Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. (James 1:13-15 NAS)
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1Corinthians 10:13 NIV)
We all experience temptation without exception. It is a common experience with human beings (1 Corinthians 10:13). Even Jesus was tempted (Matthew 4:1-11) and He was tempted in all things like we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). So it is clear that being tempted is not wrong in and of itself, and we can be tempted without sinning. So what is the difference?
James 1:13-15 clarifies the process. The starting point of temptation, for us, is when we are carried away and enticed by our own lust. When lust is conceived it gives birth to sin. For fallen human beings the distinction between struggling with temptation in our own heart and mind, and sin is when lust actually engages our heart and mind and carries us from just being tempted to embracing the temptation. In other words, the focal point of temptation is to invite us to start entertaining that which is being offered in temptation. If we allow ourselves to be carried away by that temptation and our lust (desires; coveting; passions) engages the temptation, then temptation will “conceive of” or give birth to sin. When we begin to engage the temptation by starting to imagine what that experience would be we are then being carried away by it and lust immediately gives birth to sin. This is why Jesus says in Matthew 5:28 says that if a man looks on a woman and lusts after her he has committed adultery in his heart.
I believe that this is the one point that 1 Corinthians 10:13 jumps in. We can be tempted and we can avoid imagining what embracing that experience looks like in our mind (lust conceiving) and not go to sin. We can literally “feel” that temptation because the appeal is generally aimed at our passions and lust is persistent. But God promises that He will always provide a way of escape. If we choose to keep our minds and hearts from embracing the experience that the temptation promises then we can avoid sin. This is, for the believer, the work of the Spirit. He will always jump in before lust is conceived to give us a way of escape. But if we push him aside and continue to entertain the experience that the temptation offers, then we will be seduced by our lust and that will give birth to sin (sin being: where we engage in our imagination the fantasy of that experience in our mind and heart). The object of the Holy Spirit is to interrupt that bridge between temptation and being “carried away by our own lusts” so that we do not cross over and give birth to sin.
There are times that the same temptation, in a different situation, has no effect on us at all. Other times it can blindside us from a mile away. There is not a magic formula about “what we can get away with” and as a word the wise, self-confidence leads to arrogance, which usually results in massive failure. Those who understand temptation know that it destroys and deteriorates our relationship with God and His Body, and a mature believer always seeks to avoid sin regardless of how persistent Satan throws temptations in our path (Romans 6:1-11). Only a fool would try and justify sinful behavior because God will “forgive me anyway…” (Romans 6:1-2).