Temptation and sin: How can you tell the difference?

VIDEO: When is a thought a temptation, and when have I sinned? How can I overcome?

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Audio transcript

Mark Kloosterman

If we don’t understand what the difference is between sin and temptation, then it’s easy to come into condemnation and confusion, when the intention is that we come to a victorious life. So really understanding this, the difference between sin and temptation, is the key to an overcoming life.

So, what is temptation? How are we tempted? Why are we tempted? We can read that – James writes about that very clearly. We can read that in James 1 from verse 14.

“But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.” James 1:14-16.

Here it says that each one is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own desire. It is easy for people to think temptation comes from the outside – he made me angry, the devil made me do it. But that’s not what it says in God’s Word. I am tempted because I am drawn and enticed by my own desire, by that nature that I was born with – that lust that is inside me. That is what causes me to be tempted. And that is what makes it hopeful, because then I can do something about it. I can’t change everyone else so that they act in a way that doesn’t bother me. That would be a really hard life.

But because the source of my temptation is within me, then I can do something about it. Then it says, “… when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” James 1:15.

In my temptation, that is where the lust and the desire in me becomes active. It comes to me as a thought. And there, just the fact that the thought comes and the temptation comes, there is actually nothing wrong with that. James writes further up in verse 2 that we should count it all joy when we come into various trials and temptations. (James 1:2)

If it was wrong to be tempted, how could we count that as being joy? But we can count it as joy because with the temptation, we have an opportunity to get victory over that sin that is inside us. We can deal with it, so that we can come to a happy life where we are not controlled by those lusts and desires that dwell in us.

It is when lust conceives, and that takes an agreement in my mind, when I give in to it, I agree with it, then it gives birth to sin. But if I don’t agree with it, if that lust never conceives, then sin never results, it never gets born. Then the consequence of that, of sin being full-grown and bringing forth death, that never has to be the fruit in our life. On the contrary, we can come to good fruits, instead of it leading to death.

So, what can we do in the time of temptation? How can we be one of these overcomers, one of these ones that never allows lusts to conceive, who always says no when that suggestion comes? We can read that in Hebrews 4 – some very amazing words are written here.

Hebrews 4:15, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses …”

There is a double negative there, so we can also read it this way: We do have a High Priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses, who was tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin. We have a High Priest, Jesus Christ, and He can sympathize with our weakness.

What is our weakness? What is our weakness as human beings? Is it that we fall so easily in sin? Is that what Jesus can sympathize with?

No, He was tempted in all points like we are, but without sin. That’s not what He sympathizes with, that we so easily fall. What He can sympathize with is that it takes so little for us to be tempted. Somebody just has to look at me the wrong way, speak to me in the wrong tone of voice, and that desire is awakened inside.

He can sympathize with that. Why can He sympathize with that? Because He knows what’s it is like to be tempted. He had a nature like ours and He was tempted in all points just as we are. How are we tempted? I am tempted from within. Jesus had it the same way. He was tempted in every point.

Can I be tempted in something that Jesus wasn’t tempted in? It says every point He was tempted, yet without sin. That is what makes our High Priest so great, that He went through that for our sake. He was tempted in every point, the same way we are, yet without sin.

That awakens a hope in our hearts now. He came here to set an example for us. He came to leave footsteps for us to follow in so that we also can be like Him. We can be tempted in all points, and we experienced that, but like Him: yet without sin. That is the gospel that Jesus came with. Then the next verse became so hopeful, in verse 16:

“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16.

Because we know that we have a High Priest, a Savior, who loves us, who knows what we are going through, who can sympathize with us, then we can boldly go to the throne of grace in the midst of our temptations.

We can go to Him in prayer, we can ask Him for help and we know that He sympathizes with us; He knows what we are going through. He is sitting there on the throne of grace making intercession for us, that we also can overcome. That’s the High Priest that we have so that we can get help in our time of need.

And when is our time of need? Is it when we have fallen? That’s too late then. Our time of need is right in that moment of temptation. We can go to the throne of grace and get help. That’s what grace is. It’s help. It’s strength. It’s power. It’s that resolute mind, that decision that I make, that just like Jesus had it, I would rather die than sin. We arm ourselves in advance with that mind that Jesus had. That becomes a tremendous weapon against sin.

There where before we were weak, and where our past experiences were that “In that situation I always fall flat on my face, I just can’t manage it, I am too weak.” Yes, that’s how we are as human beings. We are weak. We can’t stand against sin. In my own strength, I can do nothing. But is that God’s intention that we should remain there in our own strength? Here it’s written about the throne of grace where we can get help so that I no longer have to depend on my own strength.

I can get help that I didn’t have before so that my old experience of falling and falling and falling doesn’t determine my future experience, because something has changed now. I have help, I have a High Priest who is praying for me and gives me grace and strength so that in the time of temptation I also can stand; I can say no. In that moment of decision, I get power and strength to say no.

