When we were controlled by our old nature, sinful desires were at work within us, and the law aroused these evil desires that produced a harvest of sinful deeds, resulting in death. – Romans 7:5 NLT
Have you ever been concerned you’re sinning just because you felt tempted? The New Living Translation Bible Dictionary defines “temptation” as “a cause or occasion of enticement.” And it defines “tempt” as “to entice to do wrong by promise of pleasure or gain; to test.”
Temptation is not the same thing as committing a sinful act. Temptation is the enticement or desire to commit the act. It’s the idea itself, presented in your mind, usually by our own sinful nature, and typically comes with some rationalization for why it would be “okay”. Temptation can also come from the enemy or sinful people we hang out with.
Temptations are different than trials. With loving intention, trials can come from the Lord, as Paul experienced through persecution during his missionary journeys. They can come from the hardships of life like Joseph experienced when his brothers sold him into slavery. Trials can serve as an opportunity to grow in our faith and dependence on God. Romans 5 tells us trials can grow us in endurance, strengthen our character, and increase our hope in the Lord.
Let’s take a look at an example. I’m a pushover for freshly baked chocolate chip cookies when it comes to temptation. Okay, since we’re being truthful, I’m a pushover for any chocolate chip cookie! So, if my wife is baking a batch, a part of me wants to “sample” or do a little “quality check” and then ask what they’re for. But this means I’m taking something which doesn’t belong to me. Even if I don’t do it, have I sinned? No, because when we’re talking about temptation, we’re talking about the desire rising inside us. Temptation can indicate an inclination toward a particular weakness, but it is not a sin in itself. It’s what we do with the temptation that matters.
In Romans 7, Paul describes this arousing of our evil desires, like when I smell the cookies baking and want one for myself. This is temptation. I choose to steal and eat the cookies. This is the sin. I disappoint my wife, and more importantly, offend God in His holiness, which we must all be accountable for. This is the consequence. Avoiding temptation is serious. Obviously, I’m using something light-hearted with the cookie example, but theft is a real sin, offensive to our holy and righteous God.
Sin is very serious, because it first kills us spiritually, then physically. There is no safe middle ground with sin. We all have a sinful nature since Adam and Eve’s fall in the Garden of Eden. In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus talks about two roads, one wide and one narrow. The wide road leads to destruction. The narrow road leads to life. When tempted, we must choose which road our next footstep lands on. Do we go “wide” and honor ourselves, or go “narrow” and honor God?
Defeating temptation means we take the desire captive and bring it before the Lord (2 Corinthians 10:5), seeking His will and way over the draw to disobey. Again, temptation is the desire, not the action or entertained thought. In Jesus, we have the strength and wisdom needed to leave temptation behind (1 Corinthians 10:13) and pursue walking in holiness. This is God’s will for us in Christ; we need His help daily.
1. Fighting temptation often means identifying it ahead of time. Make a list of your top three areas of struggle, and then search for passages of scripture that will strengthen you against them.
2. Find accountability with a brother (for men) or sister (for women) from church and ask them to help you stay on guard.