Temptation Topical Study

Preaching and Worship Resources about Temptation

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While not sinful in itself, temptation is the universally experienced inward pull toward sin and wrongdoing in the human heart. When given attention or weight, it gains gravitational force and leads inevitably to sinful acts. It is often perceived as coming from a being or force outside ourselves, replicating the primeval story of the Fall.

In Scripture

Adam and Eve The original story of Adam and Eve centers on an innocent couple who begin to consider another way of seeing themselves and their relationship to God. A fellow creature, the serpent, beguiles them with the idea that if they eat of the forbidden tree they will be "like God, knowing good and evil."

Temptation Leads to Sin This primeval story offers an interesting taxonomy of how temptation leads to sin. It begins with a conversation about God, which was a first for Adam and Eve; they had only conversed with God. To them God is now someone to be looked at, judged, and regarded objectively from the outside, rather than revered as Source and Creator. Then doubts are planted about God's purpose in forbidding the tree. Maybe God knows something we don't, Adam and Eve think. Finally something is offered that, while deemed sinful by God, is attractive to them: the fruit of the forbidden tree. And it tastes really good.

King David In another key story of human temptation and sin (2 Sam. 11), King David, the "man after God's own heart," lazily remains in Jerusalem while his soldiers are fighting at the front. Lounging on the roof deck of the palace, he happens to notice a lovely woman bathing nearby. Aroused, and feeling the invincible power of royalty, he has her brought to the palace for an afternoon tryst. But this one temptation leads to another, and another. Bathsheba, who is married to Uriah, one of David's soldiers, reveals that she is pregnant, and David is the father. After failing to get Uriah to do his marital duty and cover up the pregnancy, David secretly writes Uriah's commanding general to get rid of him by placing the soldier in harm's way.

Jesus, Tempted by the Devil After Jesus, who is the Son of David and Son of God, is baptized, he begins his saving work by being sent into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Matt. 4:1-11). The Savior must experience the full life of those he came to save, and that means he needs to know temptation. In his three temptations, Jesus is tempted to use his divine power to abandon his human brothers and sisters by doing things the easy way. In each case, Jesus refutes the devil with the Word of God, undoing Adam and Eve's failure to obey God's commands.

The Lord's Prayer, which Jesus taught his disciples, invites us to pray, "Lead us not into temptation." While the language seems to imply that God is somehow the tempter, its true meaning is that in facing temptation we face forces that are much stronger than the capacity of the human will. We ask God to deliver us and make us strong in the hour or temptation, not because he causes it (God tempts no one, according to James 1:11-15), but because God ultimately has even Satan under his control.

Jesus and Peter This is illustrated in a stunning conversation between Jesus and Peter just before the crucifixion (Luke 22:31, 32). Jesus tells Peter, "Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat," an interesting take on temptation. In other words, Jesus asserts that, while God tempts no one, God is ultimately in control of even the devil's tempting power. "But I have prayed for you," Jesus tells Peter, "that your own faith may not fail" (Luke 22:32). In fact, it does fail, as Peter denies Jesus three times, but Jesus' final words explain even that failure: "when once you have turned back [acknowledging the failure], strengthen your brothers."

Paul tells us that temptation is common to all people, and in itself is not sin. Still when it comes, Paul assures us that God allows no temptation to come "beyond your strength" but provides "the way out so that you may be able to endure it" (1 Cor. 10:13). This means that we are not to see temptation as insurmountable if we keep looking to God in faith.

Points to Ponder

How Temptation Works It is important for people to understand how temptation works. It's not typically the devil calling us to do some heinous act. It starts, like the serpent in the Garden, with doubts about God's goodness and his desire to enhance our welfare. From there, it's easy to candy-coat evil with excuses, lying to ourselves about our weakness.

The best antidote to temptation is a correct view of ourselves. If our default self-image is one of weakness and sinfulness, if our default mode is guilt, we are ripe soil for the tempter. If we more and more see ourselves as redeemed people, bought with the blood of the Lamb, the greater will be our power to withstand temptation. That's why Paul is always calling the recipients of his letters "saints." Paul looks to what we are already in Christ as the greatest antidote to the tempter's power.

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Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.