Instead of lust conceiving and giving birth to something horrible, instead, something good can conceive, something good takes place in my mind and in my heart and it gives birth to something very good – fruits of the Spirit. Love, joy peace – all these things that I wasn’t born with, all these things that are God’s promises for us that we can partake of.

I praise God and thank God that we as younger ones, we can use the grace that is over us. We can be overcomers, we don’t have to be slaves to our nature. It can often be easy too to think that “I am the only one who has it this bad. I am tempted to this horrible thing and that horrible thing. There must be something wrong with me.” But Jesus was tempted in all those points too and He overcame, and He made a way through that.

I would like to read one more verse that confirms that. We can read that in 1 Corinthians 10:13. “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

There’s no temptation that comes on your way, that you face, that isn’t common to man. We all have the same nature. There is one flesh in man. The way that Jesus made goes through that so that we all have the same possibility to overcome it. God arranges our situations so that it isn’t beyond what we are able to manage when we are humble.

In that temptation, He makes the way of escape so that we can overcome it, so that we can bear it. What is that way of escape? By going to the throne of grace, going to our High Priest and asking Him for help and power so that we don’t give in. Then we find that way of escape, every single time. That’s our calling. I praise and thank God for the victorious life that He has called us to.

Song (Alyssa)

Hallelujah, it is still the time of grace!
“Watch and pray,” the trumpet sounds in every place.
By God’s Word my heart is stirred,
And I know my prayers are heard;
I’ve the chance to hear but also do His Word.

O what a golden opportunity!
I’m tempted, and I see the sin that dwells in me.
In God’s great might I will rise up and fight.
Each sin will be condemned, and victorious I’ll stand!

It is glorious to hear God’s Word today;
But God also longs that I in faith obey.
He with fire baptizes me,
And through battle I’m set free
From my wretched nature! What great liberty!

O what a golden opportunity!
I’m tempted, and I see the sin that dwells in me.
In God’s great might I will rise up and fight.
Each sin will be condemned, and victorious I’ll stand!

Though I’m weak, I am with God a mighty man!
When by faith I fight, no enemy can stand!
Now the way ahead I see.
Faith and pow’r belong to me;
Every day becomes a day of liberty!

O what a golden opportunity!
I’m tempted, and I see the sin that dwells in me.
In God’s great might I will rise up and fight.
Each sin will be condemned, and victorious I’ll stand!

From the songbook Ways of the Lord #460
Lyrics: Jan-Hein Staal
Melody: Jan Willem Boer

Sam Petkau

I am so happy that we can hear these things. Think to be able to sit and listen to the Word of God and receive it into your heart as the Word of God. It’s easy for a human being to say, “I believe in the Bible.” But the question that should come to us is, “Do I believe what the Bible says or do I believe what I think about the Bible?”

When it says, like we heard now, that desire, when it has conceived, brings forth sin. Think about that. Desire, when it has conceived – that place right there is where I can do something.

When we think about Adam and Eve, when the serpent came to Eve and said, “Has God really said …?” Then she quoted back and said, “Yes, here is what God said.”

If she had hung on to that even though she looked and saw that it was good, it could be interesting, it could really do something for me, “but the Lord had said!” Had she held on to that Word, then sin would not have conceived even though she was tempted. And that’s why Peter writes that the Word of the Lord endures forever. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My Word will never pass away. Think about the power of God that is in His Word.

Eve couldn’t hold on to both, right? She couldn’t say, “Well, I am going to eat and still hang on to God’s Word.” One of them had to be sacrificed. One of them had to fade into the distance. It was right at that point, where she pushed aside. This is conscious. This is a conscious thing.

The situations of life, they chase out a consciousness of something in me that is selfish. Then I have the opportunity to say, “But I am not going to live that way. I am going to hang on to God’s Word and therefore I can overcome.” That’s why it says in Revelation that “He who overcomes.” Jesus says, “just like I overcame.” How did He overcome? Think about it. Think about what the Word of God says; don’t think about your feelings in this. Think about the Word of God. He who overcomes, even as I overcame.

How did He overcome? Read the story of his temptations. How did He overcome? He said, “It is written!” and then he stood on that firm foundation. God has said I shall not and therefore I will not. And sin was not conceived in Him, ever. Not in one little circumstance did He ever give in and He is our Forerunner. Now we can follow Him. We can take the Word of God, like it says in Psalm 119:9-10.

“How can a young person cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word. With my whole heart I have sought You; Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments!”

“Let me never push aside Your Word and do what I am tempted to do.” The temptation, no problem. Sin didn’t come through temptation. Sin came through disobedience.

That’s the opportunity that we have in life. “Help me!” It says in Hebrews about Jesus, He cried out with loud cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death. The death of sin. He was heard because of His godly fear.

