E27: Temptation isn’t sin; it’s an opportunity

PODCAST: Feeling bad about being tempted? Here’s why you shouldn’t.

22 min ·
Understanding the difference between temptation and sin (Christian podcast)

Have you ever felt bad simply for being tempted? You really shouldn’t! In today’s podcast episode Kathy and Julia talk about why you don’t need to feel guilty when you are tempted. It’s all about learning to see our temptations as “golden opportunities.”

Transcript: “Living the Gospel” podcast, Episode 27: Temptation isn’t sin, it’s a test of our faith!

This is ActiveChristianity’s “Living the Gospel” podcast. Join us as we explore different aspects of the gospel according to the Bible, and how we can put this into practice in daily life.

Kathy: Hi everyone! Welcome to “Living the Gospel.” I’m Kathy.

Julia: And I’m Julia.

Kathy: And we’re coming to you from very frosty Canada, on this Wednesday in mid-February, hoping that winter is on its way out here.

Julia: Although in reality, not likely.

Kathy: The hopes are not high, actually. Our topic today is …

Julia: Is … “Temptation is not sin.”

Kathy: So, it can sound like a really obvious statement in a way, but to know that and to understand it when we’re in the moment of temptation is actually …

Julia: It’s a different story.

Kathy:  … a very different thing.

Julia: So, we have an article on ActiveChristianity.org called, “What you need to know about temptation.” So, the article starts with a few questions:

“Is it possible to be tempted and not realize it? Is it possible to sin without being aware? What does it mean to be tempted? You experience temptation when a thought comes to your mind and you are aware that to act according to that impulse would be wrong. You come to a moment of decision: will I choose to sin here, or will I choose to overcome sin? Everyone is tempted when they are drawn away by their own desires and enticed, it’s written in James 1:14. A temptation is always conscious. You are aware that to give in to this thought would be to sin; to do what you know to be wrong. And it’s important to remember that you can’t be tempted without the thought first coming into your mind. That is the temptation, not sin you have committed!”

So that’s kind of… I mean, right away Satan would like any tool to come at you and discourage you. So, as soon as – for me it’s happened so many times when I come into temptation – if I’m tempted to, whether it’s grumpiness or complaining or impurity or anything like that, as soon as the thought pops in, Satan would come right away and try to discourage you with, “Ew! that’s in your flesh? That’s popping into your mind? How horrible are you? How gross are you?” But, like it’s written here, that you can’t be tempted without the thought first coming into your mind. So, in order to have a victory over a temptation, first, that thought needs to pop into your mind.

Kathy: In Revelations, it’s written to the churches in Asia minor, “To he who overcomes.” It isn’t written to those who are perfect, or those who have never gone through temptation. The promises are written to he who overcomes temptation. So, if we want to receive those promises, we have to overcome. So, temptations are actually a crucial part of our life.

Julia: Which is why James says in his letter, to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials (or temptations), knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” So that’s actually the way to perfection, is through these temptations. And the article goes on, and the next topic is how to respond to temptation:

“It has to do with your attitude: What do you want more? Eternal life with Jesus, or the passing pleasure of sin? That always has to be in your mind, then you will never agree with the thought that is coming into your mind. Go to God in humility and pray, ‘God, give me strength to stand here and to not give in. I am weak, but You are strong! Give me grace to overcome.’ You can’t overcome without power from Him, without the power of the Holy Spirit. You need His grace to be victorious. And then of course He gives you that power. ‘For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.’ 2 Chronicles 16:9. You can’t stop a temptation from coming in to your thoughts, but you can disagree with it and stop it from coming in to and affecting your spirit.”

Kathy: So, that actually reminds me of this example that Martin Luther gave one time. He said it this way, that you can’t stop a bird from flying over your head, right? But you can stop it from building a nest on your head and living there. So, he compared that with temptation. So, you can’t help that these temptations are coming; you have a flesh. And actually, that shows that you’re a perfectly normal human being. Every human being has a flesh in which dwells no good thing, Paul told us that; we know that for sure.

