Category: Temptation


Temptation, by its very nature, feels wrong. God’s moral law is written in the heart of every human being (Romans 1:20), and when a sinful temptation is introduced, our consciences immediately sense danger. However, the temptation itself is not the sin. Jesus was tempted (Mark 1:13; Luke 4:1-13), but He never sinned (Hebrews 4:15). Sin occurs when we mishandle temptation.

There are two avenues by which we are tempted: Satan and our own sinful flesh. Acts 5 gives an example of someone tempted by Satan. Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, wanting to appear more spiritual than they really were, lied to the apostles and pretended they were giving as an offering the full price of some property they had sold. Peter confronted them: “How is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?”(verse 3). In this instance, Peter knew that the temptation to lie had come from Satan. Ananias and his wife both gave in to that temptation (verses 7-10). The betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot is also attributed to Satan’s influence (Luke 22:3; John 13:2).

Ultimately, since Satan is the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) and the father of lies (John 8:44), all evil originates with him. However, our own selfish nature is an ally of Satan’s. We need no prompting from Satan to entertain sinful ideas. James 1:13-14 says, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.”

Even though we may desire to do good, we are all tempted. No one is above it, even someone like the apostle Paul. He shared his own struggle of flesh against spirit when he wrote in Roman 7:22-23, “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.”

Temptation is not of itself sinful. It becomes sin when we allow the temptation to become action, even in our minds. Lust, for example, is sin even though it may never be acted upon (Matthew 5:28). Covetousness, pride, greed, and envy are all sins of the heart; even though they may not be apparent to anyone else, they are still sin (Romans 1:29; Mark 7:21-22). When we give in to the temptation to entertain such thoughts, they take root in our hearts and defile us (Matthew 17:19). When we yield to temptation, we replace the fruit of the Spirit with the fruit of the flesh (Ephesians 5:9; Galatians 5:19-23). And, many times, what was first entertained as a thought becomes action (see James 1:15).

The best defense against giving in to temptation is to flee at the first suggestion. Joseph is a great example of someone who did not allow temptation to become sin (Genesis 39:6-11). Although tempted to sin sexually, he did not give the temptation time to take root. He used the legs God gave him and physically fled. Rather than stay in a potentially dangerous situation and try to talk, reason, justify, explain, or otherwise weaken his resolve, Joseph took off. The temptation was not sin for him because he dealt with it in a God-honoring way. It could easily have become sin if Joseph had stayed around to try to match his wits and self-control against the power of the flesh.

Romans 13:13-14 (ESV) gives us a guideline for avoiding situations that can lead to temptation. “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” If we determine to “make no provision for the flesh,” we will keep ourselves out of situations that may prove too tempting. When we put ourselves in situations where we know we will be tempted, we are asking for trouble. God promises to provide a “way of escape” when we are tempted (1 Corinthians 10:13), but often that way is to avoid the situation altogether. “Flee the evil desires of youth” (2 Timothy 2:22). Jesus taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation” (Luke 11:4), but we have a responsibility to pay attention to the direction God is leading us and avoid temptation whenever we can.

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Nelson’s Bible Dictionary defines temptation as “an enticement or invitation to sin, with the implied promise of greater good to be derived from following the way of disobedience.” Resisting temptation begins with knowing that Satan is the supreme “tempter” (Matthew 4:3; 1 Thessalonians 3:5) who has been tempting mankind since our Creator placed His first two children in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3; 1 John 3:8). Ultimately, however, we know that Satan’s power over Christians has been effectively destroyed as the war has already been won through our Savior’s death and resurrection which conquered the power of sin and death forever. Nonetheless, Satan still prowls the earth looking to drive a wedge between God and His children, and his temptations are unfortunately a daily part of our lives (1 Peter 5:8). Yet with the power of the Holy Spirit and the truth of God’s Word to help us, we will find ourselves effectively resisting temptations.

The apostle Paul encourages us with these words: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Indeed, every one of us faces temptations of some kind; even Jesus was not immune as He was “tempted in every way, just as we are” (Hebrews 4:15). Although Satan may be the dark force ultimately behind the tempting, it is our fallen and corrupted human nature that allows these temptations to take root and causes us to act on them, thereby “giving birth to sin” (James 1:15). But it is the power of the Holy Spirit that enables us to free ourselves from the sin and temptations we struggle with in our daily lives. Thus, if we have the Spirit of Christ residing in our hearts, we already have what it takes to resist the flaming arrows the devil sends our way. As Paul told the Galatians, “live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Galatians 5:16).

The Word of God has always been our best defense against Satan’s temptations, and the better we know His Word, the easier it will be to claim victory over our daily struggles. The psalmist tells us, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11). When Christ was tempted by Satan in the desert, the first thing He did was to quote Scripture (Matthew 4:4–10), which eventually caused the devil to leave Him. Indeed, Christians need to be diligent in studying God’s Word. “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. Your commands make me wiser than my enemies” (Psalm 119:97–98).

