Refrigerator magnets, bumper stickers, lapel buttons, and some T-shirts fascinate me. I tailgate the car ahead or stop in mid-stride at store displays to read their short, often humorous, sayings. Granted, some are crude and tasteless, but many are amusing.
One of the latest to catch my attention was a lapel button adorning the jacket of fellow supermarket shopper. “Lead me not into temptation... I can find it all by myself!”
Isn’t it the truth! Temptation abounds. It coaxes out of every corner and just when we think we’ve avoided it, we run smack into it. Sad but true, temptation comes from within and without.
Retreating to a monastery, being deaf or blind, or even avoiding questionable activities does not guarantee freedom from temptation. It is as common as sand.
But is temptation wrong? Is it wrong if we think a mean thought, glance at a lewd poster, or are lured by the forbidden? What does the Bible say about temptation?
When Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tested (Matthew 4) the Bible says,”... the tempter came to Him.”
When the Apostle Paul was concerned about some new Christians, he said, “I was afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted you ...”
Obviously, there is one called the tempter. Scripture identifies him as the devil or Satan. Jesus said of him, “He is a liar and the father of lies.”
In other words, while we may stumble into dangerous territory, he gives the suggestions to act. His suggestions are always contrary to truth. He is skilled at making good look bad and evil look good.
Because of his skill, recognizing temptation is basic to resisting it. Not all temptation is presented as clearly as when I want to lose 10 pounds and find myself drooling in front of a bakery window.
Paul said that Christians have an understanding of how the temper works (2 Corinthians 2:11) and have the ultimate victory over him through Christ, but that does not stop his subtle enticement. Knowing God’s truth will help us recognize the tempter’s lies.
But we can’t blame everything on the tempter. Every person, although created in the image of God and capable of great good, is also in a sin-marred condition and capable of great evil.
James 1:14 is careful to point out that “every man is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” There is enough evil desire within us to drag us away into all kinds of activity forbidden by God. The lapel button is right: we can find it all by ourselves.
God does not condemn temptation. Jesus was tempted. In fact, Hebrews says He was tempted in every way we are — only He didn’t sin. So temptation itself is not a sin.
James 1:15 goes on to say, “Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”
There is a difference between temptation and sin. A tempting thought flying through our minds is not a sin. Inviting it to stay, is. The real issue is not that we are tempted but what we do about it. Do we think an evil thought, recognize it for what it is and discard it? Or do we play with it for a while in our minds, consenting to it and eventually allowing it to control our words and actions?
The power to resist temptation depends on the motivating factors in our lives. If we have strong reasons for saying no, we may very well be able to do it without God’s help. Yet even the thought, to do it without God, is another temptation. It is a subtle rejection of His power and grace. Yes, temptation is very sneaky.
God promises we will never be tempted beyond our capacity. He will provide a way of escape or a way to resist any temptation. We can rely on His power to lead us out, even if we got into it — all by ourselves.