Sources of Temptation


Man’s rebellious nature is tempted by three different forces known as the unholy trinity: the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Mark 7:14-23


Man’s sinful, rebellious nature is tempted to sin by three different forces: the world, the flesh, and the devil. This unholy trinity does not have the power to make a man sinful when he is not: we are born in sin, and the evil we find in our hearts we received from Adam. The temptations from these three sources are more like invitations to express that sinful nature in particular ways. The believer in Christ who has received a new nature from God can meet these temptations successfully if he or she follows biblical principles in the power of the Holy Spirit. But often we are confused even as to the sources of the temptations we encounter.

The new pastor of a church had a visit from an elderly lady shortly after he was installed. She smoothed down her ruffles and said, “Pastor, I think you ought to know certain things about some members of this church. Now, Mr. and Mrs. So– and–so, they are very worldly.”

The pastor had heard about this lady and knew what to expect, and he said, “I think you are quite mistaken. These people are not worldly at all. I have been to dinner in their home and spent an evening there.”

“Oh, but they’re very worldly,” she rejoined. “She smokes.”

And the pastor said, “Well, that’s not worldliness at all.” 

“Well, they serve cocktails.”

“But that’s not worldliness. That’s the flesh,” he said, “sins of the flesh.” Now sins of the flesh must be met by one technique: run away. Paul writes, “Flee youthful lusts” (2 Timothy 2:22, KJV). Run away from sexual temptation; don’t tell yourself you can handle it. Run away from the offer of a drink, if that is a temptation for you. You can’t overcome it. Only the Lord Jesus can help you meet the temptations of the flesh, and the flesh must be crucified; you must run away.

But the temptations of the devil are different. Those you must stand up and fight; don’t run away. It says in James 4:7, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (KJV). A temptation of the devil is a religious temptation, broadly speaking. The devil is never tempting a good person to be bad and a bad person to be worse. The devil is tempting people to be good in their own sight, to be self–righteous, to think that they do not need the Saviour. “Your character is good enough’—that’s the devil. “God would never send anybody to hell”—that’s Satan.

The third kind of temptation comes from the world, and that brings us back to the woman who wanted to set her pastor straight about the worldly folk in the church. The pastor astounded her by answering, “Those people are not worldly at all; they’re fleshly. As far as I can tell, you, Madam, are the most worldly person in this church.”

“I am worldly? I don’t dance, play cards, go to movies, smoke, swear, or use cosmetics.” She had a list as long as her arm of the things she didn’t do.

But he said, “No, you are the most worldly person in the church because you are so proud of all the things you don’t do. This church used to have 10 circles of women meeting throughout the area with 15 women in each circle—150 women. Now why did they stop these meetings and go back to having only 50 women meeting in the church building? I’ll tell you why, Madam,” he said. “You see, you never had any children, and you had more money to spend, and the other women couldn’t keep up with you. When the circle met in their homes, they had nothing like what you had. You put on the dog, and said, ‘Oh yes, we got this linen at Madeira on our Mediterranean trip. Oh yes, that’s the portrait of my husband’s great–grandfather. We’re Daughters of the American Revolution, you know.’ That, Madam, is worldliness.”

Don’t misunderstand: if you have a nice great–grandfather, you don’t change him by being saved; but you’re just not proud of him. You don’t trust in him. Being worldly is wanting to be admired, to dominate, to want the credit for something. You’re never more like the devil than when you want to be recognized and have the credit for doing something, and you’re never more like the Lord Jesus than when you say, “I want the work to be done, and it doesn’t matter if I’m noticed or not.” To allow the Lord Jesus to be exalted—this is what God wants.


  • What is the unholy trinity?
  • How do these three work together to spread and promote sinfulness?
  • What does Satan tempt us with?
  • Why is recognition so wicked?


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