The Nature of Temptation

When a Christian speaks of temptation, it is likely to be assured that they mean to be tempted to do some sort of evil. For how often do you hear from your fellow man that he had been struggling with the temptation to smile, or to do some sort of generous act, or that he was tempted to hold his tongue back from slander? Quite the contrary is true for us all. When we speak about temptation, we are very obviously alluding to the temptation that is brought upon us by our flesh; our old man, to do some sort of evil act, or to think in a wicked way.  

Temptation is real, temptation is powerful, and temptation is always in our midst. Therefore, it is our duty to explore the nature of temptation, that we may be able to understand it in such a way that sets us up for success, that we may continue steadfast in the race set before us.

What is temptation?

Temptation is brought upon us by Satan and the demonic forces that prowl around this fallen world we find ourselves on. Temptation is never from God (Jas. 1:13). Temptation can be understood in two senses. In one sense, temptation is “the forcing of a choice to be made: either to break a law of God and satisfy a desire or to forego satisfaction in order to keep God’s law.”[1] In the other sense, temptation can be understood as being the by-product of demonic propaganda. Propaganda is the “dissemination of information–facts, arguments, rumors, half-truths, or lies–to influence public opinion.”[2] Temptation is the sensation we receive when demonic propaganda is forced upon us.

And when the devil had ended every temptation,
he departed from him until an opportune time.

Luke 4:13

Is temptation a sin?

To be forthright, temptation is not a sin. I repeat, temptation is not a sin. Christ, the perfect Son of God, was tempted by Satan himself for 40 days in the wilderness, yet was without sin. Thus, temptation is not a sin, for Jesus was also tempted.

You know that He appeared to take away sins,
and in him there is no sin.

1 John 3:5

Why am I always being tempted?

In James 1 we are given insight into the nature of temptation. Scripture says a person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Now allow me to quickly pause and explain Desire in such a way that allows us to understand it as being different from Lust. For Jesus did not lust, for it is sin. Desire: “Each of us are born with a normal, natural set of desires. The physical desires are the consequences of the operation of our bodies. We also have spiritual desires, such as not wanting to be alone, wanting to be liked by others, or wanting something pretty.”[1] Whereas Lust is, as James wrote, desire when it has conceived. “The word is never used in a positive context; rather, it is always seen in a negative light, relating primarily either to a strong desire for sexual immorality or idolatrous worship.”[3]

Desire is natural and it makes temptation possible. Lust is unnatural and inherently selfish, and it seeks to satisfy a temptation.

For example: The desire to have sex is a natural, physical desire. By itself, the desire is not inherently bad. But it certainly can be taken too far, which would be lust, that is, desire conceived.
We find ourselves being tempted so often because we all have a natural set of desires; thus, temptation is made possible. As long as we are on this earth temptation will come at any and every opportunity. Scripture tells us “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Pet. 5:8).” As long as we are in the flesh the devil will remain in our midst, seeking to destroy. He tempts us by exposing us to things that will satisfy our desires in an unnatural way. Thus, it ought to be in our best interest to exercise caution when deciding who we surround ourselves with, where we will go tonight, and how we utilize the internet. Our flesh is going to naturally want to covet what we see. Therefore, we must take charge over the things that pop up on our news feed on various social media websites, and “make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires (Rom. 13:14).”

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

In what ways was Jesus tempted?

I think many of us want to know in what ways Jesus was tempted. We want our Creator to sympathize with us, for He is our source of strength when we are tempted. Specifically, for men I think we want to know if Jesus was tempted sexually. Note that Luke 4:13 does say “every temptation,” but this may only be referring to the temptations that were mentioned in verses 3-11 of Luke 4, and we would have to imply or guess that “every temptation” might be referring to a possibility that during these 40 days, Jesus faced every temptation known to man – which might be a bit of a stretch. So, for the sake of argument I would say Jesus did not specifically face sexual temptation during these 40 days in the wilderness.

However, think about this: Christ had women following him all the time. And I would even say He received more attention from women than any of us men ever have or ever will. In the eyes of a woman He must have been the perfect man! He was full of wisdom, He was selfless, He was affectionate, and He was a good listener, and I’m sure Jesus was good looking as well (1 Samuel 17:42 mentions that David was “handsome in appearance,” so I’m sure Jesus was as well. He is his descendant after all). Christ was not only probably attractive in a physical sense, but He was definitely attractive in the moralistic sense. So, His flesh may have been tempted to lust, but He resisted, and His popularity may have tempted Him to become prideful or egotistical, but He resisted. Jesus intentionally chose love over lust every time.

