The Test in Temptation
It has been puzzling to me that there is only one Greek word for “temptation.” Greek is a precise language and often there are a few synonyms for each important term, yet peirazo means both temptation (enticement to sin) and testing (trial). Why is this? Essentially, whether we face a temptation (such as to lust) or a trial (such as sickness), both are a test.
James clarifies, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone” (James 1:13). Commenting on this verse, W.E. Vine wrote, “James refers to temptation, or trial, arising from within, from uncontrolled appetites and from evil passions [the flesh] Mark 7:20-23. But though such temptation does not proceed from God, yet does God regard His people while they endure it, and by it tests and approves them.”
So, technically, God does “test” His people for their learning and growth. For example, the LORD tested Abraham when He asked him to sacrificed Isaac (Gen. 22:1); Christians can expect to suffer trials (tests) and afflictions (see. 1 Pet. 4:12-19). But, God never tempts someone to sin.
The main test in temptation is to “let go” of the wrong idea. Someone has said, we win the battle with temptation in the threshold of the mind, not in the mind. One of the Reformers quipped, “I cannot prevent a bird from flying over my head, but I can prevent it from making a nest in my hair!”
The example of trapping monkeys shows the need to “let go” of sin’s enticement:
“Men who trap animals in Africa for zoos in America say that one of the hardest animals to catch is the ringtailed monkey. For the Zulus of that continent, however, it’s simple. They’ve been catching this agile little animal with ease for years. The method the Zulus use is based on knowledge of the animal. Their trap is nothing more than a melon growing on a vine. The seeds of this melon are a favorite of the monkey. Knowing this, the Zulus simply cut a hole in the melon, just large enough for the monkey to insert his hand to reach the seeds inside. The monkey will stick his hand in, grab as many seeds as he can, then start to withdraw it. This he cannot do. His fist is now larger than the hole. The monkey will pull and tug, screech and fight the melon for hours. But he can’t get free of the trap unless he gives up the seeds, which he refuses to do. Meanwhile, the Zulus sneak up and nab him.”
Even so, victory requires a Spirit-filled decision to say “no” to temptation.
Charles Spurgeon counseled,
“What settings are you in when you fall? Avoid them. What props do you have that support your sin? Eliminate them. What people are you usually with? Avoid them. There are two equally damning lies Satan wants us to believe: 1) ‘Just once won’t hurt.’ 2) ‘Now that you have ruined your life, you are beyond God’s use, and might as well enjoy sinning.’ Learn to say no. It will be of more use to you than to be able to read Latin.”
To equip us for godly living, the Lord has given us in His Word, “many exceedingly great and precious promises” (2 Pet 1:3). Let’s study some so we can claim them!
1. 1 Corinthians 10:13
“No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”
We learn several lessons here. 1) although we may feel like our area of temptation is unique, it is not; others struggle in this same area. 2) God is faithful. We can depend on Him to give victory. 3) God will limit the degree and intensity of temptation so that it is not insurmountable. Your ability is based on the power of the Holy Spirit in you. 4). There will always be a way of escape; look for it and take it!
2. Galatians 5:16
“…Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.”
So how do we “walk in the Spirit”? One step at a time by faith. As we yield full control to Him, and depend upon His grace, He overcomes sin’s tugs! In other words, as we yield to the indwelling Spirit of God and trust Him to express divine life through us, the flesh will be overruled. For example, say you have a glass half filled with water. Let the air symbolize sin and the water represents the control and power of God’s Spirit. How do you get the air out of the glass? By a vacuum operation? No! You fill the glass with water and so the water displaces the air. Even so, the Spirit-controlled live empoweres us to say “no” to temptation.
3. Romans 6:14
“For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”
All true children of God have been set free from the authority of sin! “Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin” (Rom. 6:6,7). That doesn’t mean sin is out of calling distance, nor that we will be sinlessly perfect this side of heaven. But we are assured that–due to our participation in Christ’s death, burial, resurrection and ascension–we share in Christ’s victory over sin, His power over the grave, and His authority over this world and its prince!
Consider this allegory:
Imagine you live in an apartment building managed by a cruel landlord, Mr. Law N. Flesh, and it’s owned by an evil man. The landlord bribes you with gifts to disregard the government’s laws and causes conflict between you and the other tenants. He manipulates you to his own advantage. Then, happily, the apartment building is sold to a righteous man. The old landlord is fired; a new landlord, Mr. Grace N. Spirit, is hired. Mr. Grace upholds the principles of the rental contract, resolves conflicts with other tenants, and enables you to live in peace. However, from time to time Mr. Law N. Flesh shows up and starts conniving like he used to. What will you do? Don’t get sucked into the old arrangement! Remember that he’s not the landlord anymore; he has no authority over you. Identify with the new landlord–Mr. Grace N. Spirit–and cooperate with him. Heed the new landlord for your well being and to respect the new owner.
“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom 8:2).
4. Ezekiel 36:27
“I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.”
Here God prophesied through Ezekiel the wonderful blessings of the New Covenant. As was just mentioned, believers in this age are not not “under Law” but “under grace.” Yet this freedom is not a license to sin, but a freedom to live consistently with the new nature we have in Christ (see 2 Cor. 3:17). Andrew Murray expounded on this:
“He [the Spirit of God] is the power of the supernatural life of true obedience and holiness … As the light of the New Covenant promise dawns upon you and you see how Christ is all–faith all, the Holy Spirit in the heart all, and the faithfulness of a Covenant-keeping God all–you will feel you have one thing to do. In utter weakness you must yield yourself to God. In simple faith you must count on Him to perform what He has spoken. In Christian experience there may still be the Old Covenant life of bondage and failure. In Christian experience there may be a life that gives in entirely to the New Covenant grace and spirit. When a Christian receives the true vision of what the New Covenant means, a faith that rests entirely on the Mediator of the New Covenant can immediately enter the life which the Covenant secures.”
So, obedience is not a matter of self-effort and rule-keeping, but of abiding and cooperating.
In part three we consider biblical strategies for passing the tests of temptation.
Part 2 of 4 The other articles (to be sent in the following weeks) are already available at GraceNotebook.com/ Grace Notes / Search
Copyright 2003 by John Woodward. Permission is granted to reproduce this article for non profit purposes if credit is given to the author and GraceNotebook.com Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version (Copyright by Thomas Nelson).
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