Oscar Wilde famously wrote, “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it…I can resist everything except temptation.”
Temptation is a battle everyone faces. Sometimes, it sneaks up on us and we give in before we even realize the temptation is there. Other times, we wrestle with the temptation, doing our best to overcome. Many times, we are successful, but more times than not we fail.
Today, I want to offer some insights that hopefully will help us all find more success against temptation.
What is temptation?
James 1:12-15 gives us some of the clearest Biblical teaching on temptation. James draws an important distinction for us between the testing of our faith and the temptation to sin. Interestingly, in the original Greek, both “temptation” and “trial” come from the same word. The difference is seen in the outcome of a particular circumstance.
If an adversity builds my faith, trust, and reliance on God, then I can consider it a trial. But should that same adversity cause me to disobey God in some way, it then becomes a temptation. How I choose to respond determines whether adversity is a temptation or a test.
Where does temptation come from?
In distinguishing between trials and temptation, James also helps us identify temptation by its source. God is not tempted by evil and He does not tempt anyone to give in to any form of evil thought or action.
Temptation, however, is an inside job. James shows us that it comes when we are “lured and enticed” by our own desire. It uses our own fleshly desire against us to draw us out from a more desirable state of obedience.
We tend to blame our circumstances for our sin. James shows us that we are the ones to blame. Temptation comes when we allow ourselves to be duped into desiring something other than God’s provision.
How does temptation affect us?
We can see another distinction between trials and temptation in the outcomes of each. In verses 2-8, James shows us that trials strengthen our faith and draw us closer to the Lord. When God allows adversity in our lives, He hopes to draw us closer to Himself.
In verse 15, James shows the dangerous downward spiral into which temptation throws us. Sin is the love child when our fleshly desire gives in to temptation. When sin grows up, it leads to death.
There is a sense in which all death here on earth is the consequence of sin’s presence. The original sin in the Garden of Eden introduced death to God’s perfect creation, just as He warned it would.
But our present sin also leads to death on several levels. Because of our sin, Jesus died. When we harbor unconfessed sin, our fellowship with God is temporarily offline. Sin causes the death of relationships, health, and a myriad of other consequences. Temptation makes sin look very attractive in its immediate gratification. But it fails to show us the long term ill-effects.
What can I do to overcome temptation?
Nothing. You are powerless.
I am glad the article doesn’t end with the previous two sentences. You see while we are powerless on our own to overcome temptation, our almighty Redeemer has already conquered for us. The catch is that we must choose to appropriate His victory on the cross rather than give in to our desire.
In a previous blog, I offered some practical steps we can take when we find ourselves facing a battle with temptation. I would love it if you clicked here and read it. I think it will help.
In a way, Oscar Wilde was right. We only get rid of temptation by letting it have its way. Unfortunately, it’s never satisfied. It will be back again; begging for even more. As we grow strong in our faith, we recognize it sooner and turn to the One who is our rescue.
Duggan will be the Sunday School writer in December and January for The Index. This post originally appeared at JimDuggan.org.