Julia: He also wrote in Corinthians that no temptation has overtaken you except for such as common to man. So, everything you are tempted to, Satan will come at you and try and make you feel so icky and gross because that’s in your flesh, but this is common! Everybody has these temptations. You know?

Kathy: Exactly! It’s very important to remember; there’s nothing you are going to be tempted to that actually isn’t common to man. And there can be things that you’re tempted to that actually make you feel very, very bad about yourself.

Julia: Or Satan would like to use them to try to make you feel bad about yourself.

Kathy: But if it’s there, and God has shown it to you, that means you can overcome it. So you see it – that’s like that bird flying over your head – you see the temptation, you know that you are tempted, but at that point, you make a decision: “No, I’m not going to let this thought stay! And I’m going to fight, and I’m going to go to the throne of grace and I’m going to ask for help. Then I’m going to get all the power I need to stand against this until it is overcome”. And it takes some time sometimes, just to fight and fight until you’ve overcome that entirely. It takes time, but as long as you haven’t agreed with it, as long as you haven’t said, “Yes, I’m going to allow this thought, I’m going to dwell on it, I’m going to let it live in me,” as long as you haven’t, that’s the same as in that example, you aren’t letting it build a nest on your head, you’re not letting it live.

Julia: You’re actually overcoming.

Kathy: You are overcoming! Even if you are continuously tempted, you are continually overcoming as long as you haven’t agreed to it. So, it’s actually very important to understand that, because you can feel, “Why isn’t it stopping; why am I still like this?” But as long as you keep saying “I don’t want this,” then you’re overcoming it.

Julia: Yeah, actually, the article goes on to say that, so if we continue reading, it says:

“Even when the temptation lasts for a long time. When there is something in you that fights for life, and wants the opposite of God’s will. That is your flesh trying to assert itself. It can feel like the temptation is going on and on and on, but it is important to understand that as long as you are fighting it, you are not sinning. If you are consciously saying, ‘No! I will not do this thing I am tempted to. I will not get angry, I will not be envious, I will not allow impure thoughts,’ then you are not sinning! No matter how long the temptation lasts.

Then you are living in victory! It’s a very conscious fight. But then sin will die, and when it is dead, it is dead. If another temptation comes up, it’s something new you’re fighting against. You have to understand that. It’s not that old thing coming back from the dead. It’s a new enemy, it’s a new battle, and once again, you are able to resist it until it is dead.”

Kathy: Yeah.

Julia: That’s exactly how it is. And that’s how most things are. For example, if I think about unthankfulness. If I’m victorious, like if I’m tempted to be unthankful and I get the victory, three seconds later it can come up again. You know, if you fight and get victory over things, eventually, you will come into rest and you won’t be tempted anymore, but that takes time. And so, every time it comes up, you have to think of it as, “This is a new enemy,” and there are a finite number of them. This is not an endless struggle, but each victory won is one less that I have to win in the future until I come to rest.

So, the important thing to remember is that, that’s not you.  If I have taken a position of faith that I want to do God’s will, then these things coming up from my flesh, they’re my flesh, they’re not me. It’s not me until I say that I agree with it.

Growing up, we had one visiting friend who came sometimes and spoke at church and his name was Jether Vinson, and he had this gift for making things so simple and making them stick in your head. And I remember him talking about this and saying, “This thought can come into your head but it’s not yours unless you say, ‘I want it!’” And that’s how it is.

Kathy: I remember that clearly.

Julia: But then also, that doesn’t remove the seriousness of how we take it. So, it goes on to say here that:

“You can never take a moment to think, ‘Well, should I do it or shouldn’t I? How far can I go? Is it really so wrong?’ etc. Thoughts like that prove that you are not serious about overcoming, and sooner or later you will give in to sin. It’s allowing Satan to get your ear. Without delay you must say, ‘Get behind me Satan!’ And then he has to disappear. ‘For it is written …’And then you throw God’s word at Him, just as Jesus showed us. Satan has no power against the word of God. (Matthew 4:4-10) You can live in this victory every day, in every situation, and live a completely pure life.”

