Summary: Temptation is not sin but can easily lead to sin. However, God provides a way out when we look for it.
One time four Christian friends were spending a couple of days hunting together. Back at the cabin one night they decided to tell each other their biggest temptation. The first said, “Well, it's kind of embarrassing, but I struggle with pornography. I keep having to fight it.” “My temptation is worse,” said the second fellow. “It's gambling. I keep getting this urge to place online bets.” “Mine is worse still,” said the third guy. “I sometimes just can’t stop drinking.” The fourth fellow was quiet. “Guys, I hate to say this,” he said, “but my temptation is worst of all. I love to gossip, and if you’ll excuse me, I need to make some phone calls!”
Maybe you think your particular temptation is worst of all. Oscar Wilde said, “I can resist anything but temptation.” Everyone is tempted. Even Jesus was tempted while on earth. Hebrews 4:15 says he was tempted in every way common to humanity but never sinned.
So what is temptation? Temptation is the enticement to sin, the proposal of Satan to go beyond God’s boundaries. James 1:14-15 says, “Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” It’s not a sin in itself to be tempted. Even Jesus was tempted, as we said. It only becomes a sin when you act upon it. But there’s a fine line here. In his famous Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) Jesus said if you look at a beautiful woman long enough, you commit adultery in your mind. If you harbor angry feelings for a person long enough, you commit murder in your mind. So watch out when you’re close to that line. Get back! Be like Joseph in Egypt, and run for your life!
What is interesting is that temptation is usually rooted in a God-given desire or need, but the temptation is to fill that need in a way not pleasing to God. For instance, sexual temptation is to meet a God-given need for intimacy but in a way beyond God’s boundaries for sexuality. And the temptation to gossip is to meet a need for strong self-esteem but in a way that damages others and displeases God.
Various scriptures tell us God never tempts us, but God does allow us to go through temptation to depend on him and to strengthen us. Just look at the story of Job or today’s story of Jesus in the wilderness.
1 Corinthians 10:13 has a great promise with regards to temptation: “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 endure it.” The Greek word for “way out” is the word from which we get our word “exit.” So when I think of this verse, I think of the green lit-up exit sign above exterior doors. When you find yourself in the midst of temptation, look for that exit sign God has promised, and he will show you the way out. I have seen God do this for me, literally. I’ll catch myself wanting to gossip, and when I look for the exit sign, the urge is gone, and I feel a new compassion for the person I just wanted to trash.
When it comes to temptation, Satan is clever. He will tempt each of us in ways unique to us. We won’t be tempted like Jesus was, to turn stones into bread or jump off cliffs believing that angels will save us. Those were designed specifically for the God-man Jesus. Satan will tailor your temptation to your weak areas.
I remember hearing about one pastor who loved to play golf. He was out there every Monday on his day off, but sometimes he would overhear other golfers talk about how beautiful it was on early Sunday mornings, when the retirees were sleeping in or off to church. He kept thinking about this, wondering how he could get time off from church on a Sunday. One beautiful Sunday morning he gave into the temptation and called his assistant and said, “I just don’t feel good this morning. You’re going to have to preach.” He drove to the course with an excitement of a little kid. Hardly anyone was there. It was a pristine morning.
Meanwhile, God and his angels are watching from heaven. The head angel says, “You’re not going to let him get away with this, are you?” God says, “Don’t worry; I’ve got it all under control.” Well, the pastor tees up, and amazingly hits a hole-in-one! The angel says, “God, you’ve got to do something here!” God again says, “Don’t worry.” On the second hole the pastor does it again, and on and on until he completes 18 holes, each one a hole-in-one! He can’t believe it. As he’s walking off the course in glee, the angel says, “God, what have you done?” God smiles and says, “Think about it; who’s he going to tell?”