Strong Temptation is not Sin
Picture Jim, a heroin addict reeling in the pangs of withdrawal. Whenever he let himself, he could steal a chemical fix. His flesh craves relief so intensely that the torment could not be greater if he were being flayed alive for his faith and at any time could end his agony by denying Jesus. Nevertheless, moved by his newfound passion for Jesus, he clenches his teeth and endures the horrors. Now see Darren, lounging in idle ease, blissfully unable even to imagine what a torturous craving for a chemical high would feel like. Never in his life has he even been offered an illicit drug. Who is the hero in this story? The one who has never had a drug battle in his life; who thinks his world is coming to an end if he so much as gets a pimple? If, later on, both were actually being tortured for their faith, which of them is more likely to honor his Lord?
To be tempted is to be afflicted with ungodly yearnings. It is only when temptation rages – only when sin seems the most desirable thing in the universe – that you have the chance to prove that you are committed to doing God’s will, rather than selfishly following your own desires. If to you a sin seems undesirable, there is nothing heroic in avoiding it. Anyone – even the most self-serving, anti-God person on the planet – would avoid a sin that repulses him. The proof of righteousness is when a person denies himself something his flesh cries out for.
Of course, to deliberately stir up a desire for sin is itself sin. I’m not for a moment suggesting you do that. My point, however, is that lack of temptation does not make a person holy, any more than lack of opposition makes one a champion. Lack of desire for sin is no more proof of spiritual life than lack of desire is proof of physical life. Christlikeness means acting like Jesus in Gethsemane sweating as it were drops of blood. Everything within him screamed to flee from God’s will, and yet he forced himself to submit. That, not lack of temptation, is true holiness.
Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. (Emphasis mine.)
Temptation occurs when an evil intelligence violates your mind, invading your inner person with its filth. The temptation could be anything that is not in your highest interest. It might be to hate yourself, to over-indulge, to doubt, to smoke, to hold a grudge; the list is endless. It is something that in the short term seems right or desirable but in the long term ends up robbing and hurting you. For brevity, I call the source of temptation Satan, or the devil, although we are more likely to be tempted by one of his underlings than by the Prince of demons himself.
To understand the nature of spiritual rape, we need to consider physical rape. I’d rather avoid this distasteful subject, but I feel the need to demonstrate just how disgusting temptation is.
Suppose the trusted boyfriend of a virtuous girl one day goes way too far. He forcibly but painlessly immobilizes her and begins to gently and seductively violate her. Her mind is repulsed by what is happening, but her body is designed to respond to certain stimuli by sending pleasure signals to the brain. This physiological fact has nothing to do with her purity or morality. It simply means she is normal. After the ordeal she ends the relationship and yet, for years afterward her sensitive conscience is tormented with false pangs of guilt; wrongly imagining she must have the morality of a harlot to have had her feelings of horror tinged with the slightest feelings of pleasure.
She eventually marries but she cannot forget her involuntary bodily reaction to the rape in which pleasure signals were sent to the brain. She so despises herself for feelings she had no control over that she becomes convinced that her husband must secretly loathe her for her past, even though he actually sees his darling as being utterly pure.
Despite all her husband’s loving assurances and tenderness, this poor woman so focuses on that awful event that she continues to feel immoral, unloved and unwanted. Overwhelmed by this illusion, she starts telling herself that she has so ruined her life that she could not be more immoral if she became a prostitute. Tragically, after years of such thinking, convinced she is doing her husband a favor, she leaves the man she mistakenly thinks can no longer love her. Finding no other means of support and imagining she has no purity to preserve, this highly moral woman ends up the harlot she wrongly saw herself as being.
Sadly, such a route to promiscuity is not uncommon for sexual abuse victims, harassed by false feelings of guilt over the pleasure signals involuntarily sent to the brain when their will was violated.
A similar tragedy could be played out in anyone of us if we condemn ourselves over the fact that temptation, by its very nature, makes sin seem enticingly pleasurable.
Jesus is the purest person ever to walk this planet:
Hebrews 7:26 Such a high priest [Jesus] meets our need – one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.
Like us, when the Holy Lord was subjected to the inner urge to sin – a craving to do wrong – it was spiritual rape. His mind and spirit were repeatedly and shamefully violated. You know he emerged from the horrific experience with his purity intact. And, because of him, so can you.
Moreover, ponder the staggering implications of this Scripture:
Hebrews 2:17-18 For this reason he [Jesus] had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God . . . Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Emphasis mine.)
What equipped Jesus for the exalted ministry of being a merciful high priest was not lack of temptation, nor even the mildness of his temptation but that he “suffered” temptation in, to quote from a previously cited verse, “every way, just as we are,” (Hebrews 4:15). Likewise, for his followers, it is suffering temptation to the extreme that, after finally overcoming, empowers with Christlike mercy to minister to others.
So it would be ridiculous to despise yourself when evil thoughts come to you, or when you find yourself longing to do wrong. It simply means that, like God’s holy Son, and all his saints, you have been spiritually molested. Like the most despicable child molester, the Evil One tries to make his innocent victim feel guilty for his crime, and for pleasurable feelings he induces. Nevertheless, if you let God have his way, he will turn this ugly assault into something that brings both you and God eternal glory, just as it did for our Lord.
It’s only if you cease trying to resist those evil thoughts and urges, that the harassment could touch your purity. And even if you totally gave in, you would have no rational basis for continuing to imagine you are impure, because the instant you return to your Savior with genuine regret, you are again spotless in the eyes of the Holy One.
Does Satan often appear and speak to you face to face? He’s far too cunning. He speaks in your mind, pretending to be your own thoughts. Disown those thoughts. Refuse to cave in to false guilt.
Imagine how hard it was to tempt Jesus. Satan had to try to persuade the Son of God to act totally out of character. And yet it is exactly the same when the Evil One tempts you. He tries to inflict you with a desire to do something utterly contrary to your nature. The real you is Christlike. From the moment you were born again, Christ took up residence inside you. You gained his goodness, his holy character, his purity of motives, his inexhaustible love. You might have committed a certain sin hundreds of times a year since childhood, and continued for the many years you have been born again. Nevertheless, every time you commit that sin, you are acting out of character. Satan will muster all his brainwashing skills to try fooling you into thinking that sinning is your real nature. You will be like a rape victim plagued by a wrong self-image. This is more than just unpleasant; keep believing that false self-image, and you will end up acting as if it were true. Much of our spiritual success hinges on us fully grasping the enormity of the transformation that took place when we were born again and how special that makes us in God’s eyes.
Facing temptation is engaging in spiritual combat in which victory depends on whether we can trust God to love us enough to be our personal bodyguard. It would be highly dangerous to go into spiritual battle, tragically handicapped by imagining you are one of God’s less loved children. Before engaging the enemy you need the assurance that God’s love for you is so intense that he is fiercely devoted to protecting you. You need to know you are one of God’s favorites, and that he has made you so pure that he is proud of you. If you have the slightest doubt about this, or could benefit from the slightest building up in this area, bookmark this page (or note this website address) so that you can find your way back and go to the following webpages.