When you hear the word, “temptation,” what comes to mind? Hollywood seems to love the word; including it in the title for a movie or TV show promises potential viewers an chance to venture into the realm of things taboo. But it’s hardly a new concept. From the very beginning of Genesis, when Adam and Eve confronted the temptation of the forbidden fruit and then succumbed to it, temptations have been ever-present and relentless.
As someone has said, “I can resist everything except temptation.”
Depending on the individual, being tempted can mean anything from indulging in extra pieces of candy, another alcoholic drink, or heading back to the buffet line, to indulging in purchases one can’t afford or yielding to the urge to spend another session in front of the computer viewing content we wouldn’t want anyone to know about.
Sometimes we don’t even try to resist. The magnetic pull of things we shouldn’t do seems too strong. We justify our missteps with excuses similar to that of comedian Flip Wilson’s classic character, Geraldine: “The devil made me do it!” But it’s at that point where we make our greatest mistake – the devil can’t make a follower of Jesus to do anything. He can offer an enticing suggestion, and we in turn can decide, “That sounds like a good idea.” Except it’s not.
One of the longest Bible verses I ever learned deals specifically with temptation. To memorize it, I found it best to put it to into practice: “No temptation has overtaken you except what 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, so that you will be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
When I reflect on this passage, two key truths stand out: First, temptations we face aren’t out of the ordinary; they’re not unique to ourselves. They’re “common to man.” Things that tempt us also trouble many other people. If we feel no one has ever faced temptations such as we’re dealing with, we’re wrong.
The second is there is always a choice. God will provide us with a “way of escape” or, as another translation puts it, “a way out.” Years ago, a friend who was a diabetic talked about one of his greatest temptations – Krispy Kreme donuts. Especially when the red neon light was on signaling a hot, fresh batch was ready for the taking. The Lord’s way of escape for him, he explained, would be to continue driving rather than turning the steering wheel toward the parking lot.
Two passages in Hebrews assert that even Jesus confronted temptations, so we can never contend, “Lord, You just don’t understand.” Hebrews 2:18 tells us, “Because (Jesus) himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” Then Hebrews 4:15 expands on that: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.”
So when we read the apostle Paul’s words, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13), we can apply this promise to overcoming temptations that threaten to defeat us. Knowing Jesus Himself was tempted, but never yielded to sin, assures us that we too can experience victory over temptation – through His strength.
One other thing strikes me when thinking about seductions trying to lure us into sinful behavior. We don’t have to worry about God tempting us, although He will test us at times through a variety of trials. There’s an important difference:
“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. 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 1:12-15).
The Lord brings testing into our lives as part of His process for molding and shaping us into the people He wants us to be. Much as a bodybuilder uses various weights to strength and tone muscles, God uses tests to strengthen and refine our faith.
As I see it, temptations come when our spiritual enemy presents opportunities for us to fail. Testing comes when God presents us with opportunities to succeed.