A man found a wallet full of money in the parking lot at his church one Sunday after service. The ID was in there, so he knew the owner. When asked by his wife if he had returned it, he replied, “ I’m still trying to decide if it’s a temptation from the devil or the answer from God to a prayer.”
Our days are chock full of temptations that are as unique to us as our fingerprints. For example, I can smell cigarette smoke and the only temptation I’ll have is to hold my nose and cover my mouth so that I don’t breathe it in. Other people, on the other hand, may be tempted to find a cigarette and smoke it. Likewise, I could be sitting in a restaurant and have a plate of fresh fried shrimp placed in front of me and not be tempted to even take a bite. I don’t like shrimp. But, by golly, if I see anything chocolate, I go into debate mode with myself to avoid giving in. “You don’t need it.” “But it looks so good.” “Yes, but you’ll feel bad if you eat it.” “I’ll just have one bite.” “Who are you kidding? When have you ever had just one bite of chocolate?”
Temptation happens for all of us. And it occurs not just with tangible things such as cigarettes, fried shrimp, and chocolate. We can be tempted to worry, to gossip, to lie, or to be lazy.
Temptation, in today’s lesson, is defined as “the ultimate ‘bait and switch’. It promises something good, but it delivers something harmful, even deadly.”[i]
The thread of temptation is woven from Genesis to Revelation. The first incident, of course, occurs in the Garden of Eden when Eve is tempted by the serpent, and Adam is tempted by Eve. Sarah was tempted to have children her own way and in her own timing. The Israelites often found themselves tempted to return to Egypt as slaves rather than follow Moses to the Promised Land. King David was tempted at the sight of Bathsheba. Lot’s wife was tempted to turn back for one final look. Joseph was tempted by Potipher’s wife. Daniel was tempted to feast on the king’s food and wine. Joseph was tempted to divorce Mary when he found out she was with child. Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, were tempted to be dishonest in their offering. Judas was tempted to sell out Jesus. The disciples were tempted to know that they were considered to be the best. Jesus, Himself, was tempted. In all of these situations, the temptation was either surrendered to or resisted.
James, the half-brother of Jesus wrote this book. We know that James did not believe Jesus to be the Son of God until after the crucifixion. 1 Corinthians 15:7 tells us that Jesus appeared to James. After that encounter, James not only became a believer, but he also became a leader in the building of the church. Paul would describe James as a pillar of the church.
There can be little doubt that any sibling of Jesus would have face great temptation. Those of us who grew up having siblings can most definitely relate. As children, you’re tempted to play tricks on your siblings. You’re tempted to rat out your siblings. You’re tempted to fight with and irritate your siblings. You’re tempted to do all sorts of things that you know are not good to do. James understood temptation.
And so do we. All of us have our own stories about temptations and our successes in resisting and our failures in giving in. As I started working on the lesson this past week, I became more aware of the frequent and occasional temptations in my life. I also began to attempt to tackle the temptations before they became too big or overwhelming. One in particular has to do with my laptop. I had Yahoo News set up as my home page. I like to read about interesting current events. The problem with that is that as I would work on the lesson each week or be doing Bible study, I would frequently have multiple tabs opened on my laptop. Every time I would go to search for something new, I would get Yahoo News. More times than not, a certain headline would grab my attention and I’d find myself distracted. Five, ten, thirty minutes later, I’d remember what I needed to be doing and would return to my Bible study. I knew I was crippling myself. I knew that my concentration and quiet time with God was constantly being interrupted and so I’d try really, really hard to avoid looking at the headlines. This week, I had an ah-hah moment. I changed my home page to a nature scene. No headlines. No words. No distractions. No temptations. It worked.
James 1:13 WEY “13Let no one say when passing through trial, “My temptation is from God;” for God is incapable of being tempted to do evil, and He Himself tempts no one. 14But when a man is tempted, it is his own passions that carry him away and serve as a bait. 15Then the passion conceives, and becomes the parent of sin; and sin, when fully matured, gives birth to death. 16Do not be deceived, my dearly-loved brethren.”
I must confess. Nearly every time I would get distracted by Yahoo News, I blamed Satan. After all, who else would want to hinder me from studying God’s Word? But in these verses, James clearly states that our temptations are born out of our own passions, lust, and desires.
