It is a common misconception that being tempted is, in and of itself, sinful. I disagree.
But I can understand why people come to this conclusion. They think that because that drug, lust, movie, or whatever even created that feeling for them--that temptation, that slight urge to do something about it--that they are filled with sin.
It cannot be denied that we are sinful, imperfect people with a tendency to lean toward bad decisions on occasion. But when we don't give in to tempting desires and sin, that can be a powerful thing.
Okay, so let's start with reasons we know temptation doesn't have to be sinful (on its own).
1. Simple logic problem:
- Fact: Jesus was perfect and never sinned.
Fact: Jesus was tempted, just as humans are tempted.
Conclusion: If Jesus was tempted in the same way we are tempted, yet He still remained sinless and perfect, then temptation itself must not be the sin.
Matthew 4:1 - "Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil."
2. We know that we will be tempted.
It's as simple as that. We also know that temptation comes from the devil, not from God...and we are warned to be aware of the possibility of temptation coming our way because the devil is tricky and will take every chance to strike at our weakest moments.
1 Peter 5:8 - "Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour."
But why are we being warned about this? We are being warned because we have free will--the power to choose, for ourselves, whether or not we will give into those temptations and evil desires. Temptation, by itself, is beyond our control. We can't control what the devil is going to do and what he is going to try to send our way. Temptation is in his hands. However, we can control what we do with that temptation. How do we respond? Free will kicks in here...and that is also where sin takes a role. If we allow that temptation to have its way in our lives, then we sin. If we actively refuse it and avoid it, then we do not enter into sin. And, side note: we are strengthened by that.
James 1:13-15 - When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
Now...what do we do about this?
1. Simple: Just say "NO!"
Yeah, I know... that's the speech we all got in middle school when we had to sit through school assemblies and awkward classroom activities about saying "No" to drugs and to peer pressure. But let's be honest: there's some truth to all of that.
The less you do, the less you will be tempted by it later. And the more you say "No," the more comfortable you become with saying it. And the more you say it to the same people (if, unfortunately, you must do so), the more likely they are to stop asking you or trying to push into something you shouldn't be doing. Send the right message to the devil: BACK OFF! YOU CAN'T WIN ME!
2. Pray about it.
God wants us to rely on Him fully. He wants to be our first responder--the very first One to whom we turn we are in trouble. If you are struggling with a temptation in your life, something that continually haunts you and causes you to fall, don't be afraid to admit this to Him. He knows already anyway, but He wants you to be the one to tell Him about it. Allow Him to take the wheel for a while...because we all know it's hard to do this all on our own. Besides, Jesus experienced temptation on a first-hand basis. He knows what you are going through and how it can take its toll on you; and He wants to be involved in helping you through it.
Matthew 26:41 - "“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Hebrews 2:18 - " Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted."
And don't be afraid to talk to other people about it. Find someone you can trust. Get engaged in a small group or find an accountability partner. Strive to find at least one person to whom you can pour out your heart, open up the messiest pits of your soul, and really allow into your "buffer zone." Talk about your struggles and about the sins of your past. You may find this helps you reach deliverance. And an extra person or two on board provides for you an extra resource: someone to check in on you, keep you accountable, be faithful in prayer for you, and really help you through the trial.
Ecclesiastes 4: 9-10,12 - "Two are better than one...If either of them falls down, one can help the other up...though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken."
James 5:16 - "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective."
3. Remember there is always a way out.
You always have the option of doing the right thing. And the Lord will never allow the devil to tempt you more than you are able to handle. If God Himself knows that you are able to resist the temptation, make the right decision, and move forward...then shouldn't you have that kind of faith in yourself? GOD--your Creator and Father--knows you can handle this. That's a pretty big deal!
1 Corinthians 10:13 - "No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it."
And don't think that just because you are able to handle the pressure, you have to do it all on your own. God is with you every step of the way. It's like that old poem, Footprints in the Sand, tells us: when we are weak and can't do something on our own, the Lord will not just walk beside us--He will pick us up and carry us.