One of the common experiences of mankind in the moral realm is the recognition of a strong pull or attraction in the direction of doing what we know to be wrong. Sometimes we resist successfully. At other times we give in. That urge or appeal to do wrong is called “temptation.” Our ability to understand and resist it successfully, by the power of God, has a profound effect on our progress as believers. It spells defeat or an overcoming life.
The Meaning Of Temptation
In Bible usage temptation has more than one meaning.
1. Testing or proving of man by God in the area of faith is one meaning (Genesis 22:1; Exodus 15:25; 16:4). The trial of faith may be direct, as in the case of the command by God to Abraham to offer Isaac. It may be indirect, in the difficulties and persecutions in life (James 1:2-3; 1 Peter 1:6; 4:12). Testing is not for the purpose of giving God information, but rather to prove the reality of our faith.
2. Challenging or provoking God by man is a negative use of this word (Exodus 17:7; Acts 15:10; 1 Corinthians 10:9; Hebrews 3:8). One tempts God by expressing doubts about His love or power, by un-scriptural actions designed to force His hand and by presuming upon His grace by continued rebelliousness. Such actions can provoke God’s anger (Psalm 106:29; Isaiah 5:25).
3. Enticement or allurement to do what is wrong in God’s sight is the meaning which most commonly comes to our minds (James 1:14; Galatians 6:1; 1 Timothy 6:9; 1 Thessalonians 3:5). This is the subject of the present lesson. God never directly tempts man in this manner (James 1:13), although He permits Satan to do so. He also permits, at times, the Devil to test or harass believers (Job 1:12; 2:3-6).
When the Psalmist pleads for God to try him and see if there is any hurtful way within, he appears to convey the first meaning (Psalm 139:23). When the Lord Jesus is invited to cast Himself down from the pinnacle and then be rescued by the angels, he declines to tempt God (Luke 4:12). This is the second meaning. The so-called Lord’s Prayer includes the phrase, “Lead us not into temptation” (Matthew 6:13), and is followed by the phrase “but deliver us from evil.” Thus it is clear that the third meaning is in view. Each usage of the word must be carefully distinguished. It is encouraging to read this from God’s Word: “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, Who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13 NASB). God uses temptation for His own purposes and for the good of man. By it He manifests faith and integrity, develops traits of character—such as patience—and often stops the mouths of the enemies of God.
Three Sources Of Enticement
The attack upon man comes from three directions. It is helpful not to confuse them or to overlook an area where we may be vulnerable.
1. The Devil is a personal, active agent of evil, enticing or seducing man from a path of following God. He is called the Tempter (Matthew 4:3; 1 Thessalonians 3:5). The word “devil” means “slanderer” or “accuser.” He slanders God to man (Genesis 3:5) and slanders man to God (Revelation 12:10). The word “satan” means “enemy” or “adversary,” because he is the enemy of both God and man (1 Peter 5:8). The origin of this evil one is suggested in Ezekiel 28:12-19 and in Isaiah 14:12-14. The Devil operates by casting doubt on God’s Word (Genesis 3:1); oppressing people physically, mentally and spiritually (Acts 10:38); and leaving a path of destruction which merits the name Apollyon or Abaddon, meaning “destroyer” (Revelation 9:11). This deadly ministry can influence man in such a way as to cause him to lose his soul. The Devil is a murderer of souls (John 8:44).
2. The World is that alluring system of values, morals and ungodly influences which draws the unwary away from God and into its orbit. This use is not to be confused with the same word sometimes used to mean planet earth or its inhabitants. The evil world system has Satan for its prince or leader (John 12:31; Ephesians 2:2). This system is held by him as a baby in its mother’s arms (1 John 5:19). To be friendly with it is to be an enemy of God (James 4:4). Believers are in it in the sense of living there (John 13:1), but not of it in personal participation or conformity (John 15:19). Those who are born again are said to have overcome the world (1 John 5:4).
3. The Flesh is used as an expression in three different ways in the Bible. It refers to mankind generally (Acts 2:17), to the human body (John 1:14; 3:6; 6:51) and to lustful desires or cravings that go beyond proper limits set by God (Galatians 5:16, 24; James 1:14; Ephesians 2:3). It is this third sense that is in view here. Natural desires are taken beyond proper bounds when the flesh takes control. For example, sex, which is legitimate within marriage, becomes fornication outside of marriage. Eating to meet the needs of the body becomes gluttony when we live to eat, stuffing to the point of obesity. The deeds of the flesh are described as “immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envyings, drunkenness and carousings” (Galatians 5:19-20 NASB). Persistence in such things is a mark of those who will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:21).