In addition to God’s Word, prayer can help us to resist temptation. The night He was betrayed, Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, and He told Peter to pray “so that you will not fall into temptation” (Mark 14:38). Also, in the “Lord’s Prayer,” Jesus taught us to pray that we would not be led into temptation (Matthew 6:13; Luke 11:4). Yet, when we do fall into temptation, we know that “God is faithful; He will not let us be tempted beyond what [we] can bear,” and that He will provide us with a way out (1 Corinthians 10:13). This is a promise from God, and like Abraham, Christians should be “fully persuaded” that God has the power to do what He has promised (Romans 4:21).

Another way to help us resist temptation is to remember what Jesus Christ did for us. Even though He never committed a sin, He willingly endured the torture of the cross for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). Every sin we’ve ever committed, or will commit, played a part in nailing our Savior to the cross. How we respond to Satan’s worldly allurements is a great indicator as to just how much the love of Jesus Christ occupies our hearts.

Now, even though Christians already have the tools necessary for victory, we need to use our common sense and not place ourselves in situations that prey upon, or stimulate, our weaknesses. We are already bombarded every day with images and messages that tantalize our sinful lusts. We don’t need to make it more difficult than it already is. Even though Christ’s Spirit resides in our hearts, our flesh can be very weak at times (Matthew 26:41). When we know something is or can be sinful, Paul warns us to “flee from it.” Remember, the “tempter” is also the master of rationalization, and there is no limit to the arguments the devil can offer us to justify our sinful behavior.

Armed with God’s Spirit and the truth of His Word, we are well equipped to overcome Satan’s assaults (Ephesians 6). No matter what trials and temptations come our way, God’s Word and Spirit are infinitely more powerful than any of Satan’s schemes. When we walk with the Spirit we can look at temptations as opportunities for us to show God that He is indeed the Master of our lives.

The three temptations by Satan in the wilderness were not the only temptations our Lord ever suffered on Earth. We read in Luke 4:2 that He was tempted by the devil for forty days, but He was undoubtedly tempted at other times (Luke 4:13; Matthew 16:21–23; Luke 22:42), and yet in all this He was without sin or compromise. Although some have suggested that the Lord’s period of fasting compares with that of both Moses (Exodus 34:28) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:8), the main point is how the Lord deals with temptation in the light of His humanity.

It is because He is human, and made like us in every way, that He could do three vital things: 1) destroy the devil’s power and free those who were held in slavery by their fear of death (Hebrews 2:15); 2) become a merciful and faithful High Priest in service to God and atone for our sins (Hebrews 2:17); and 3) be the One who is able to sympathize with us in all our weaknesses and infirmities (Hebrews 4:15). Our Lord’s human nature enables Him to sympathize with our own weaknesses, because He was subjected to weakness, too. More importantly, we have a High Priest who is able to intercede on our behalf and provide the grace of forgiveness.

Temptation is never as great as when one has made a public declaration of faith as did our Lord when He was baptized in the Jordan (Matthew 3:13–17). However, we also note that, during this time of exhaustive testing, our Lord was also ministered to by angels, a mystery indeed that the omnipotent One should condescend to receive such help from lesser beings! Here is a beautiful description of the ministry that His people also benefit from. During times of testing and trial, we too are aided by angels who are ministering spirits sent to those who will inherit salvation (Hebrews 1:14).

Jesus’ temptations follow three patterns that are common to all men. The first temptation concerns the lust of the flesh (Matthew 4:3–4). Our Lord is hungry, and the devil tempts Him to convert stones into bread, but He replies with Scripture, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3. The second temptation concerns the pride of life (Matthew 4:5–7), and here the devil uses a verse of Scripture (Psalm 91:11–12), but the Lord replies again with Scripture to the contrary (Deuteronomy 6:16), stating that it is wrong for Him to abuse His own powers. The third temptation concerns the lust of the eyes (Matthew 4:8–10), and if any quick route to the Messiahship could be attained, bypassing the passion and crucifixion for which He had originally come, this was the way. The devil already had control over the kingdoms of the world (Ephesians 2:2) but was now ready to give everything to Christ in return for His allegiance. But the mere thought almost causes the Lord’s divine nature to shudder at such a concept and He replies sharply, “You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only” (Deuteronomy 6:13).

There are many temptations that we sadly fall into because our flesh is naturally weak, but we have a God who will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear; He will provide a way out (1 Corinthians 10:13). We can therefore be victorious and then will thank the Lord for deliverance from temptation. Jesus’ experience in the desert helps us to see these common temptations that keep us from serving God effectively. Furthermore, we learn from Jesus’ response to the temptations exactly how we are to respond—with Scripture. The forces of evil come to us with a myriad of temptations, but all have the same three things at their core: lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. We can only recognize and combat these temptations by saturating our hearts and minds with the Truth. The armor of a Christian solider in the spiritual battle of life includes only one offensive weapon, the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17). Knowing the Bible intimately will put the Sword in our hands and enable us to be victorious over temptations.