“No, I want to keep your Word. I know everything else is going to pass away.” You don’t have to be some kind of a scientist to know that everything will pass away. Just look around! Things deteriorate, pass away; they age. Things pass away, but the Word of Lord stands forever. Why shouldn’t I choose then, at that point, rather to hang on to something that will last forever and turn down that which is temporary?

Then it says Psalm 119:11, “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You.” Temptation we can’t avoid. But we can avoid this, “that I might not sin against You.” And I want to strengthen all of us: Let’s hide the Word of God in our hearts. Love the commandments. Love the Word of God so much that when our lusts rise up, we have something to fight with.

Arm yourself with the whole armor of God. Be ready. You will be tempted. There is no question. And by the Word of God and the power that God has given us through His Holy Spirit, those temptations, those desires that come up in the temptation, never need to conceive in us. We can stand there together with Jesus, having overcome just as He overcame. What a life! What a life!

How interesting it is to think about that. This is just a desire. This is a desire I have, yes. But extend it a little bit. The desire, maybe envy, somebody else gets honor, but look down the trail of envy and see the devastation on the trail of envy. People who have given in to envy, people who have given in to impurity. Look down that trail and see the devastation that it is causing. Now you have a calling and an opportunity right in the temptation to rise up above all that evil and conquer in the name of Jesus Christ, who is our Forerunner.

And one day we will stand together with Him, having overcome. What a life! What a good purpose in life here on earth. God strengthen us in that direction.

Mark Kloosterman

Yes, that was really good. As we heard, we can’t avoid being tempted. And Martin Luther said once that you can’t stop a bird from flying over your head, but you can stop him from building a nest. And that’s exactly how it is with temptations. We can’t avoid being tempted; we can’t help the fact that a thought comes through my mind. That can feel dirty, because we are tempted to things that are bad and wrong. It can feel like I am contaminated. But have I agreed with it? Have I said yes?

Every temptation is a choice where I have the chance to say yes or no. And if I didn’t say “yes” to it, then I haven’t fallen. There we need to fight the fight of faith and not live according to our feelings so that every time in our time of temptation where I have the choice to agree with God’s Word or to agree with my desire, I say “no.” Then I never have to sin. That’s our gospel, that’s the good news that Jesus came with.

Song (Trevor, Patrick and Eric)

Have you heard of the way, yes, the new, living way,
Which was opened by Jesus, God’s Son?
Have you heard, He came down, took all sin on Himself?
Have you heard how He wrestled and won?

For the way Jesus opened was through His own flesh.
All sin met its judgment and death.
When He cried, “It is finished,” on Calvary’s cross,
The way then was opened for us.

With strong crying in prayer He cried out to His God,
And with anguish and tears battled through!
From His brow His sweat came forth like great drops of blood,
For not once His own will would He do.

For the way Jesus opened was through His own flesh.
All sin met its judgment and death.
When He cried, “It is finished,” on Calvary’s cross,
The way then was opened for us.

Will you follow Him daily, denying yourself?
Will you walk on this new, living way?
Follow Him who when hated responded in love.
Will you walk in His steps every day?

For the way Jesus opened was through His own flesh.
All sin met its judgment and death.
When He cried, “It is finished,” on Calvary’s cross,
The way then was opened for us.

From the songbook Ways of the Lord #314
Lyrics: Edvin Andersen 


Daniel: What they said about always having a word of God in your temptations, that really spoke to me. When Jesus was in the wilderness and He was tempted, then He answered back with “It is written.” And that’s something that really spoke to me, and something that I can use in my battles.

Mikayla: I think it was really good for me what was said about knowing the difference between temptation and sin. Because it’s very easy for me to be like, “Oh, well I’m tempted to that, how can I let that into my mind?” But it was really good for me to realize that even though it’s there, I have the choice to say “no” to it, and that’s been a really big help.

David: For me, it’s just really exciting to hear that I have a choice, and that temptation isn’t sin. It’s not the end point, it’s not that I have sinned, but now I have a choice to make. I can choose to not agree with that temptation. It’s always awesome for me to hear in James, where it’s written to count it all joy when you fall into various trials and temptations. I sense for myself I have a way to go before it’s “all joy,” but I can get there. It’s written that I may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. That’s a realistic goal for myself that I have, that I can be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. I have full faith in the Bible and in God’s Word, that Jesus will strengthen me in my battles here, that I can be faithful in my temptations.

Rachel: Something that I thought was really, really cool to hear, was that when you come into temptation, then you have a choice: you have sin, and you have God’s Word there. And that’s actually where it really, really matters. It’s whichever you choose to take with you, that’s the one you have. That’s your choice that you are making and a conscious decision. I thought that was really good and it’s very important to think about actually. To get that into your head: I have that choice, every day, and I have to make it; I have to choose.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®, unless otherwise specified. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.