Since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, when Eve yielded to the serpent’s suggestion to disobey God, temptation has been part of the human experience. No person born into this world is exempt.
Because Jesus, the Son of God, came to this earth and became a man, He too endured temptation. Three of the four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—provide an account of a time when Jesus was confronted by Satan and tempted to sin. From them, we learn that Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days. We are not given details about what happened during that entire period. However, Scripture does say that “afterward” Jesus was hungry, and then the tempter came, so perhaps all of the temptation happened in the last days or week of that period. Whatever the timing or duration of Jesus’ temptation, though, we know He “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
Matthew and Mark relate that angels came and ministered to Him. Based on the verb tense of the word “ministered” in Mark’s account, it is apparent that the angels did not wait until the end of forty days to assist Him, nor will God wait until the end of our time of temptation to minister to us. He will come during the temptation! He will dispatch heavenly help, perhaps even before we recognize the temptation for what it is.
Temptation came to Jesus in three ways. On the physical level, Satan said in effect, “I will satisfy you.” On the emotional and intellectual level, Satan’s approach was, “Trust me, and do something radical.” On the spiritual front, Satan said, “Worship me.” However, Jesus triumphed over every form of temptation.
The temptation to sin
While temptation comes in a variety of ways, the type of temptation we will consider here is different from being tempted to be discouraged, to feel overwhelmed, or to complain. We will look at the temptation to sin.
When one of our grandsons was about three years old, he watched a Veggie Tales video on the Biblical account of Adam and Eve in the Garden, portrayed by Larry Boy the Cucumber and his vegetable cohorts. In the video, the “Bad Apple” represented temptation. Our grandson happened to really like that character, and when the video ended, he announced dramatically, “I love temptation!” While his comment amused us, temptation to sin is not a humorous issue. Our grandson is old enough now that he would no longer declare that he loves temptation. Hopefully, he recognizes it when it comes. And we must recognize temptation when it comes our way as well.
Temptation does not necessarily arrive with banners and trumpets to advertise itself. It comes to us much as it came to Adam and Eve in the Garden—subtly. However, no matter what form it takes, we can be sure of one thing: it comes! In James 1:14 we read, “Every man is tempted.” Temptations will come. James also admonished, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations” (James 1:2). Notice that he did not say “if,” but “when.” The joy that James alluded to here is not based on the fact that temptation comes, but on the outcome that results when the temptation is resisted.
It is possible to resist and overcome temptation. In 1 Corinthians 10:13 we read, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” If we look God’s way, His grace will provide us with what is necessary to help us withstand temptation.
The Bible records many accounts of individuals who faced temptation, and we see a contrast in how they responded. For example, consider Joseph, who ran from the immoral advances of Potiphar’s wife, though doing so put his life in jeopardy. She did accuse him, her accusations were believed, and Joseph suffered as a result. In fact, he ended up in prison! However, he kept his integrity and God honored him for that.
Joseph’s testimony stands in contrast to that of David and Bathsheba. David strolled on his rooftop as Bathsheba bathed at a distance down below. They both succumbed to temptation, and both suffered the consequences.
It takes deliberate action to overcome temptation, just as it takes deliberate action to receive salvation. No one is saved accidently. When God calls after our hearts, there must be an acknowledgment that sin has been destructive; we regret that we have sinned against God and defiled our character and integrity. In response to that deep regret, we turn away from our sins and repent. It is a very deliberate and conscious decision. It takes a similar deliberate and conscious decision to turn from temptation when it comes our way.
We start by recognizing sin for what it is. In fact, an awareness of sin is part of its scriptural definition. In James 4:17 we read, “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” God establishes the standard and reveals it to our consciences so we know when we are going against what God commands.
Sometimes people ask, “What is sin?” God knows the heart and He is the judge in each individual situation, but Scripture does define sin. In 1 John 5:17 we read, “All unrighteousness is sin.” Romans 14:23 says, “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” In simple terms, sin is knowing what God deems righteous, and then intentionally and willfully going against that knowledge.
While it is important to recognize sin as sin, we also must be careful not to identify as sin something that is not sin. There is a difference between sin and temptation. Learn to distinguish between the frailties of our human nature and the carnal nature. Don’t claim failure where none exists. Remember, Satan is the accuser.
