The Bible Insights Weekly e-letter is freely available upon request.

Yes! Please Subscribe Me

Bible Insights Weekly

Enrich your spiritual thinking.

UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, March 21 2024

Temptation - thoughts that lead to sin

There is a fine line between temptation and sin, which can be easily crossed in a society where the lines between good and evil have become blurred. In order to resist temptation so it does not become sin, we need to go back to the biblical definitions of right and wrong as stipulated by God Himself.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ pointed out that temptation begins in the mind, and that hatred, contempt or being unreasonably angry with someone was equivalent to spiritual murder: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matthew 5:21-22).

Christ also issued similar warnings regarding sexual sins: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28). Even His disciples were tempted by pride and worldly ambition: “Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying….‘Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.’” (Mark 10:35-37).

Another temptation is lying to impress others. Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, who sold a possession and, instead of telling the Apostle Peter they were only donating part of the proceeds, they lied and insisted they were giving the whole sum. Both husband and wife paid with their lives for giving in to this temptation (Acts 5:1-11).

Temptation is sin when we give in to it, and this applies even if we give in to it in the privacy of our thoughts. Our most secret thoughts are known to God, and we need to put evil thoughts out of our minds before they become entrenched and lead us to sin (James 1:14-15). Everything we allow into our minds has an effect, including what we read, watch, listen to and imagine (Matthew 12:35).

James, a half-brother of Jesus Christ, explained, “Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (James 1:14-15). We need to choose to eject evil thoughts and deliberately replace them with thoughts more appropriate to a follower of Christ (Philippians 4:8). All our thoughts are to be brought into subjection “to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

We can be tempted by pride, self-righteousness (often revealed in being judgmental of others), covetousness and spiritual ambition. Christ gave the following example in regard to our attitude when we pray: “He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 18:9-14).

Lifestyle changes can help diminish temptation. For example, consider the company we keep. The Apostle Paul admonished, “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits’” (1 Corinthians 15:33). We should also pay attention to how we spend our time and money. Does what we do glorify God, or does it damage our mind or our body? With God’s help gambling, smoking, drinking too much, impulse buying, viewing pornography and many other sins can be overcome – but not if we continue to frequent places where such temptations are rife or saturate the mind with media influences that glorify sinful practices. Pride, anger, lust and greed have a nasty habit of creeping up on us unnoticed. “Therefore, let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

Our High Priest and Saviour knows what temptation is like: “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathise with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16). Three inducements are listed when Christ was tempted by Satan the devil. Satan first tried to come between Christ and His Father by suggesting Christ satisfy His physical needs instead of continuing His fast; the second appealed to spiritual pride, and the third offered a shortcut to the rulership He had not yet been given (Matthew 4:1-11). In each case, Jesus cast out the sinful thought the devil had tried to place in His mind and replaced it with the word of God.

Jesus set aside His glory to become a man and face the same temptations we do (Philippians 2:5-8). For this reason, He can empathise with us and ask the Father to help us when we cry out in our personal battles with evil. We often slip up, but if we continue to repent and strive against temptation our Heavenly Father promises to forgive us and blot out our sins. “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).