Written by Pamela K. Orgeron, M.A., Ed.S., BCCC, ACLC, Author
Temptation . . . What is temptation? Are temptations intrinsically good or bad? What does the Bible say about temptation? What are ways to overcome temptation? These questions and more will be discussed in this article. Personally, I consider temptations one of my worst enemies, at least the ones that tempt me to sin. How about you?
What is Temptation?
The word “temptation” comes from the root word “tempt”. Dictionary.com defines tempt in three ways: “1. to entice or allure to do something often regarded as unwise, wrong, or immoral.; 2. to attract, appeal strongly to, or invite: The offer tempts me.; 3. to render strongly disposed to do something: The book tempted me to read more on the subject.” Thus, a temptation would be anything that tempts, attracts, or lures someone to something, most commonly considered unwise or wrong. Several examples are depicted in the clip below:
Temptation . . . A Christian Perspective
The Scriptures have a lot to say about temptation in one form or another. Not only does the Bible warn us to flee temptations (2 Timothy 2:22) but we are also warned about being a temptation, a stumbling block to others (Romans 14:13; 1 Corinthians 8:9).
Temptation comes when we are drawn away by our own lusts (James 1:14). Satan can also tempt as we notice in Luke Chapter 4. There is something we must realize. As long as you and I are in this physical body we are going to be tempted. Realize there is no sin in being tempted. Realize you and I do not have to YIELD to temptation in any way. Remember sin is a choice. (Let’s be honest. I’m a human being and I’ve sinned before. I know how this thing works.) I have a choice. If I’m tempted to do something wrong, I can choose to do right and God will empower me to keep that choice, or I can choose the wrong and Satan will eventually enslave me again. (Bristow, 2013, We Need the Bible Because Temptation Will Always Be With Us section, ¶2)
Giving in to temptation always has consequences, according to Miller (2013). She reported, “God certainly will forgive our sins and cleanse us from our guilt and shame. However, we must walk through the consequences of our sins. Some consequences are greater than others.” (¶5) Depending on the type of temptation, I have learned through researching and writing this article that the consequences of temptation may end up being either a blessing or a curse.
The word “temptation” has always left me with a negative connotation. However, through researching to write this article I have learned that instead of always being an enemy, I now understand how temptation can be a friend, a blessing. For example, dictionary.com’s reference to a book tempting someone “to read more about a subject” would be a blessing to me, as I love learning and reading.
Every day we see and hear about examples of where giving in to temptations have resulted in a lifetime of pain and problems, a curse. One example would be the young sober teenager who succumbs to peer pressure to attend a “party” where he or she takes the bait of beer and drugs offered to him or her. Immediate negative consequences would be the “hangover” experienced the next morning. What’s worse is when that first drink leads to a second, a third, etc. until finally the teenager becomes addicted, an alcoholic deep in sin. A second example would be the young girl committed to be a virgin until she marries but is coerced by friends to go out with the wrong kind of guy who date rapes her leaving her pregnant. What the girl thought would be an innocent date turned into a nightmare leaving her with a lifetime of problems. Definitely a curse!!!
Tips for Overcoming Temptation
With temptation considered more of a spiritual issue, I am not finding much in secular literature about how to overcome temptation. However, psychology professor at University of Texas-Austin and author, Art Markman, Ph.D. offered the following advice:
If there is some temptation you are trying to resist, forming an implementation intention can help. The idea is to think specifically about your temptation and about the situation in which you are most likely to see it. Then, there are two things you can do. First, resolve to stick with your goal, even when you encounter the temptation. Second, make a specific plan to help you stick with your goal. In the case of a tempting piece of chocolate cake, for example, consider walking away from it. If you are at a restaurant, and someone else is eating the cake, think about getting a cup of coffee or a glass of water instead. (Markman, 2011. ¶10)
Michael W. Austin, Ph.D., chair and professor in Eastern Kentucky University’s Department of Philosophy & Religion, believes the key to overcoming temptation is exercising self-control. As suggested by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney in the book entitled Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, Austin (2011) knows first-hand how self-control can be developed through regular physical exercise. He reported that when he exercises on a regular basis he’s better able to practice self-control in other parts of life. He added, “one key to all of this is that we must intend to actually change our behaviors. Without a genuine choice to cultivate and exercise self-control, our resistance to temptation will be futile.” (Austin, 2011, ¶6)
Austin (2011) also shared a quote of Aristotle’s that relates to this discussion: “…we become just by doing just actions, temperate by doing temperate actions, brave by doing brave actions (Nicomachean Ethics 1129a-1137b, as cited by Austin, ¶7).”
God’s Prescription for Keeping Temptation at Bay
Overcoming temptation is no easy battle, especially if one is operating in the flesh rather than under the control of the Holy Spirit. However, that’s no reason to give up and become a victim of temptation. Based on 1 Corinthians 10:13 and personal experience, I know God always offers a way out of tempting situations “…to all who trust in Him. The ‘way’ is not a program, but a person: Jesus Christ. Jesus not only cleanses us from sin, He also understands our temptations (Heb. 4:15-16). That’s why we can come to Him for help.” (Christian Broadcasting Network, Inc., 2018, The way out section, ¶s 1-2)
Though I firmly believe we can go to God for help with anything at any time, I also want to point out that I believe there are a number of actions we can do to prepare for and resist temptation. Most of these actions fall under at least one of two domains: practicing the spiritual disciplines, and putting on the armor of God.
