A common misconception among believers, new and old alike, is that temptation is sin. New followers of Christ need to know this is not the case. Otherwise, they will fall into misery and defeat.
“Temptation” is being enticed to sin. You are walking along the path and someone bumps into you, they hurt you; and the thought flits through your head to respond in anger. That’s temptation. A person of the opposite gender walks by, and something inside you tells you to look him up and down; that’s temptation. Someone walking with you says something that hurts, and that same voice whispers that you should slander her reputation. That’s temptation. Let me cover three things about temptation.
1. Temptation is not sin
As a new follower of Jesus, you need to hear this. This is commonly misunderstood. You know that you have passed through the gate and your heart has been been changed; and yet these tempting thoughts still pass through your thinking. And no matter how hard you try, you can’t stop them from passing through.
As you walk longer on the path, you will learn how to control those tempting thoughts a little, but they will always be there, until sin is removed from every cell of our being. But please hear this: these thoughts are not sin; they are temptation.
Of course, temptation becomes sin when we yield to it. It becomes sin when you respond in anger or slander. It becomes sin when you let your eyes dwell on her and undress her in your mind, or when you create a fantasy relationship with him. But as the old song says, “Yield not to temptation, for yielding is sin.”
2. No one can make you sin
While you were on the easy road, you were enslaved to sin. It held sway over your life. It controlled you, and you did not have the will or the power to fight back. But when you passed through the gate, the mastery and tyranny of sin was broken. Sin is no longer your master.
There are many wonderful promises about this in our owner’s manual. Jesus says, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Another verses says, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to us all. 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).
You will often feel all alone in your temptation. You will look up and down the path, and see no one. And in your head you will hear a voice, “no one has ever been tempted like this. No one has ever had to turn his head away from such a beautiful woman. No one has had to deal with such a jerk. It’s not your fault; go ahead and yield.” In case you are wondering, that is the voice of sin.
But the promise of God, who is always faithful to his word, is that no temptation is unique. Every temptation you face has been faced by others, including Jesus, in one form or another. You are not alone. But perhaps more significantly, God promises that no temptation will be so great that it can make you yield. In fact, in the midst of the temptation, God promises that he will make a way clear for you to move out of the temptation before it becomes sin. No one can make you sin.
Of course, we still yield to temptation and sin, but we stumble not because we have to but because we like to. We like to sin. It is the habit of my heart, a habit that started being formed the moment I was born, and a habit that I have fine-tuned most of my life. The mastery of sin was broken at the gate, but I brought my heart habits through with me, and they remain powerful. So did you.
3. God is on your side
Jesus wants you to win. He wants you to succeed so badly that God the Holy Spirit was sent to live inside you, to guard you and to guide you. Paul tells the church that they are to walk “by the Spirit,” and they will not carry out the sinful desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16). They are to take each step guided by the Spirit, empowered by the Spirit. We will talk a lot more about this later.
I had a basketball coach once who was not on my side. I still remember the first time it happened. I was shooting a free thrown and I heard, “Bet you miss it.” I assumed it was someone in the crowd heckling me, and I was more frustrated that I heard it than anything else. I don’t know if I made the free throw or not, but my guess is that I missed. I got set for the second free throw and I heard the same voice, “Bet you miss it,” but this time I recognized the voice. It was my coach. I turned and looked at him with disbelief, as did the entire team on the bench, and he repeated it again, “Bet you miss it.” This continued for the rest of the season. I must have done something to offend him. I started to expect his taunt every time I shot a free throw. Actually, I could have probably made a lot of money with those bets, but his disbelief in me paid off and I missed a lot of free throws.
How different this is from a person who believes in you and wants you to succeed. I had a wonderful third grade teacher, Mr. Cornforth. He used to come out during lunch break and hit softballs to us. We were amazed; he would stand at one side of the play area and we lined up at the other, and he still hit them over our heads. I loved Mr. Cornforth. It wasn’t until the end of the school year that we figured out he had been a New York Yankee and a good friend of Roger Maris. Mr. Cornforth believed in me. In whatever I did, I knew that he was cheering me on. He wanted me to succeed, and I did. Some times I wonder how much of who I am today is due to that man’s faith in me.
Jesus is on your side. He wants you to succeed. He wants you to “yield not to temptation,” and he is going to do everything he can — short of removing all temptation — to help you win. (As you will learn in later talks, it is the actual temptations that he uses to make us winners.)
So much for temptation.