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Temptation is nothing special. We are all subject to it and never, in this life, will we grow beyond its influence. Even our Lord was tempted by all of the things that currently tempt us.1 Therefore, the question is not, “Will I be tempted?” but rather, “How will I respond?”
The epistle of James helps us to understand both the source and the purpose of temptation.
Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:
But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.
Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
First of all, it is essential to understand that God does not send temptation. Some Christians believe that God, being Sovereign, is the source of all things in my life. But the Scriptures declare unequivocally that God does not tempt us. In addition, these verses show us the purpose of temptation: to lead us into sin, and through sin, into death.2
Since temptation leads to sin, and never comes from God, it is both right and possible for us to resist all temptation at all times. Our Lord Jesus Christ, in his earthly ministry, left us an example of just how to do this.
Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.
You’ll note that we are told the subsequent temptation was from the devil, for he is the ultimate source of all temptation, from mankind’s first temptation to the temptations you and I face today. The record continues:
And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred.
And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.
But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple,
And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.
Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.
Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;
And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.
Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.
Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.
You will note that not all of the things the devil used to tempt Jesus were inherently evil. Bread is certainly not evil. And Jesus reigning over the nations of the earth is not in itself evil. Indeed, God will place him in just that position one day. The temptation, which Jesus resisted, was to accept any of these things from any source but God Himself.
And how did he resist these temptations? By declaring God’s Word, “It is written.”
Jesus could not have declared “It is written” unless he first knew what was written, and the same is obviously true for you and me. But, more significantly, by these words Jesus was declaring that, despite the temptation, he was choosing to believe God’s Word. And indeed, the common factor in all temptation is the fact that it endeavors to persuade us to abandon God’s Word for some other source of information. This source can be worry, peer pressure, fleshly experience─anything but the Word of God.
1 Peter 1:3–7
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,
Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:
That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.
You will note that Peter speaks of these “manifold temptations” as being a “trial of your faith.” Indeed, the target of all temptation is faith, and the only way to resist temptation is in faith. This helps us to understand a verse of scripture which many find confusing:
1 Corinthians 10:13
There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
What is this way of escape? Is it a secret trap door? Of course not. Plainly, if the object of temptation is to cause me to cease believing, then the escape is the decision to continue believing. And God has graciously provided the words for us to believe.
With this understanding, let us also recognize that temptation is not limited to things which we desire and hope to acquire. Temptation can, and often does, take the form of things which we dread and hope to avoid. For in both instances, the question comes down to, “Who am I going to trust? What source am I going to rely upon? Which words are true?”
I am so thankful that, unlike the sanitized biographies which men and women often write, God’s Word gives us the full record of both good times and challenging times. In its pages we can read of godly people facing horrendous, fearful circumstances. And we can learn from the choices they made.
Asaph, after being driven nearly to despair by the supposed “good life” of the wicked, then chose to remember God’s Word. And he emerged stronger.3 Jeremiah, after spending an evening being tormented in the stocks, began considering that God had deceived him by calling him into his ministry. But he too remembered God’s Word, and he too emerged stronger.4 The Scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments abound with records like these. And we can learn from each of them.
In addition, you will note that in most cases, these records end with praise and rejoicing on the part of the one who has endured the temptation. How can temptation which comes from the devil produce joy in the believer? Again, the explanation can be found in the Epistle of James.
My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;
Note that James also speaks of temptation as being a trying, a testing, a proving of my faith.
James 1:3–4 (English Standard Version)
For you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
These verses speak of steadfastness (“patience” in the King James Version), and this is the key. Although some may speak of what they have learned from catastrophe, in truth, simply living through a negative experience produces nothing of value. But for the believer who is steadfast and continues to be steadfast in believing God’s Word regardless of the surrounding circumstances, this choice produces growth and strength.5
In a sense, the thing which the devil intends for harm can become a “spiritual gymnasium” for the believer who remains steadfast.
An illustration can be found in physical exercise. Muscle is built by encountering resistance. Swimmers must push through the resistance of the water if they are to move forward. But all swimmers recognize that in doing so they will become stronger swimmers. A weightlifter is faced with the resistance of gravity ─ as the weight increases, so does the force of gravity. But in resisting that resistance, strength is gained.
What are we to resist?
1 Peter 5:8–9
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:
Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.
Few of us, if any, will encounter our adversary directly in this life. But we encounter him indirectly multiple times in every day. When this occurs (in the form of temptation), we are instructed to resist. And the only effective method of resisting is one which is grounded “in the faith.” The good news is that there is no temptation that will not eventually wither in the face of faith. And as it withers, we become stronger. That is something to rejoice about.
Placing our faith in God’s Word will result in joy and peace at all times.6 We must grow in the understanding that “believing God” is not a sporadic thing, not a tool to be pulled out only in times of trouble. We are to live by believing. As we do so, we find that joy and peace are our norm, on the hard days, and on every other day.
Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.
1 See Hebrews 4:15.
2 Although we as Christians have been given eternal life which can never be revoked, it is possible for us to bear fruit in our lives that is indistinguishable from the fruit borne by those who are spiritually dead. Consider, for example, Romans 6:16; 8:5–6; 2 Corinthians 7:10; and 1 Timothy 5:5–6.
3 See Psalm 73.
4 See Jeremiah 20.
5 The Greek words translated “perfect and complete” can be translated as “fully mature and fully equipped.”
6 See Romans 15:13.