The Spiritual Disciplines. All Christians are called to live a holy life (1 Peter 1:16). Spiritual disciplines are tools to help us live out a life of holiness. Donald S. Whitney, a professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY and author of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (NavPress, 1991, 2014), defines them as, “those practices found in Scripture that promote spiritual growth among believers in the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are habits of devotion, habits of experiential Christianity that have been practiced by God’s people since biblical times.” (Whitney, 2015) Given the definition,Whitney identifies the characteristics of a spiritual discipline. These characteristics include:
- The Scriptures advocate both individual and corporate practices (e.g. personal prayer and corporate prayer)
- Spiritual disciplines are activities, things one does.
- All spiritual disciplines were taught or exemplified in Scripture. To further clarify, activities, such as gardening or exercise, are NOT spiritual disciplines, as some might consider.
- Spiritual disciplines are adequate in developing a life of holiness, or godliness.
- “The spiritual disciplines are derived from the gospel, not divorced from it, and they only take us deeper into an understanding of the gospel.” (Whitney, 2015, Audio Transcript, ¶17)
- Christians are told to exercise, or discipline themselves toward godliness (1 Timothy 4:7). This implies that the spiritual disciplines are the way, or path to becoming holy, or godly, not the end result. So, according to Whitney, “we are not godly just because we practice the spiritual disciplines. That was the great error of the Pharisees. They felt by doing these things they were godly. No, they are means to godliness. Rightly motivated, they are the means to godliness.” (¶18)
How many spiritual disciplines “are there? The number varies, depending on the author.” (Orgeron, 2017, p. 104) Based on the characteristics given by Whitney, among the spiritual disciplines most helpful to me are:
- Prayer (Individual, 1 Thessalonians 5:17; Corporate, Genesis 4:26)
- Fasting (Individual, Luke 18:12; Corporate, Ezra 8:23)
- Bible Study (Individual, 2 Timothy 2:15; Corporate, Acts 17:11)
Putting on the Armor of God [Section excerpted from Orgeron, 2017, pp. 103-104] . Paul told the Ephesians, “10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:10-11)
Paul uses the description of a Roman soldier, to illustrate to the Church at Ephesus, the need to put on the armor of God. Paul who was a Roman citizen (Acts 22:28) by birth, would have been familiar with the Roman legions, their
weapons, and authority. He uses this to illustrate a spiritual parallel for the saints (Born-again believers). We are literally the army of the Lord, occupying the physical world. Paul uses the picture of a Roman soldier to cast the vision, of who we are in Christ. We are in every sense, a soldier for the kingdom of God. (The Spiritual War, n.d., Background to the Armor of God, Part I section, ¶ 6)
What makes up the “full armor of God”? Ephesians 6:14-18 describes God’s armor:
14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints—[NKJV]
“The full armor of God—truth, righteousness, the gospel, faith, salvation, the Word of God, and prayer—are the tools God has given us, through which we can be spiritually victorious, overcoming Satan’s attacks and temptations.” (Got Questions Ministries, 2002-2017d, ¶ 9)
In concluding, I want to stress that temptations do not come from God (James 1:13). They come from mankind’s fleshly desires or from Satan. Temptations are not intrinsically good or evil but can lead to consequences that are either good, a blessing or bad, a curse. I firmly believe that only by knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and submitting one’s temptations to the Holy Spirit can one overcome temptations that might lead to circumstances that would end up cursing one’s life. Well, what about those temptations that lead to blessings? I believe we all want to keep these temptations. I know I do.
Austin, M. W. (2011). Willpower and temptation: An old solution to the problem of temptation. Retrieved June, 15, 2018 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/ethics-everyone/201110/willpower-and-temptation?collection=77110
Bristow, W. M. (2013). Bible warnings about temptation. Retrieved June 14, 2018 from https://bibleresources.org/temptation/
Christian Broadcasting Network, Inc. (2018). How can I overcome temptation? Retrieved June 15, 2018 from http://www1.cbn.com/how-can-i-overcome-temptation
Got Questions Ministries. (2002-2017d). What is the full armor of God? Retrieved May 26, 2017 from https://www.gotquestions.org/fullarmor-of-God.html
Markman, A. (2011). Harness the power of temptation: How can you learn to resist temptation? Retrieved June 15, 2018 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/ulterior-motives/201110/harness-the-power-temptation?collection=77110
Miller, B. (2013). Selling out for the desire of the moment. Retrieved June 15, 2018 from https://bibleresources.org/temptation/
Orgeron, P. K. (2017) Food as an Idol: Finding Freedom from Disordered Eating. Nashville, TN: ABC’s Ministries. Available for purchase at https://www.amazon.com/Food-Idol-Finding-Freedom-Disordered/dp/0997956534
The Spiritual War. (n.d.). Retrieved May 23, 2017 from http://www.truthnet.org/Spiritualwarfare/1SpiritualWarfare/Spiritual-warfare.htm
Whitney, D. S. (1991, 2014). Spiritual disciplines for the Christian life. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress. Latest edition available for purchase at https://www.amazon.com/Spiritual-Disciplines-Christian-Donald-Whitney/dp/1615216170/ref=pd_lpo_sbs_14_t_0?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=R0CY9BTJ6EFGHYK3W0BD
Whitney, D. S. (Speaker). (2015). What are spiritual disciplines? (Interview Episode 762). Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God Foundation. Retrieved June 15, 2018 from https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/what-are-spiritual-disciplines