“Temptation” is a word we hear bandied about in many contexts. Everyone knows from quite young what it means – the concept of being drawn into something you know you shouldn’t do. We hear the word everywhere casually warning us about this or that – it’s even the name of a well-known box of chocolates, but is it really so trivial?
A necessary evil?
Actually, temptation can feel dreadful. As disciples of Jesus having given our lives to follow Him, we know that temptation is not something we want to just give in to. (James 1:14-15)
When Jesus showed His disciples how to pray, He prayed, “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Matthew 6:13. He knew that temptation wasn’t something to be played with, to hang around – rather, run a mile from it!
Sometimes temptation comes as a shock. We suddenly find we are tempted when we simply did not expect it. We never saw it coming. But something stirred the base side of my nature and out of the blue came torrents of thoughts that disturb me and suggest things to me that I had not thought myself capable of thinking.
Ok, not all temptation is dramatic – sometimes you can experience temptation that just gives you a bit of an unrestful feeling, or you feel a little troubled in your conscience. But it can also be powerful – a war is waging in your soul; which of the forces you feel inside will win this battle?
The first victor
However, it says in the Bible, of Jesus:
“For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15.
In the midst of temptation, the fact that Jesus was Himself tempted in just the same way is a huge comfort if we truly let ourselves believe it! Absolutely everything that can be a temptation to me has also been faced by Jesus – and He overcame it without giving in!
By becoming a man, by feeling as weak and as vulnerable as we do, Jesus was able to demonstrate by His own life how to use the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome the power that temptation had over Him, and stop it leading Him to sin. He risked getting that close to sin, but fought every time and never gave in! This is what He wants us to do – follow His example and never be overcome by temptation.
An opportunity to be like Jesus!
I haven’t experienced a lot of tragedy or terrible things in my life, but I have of course been tempted many times in small ways and occasionally I have faced enormously powerful temptations, so I literally felt I was swinging between heaven and hell. But in both trivial things and significant things the sure knowledge that Jesus has been tempted very strongly like me and managed not to sin has given me great strength and resolve to fight so that I also do not give in to sin.
A strong temptation to envy someone I’m close to, for example, can come in waves, battering my friendship, threatening to poison my heart and separate me from my friend. I have to hold out in faith, “knowing that the testing of my faith produces patience, letting patience have its perfect work that I may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:4.
But there is a bigger picture here too – I actually had to be tempted to get to see what lies there hidden away in my nature! But regularly holding out in temptation gives me a greater degree of power over my sinful nature and through this an opportunity to made more like Jesus – in other words I begin to change! In the same chapter in James 1:2 he also writes, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials (temptations)…” Instead of dreading temptation, I can honestly embrace it with joy as a great opportunity to gain more of Jesus’ nature by overcoming my own.
Recently it dawned on me just how fantastic it is to have this power over temptation; what it would be like if I couldn’t deal with temptation. I’d just be knocked around, vulnerable to every strong impulse in my mind or body. But with a great joy in my heart I realized what a huge privilege it is to have God’s power and His Word to use – a combination that actually works to overcome temptation! It wouldn’t have been possible without Jesus’ extraordinary pioneering example, but because of Him, it is. How amazing!