Kathy: You throw God’s word at him, it says. So, then it’s important to prepare yourself for temptations, right? So, Paul writes about putting on the whole armor of God. And how do we do that? Is … we need to get to know God’s word and we need to get to know these weapons that we have for temptation, right? We need to know what the word says about it and how it should be in temptation and then we have it already when we need it. And to pray too! Pray beforehand, “God, I know that I’m weak in this area, and I know that I’m going to be tempted. So, strengthen me and help me so that when…” Be prepared! Think about it beforehand and prepare yourself for what you know is going to come. Because you know, I know, the areas where I’m weak. So, I can’t just, like, you know, hope for the best. I have to prepare myself; I have to arm myself for the battles that I know are going to come. Right?

Julia: Otherwise, you’re on that battlefield empty-handed, with those enemies around you. Whereas, if you do prepare yourself and you have your weapon and you just cut them down one by one. Like I said, it’s a finite number of them. There’s an end to it. It’s hopeful, actually.

Kathy: I know too, one verse that has been so incredibly helpful for me many times. When you come into temptations, and your mind can be filled with temptation, but it comes at these thoughts right? It can be sometimes, “What do I do with these thoughts? How do I get rid of them all?” And one verse that has been very helpful for me has been in Philippians 4:8, where he says, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, … noble, … just, …  pure, …  lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things.” So, you can train your mind in a different pattern.

Julia: Replace those thoughts.

Kathy: Yeah, replace those thoughts. Pray for someone else. You know, that you know needs some help in the spirit, or go out and do something good for someone else, or just get yourself out of that situation where you’re so strongly tempted.

I think we have another article actually on the website that someone had written, it was a testimony called, “My keys for overcoming.” And I remember he wrote in that testimony that one thing that he was very careful to do, was to make sure he kept himself out of these situations that he knew that would lead to certain things coming up in his flesh.

Julia: Well, we always hear that analogy that if somebody is a recovering alcoholic, they don’t go sit in a bar and think, “I’m not going to drink.” That’s idiotic right?

Kathy: You’re just putting yourself in that path of temptation.

Julia: Yeah! We have to have that same attitude when it comes to areas that we know we are weak. So, the article ends with a section titled “You have to hate sin:”

“It’s actually very simple. When you see sin, you hate it and overcome it. As long as you don’t agree with or accept it, then you aren’t accountable for it. Because as soon as you got to see it then you’ve been doing God’s will, which is to overcome it. 

These situations teach you to be more awake. They help you to learn and to grow. It’s a pathway you are walking on – the path through the flesh – and all of these situations are there so that you become more and more free from sin in the flesh. In this way you will become more and more in tune with God and with His will for your life.”

Kathy: I know that one thing that for me has been really good about temptation – if you want to say it that way, I don’t know how else to say it – but when I’ve come into times where something …  I’ve been in a lot of need about something. Well, sometimes there come like really big trials and situations that are really hard. And I remember one time, just driving in my car, and just crying and crying about something, but at the same time, feeling so close to God about it, because I was in this state where I had to be, like before His throne the whole time, pretty much. Asking for help, and I was in so much need about it. And then afterwards, of course I didn’t enjoy that time of going through that trial, but afterwards, I felt like I had gained so much from it because I was so close to God through it. And that has happened several times throughout my life, and then you almost think, not that I want to be going through those huge trials, but I want to get closer and closer to God. So, these things are the opportunities for me to do that. I learn to live there at the throne of grace, where I get my help.

Julia: Well, exactly. And I’ve had it the same way too. You come into these situations and you know, with our human short-sightedness in the moment, all you can see is, “Oh, this again, this is coming in again,” and, “Why am I like this; why is it always like this?” But, like you said, it brings you to the end of your own strength and you have to go to God for help, and then you become closer with Him. It’s written, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” What on earth more can we want than a close, personal relationship with God? You can say the immediate result of taking a temptation the right way is beyond blessed.

