God Does Not Cause Us To Sin

James 1:13-15: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’  For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but 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.” 

God does not tempt us or encourage us to sin, but He does bring us opportunities to decide if we will choose to sin or not (see the previous post, “God Set Pharaoh Up”).  And if we sin, it’s because it is what we were willing to do.

Here is one more example illustrating what I am talking about.  In Ezekiel 13 and 14, God is condemning false prophets.  And He is talking about the idolatrous people who visit them.  And God says this to Ezekiel:

“For any one of the house of Israel . . . who separates himself from me, taking his idols into his heart and putting the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and yet comes to a prophet to inquire for himself of me, I the Lord will answer him myself . . . And if the prophet be deceived and speak a word, I, the Lord, have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand against him, and will destroy him from the midst of my people, Israel.  And they shall bear their punishment – the punishment of the prophet and the punishment of the inquirer shall be alike-” (Ezekiel 14:7,9-10, RSV) 

When I first read this, it sounded like God causes an innocent prophet to lie and causes an innocent person to believe that lie, and then He punishes them for it. 

But it’s not what it sounds like. 

In this case, these are false prophets (Ezekiel 13) who have not been sent by the Lord.  And the people who are inquiring of them have set up idols in their heart, and their sins are blocking them from seeing clearly.  These prophets and people have been unfaithful to the Lord and do not really want to hear what He has to say.  They want to hear, believe, and spread lies.

So basically, God gives them what they want.  He gives the prophets opportunities to lie and spread lies, but He does not force them to lie or to be liars. 

It’s like the story of Ahab in 1 Kings 22 (which I looked at in the “Sovereignty and Free-Will Working Together” post), where God asks for a volunteer to entice Ahab to go into battle where he will be killed.  And a demon steps forward and says that he will entice Ahab by being a lying spirit in the mouths of the false prophets.

God didn’t cause the demon to lie to Ahab and He didn’t cause Ahab to believe the lies, but He did bring them together – a lying spirit and a person who wanted to believe the lies.  He gave the demon permission to spread the lies through the false prophets, knowing that Ahab would believe the lies and go into battle and be killed.  But God did not force Ahab to believe lies.  He just presented him with the lies (through the actions of the demon) and let Ahab believe them. 

[And if you read the story, you’ll see that God even gave Ahab a true prophecy – that he would be killed if he went into battle – through the mouth of a godly prophet.  And yet Ahab still chose to listen to the lying prophets, even though he knew that the godly prophet was speaking for the Lord.  God didn’t keep the truth from Ahab in order to make him believe the lies.  Ahab was just so set on going into battle that he would only listen to what he wanted to hear.  Ahab willfully chose the lies.]   

Likewise, these prophets in Ezekiel are willing to believe lies and share lies, by their own desires.  And so if they are presented with a false prophecy (maybe through the help of a lying spirit, like with Ahab), they will believe and share that false prophecy because they want to and choose to.

And the idolatrous people don’t want to hear God’s truth.  They want to hear lies.  They have already made their decision to drift from God, and they don’t want to hear His truth because it would make them uncomfortable.  And so they are just fine with getting a false prophecy from a false prophet.   

But God doesn’t make them believe the lies.  He just hands them the lie through the willfully-lying prophets and then lets them believe it.  Because that’s what they choose to believe.  And since they had chosen to turn from God and to believe lies, God could punish them. 

He follows our lead, what we are willing to do and believe. 

Likewise, as we saw last post, Pharaoh chose to be a hard-hearted person, resistant to God.  God just gave him the opportunity to do it because He knew that He could use that hard-heartedness to perform wonders, bring glory to Himself, and get the people released.  And since God did not cause Pharaoh to be the hard-hearted person he chose to be, God could punish him for it in the end, after He used it to accomplish His purposes.

How this affects us now

And I think this is how God generally works with us, too.  He gives us opportunities to decide, to be who we are going to be, to rebel against Him or to obey Him.  And then He lets us choose, and He works it into His plan, for His purposes and His glory.  And then since we have decided to be who we are, He can rightly punish us or reward us based on who we chose to be. 

Does this make sense?  It does to me. 

Eternally speaking, we have to decide if we will believe God’s truth and accept salvation through Jesus or if we will reject God and His truth.  He does not make the decision for us, but He does force us to decide.  

I think this cleanly ties together God’s sovereignty over all (how He can and does use our obedience or disobedience for His purposes), His love (how He says He loves us all, how Jesus died for us all, and how He wants all of us to come to salvation in Him), and His justness (how He fairly determines who goes to heaven and who goes to hell – by letting us choose and by letting us face the consequences of our choice). 

We go to hell if we chose to reject Him or to heaven if we choose to accept Him.  And since He’s made salvation available to all and possible for all - putting the choice in our hands - no one will be able to say “God isn’t fair!  He didn’t give me a chance!  He made me disobey.”

Previous post in series:  God Set Pharaoh Up

Next post in series:  The Holy Spirit and "Dead People"

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