Today as we open a Biblical inquiry into the subject of ‘temptation, ’I begin with an ‘overture.’ That is I’d like to talk about temptation in very general terms, while at the same time giving a preview of where we are headed in this series. With that in mind, let’s turn to the Bible as our foundation.
Four priests were on a spiritual retreat weekend and on Saturday evening they decided to confess their biggest temptations.
The first priest said, “Well, it’s kind of embarrassing, but I admit I do enjoy Playboy magazine, for the articles, of course.”
“My temptation is worse,” said the second, “Gambling, yep; once, instead of preparing my homily I went to the track to bet on the greyhounds.”
“Mine is worse still,” said the third; “I sometimes can’t control the urge to drink. One time I actually broke into the sacramental wine.”
The fourth priest was quiet as he carefully considered what they had confessed. “Brothers, I hate to say this,” he said, “but my temptation is worst of all. I love to gossip.”
What’s your weakness? Or weaknesses? This past Monday we arrived in Florida and Paige said, “Randy, guess what I bought for you?”
I don’t know, what did you buy for me?”
“A 1 pound 4 ounce bag of Peanut M & M’s and some Cape Cod Potato chips.”
Not a good combination for a guy who needs to lose 10 or 12 pounds.
The truth is things like Peanut M & M’s and Potato Chips are the least of our worries in comparison with many other things we can be tempted by.
As long as we inhabit these human bodies, we are always going to have to deal with temptation and its inclination to sin. But for whatever
So as we begin to consider this subject let’s start with the basics: What is temptation anyway?
One wag wrote: “Temptation is the work of the devil to drag you to Hell!”
Of course there are more academic definitions, but I don’t want us to miss the fact that when battling temptation we are in a war. A spiritual war with an enemy who wants to plant his flag of victory in our souls.
And not just the devil; Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:1-3 that temptation comes our way through the world, the flesh and the devil and in this series we’ll consider going up against all three.
In a more academic sense, temptation is defined as “an attraction, either from outside oneself or from within, that can lead to acts contrary to right reason and the commandments of God;” in other words, that can lead to ‘sin.’
I say can lead to sin to emphasize the fact that temptation is not, in itself, sin.
In today’s Garden of Eden story, Adam and Eve were tempted to sin when the evil one enticed them to eat forbidden fruit. But they didn’t sin until they acted on the temptation that was trickling through the tributaries of their gray matter. Temptation came first, but the actual breach between man and God, that is sin, did not occur until they made a decision to act on that thought by taking the first bite. Being tempted is not sin; it depends upon what we do with the temptation.
For example, we are walking down the street and find a wallet lying on the sidewalk. We look in the wallet and discover that it contains several hundred dollars in cash. So far; not a temptation, right? No way to return it, even I wanted to. Besides, my mom always told me “Finders keepers; losers weeper.”
Then you find a driver’s license with an address identifying the owner. Now you have a problem; now you are between a rock and hard place; now you can consider yourself firmly placed on the horns of a dilemma! Ouch! Now you have a temptation on your hands.
But that temptation itself is not a sin. How we handle the temptation determines whether we sin or not.
So, let us refrain from thinking of temptation itself as a sin!
Let us also realize once again that how we handle that temptation has a direct bearing on whether or not we live a life that pleases God and at the same time measures us a dose of God’s peace.
So, where does temptation come from; what is it’s source?
Many of us recite the Lord’s Prayer and because of the line that says, ‘lead us not into temptation’ (Matthew 6:13; Luke 11:4) wrongly assume that God is the source of temptation.
However; Bible scholars interpret this phrase as a petition asking God not to permit us to be subject to a temptation beyond our capacity to endure, while at the same time asking Him to give us grace to overcome it.
One of the reasons Bible scholars interpret Jesus words that way is because that verse then becomes congruent with the rest of the New Testament. For example, in his first letter to the church, the Apostle John lets us know that temptation does not come from God but rather he writes, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world” (1 John 2:16).
And just a moment ago we heard from James: “And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and He never tempts anyone else. Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters” (James 1:13-16 NLT).
Just as we noted in a sermon series on pain and suffering last summer, that God does not cause, but allows pain, so it is with temptation.
So if God is not the source of temptation, why does He allow it in the first place?
If you think this through to its origins, temptation is the necessary result of freedom. As free persons Adam and Eve were invited to love God and to say yes to His will, but at the same time freedom demanded they be permitted to say no. If God could force our yes, then we would not be truly free. So, temptation is the result of the gift of human freedom.
As long as we are free to choose our own way, we will battle with temptation.
And trusting Christ as Savior does not relieve the believer from temptation. Quite the contrary, before Christ I didn’t even think about temptation, I just dove right into sin. It was only after becoming a Christian that I discovered that I was involved in a spiritual battle that could either be won or lost.
Which leads to the last aspect of temptation I want us to think about today.
When we are tempted we should think of temptation as a vehicle to obtaining of the life of Christ.
If I were to ask you how you feel about temptation, what would you say? I dislike it, I hate it; temptation is my enemy.
It seems that whenever we speak of or think about temptation, we almost invariably think of it in negative terms; something always to be avoided. To be sure, as we will see in this series, avoiding temptation is an important component of overcoming it. But hear me out here.
In the Bible, the same word translated temptation can also be translated as testing. In the first sense, the word points to an enticement to do evil. But in the second sense, the word ‘testing’ has the connotation of something that proves our character and shows the depth or integrity of our commitment to God. So when we are tempted, it provides us the opportunity to be tested; to see whether or not we can, through the power of Christ, win the battle.
To make this point clear the NLT doubles the use of the word in James 1:12 “God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.”
For sure, we will be tempted/tested, but through the power of Christ, we can overcome temptation without committing sin! And when we do, we have won the battle for Christ.
Paul writes the Corinthians, “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, He will show you a way out so that you can endure” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
In this series, we will focus on that verse of scripture for sure.
My point here being that we should look at temptation/testing as a vehicle that will enable us to live a victorious Christian life; a life that pleases God.
There is a legend that Augustine, accosted on the street by a former mistress shortly after his conversion, turned and walked in the opposite direction. Surprised, the woman cried out, “Augustine, it is I.”
But Augustine, proceeding on his way, cried back to her, “Yes, but it is not I.”
What he meant was that there was a new Augustine; a new Augustine who in Christ had just overcome temptation and won a victory for His Master. 1
Or as an elderly Christian woman responded when asked about the secret to living her victorious Christian life: “Every time Satan knocks at the door, I let Jesus answer.” 2
Our only hope to resist temptation and therefore triumph over the testing is found in the Lord Jesus; His strength, His power, His might, His grace.
To you O Lord, I lift up my soul, in You I trust oh my God
Do let me be put to shame, or let my enemies triumph over me.
No one whose hope is in You will ever be put to shame
That’s why my eyes are on You O Lord,
Surround me, defend me, oh how I need You
To You I lift up my soul, to You I lift up my soul.