Q & A

Can anything good come out of temptation?

The temptation to sin knows no social, racial or spiritual barriers. No group or individual has been immunised against it; sinners and saints alike experience the temptation to sin.

You may have an understanding of temptation that is wide of the mark, resulting in needless heartache. You may conclude that temptation has come because you are spiritually weak or have fallen out of favour with God. You may be appalled that the temptation to sin presents itself when you are praying, reading the Bible, meditating or worshipping the Lord. You may consider the ferociousness of the temptation and its ugly depth of evil to be proof that God has moved away from you. But that is untrue. Remember that the Lord Jesus Christ himself was tempted, yet he lived totally obedient to his Father in all things.

The purpose of temptation is to cause to behave in a way that is contrary to God’s will: to lie, cheat, steal, lust, hate, gossip, etc. It is important to understand that it is precisely because you are a child of God – though you may be a weak, struggling and doubting one, you are still his child – that Satan sees you as a legitimate target and so launches his attack upon you.

It is biblical to view temptation in a positive manner, as it is one of the ways God uses to help you grow and mature in your relationship with him. (Not that God is the one doing the tempting; that is Satan’s domain.) View every temptation as an opportunity to exercise your spiritual muscles by rejecting the temptation and choosing to do the will of God instead. And, like a body builder who grows stronger through exercise, you will become stronger the more you engage in making positive spiritual choices. No matter how often or how fierce the temptation you experience, you can be assured that God will not allow the temptation to be greater than you can endure: “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 provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

You may mistakenly think that you are the only one facing a particular temptation. However, the temptation you face “is common to man.” You don’t have the monopoly on any one area of temptation. Furthermore, your temptation has been experienced by the Lord Jesus Christ himself. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet with out sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) Those words, “tempted in every way, just as we are,” provide the comfort you need. As long as you are alive, temptation will exist. So welcome temptations as an opportunity to choose what is good, and to mature in Christ.

The next section suggesst some ways to avoid giving in to temptations.

The one responsible for temptation is Satan and the target of his temptation is your heart. He plants a temptation, hoping to find fertile soil in which it can grow and manifest itself in sin. This is what Jesus was referring to when he said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” (Matthew 15:18-19) Sin begins with a temptation that is nourished and ends in rebellion against God. James, in his usual clear manner, shows the progressive nature of temptation when he 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 one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (James 1:13-15) The evil thought is sown in the heart, then grows and finally displays itself in sinful behaviour, resulting in spiritual death.

That is what happened to Adam and Eve; Satan planted an evil thought in their heart, they embraced it and rebelled against God. “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” (Genesis 3:6) She saw, she desired, she sinned, she died. The same pattern is seen in the life of Achan, in the Old Testament book of Joshua, who acted in disobedience to God’s express command not to take any plunder after the defeat of Jericho. In his defence he said, “When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them.” (Joshua 7:21) He saw, he coveted, he took, he died. In both cases sin started with an evil thought, a temptation, which they could have rejected.

Responding to Temptation

James says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) If you are being defeated by the devil, check your resistance programme. Let me illustrate. If you are always getting colds then there is something wrong with your resistance; it is unable to protect you against the virus. You need to build up your resistance if you are to enjoy good health.

So how do you resist the devil? Since temptation presents itself in the form of thoughts such as “Look at that lovely woman,” “Tell that dirty story it will make you popular,” “You have the right to hate that person,” “Withhold some tax because everyone is doing it,” it is important to take our thoughts under control. Rick Warren, in The Purpose-Driven Life, makes a very wise observation when he points out that constantly thinking about the temptation is not the way to resist it. For example, the person who has to give a speech will be a nervous wreck when he gets up to speak if he keeps thinking of just how nervous he is. His thinking is only reinforcing his nervousness. What he needs to do is think of something entirely different, like how important the content of the speech is to his listeners, or what a beautiful day it is.

If you find yourself thinking evil thoughts, it is because you have cultivated this practice. You have learned to think this way. And you can unlearn what you have learned. As someone has said, “Habit overcomes habit.” Paul tells us the kinds of things we should be thinking about: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9) Paul says we must practise thinking about these things. And with practice it will become habit.

When you are confronted with temptation (remembering that it begins as an idea in your heart), immediately think of something godly such as, “I am loved by God,” “God is here to help me,” “I am precious to God,” “God will sustain me,” “God is always faithful,” “I will honour God by obeying him.” Fill your mind with holy, noble, honourable thoughts and, in so doing, you will resist the devil and overcome temptation.

The more you practise thinking godly thoughts, the stronger you will become. And the more you reject temptation, helped by the power of the Holy Spirit, the more you honour and glorify God. Temptation affords us the opportunity to say yes to God and no to sin. So there is good that comes out of temptation.