try and stop committing sinful acts, but to transform our minds so that sin is no longer attractive. Notice the strongholds we are to destroy are any argument or prideful opinion that is contrary to God or Truth. So we guard every thought by making sure that Christ is central to all we do and only the Bible teaches us why this is true.
So I don’t just tell myself not to steal but I seek to love others and do them good because I believe what the Bible says about life and death and judgment, etc. This is why the NT reserves some of its harshest condemnations for those who try to reduce godliness to "Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch"; because it is merely external but doesn’t examine why we are doing what we do. There was nothing sinful about the fruit in the Garden of Eden. The sin was in thinking it was as important as the Lord and this led Eve to commit an outward act of rebellion. Paul goes on to say as much in Col 2:23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
In other words, not indulging the flesh can still be indulging the flesh! Because the flesh can only do what the heart wants it to do. One can still be proud while he is outwardly denying himself something. Godliness is always first a matter of the heart and mind and Satan’s directs his attention at trying to get us to believe that in one way or another the Bible isn’t true. I think as we read through the NT we begin to see this throughout, but I will leave you with just one more passage that I think is one of the great statements of godliness in the NT:
1Ti 4:1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 1Ti 4:2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 1Ti 4:3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 1Ti 4:4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 1Ti 4:5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.