The Two Natures—The Flesh Against The Spirit
The believer in Christ is quite aware of a personal struggle, often intense, between the desire to do right and the temptation to do wrong. “The flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Galatians 5:17 NASB).
The believer is saved, but unfortunately, his nature is not. It has not been changed by the new birth. “Nature” is the inclination, disposition, character or capacity for doing something. The old nature, which tends to sin as surely as a dog tends to bark, is the disposition of man from birth. It is inherited from Adam (Romans 5:12). By nature, man tends to lust and indulge the desires of the flesh and the mind (Ephesians 2:3). Sometimes this nature is called “the old man” (Ephesians 4:22; Colos-sians 3:9) or the “carnal mind” (Romans 8:7). This nature is a source of evil (Mark 7:21-23). It is shaped in iniquity (Psalm 51:5). It is hostile to God and cannot please Him (Romans 8:7-8). Nothing good can come from it (Romans 7:18).
When we are born again we receive a new nature, not a rehabilitation of the old one (2 Peter 1:4). We are made a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17) and a “new man” (Ephesians 4:24). There is a divine seed implanted which cannot sin because it comes from God (1 John 3:9). Since the old nature is neither removed, nor improved, there is an understandable strife between the two natures, as outlined in Romans 7:15-23. It is important for the new nature to gain the ascendance over the old one. To do this, we must draw on the power of God, nourish the new nature in every way and starve the old one in terms of gratification in any form. The Apostle Paul speaks of buffeting his body to keep it in subjection (1 Corinthians 9:27). This is an expression for self-discipline.
Two Illustrations Of Enticement
The temptation of the first human beings is a case history of the three routes by which man is assaulted. (Note 1 John 2:16.) When the forbidden fruit was dangled before Eve’s eyes by the Tempter (Genesis 3:6), it was seen to be “good for food” (the lust of the flesh), “pleasant to the eyes” (the lust of the eyes or the world), and “desired to make one wise” (the pride of life or the sin of the Devil).
The temptations of the Lord Jesus follow a similar pattern. He was first tempted, when hungry, to make bread from stones, an appeal to the flesh (Matthew 4:3). He was next invited to cast Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple that He might be rescued by angels, an appeal to the pride of life (Matthew 4:5-6). He was finally offered the world in all its glory as a reward for worshipping the Devil, or the attraction of the world (Matthew 4:8).
Victory Over Enticement—What God Has Done
No temptation confronts man but what our Lord Jesus Christ has already conquered, thus making provision for our victory.
1. Defeat Of The Devil was accomplished by the Lord Jesus at the cross (John 12:31; 16:11). Satan’s power over believers was broken (Colossians 2:15; Hebrews 2:14). We are never told to fear the Devil. Rather we are told to resist him, and then he will run away (James 4:7). He certainly would not do this if he still held power over the believer. We are warned, however, not to give him opportunity against us, since he will cleverly exploit it (Ephesians 4:27). Although he can tempt, deceive and attack believers, he can be withstood by the power of God through the blood of the Lord Jesus (Revelation 12:10-11).
2. Defeat Of The World is a further accomplishment of our Lord. He said, “Be of good cheer. I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). He has utterly condemned it (John 12:31; 1 Corinthians 11:32). For this reason we must maintain a moral separation from it (2 Corinthians 6:14-17). This does not mean isolating ourselves from non-Christians (Matthew 11:19). It means rather to abstain from defilements, compromise and unequal relationships. We are not to love the world (1 John 2:15). We are to overcome it by faith (1 John 5:4).
3. Defeat Of The Flesh was assured when the Lord Jesus broke its power at the cross (Romans 6:6). There He condemned sin in the flesh (Romans 8:3). We were once slaves of sin but are now free (Romans 6:20-22). Christ is the “double cure” of sin in the believer. He saves us both from its guilt and its power. We are not helpless victims of irresistible lust. We have the enablement of God to overcome fleshly desires which would cause us to sin.
Victory Over Enticement—What We Must Do
Victorious provision by our Lord always requires personal appropriation. The foes therefore continue to attack. Every temptation has a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). It is always good to pray in time of temptation, realizing the weakness of the flesh (Matthew 26:41). We need to draw on the enabling power of the Spirit in order to overcome. Wise actions will help us in avoiding certain temptations (1 Corinthians 7:5). Overconfidence in our own flesh is a dangerous attitude and must be shunned (Philippians 3:3). The Scripture lays out for us the path of victory.
