Like the pull of gravity or the force of magnetism, there is an invisible power working on your mind. It pulls and tugs, trying to bend your will toward its source. If you allow it to draw you, its pull intensifies, and soon its power seems overwhelming. Finally, you give up all resistance and yield. You have just succumbed to the power of temptation. Temptation is a real force, and it is dangerous! Every person who has lived, including Jesus Christ, has felt its power. As a Christian, you need to know how temptation works — and how to resist its subtle influences, which lead to sin! Where does temptation come from? What is the best way to avoid or resist it? Is temptation sin?
An admonition from Jesus
During Jesus Christ's final night with His disciples, before His crucifixion, He gave them a warning: "Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41). Jesus well understood the subtleties and powers of temptation and the weakness of human beings. That's why He gave this admonition. Temptation is not sin, but it is the forerunner of sin. Temptation is an appeal to the carnal, human mind and flesh to think or do something contrary to God's law of love. It's a force of attraction in the wrong direction. Have you ever experimented with a magnet? If you place a small piece of iron not far away from a magnet, invisible lines of force will reach out from the magnet to attract the iron. If you place the iron piece just a little closer, the attraction will intensify. Nudge the iron still closer and it will be drawn all the way to the magnet. Temptation works much the same way. For some people the object of wrong attraction might be money, for others drugs. Some are allured to overindulge in food and drink. For a great many the enticement comes from power and sex. The original, classic case of temptation is found in the first book of the Bible. Eve, the first woman, was approached by a subtle serpent — Satan the devil — who aroused Eve's interests and desires by offering her a false image. In her deception Eve "bought" it (Genesis 3:1-6). Satan succeeded in enticing her and stirring up a wrong desire within her. Through Eve Satan tempted Adam, the first man, to sin, and the result is the world in which you live. What Satan did to Eve he is doing to the whole world. The Bible calls him the "god of this world" (II Corinthians 4:4, Authorized Version). He is the father of lies (John 8:44), and we may also appropriately call him the father of temptations. He has created an atmosphere of lust, envy, jealousy and competition that has led billions of mankind into sin and resultant death. Satan, the "prince of the power of the air" (Ephesians 2:2), has been responsible for the wrong enticements, pulls and attractions that influence us in this world. But as flesh-and-blood humans, we carry a burden of responsibility, too, for many of the temptations that draw us.
Flesh and blood — a root of temptation
Speaking through the apostle James, God said: "Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death" (James 1:14-15). The apostle Paul frankly discussed his own battle with temptation: "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me" (Romans 7:18-20). As Jesus said, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. The Bible tells of many individuals and even whole nations that have succumbed to temptation. In the book of Judges, for instance, is the story of how Samson was unsuccessful in resisting Delilah's temptation (Judges 16:4-21). Samson, therefore, endangered his own life and the security of his people. II Samuel 11 shows how David became so obsessed with his desire for Bathsheba that he perpetrated both adultery and murder. Joseph, on the other hand, was able to resist temptation in the case of Potiphar's wife (Genesis 39:1-12). Joseph exercised a restraint and control that kept him from yielding to a persistent temptress — that kept him from sinning against God. How did he do it? Why was he able to resist when others could not? Joseph was just as human as any of us. He wasn't perfect. He sinned in his life. The Bible says, "There is none righteous, no, not one... for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:10, 23). Yet, in this and other situations Joseph was able to master temptation and keep himself from sinning. How? Let's remember Jesus' admonition: "Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation." While David and Samson had temporarily forgotten this principle, Joseph apparently had not. He remembered he was human and vulnerable to temptation, and so stayed close to God in prayer, watchful of circumstances around him. Forgetting how human we are is a serious mistake. It will lead us to lower our spiritual defenses and allow ourselves to draw near situations we ought not. Human nature or, more accurately, carnal mindedness is tuned in to temptations. It desires to go the wrong way. It is naturally attracted to Satan's lures. Unless we catch ourselves and resist soon enough, we will be caught off guard and pulled into sin. Let's turn our attention now to the example of Jesus Christ. In the book of Hebrews we find this statement: "For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). For 33 1/2 years, Jesus Christ successfully withstood all the pulls, tugs and enticements of Satan, this world and His flesh, and did not sin. Jesus followed His own advice. He knew His own human qualities and strengths were no match for the spiritual warfare He had to wage. He plainly stated, "I can of Myself do nothing" (John 5:30). No human being has the strength to fight this spiritual warfare alone. But though we can do nothing of and by ourselves, Jesus also tells us, "With God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26). When a person is spiritually close to God and relies on God's power, seemingly impossible tasks become possible.
Speaking to those who had received God's Holy Spirit, Paul said, "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (II Timothy 1:7). This is the way Jesus Christ fought all His battles and won. He had a full measure of God's Spirit. He had the very mind of God. He was able to overcome every wrong temptation. The greatest time of temptation in Jesus' life, the confrontation between Himself and Satan, serves as the example of our learning. You can read about this titanic spiritual battle in Matthew 4:1-11. Satan three times tried to tempt Jesus into sinning against God and thus disqualifying Himself as Savior of the world. But Jesus rejected Satan's lures and thus qualified to replace Satan as ruler of the world at Jesus' Second Coming. The confrontation between Jesus and Satan was a total success for Jesus. He had fasted and prayed and was filled with the knowledge of the Scriptures, and was well armed for the enticements and attractions that were put before Him. Jesus knew the enemy was not just Satan, but the fleshly pulls of His own body. In Paul's second epistle to the Corinthians, God inspired these words: "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (II Corinthians 10:3-5). Just as Jesus Christ needed the spiritual presence of His Father to assist Him with His struggles, so we need Jesus Christ's intervention and assistance in our struggles. He can help us literally capture every wrong thought before it leads us into sin. He can and will help us to overcome the temptation to sin, if we stay close to God spiritually. Let's take seriously Jesus' helpful admonition to watch and pray!