Temptation: Me is out to get me

In a rather difficult section of Romans, namely the later verses of chapter 7, Paul seems to me to be describing the conflict and consternation that is caused by the presence of sin within the Christian. He says something odd: “If I do that which is against my will, it is no longer I who performs it, but sin living in me” (7:20). If Paul is talking about the Christian in this passage, it would seem to suggest that normal Christian experience is a little schizophrenic. For obvious reasons, one would want to avoid such a conclusion if possible, but I wonder if there isn’t something to it?

James in his letter seems to make much the same kind of argument as Paul does, and it is in fact a fairly critical theme in James, as far as I can see. In 1:8 and 4:8, James has coined a wonderful word: ‘dipsychos’, literally ‘two-souled’, but rendered colourlessly as ‘double-minded’ in translations. ‘Double-minded’ inclines us to think of occasions when we have been what we’d call ‘in two minds’. Do I take the blue one or the maroon? I think James means more than just this, as one of his early metaphors makes clear.

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (James 1:14-15)

James seems to me to be using rather vulgar imagery, which, because we have an unshakable conviction that the New Testament ought to be polite and biblical, we tend to largely ignore. Proverbs is fond of using the adulteress or the prostitute as the symbol of the destructive tempter who lures young men to their destruction. James makes us both protagonist and prostitute. One side of us, which James calls ‘desire’, lures and entices the other part, dragging ‘good me’ off to her bed-chamber. Desire then conceives and gives birth to sin, and eventually (if the love child is fed and schooled) matures and puts you to death.

This rather adult image suggests that the ‘two-souled man’ experiences far more than indecisiveness. The Christian is prone to experiencing internal conflict in which one ‘soul’ wants to live in faith and wisdom, a path that leads to a crown of life, but lives under the threat of another ‘soul’ who would satisfy desire with no care of the cost, a cost that ultimately is death. Toying with temptation, the inability to decisively follow the strenuous path of wisdom, is the double-minded man’s folly.

As we all possess sin’s splintered psyche, and as we are all capable at any time of allowing desire’s foolishness to beguile us away, the decision for single-minded vigilance and perseverance is a daily one. Mercifully, the ability to carry out such a task, says James in verses 17-18, finds its source in the single-minded will of God to extend to us His gifts.

How long will you waver between two opinions? (1Kings 18:21)

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