Everyone is tempted, but it should not define us.
I am tempted every day. As I’m flying home from a speaking event, my thoughts want to drift to unhealthy places—either taking credit for what God has done in women’s lives or feeling self-contempt for things I could have done differently.
Daily life involves a continual battle of “kicking out” thoughts and impulses I know aren’t pleasing to God. I worry. I envy. I lust. Sometimes this feels as routine as other daily activities, like brushing my teeth or eating. Other days, I’m hardly aware of temptation until it’s too late and I’ve taken the bait.
Paul told the Roman church the Christian life would be like this. There is a constant battle between the fleshly part of us that wants our own way and the spiritual part of us that longs to please God (see Romans 6–7). We need God’s grace and power every day for this battle.
Fighting temptation is hard enough. It becomes exponentially more difficult when we heap guilt and shame upon ourselves just because we are tempted. Although every Christian is familiar with temptation, we often have misconceptions that set us up for defeat.
It Is Not a Sin to Be Tempted
Hebrews 4:15 tells us Jesus was tempted in every way but was without sin. You can be tempted by the same thoughts a hundred times a day without sinning.
James 1:14–15 helps us understand how temptation transforms into sin and how we can keep it from becoming sin: “Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.”
Temptation becomes sin when we dwell on it and act on it. As my mentor, Linda Dillow, often reminds me, “You can’t control what thoughts come into your mind, but you can control what stays there.”
This is very important to understand. Godly men and women are tempted by all kinds of evil—porn, homosexual acts, cheating, pride, and lying. What makes them godly is their desire to fight those temptations, on a daily basis if necessary.
We need to apply this principle not only to our own lives but also to the lives of others. Some women condemn their husbands because they are tempted, even if they determine not to give into the temptation. If you are married to a man who is honest about his temptations and depending upon God for victory, you are married to a good man!
Your Temptations Don’t Define You
Certain temptations seem to have labels.
“I’m a recovering alcoholic.”
“She struggles with porn.”
“He’s a gossip.”
I understand why we describe ourselves and other people this way, but I believe it’s destructive. What you are tempted by should never define you.
How would you feel to learn your pastor is tempted by lust? How about greed? Would it change your view of him just to know he has been tempted? It shouldn’t. If anything, our temptations tell us about the character of the Enemy who wants to lie, steal, and destroy.
Paul wrote this to the Corinthian church:
Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9–11)
While their sin once defined them, their current temptations don’t. They are washed, sanctified and justified. If you have trusted Christ for salvation, never accept a label (even in your own thinking) that defines you by your temptations or failings. By God’s grace, old things have passed away and all things have become new.
The Desire Behind Your Temptation Isn’t Wrong
The essence of every temptation is to offer a “shortcut” to meeting legitimate needs we experience. We want to feel significant, so we gossip about a friend. We want to be at peace, so we choose alcohol for a quick fix. We desire excitement, so we stir up interpersonal drama.
It’s critical to distinguish between legitimate longings and unhealthy ways of meeting those needs. We do ourselves a great disservice when we condemn the healthy desires behind temptation. I’ve often seen this play out with sexual temptation. The desire for physical, emotional, and spiritual intimacy is God-given. You may be tempted to act out these desires in sinful ways, but there is nothing wrong with your longing. Instead of denying it, why not admit to the Lord that you are lonely and aching for intimacy?
When we are honest about our longings and desires, we will search for healthy, godly ways of meeting them.
God promises us that with every temptation also comes a “way of escape.” When we call on him, he will provide a way to address that anxiety, longing, or emotion that does not lead to sin. For example, I turn my thoughts of inadequacy and pride into praise for God.
Temptation isn’t going away. We have an enemy who, like a roaring lion, prowls around looking to devour our faith. Yet, the Holy Spirit isn’t going away either. He lives within you, giving you the wisdom and courage to stand.
By Dr. Juli Slattery
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