“James asserted that man himself is responsible for the temptations he faces. He is tempted by his own evil desires. James didn’t assign blame to any external force or person. Instead, he placed the blame squarely where it belongs, right at the feet of the individual. Fleshly desires too often result in people being drawn away and enticed.”[ii]
“It is no accident that Satan lures us and deceives us into blame. He knows that “blaming” always prevents us from entering God’s best and it keeps us “in bondage”. All who are in bondage this day are those who have not yet “accepted responsibility and blame” for their personal sins. Whenever a person is willing to take ownership of his decisions that have led to some type of sin, then that person “can” begin to experience victory. Whatever temptation that you face in life…there will be the trickery and the lies of Satan behind that temptation to lure you away from taking responsibility. Because Satan hates you and can’t stand for you to have any type of joy, happiness, tranquility and peace in your life.”[iii]
Back in the 1970s was a popular TV show starring the comedian, Flip Wilson. One of his famous catchphrases which is still used today is, “The devil made me do it!” The line was often met with waves of laughter and people nodding their heads in agreement. Yep! That’s right! It’s the devil’s fault. It sure isn’t mine. All blame belongs to someone else. At least that’s what we tell ourselves.
Anytime we face some form of temptation, we can either resist it or surrender to it. The funny thing is that if we resist it, we brag about ourselves. “I went to O’Charley’s on Wednesday and even though the pie is free, I turned it down! I was so proud of myself!” But then if we surrender to the temptation, it’s always someone else’s fault. “I went to O’Charley’s on Wednesday, and I wasn’t going to eat the free pie, but I was with a bunch of my friends and they were giving me a hard time about it. Even the server was insistent I eat a piece. So I did. I didn’t want to, but I was forced to.”
So, we know from this that God is incapable of tempting anyone. But Scripture is pretty clear that God will test us. Consider Abraham being told to sacrifice Isaac, the reduction of Gideon’s army, Jesus waiting until Lazarus was good and dead before He went to see him, and one final word: Job. These true stories are great examples of being tested by God. And every one of us have our own stories of being tested.
“Fire tests the purity of silver and gold, but the LORD tests the heart.”Proverbs 17:3 NLT
It’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between a test and a temptation. We often think of the two as interchangeable. Even the original Greek word used for “test” and “temptation” stem from the same word – peirazo (pair-ah-zo) which means “make proof or trial of”.
“The difference between a test and a temptation is found in the tester’s motivations and expectations; the devil tempts that the believer might fail God’s standards of faith and so sin; God tests that he might determine and sharpen true character, with no focus on making the believer fail.”[iv]
Here are some facts we know about temptations that we learn from Scripture.
We are all subject to being tempted.
Temptations are different from trials.
God may test us but will not tempt us.
Temptations promise something good but provide something bad.
Where do temptations come from?
We’d like to join Flip Wilson and make claim that the devil is the culprit. And yes, truthfully, there are times that Satan tempts us. But we give Satan too much credit.
“The truth is, Satan can dangle, luring attractive bait in front of our lives, but he is totally unable to “make us” sin. Sin is always a choice to disobey and disregard God, His Word, and His command. If Satan could “make us sin” then the entire temptation process is completely unnecessary. In Genesis, there is no picture of Satan hold Adam and Eve down and forcing them to eat apart from their free will. Quite the contrary! Eve was lured and fell into sin from temptation and Adam followed her. The decision was “their decision” and the consequences were also ‘their consequences’.”[v]
We also play the blame game and throw up our hands in defeat as we give all sorts of excuses.
We blame God. “He made me this way.”
We blame genetics. “It runs in my family.”
We blame others . “They drove me to do it.”
We blame society. “It’s just what’s expected nowadays.”
But we are so very hesitant to place the blame where it often belongs. Listen to Paul’s inner struggle with temptation.
Romans 7: MSG “14-16 I can anticipate the response that is coming: “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience?” Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.
17-20 But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.
21-23 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.
24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?
25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.”
Notice how Paul takes ownership of his wrongdoings? Paul refers to himself 40 times in these verses. There is not one mention of Satan or anyone else that Paul places blame with. Because Paul knew what we should keep at the forefront of our thoughts. We are not victims of the enemy! But rather, Romans 8:35 CEV assures us, we are victors because of our relationship with God. “Can anything separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble, suffering, and hard times, or hunger and nakedness, or danger and death? 37 In everything we have won more than a victory because of Christ who loves us.”
