Temptation is something we all face in life. As Christians, we know that sin originates in the heart and mind. We are told in the Bible to resist temptation and flee from evil desires.
But what exactly is temptation, and is experiencing temptation the same as sinning? This is an important question to answer.
What is Temptation?
Temptation is an enticement or desire to sin. It arises when our own evil desires are aroused within us, pulling us towards disobedience to God. Temptation itself is not sin, but it can lead to sin if we give in to it.
The Bible tells us that we will all face temptation, but we should not condemn ourselves for being tempted:
“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.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)
Temptation is a common human experience. Even Jesus was tempted, yet He did not sin (Hebrews 4:15). So, experiencing temptation is not a sin in itself. It only becomes sin if we give in to the temptation and act upon it.
Where Does Temptation Come From?
The Bible teaches that temptation arises from our own evil desires within us, not directly from God:
“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.” (James 1:13-14)
Our inner fallen nature desires what is contrary to God’s will. Temptation stems from the sinful inclinations that wage war within us against our desire to obey God (Romans 7:21-23). The devil may present temptation to us outwardly, but it can only entice us if we already have sinful desires within us that want to respond.
So temptation does not come directly from God, but God does allow us to be tempted to test and refine our faith:
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)
God allows temptation and trials to strengthen our faith and teach us perseverance. But He provides a way out of every temptation if we choose to take it (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Can We Avoid Temptation?
Since temptation comes from within our hearts, we cannot avoid it completely. It is part of living in a fallen world. Becoming a Christian does not magically eliminate all sinful desires from our hearts. Sanctification is a process.
However, the Bible encourages us to:
- Avoid compromising situations – don’t put yourself in tempting situations if possible (Proverbs 4:14-15)
- Flee from temptation – run away when confronted with temptation rather than flirting with it (1 Corinthians 6:18; 2 Timothy 2:22)
- Pray for strength – ask God for help in times of temptation (Matthew 26:41)
- Fill your mind with truth – combat temptation by meditating on Scripture (Psalm 119:9-11)
- Pursue accountability – confess struggles to trusted believers who can keep you accountable
While we will all face temptation as long as we live in this body, we can take steps to reduce compromising situations and ask God for strength to endure and stand firm when tempted.
Is Temptation a Sin?
Since temptation itself comes prior to any action on our part, merely experiencing temptation is not a sin. Jesus made this clear when He was tempted in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). He faced every temptation known to mankind but did not sin.
It is only when we give in to temptation and act upon it that it becomes sin. James 1:14-15 explains it this way:
“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.”
Simply having an evil desire arise is not sin – that is temptation. But when we allow that desire to “conceive” and give birth to actual sinful choices and actions, that is when it becomes sin.
Sometimes it can be difficult to discern when a temptation crosses the line to become sinful. Here are some principles:
- Inner reaction – Temptation may become sin if we continue to fantasize or visualize acting upon it. Jesus said lustful thoughts are sin even if not acted upon physically.
- Dwelling on temptation – When we purposefully dwell on a temptation instead of rejecting it, we allow it to take root in a sinful way.
- Emotional investment – When we become emotionally attached to a temptation, we are embracing the sinful desires. This is a form of “desiring evil” (1 Corinthians 10:6).
The key is rejecting rather than embracing the temptation. As long as we recognize temptation as wrong and strive against it, we have not sinned, regardless of how strong the urges may be. Our response to temptation reveals our hearts.
Overcoming Temptation as a Christian
Now that we understand temptation is not itself sinful, how can we gain victory over temptations when they arise?
1. Submit to God
The first step is daily submitting ourselves to God and His ways. The closer we walk with Christ, the more we recognize sin for what it is. Sin no longer appeals because it contradicts our new nature in Christ. Our desire becomes obeying and glorifying God rather than self-gratification.
2. Put on the Armor of God
Ephesians 6 tells us to put on the full armor of God to stand firm against the enemy’s schemes and resist temptation. This includes:
- Belt of truth
- Breastplate of righteousness
- Shoes of gospel of peace
- Shield of faith
- Helmet of salvation
- Sword of the Spirit (God’s word)
Putting on this spiritual armor daily prepares us to identify and resist temptation.
3. Flee from Temptation
When faced with temptation, we should literally or figuratively flee from it. Don’t try to rationalize or flirt with it. Run away (2 Timothy 2:22)! Avoid circumstances where you know you’ll be tempted.
4. Fill Your Mind with Truth
Counteract temptation by filling your mind with God’s truth. Quote Scripture, sing worship songs, listen to sermons, and meditate on Philippians 4:8. Starve your temptation by feeding your spirit with godly truth.
5. Pray for Strength
Cry out to God for strength and help when facing temptation. Jesus told His disciples to pray so they would not fall into temptation (Luke 22:40). Ask Him for a way out and wisdom to take it (1 Corinthians 10:13).
6. Cultivate Accountability
Surround yourself with strong believers who will keep you accountable. Confess ongoing sins and temptations to them. Let them encourage and pray for you in your struggles. Accountability provides motivation to resist temptation.
7. Learn from Mistakes
When you fail and give in to temptation, seek God’s forgiveness and learn from it. Don’t beat yourself up, but look at what led up to the sin, and how you can avoid or handle that situation better next time. Then move forward in Christ’s forgiveness.
By applying these biblical strategies, we can stand firm and resist temptation through the power of Christ. The more we grow in Him, the less power temptation will have over us.
Key Takeaways on Temptation:
- Temptation is not sin – Jesus was tempted yet did not sin
- Temptation becomes sin when we give in and act on it
- Temptation stems from our own sinful desires, not directly from God
- We can’t avoid temptation completely, but we can take steps to reduce it
- Dwelling on temptation can lead to sin even without acting on it
- Submitting to God, putting on His armor, fleeing temptation, and other strategies help us resist temptation
- Learn from failures, seek forgiveness, but don’t become discouraged
The next time you face temptation, remember it is common to all of us. Take steps to flee and resist it. Seek strength from God and His Word to stand firm. He will always provide a way out. With practice, we can increasingly gain victory over temptation by walking in the Spirit and grace of God.
As 1 Corinthians 10:13 encourages, “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.”
May we all keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, finding grace and help in times of need. God bless you!