1. Reckon or “count yourself dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11 NIV). Our minds must be oriented to realize that we died with Christ, our Great Substitute, on the cross and all that pertained to the old life died with Him there (Colossians 3:3). A dead man is not attracted to sin.
2. Yield or “offer yourselves to God, as those who have returned from death to life, and offer the parts of your body as instruments of righteousness” (Romans 6:13 NIV). We are told to offer our bodies as living sacrifices to God (Romans 12:1). The river of the Spirit can then flow through a controlled life (John 7:38-39). “Live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of your sinful nature” (Galatians 5:16 NIV).
3. Resist the Devil, we are exhorted (James 4:7). We must pray and make use of the Word of God (Matthew 4:1-11). Active spiritual warfare, calling for our participation, is as much a part of victorious living as resting in Christ’s victory over our enemies and appropriating His power. Both active and passive measures should be employed.
Provision For Failure
1. Claim Christ’s Assistance. A Christian, though he may sin less, is not sinless. Therefore, the Bible says, “If any man sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). The next verse states that Jesus settled the sin question when He died on the cross for all our sin—past, present and future. Now Jesus is our Advocate, Lawyer, and Counsel before the Father to plead our case when we sin.
2. Confess To God. Our fellowship with God is restored by confessing our sin (1 John 1:9). The word “confess” means “to say the same thing as another” or “to agree with.” When we confess a sin we are agreeing with God that the thing we have done is wrong. It is not enough to merely agree with the fact that we have sinned, but we must also specifically state what sin we have actually committed.
3. Claim God’s Forgiveness. Accept God’s complete forgiveness and cleansing. Once a sin has been acknowledged and forsaken, failure to accept God’s forgiveness is to call Him a liar, for He has promised forgiveness on those terms. Continual dwelling on a past sin can become the occasion for future stumbling.
Temptation is a fact of life for every Christian. He faces the formidable trio of the Devil, the world system, and the flesh. In spite of this, the Lord Jesus has called us out of darkness to walk in the light, live in victory, bear fruit abundantly and to manifest a transformed life. Christ has made this possible by defeating our enemies on the cross and becoming the Captain of our salvation (Hebrews 2:10). As our Captain He desires to lead us in triumph, and through us spread “the fragrance of the knowledge of Him” everywhere (2 Corinthians 2:14 NIV).Moreover, Christ has provided us with four invaluable resources to meet the great challenges of spiritual battle: the Holy Spirit living within us (Romans 8:9,11), Christ Himself interceding in heaven for us (Hebrews 7:25), the Word of God feeding us and fighting for us (Ephesians 6:17), and prayer—opening the lifeline to God for us (Hebrews 4:16). Even with so great a leader and such resources, spiritual victory still
demands that we follow and obey the truth. It does not spring from mere intellectual knowledge of Bible information. It does not find its roots in subjective spiritual experiences apart from the directive Word of God. To call Jesus “Lord” and feel no responsibility to do what He says is false profession at the worst and hypocrisy at the best (Luke 6:46). Obedience is the test of spiritual reality (1 John 2:3-4), the test of our love for Him (John 14:15-21) and the way of spiritual growth.
1. Contrast the origin, nature and purpose of trials (James 1:2-12) with the origin, nature and purpose of temptations (James 1:13-15 NASB).
2. Identify the source of temptation in the following verses and identify the characteristics of each source.
Ephesians 6:11-12; 1 Peter 5:8
Romans 12:2; 2 Timothy 4:10; 1 John 2:15-16
3. What is the ultimate basis of our own victory over temptation (John 12:31-33; Romans 6:6)?
4. Two well-known passages on temptation are Genesis 3:1-6 and Joshua 7:20-21. In your opinion, where does temptation end and sin begin in each passage? What progression do you notice in each case?
5. Contrast Genesis 3:1-6 with Matthew 4:1-11. What similarities and differences do you see concerning the temptation and the results?
6. Paraphrase (rewrite in your own words) 1 Corinthians 10:13.
What do you learn about limits and provisions in this verse? How do you account for temptations that seem too great for you to bear?
7. Read Romans 6. Does a Christian have to sin? What is your responsibility?
8. What are some preventive measures you can take to overcome temptation? Psalm 119:9-11
Matthew 26:41 2 Timothy 2:22 James 4:7
9. What would be an example of making “provision for the flesh” (Romans 13:13-14)?
What principle do you see in Acts 19:19? How have you applied this principle in your own life? What was the result of the action these believers took (Acts 19:20)?
10. What should we do when we fail (1 John 1:9)? What does this involve (Psalm 32:1-5)? Is this provision a license to sin (Romans 6:1-2)?