Jesus was too busy loving people to lust after them. For as Scripture says, “the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart (1 Sam. 16:7),” and “his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see (Isaiah 11:3).” Jesus’ mission was to save the hearts of mankind. Thus, we are to focus our intentions on sharing the love of Christ with those around us as opposed to looking at others with the intent of benefiting ourselves. Intentionally choose love over lust.
Our Savior took upon the flesh and suffered as we do. He has given us His Holy Spirit to strengthen us in our struggle against temptation. So, remember and believe: Christ suffered as we do, He sympathizes with us, and He cares for us and makes provisions for us daily. He has demonstrated that we are more than capable of conquering over worldly desires. Look to God and know: “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Rom. 8:18).”

For because He himself has suffered when tempted,
He is able to help those who are being tempted.

Hebrews 2:18

How to resist temptation

When it comes to learning about how we are to resist and overcome temptation, I believe there are three major truths that we must believe and put into practice:

1: God sympathizes with you

2. Temptation has no power over you

3. You are a new creation

God sympathizes with you

Hebrews 4:15 says “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Our God has come to this earth and taken on the flesh. His body had the same neurons and nerve endings as that of our own, and He has felt every kind of temptation, struggle, and pain that we have. Scripture even says “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your own blood (Heb. 12:4).” We have not done so, but Christ has. Christ resisted temptation throughout His whole life, and then through the excruciating punishment on the cross, and He did so on account of our sins. Our God is a God of mercy and a God of sympathy. Our God sympathizes with our every weakness.

Temptation has no power over you

Scripture says, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability; but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry (1 Cor. 10:13-14).” Temptation does not have power over us, for there is no temptation that can overcome us. When temptation comes, do not entertain the idea. Run away from it, and run towards God, for He will provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Trust in this promise, and trust in His strength.

You are a new creation

Temptation feels so powerful because it plays off of the desires of our flesh, and as it currently stands, we are very much “fleshly.” The flesh that we have received is of the fallen seed of Adam; thus, it is a sinful flesh that possesses sinful desires. Note: Jesus did not receive the seed of Adam, for His seed was directly from God and was never tainted by sin. This ought to give us some additional insight into why Jesus was able to overcome temptation with perfection – He did not receive sinful seed. He received the Spirit of God within untainted flesh. Whereas we Christians have received the Spirit of God within our already tainted flesh, that is, tainted by sin.

Romans 7 grants us revolutionary insight into the war that is waged between our new heart and our sinful flesh. Paul makes it very clear that he has “the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out (v18),” and that “nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh (v17).” Note: We Christians all have the desire to do what is right, yet nothing good dwells in us. How can this be so? Because the part of us where nothing good dwells is in the flesh, whereas the desire to do what is right is in our hearts.

May I propose a concept to you that you may have never heard: You have a good heart!

An immediate response might be: Well, how can that be so if I am so constantly being tempted by evil desires? I am clearly no good, I am indeed evil.

My fellow believer, were you not born again? Does Scripture not tell us we are a new creation? That the “old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17)? How can you say you are evil now that you have been born again? “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you (1 Cor. 4:16)?” Would God send the Holy Spirit to dwell in a heart of evil? Of course not!

Ezekiel 36:26-27 says “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” God has given us a new heart with new desires. The only reason that we still feel the desire to do evil at times is because we are still at home in the flesh. It is not our hearts that desire evil, only our flesh. For our flesh is not part of the new creation, only the part of us that we cannot see has been made new.

Our hearts were once evil. But now we have a new heart in which the Holy Spirit dwells, granting us power over sin.

The flesh, clinging to its old desires, makes temptation feel very powerful at times. But trust in this: “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal. 5:24).” “We may sometimes still give in to our desire to sin, but Christians are no longer people controlled by our sin. We have agreed sin is worthless, and we have declared, in Christ, our intention to move, with Him, away from sin using God’s power.”[4]

Noteworthy mention from C.S. Lewis

If nothing I’ve yet written is of any use, take this advice from a more noteworthy Christian. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis said, “Only those who resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to talk against it, not by laying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. . . We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means.[5]





5. Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity (Great Britain, Harper Collins Publishers, 2012), pg. 142.