Paul understands that his failures are his and his alone. He is being very real and very honest about his struggles. I can totally relate to his statement of “I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight.” Here’s what I appreciate about that statement. 2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT tells us that “anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”
How many people question their salvation because some of the old things in their life have not gone away? I’ve known remarkable Christ-like people that I was shocked to learn that they were addicted to pornography, alcohol, overspending, and gambling. These were people I went to church with, worshipped with, and some were even in leadership roles. We like to think that once we are saved, our old desires go “poof!” and like magic, disappear. And it can be confusing to a new Christian when they don’t.
As we mature in our walk with God, we begin to understand that the temptations to sin are rooted within the flesh of ourselves. The new life that 2 Corinthians 5:17 assures us of is that we have power from God to resist our sinful nature. It also promises that we are given new life by the blood of Jesus and the love of God. Colossians 2:13 NIRV “13 At one time you were dead in your sins. Your sinful nature was not circumcised. But God gave you new life together with Christ. He forgave us all of our sins.”
Besides Satan, we must admit that we too are responsible for our own temptations. Unless we identify the source of our temptations, we’ll be ill-equipped to resist.
We have a bush in our backyard that is in an inconvenient location. It’s right where we planted flowers last year. I don’t even know what kind of bush it is. It’s not pretty. It doesn’t have flowers nor many leaves. It’s mostly just a bunch of stalks with a few leaves here and there. Last year, I chopped it off, put the weed control mat over it, and poured pea gravel all over. The flower garden was quite lovely last year.
But I went out about a week ago to do some Spring cleaning in the yard and by golly if that thing isn’t growing again. I had covered it fairly well, or so I thought. But I didn’t get to the root. I didn’t dig up and discard the source that gave life to the ugly bush simply because I didn’t think I needed to do it.
That pretty much sums up how we deal with temptations, doesn’t it? We often cover them up so that we can’t see them, but we don’t really work to eliminate them. We don’t necessarily trouble ourselves with the root of our temptation because, well, to be honest, we adapt the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. We know that we shouldn’t eat Double-Stuffed Oreos, so we don’t buy them at the grocery store. We shouldn’t go shopping as often as we do and buy as much as we do, so we either cut our credit cards in half or put them in a bowl of water to freeze them.
But the “out of sight, out of mind” tactic can only help to a certain degree.
“A man was on a diet and struggling. He had to go downtown and as he started out, he remembered that his route would take him by the doughnut shop. As he got closer, he thought that a cup of coffee would hit the spot. Then he remembered his diet.
That’s when he prayed, “Lord, if You want me to stop for a doughnut and coffee, let there be a parking place in front of the shop.” He said, “Sure enough, I found a parking place right in front—on my seventh time around the block!” As Robert Orben said, “Most people want to be delivered from temptation but would like it to keep in touch” (Reader’s Digest [8/86], p. 35).”[vi]
We don’t often recognize the harm that comes from giving into our sinful desires. We see a moment of pleasure or indulgence, so we take the bait not realizing that there is a harmful and painful hook that dangles the temptation in front of us.
“Sin is like a small crack in a dam. At first, it doesn’t seem threatening. But if it is not repaired quickly, it can lead to the collapse of the entire dam, causing terrible destruction.”[vii]
Sinful desires within us are not harmless. Even if we don’t act on them.[viii] If temptation alone wasn’t harmful, Jesus wouldn’t have included it in The Lord’s Prayer. “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6:13)
Our love for God should be motivation enough to resist temptation. We should grieve at the thought of disappointing Him. If we only thought of the suffering Jesus went through to pay the price of us giving into temptation. But sadly, how many people see Jesus as merely a “Get Out of Hell Free” card.
Stephen J. Cole wrote an article on temptation and the synopsis of it can be summed up in three sentences.
- To overcome temptation, recognize its source. (Is the temptation self-induced or is it coming from an outside source?)
2. To overcome temptation, recognize its force. (As sinful humans living in a sinful world, our natural instinct to surrender to temptation.)
3. To overcome temptation, recognize its course.[ix] (Where will this temptation take you?) Ravi Zacharias’ quote has become well-known to us. “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.”
Let me share with you some good news – a promise, really. 1 Corinthians 10:12 NLT “12 If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. 13 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.”
No matter the temptations that come your way, God already has provided a door conveniently located for your escape.
[i] Bible Studies for Life: Dealing with Temptation by Juan Sanchez and Dr. Jeff Dabbs
[ii] Bible Studies for Life: Dealing with Temptation by Juan Sanchez and Dr. Jeff Dabbs
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