Temptations serve a purpose
It is not a sin to be tempted. It is only a sin when we give in to the tempter, Satan, and rebel against God – whether knowingly or unknowingly. Yet we ought not to glorify the devil for his potential to deceive us. It is God, in fact, who allows us to be tempted as a means to build us up. He also provides a way of escape out when we submit to Him.
Matthew 4:3 ESV And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
Temptations are necessary
God only gives good gifts. God will not allow us to go through temptations just to cause us meaningless suffering. He is never tempted to do us wrong. Neither is He the One who tempts us. God allows Satan to tempt us, within strict limits, to teach us how to overcome our sinful nature. God’s Word tells us that whoever stands firm under the trials and temptations that Satan throws at us will be rewarded and blessed.
Matthew 7:11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
James 1:113 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.
James 1:12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
Satan has to ask God for permission to tempt those who belong to his Creator, before he can do anything. Notice that it was only after God had granted Satan permission to tempt Job to curse God that the devil could do anything. Before that, God had been covering Job, “a blameless and upright man,” with a hedge of protection. Job was not being tempted because he was rebellious. He was tempted for God’s higher purpose. Job’s personal story of agony and refusal to curse God under severe testing and temptation, as told across 42 chapters, has brought immeasurable comfort to God’s people over the centuries.
Job 1:6-7 One day the members of the heavenly court came to present themselves before the LORD, and the Accuser, Satan, came with them. “Where have you come from?” the LORD asked Satan. Satan answered the LORD, “I have been patrolling the earth, watching everything that’s going on.”
Proverbs 16:4 The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.
Job 1:8 And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”
Importantly, we notice that God set certain limits on what the devil could do to Job – and Satan had to comply with God’s conditions. We also see another example of this when the devil asked Jesus permission to shake the apostles’ faith and divide the group.
Job 1:9-12 NLT Satan replied to the Lord, “Yes, but Job has good reason to fear God. You have always put a wall of protection around him and his home and his property. You have made him prosper in everything he does. Look how rich he is! But reach out and take away everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face!” “All right, you may test him,” the LORD said to Satan. “Do whatever you want with everything he possesses, but don’t harm him physically.” So Satan left the LORD’s presence.
Luke 22:31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat,
Moreover, Jesus even said that it is necessary to have temptations in this world. Jesus Himself faced off three of Satan’s temptations right before He began His ministry on earth. In fact, it was God’s Spirit who led him into the desert to be tempted by the devil. So, our Saviour was speaking from first-hand experience. He saw His time in the desert as necessary and humbly allowed Himself to be tested.
Matthew 18:7 … For it is necessary that temptations come…
Matthew 3:16-4:3 ESV And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came…
The purpose of temptations
1. Temptations highlight our ungodly desires
Our struggles with temptation show us the areas of our flesh we have yet to submit to God. It’s a way God uses to train and discipline us so that we grow in godliness because He loves us.
James 1:14-15 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
Hebrews 12:4-8 ESV In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
The things that tempt us often point us to the areas that Satan still has a foothold in our lives. Here are some examples of ungodly desires that Satan will use to tempt us to sin, as mentioned in the Bible.
- Fear of death | Hebrews 2:14-15 ESV … he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.
- Desire for riches | 1 Timothy 6:9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.
- Greed | Acts 5:3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land?
- Fear of losing our possessions | Job 1:9-11 Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.”
- Fear of physical suffering | Job 2:4-5 Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.”
Temptations are helpful because they target the impure areas of our hearts that we can be completely blind to. Remember Job, whom God described as a “blameless and upright man”? Job resisted the temptation to curse God and answered his three friends’ interrogations as to why so many calamities fell upon him without accusing them back.
Job 2:9-10 Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
Job 32:1-2 So these three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. Then Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, burned with anger. He burned with anger at Job because he justified himself rather than God.
Chapter after chapter, Job vouched for his own righteousness, completely blind to the fact that he was being self-righteous. It appeared that he did blameless and upright things more for himself than for God. So while Job did indeed do the right things outwardly, God knew what was in his heart and allowed him to be tested so that his sinful inward nature could be reckoned with. In the end, Job recognised his self-righteousness and pride, and repented.
Psalm 44:21 Would not God discover this? For he knows the secrets of the heart.
2. Temptations test our commitment to God
Temptations are always a test of our faith. Satan will try to lure us away from our commitment to God.
1 Thessalonians 3:5 For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.
Let’s look at the example of Joseph, who was sold into slavery in Egypt. The handsome man caught his master’s wife’s attention and she wantonly invited him to sleep with her day after day. Notice that in resisting her, he exclaimed, “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” He didn’t refer to his earthly master, but his heavenly one.
Genesis 39:7-10 And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.
Every sin we commit is an affront to God’s perfect design and law. Joseph knew to stay loyal to God’s will, rather than give in to his own fleshly desires, because he had a healthy fear of God. Joseph did not refuse because his master’s wife was undesirable or because he lacked sexual desires. He resisted the sexual temptation because He was committed to his God. Joseph proved that his commitment to God came first and his faith was genuine.
2 Corinthians 13:5 NLT Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith.
3. Temptations build our resilience
Our resistance against temptations is like a form of “weightlifting” that builds our spiritual strength and resilience.
Lifting physical weights can feel uncomfortable as it causes tiny micro-tears in our muscle fibers. But as our sore muscles repair naturally, they grow bigger and stronger. A reasonable amount of muscle strain and damage is therefore helpful and, in fact, necessary for increasing our physical strength and dexterity.
Not everyone relishes weightlifting. Most of us rather sit back and relax by a swimming pool somewhere. This, however, makes us weak and complacent over time. If we accidentally fall into the pool one day, we may not have the strength to pull ourselves out of the water.
Our Heavenly Father allows us to go through spiritual strength training so that we strengthen in our resilence. God’s Word points out that such training seems “painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” We are even told to “rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame”. Our struggles against temptations are not meant to shame us but to instill hope and courage in us.
James 4:7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Hebrews 12:11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Romans 5:3-5 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Additionally, Hebrews 12:4 makes a poignant point. We are reminded that, unlike Jesus, most of us have never resisted temptation to the point of shedding blood or dying. Our Saviour could have stepped off the cross at any point but He resisted that temptation until the very end because of His great love and dedication to us.
Hebrews 12:3-4 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
4. Temptations teach us to rely on God’s Word
No human being is able to overcome our ungodly desires on his or her own strength. Even if our spirit is willing, our flesh is weak. Most of us have tried to talk ourselves out of sinning and found that it was only effective for a while. Soon, Satan bombards us with more temptations til our resolve grows weaker and weaker.
Matthew 26:41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Temptations are spiritual battles and need to also be fought spiritually, not just mentally. It is only with the help of the sword of the Holy Spirit, the Bible, that we can fend off our enemy.
Ephesians 6:17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,
When tempted by Satan in the desert, Jesus did not rely on His divinity to banish the devil, He too used the sword of the Holy Spirit. For each temptation, Jesus referred to scripture and replied, “It is written…” If Jesus relied so heavily on the Word of God, then we should certainly follow His example.
Three temptations in the desert
Scripture Jesus used
Matthew 4:3-11 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Deuteronomy 8:3 And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
Matthew 4:5-7 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Deuteronomy 6:16 “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.
Matthew 4:8-11 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.
Deuteronomy 6:13 It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.
Let us ensure our thought processes are firmly rooted in God’s Word. Only then will we know the truth that will set us free from Satan’s temptations. May we all grow stronger as we learn to overcome our sinful desires.
John 8:31-32 NLT Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
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