Kathy: This connection that you get. And it’s written too about the fellowship of His sufferings, about Jesus, right? He’s been through these things. He’s been on earth as a human, and He know how it is to be tempted. And when we’re faithful in our temptations to overcome, then we experience fellowship with Jesus, right? Which is the coolest thing! Because one day, we are going to inherit with Him.

Julia: And I remember, one time, one of our friends said this in church, and it has always stuck out to me, and comes back to me over and over again, and he said that, “On Judgment Day …” – he was talking about the way to live your life – and he said basically to live your life in such a way that, “On Judgment Day I can look Jesus in the eye and I can thank Him for being my brother through thick and thin and for giving me the victory, time and time again.” And I just … that, I’ve thought about that so many times in situations, that that’s the idea! And that’s how it’s going to be if we take it the right way.

Kathy: What a great picture! What a great thing to keep in front of me as a reason to overcome.

Julia: So, thanks, Mike, for that!

Kathy: And I think to just, we hear so often that “life is a vapor;” it’s a short time that we’re here on this earth where we’re learning to overcome and we’re …

Julia: We’re here to be prepared for eternity, right?

Kathy: Right. Milenko has talked about that before. Actually, Milenko and Eunice did a whole podcast episode about that, didn’t they?

Julia: That’s right.

Kathy: About we are here to be prepared for eternity. And then we’re going to go into eternity one day and we’re not going to have this burden of our flesh anymore! We are not even going to be tempted anymore! And that’s going to be incredible! I can’t wait until we live on the new earth and … Like, we can’t even possibly fathom how blessed it’s going to be.

Julia: And that’s the thing, the promises for what we can become and attain in our life are incredibly great, but those promises can only become true through temptation. Here’s another thing that was said by somebody that we know, and he said that, “It’s not just that we will be together with all the saints and apostles, it’s that, it will be fitting that we are together with them, because we have lived the same life, we’ve partaken of the same Spirit and God has used us in our time and our generation.” That’s the promise we have, that we… Not just that we’ll see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Peter and Paul and Jesus, but that, it will be right for us to be together with them because we will have been as faithful where we stand. And we can’t have these victories and this overcoming without the temptation first, so …

Kathy: Yeah, and that’s a reality! It’s not just something like, “Oh, that’s not … I can’t think of myself as being, like, equal with these people.” But what am I here for then? I am here to become like Jesus; that’s what I can learn! And of course I’m not there, I’m not saying that I’m there, but that’s what I’m learning, that’s what I’m working, that’s what my whole life is focused towards, is to become like Jesus, so that when I go into eternity, I am worthy of all of that.

Julia: And to say, to look at that and be like, “Oh, oh, no. That’s too high. We can’t talk like that!” That’s not humility; that’s unbelief.

Kathy: Yeah, that is unbelief; that’s true.

Julia: Yeah, with that as our goal, that actually can just get you through the temptation.

Kathy: And then you learn to see the temptation … Like, we have a song in Ways of the Lord, our church song book, and the chorus says. “Oh, 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.” And that can be a reality.  We see these temptations as golden opportunities. And of course, it’s hard in the moment of temptation, but if we have that vision before us, “OK, now is the moment; here is my golden opportunity to overcome and to use this, so that I don’t sin, but I learn more, I grow more in the virtues of Christ, and then I get more that I take into eternity with me that way.”

Julia: They say attitude is everything, right? So, if you look at the temptations this way, then they can become a gold mine.

Kathy: And like we said, you have to prepare yourself for it. That makes all the difference in the world.

Julia: Yeah, it does. Well, that’s all we have for today.

Kathy: Yeah, we kind of read through the article, right?

Julia: You can go on the website, and you can read it for yourself.

Kathy: And we’ll put a link in the excerpt.

Julia: Yeah, and there’s also an amazing video that you can check out on the website.

Kathy: The video is called “Temptation and sin: How can you tell the difference?” So that’s a really good one on this topic, as well.

Julia: Alright, well, have a great week everybody! We’ll see you again soon!

Kathy: Have a good week everyone! Bye!

Julia: Bye!

(Click to read:)

Article: What you need to know about temptation

Video: Temptation and sin: How can you tell the difference?

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