The word “sin” has fallen out of favor in contemporary society, because the mindset in our society is that people should not be burdened with guilt. That perspective is found even in the religious community. However, we do need guilt! If we remove guilt, we set aside conscience. We set aside the Bible, which provides the standard of right and wrong. When there is nothing to identify wrongdoing, we end up with the chaotic society we presently live in.
It is the sense of guilt and condemnation that will make sinners realize they are bound for Hell if they do not turn from their sins. We cannot say to them, “Don’t feel bad about sinning; just try to do better.” We would be offering a false hope. No, we must urge everyone who has not already done so to turn from their sins—to repent and turn to God!
Sin cannot be justified or excused
We live in a culture that tries to redefine sin in order to accommodate, justify, or excuse it. We hear it said, “Oh, that person was born that way; he cannot help what he is.” It is true that we all are born with a carnal nature. It is also true that some people’s tendencies or predispositions might be toward one sin and others toward another. However, the fact that we were all “born in sin and shapen in iniquity” does not justify our continuance in that state. Vulnerability is not a justification, nor does it excuse sinful behavior. There is a remedy available! Deliverance and victory over the temptation to act upon carnal inclinations is possible.
Some insist that certain sinful behaviors are merely a disease or an addiction. However, people do not crave a disease. As a child, I had chicken pox, mumps, and a variety of other ailments. I did not crave those diseases, nor did you crave any of the sicknesses you have experienced in your lifetime. Sin is far more than an “addiction” or “something one is born with.” It is yielding to the temptation to pursue behaviors that are harmful and wrong in the sight of God.
When Adam and Eve sinned, God held them accountable; there were consequences. That is what we do with our children. We hold them accountable when they misbehave, and help them understand that there are consequences for wrongdoing. We understand that if we apply those consequences in a positive manner, it is less likely that our children will repeat the same action. On the other hand, if we excuse, justify, and send them on their way with no consequences when they have willfully done wrong, it is more likely that they will repeat that behavior again. It is also more likely that when they are older, they will repeat the behavior on an adult level and experience more severe consequences.
No immunity to temptation
Temptation appeals to our human nature, even after we are saved, sanctified, and filled with the Holy Ghost. Although entire sanctification eradicates carnality, we do not become immune to temptation. We still have God-given human appetites. We still have the ability to make a wrong decision when temptation shows up. And temptation will come, no matter what our age or station in life. It will come in a form that appeals to our human nature or natural appetites.
As we have gone through life, we have seen some who considered themselves to be “bullet proof” in a sense. They felt they were above temptation. However, in 1 Corinthians 10:12 we read, “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” It is imperative to be cautious, to be aware of the potential of being tempted, and to be on guard against it. In 1 Peter 5:8 we read, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” No matter how long we have been Christians, we must stay on guard.
A remedy through Jesus
Because Jesus endured temptation, He will help us when we face an assault from that “roaring lion,” the enemy of our souls. In Hebrews 2:18 we read, “For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor [come to the aid of] them that are tempted.” When we think of Jesus’s suffering, we may think first of Him being beaten, wearing a crown of thorns on His head, and being crucified. We do not often equate temptation with suffering, but this Scripture does. Because Jesus endured the suffering of being tempted, He is able to provide a remedy for those who are also tempted, including you and me.
Realize what is at your disposal. Most people who become ill take advantage of an available remedy. Jesus provides the remedy. He comes to help all who are tempted, because He was tempted as we are. In Hebrews 4:15-16 we read, “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”
Since Jesus offers help, there is no need to fail when temptation comes. Determine that you will keep your integrity. And remember, while the tempter comes to drag us down, the Lord comes to build us up. When temptation comes your way, view it as an opportunity to grow and learn. Temptation is not a sign that you are spiritually weak. It may be that God wants to prove to you the integrity that lies within, and make you stronger still.
That was the case with Jesus. When Jesus went into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, it was a divine appointment. He was led there by the Spirit because God the Father deemed it best that His Son encounter temptation. The point was not to see if Jesus would sin, but to prove that He would not. God knew His Son would triumph, and by so doing, would show us how we can be victorious as well.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ offers victory and eternal reward for those who stand fast in the face of every attempt of the enemy. God does not preserve us from temptation; He preserves us in temptation and delivers us out of it. In James 1:12 we read, “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.”
Thank God, there is power in the Blood of Jesus to save and keep the one who desires to be kept! Through His grace and strength, we can overcome temptation.