Every temptation challenges the human will, testing its strength and its weakness. Our strength is determined by the pressure we can withstand. If we can’t resist, we are weak.
Temptation is a pressure, enticing our desires so that we push the limits of God’s intentions. Human desire is natural; temptation is the urge to trespass and to exceed the boundaries of the restrictions God designed for the good of His creation.
Temptation, primarily a biblical term, means to prove; to determine the quality of; to put to a test. The Israelites consistently did this to God in their wilderness wanderings. “You provoked Me, grieved Me and tried My patience,” God said repeatedly. The temptation for the ancient people was to not trust God’s direction through Moses. All believers since then are warned of this. “See to it … that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12, NIV).
The first rebellion against God’s purpose for the human family came from temptation. In Eden’s garden two flawless humans, male and female, wanted for nothing and were secure before their loving Creator until they were targeted by a tempter who questioned the integrity of God’s word. “You will not die,” the tempter promised. Temptation to sin always creates delusion, denying the damaging consequences. Our freedom to make choices includes the consequence of our actions.
Adam and Eve started thinking about the fruit the moment it was forbidden. The mind precedes the eye. Temptation is never a solo event. The fruit was not the real issue, it was a test of their love and obedience to God. The more they looked at the fruit, the better they liked it. It seemed irresistible, and by giving in, paradise was lost and sin entered the human race.
Poor environment, behavioral patterns, or inadequate education–none of which were present in the perfect creation–are not the root cause of immorality. The original sin of seeking independence from God and disregarding His instruction defines mankind’s fall away from God. In every enticement, the roots of rebellion against the laws of God are nourished by the deceitful soil of the self-will in our hearts (Jeremiah 17:9).
The temptation of Jesus, the “second Adam,” was three-dimensional, targeting His physical needs, His life’s purpose and His spiritual devotion (Cf. Matthew 4:1-10). First, the devil challenged Jesus to prove and override His divinity and satisfy His immediate needs. “Since You are the Son of God, satisfy Your hunger by changing the stones into bread,” the devil said. Second, he suggested that Jesus jump from the top of the temple, pushing the limits of Scripture, forcing the Father to send angels to His rescue. This would have brought recognition to Christ and fulfilled Messianic expectation, but it would bypass the cross. The final test was the most insidious. “Bow down and worship me and I will give You the kingdoms of the world and their glory,” the groveling, envious fallen angel pleaded. Jesus answered, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only” (Matthew 4:10, NIV).
It is fascinating to contemplate that the perfect sinless Jesus, after hearing the voice from heaven say, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17, NIV), was “led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1, NIV). It seems like a paradox, but temptation’s most severe attacks can come to the purest heart. Jesus’ victory over temptation becomes the great comforting example for all Christians. “He is not One who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but One who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin” (Cf. Hebrews 4:15).
Whether the temptation is to test our faith or to entice to sin, neither should overwhelm the believer. “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. 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 stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NIV).
Dealing With Temptation
- Temptation comes when a person gives in to his or her own undisciplined desires. It is never from God, who is too good to do evil and too perfect to sin (James 1:13-14).
- Temptation thrives in physical and emotional weakness. The disciples, drained of stamina, slept while Jesus prayed. He warned them, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (Matthew 26:41, NIV).
- Temptation comes from bad associations. “If sinners entice you, do not give in to them” (Proverbs 1:10, NIV). “Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (James 4:4, NIV).
- Temptation leading to sin in another believer requires our sympathy and restoration. We should be cautious against being blindsided and naive to our own temptation (Galatians 6:1).
- Giving in to temptation damages confidence and magnifies spiritual weakness. But as a child falls and gets up again, so we as God’s children can be lifted and strengthened by His grace (1 Corinthians 10:13).
- Temptation is overcome by prayer. Jesus said we should pray, “Deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13, NIV). The believer is no match against the enemy. Only the Lord, who is in us, is greater than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4).