Summary: Was Jesus really tempted? Was it possible for him to sin? Did he have free will?
Many people encounter a dilemma when they think of the idea of Jesus being tempted. They question whether Jesus was really tempted. Did he feel temptation the way we do? Could he have given in to temptation? Was it possible for him to sin? The Bible gives a pretty clear answer when it says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). If Jesus could not have sinned, then he could not have been tempted. If it was impossible for him to sin, then he would not be a moral being. If he could not choose to be evil, then he had no choice but to be good. And if he did not choose to be good his goodness was pointless. Because he could be tempted, and it was possible for him to fall to temptation, he exercised his choice to do what was good and holy. If he did not have a free will to do what was evil, neither did he have the free will to do what was right and good.
Because he was then, and still is, able to choose either good or evil, and chooses each moment to do good, he is a holy God. Now, if he had chosen to sin, the world would have flown apart because God would have betrayed himself. And since God’s immutable character of holiness holds the world, and all that is, together, the world could not have continued to exist if God had violated his own laws and nature. If there are no choices for God to make then the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness were meaningless. They were a sham and only for show. Our God is a holy God, and the only way he can be holy is to be moral; the only way he can be moral is if he is capable of making moral choices.
That is why our freedom of choice is so important to God. He is willing to tolerate the sin in the world for the sake of having a moral world. He allows some not to choose him for the sake of those who will use their freedom to choose him. If he prevented anything evil from happening, and took all possibility of sin out of the world, he would have to remove our power of choice. If we had no power to choose evil, neither would we have the power to choose good. If it were not possible for us to be immoral, we would no longer be moral beings. We would no longer be good or bad, we would be robots and our choices would have no moral merit. Temptation is simply the process of being presented with a moral choice. The temptation itself is not evil. We should not feel guilty about being tempted, it is merely being confronted with a moral decision. We have not already sinned when we have been tempted, only if we finally give in to the temptation is it wrong. Don’t be afraid of temptation. It is a normal part of life for people faced with moral choices. The only people who never struggle with temptation are those who never resist temptation and simply go along with it. But you do not have to give in, for the Bible says, “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).
Not only are your temptations common to man, but in the person of Jesus, they are common to God as well. In the Scripture today, Jesus is faced with real temptation. He feels the full effect of it. He is presented with moral choices and makes the right choices, proving his perfect character. He was fully tempted, and yet fully righteous. He did not linger with the temptation. He did not toy with it and toss it over in his mind. He felt it, he faced it and he was finished with it. He struggled with it, but triumphed over it.
What were the temptations of Jesus? His temptations were the same temptations you and I face every day. The Bible says, “For this reason he had to be made like his brothers [and sisters] in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:17-18). He knows what temptation is like and he can help you with it because he has been there.