What Temptation Is and Is Not

What Temptation Is and Is Not

What Is Temptation?

We must understand sin, but we also need to understand temptation and how it relates to our sin. Maybe a few stories will help:

Sarah sighed as she glanced at her phone. It was another message from her coworker Brian. He was charming, funny, and dangerous—at least to her. She knew a date with him was off-limits because he showed little interest in Christianity. At the same time, she was tired of being overlooked by the single men at church. Brian, on the other hand, flirted with her and flattered her. This awakened something inside her that she enjoyed and wanted to pursue. But she knew she shouldn’t.

With situations like this in mind, the apostle James vividly describes how sin and temptation work: “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” (James 1:14–15).

Sin acts as an angler who baits the hook with a deceptive lure. The lure then floats along in front of us, and our sinful flesh is enticed. We crave what God forbids and give ourselves convincing reasons to succumb: “One look won’t hurt.” “You’ll miss out if you don’t.” “It’s not a big deal.” “God will forgive you.” “Just this one time.” “You deserve this.”

If we surrender to our evil desires instead of God’s Spirit, then sin comes to fruition. Sin rewards us with an initial rush of enjoyment and sense of satisfaction. But that sense of fulfillment is eventually replaced with regret, which affords an opportunity for repentance. But if we resist repentance, sin’s influence in us grows like a cancerous tumor in the soul, and we can become calloused to God. Inevitably, death results.1

Temptation, therefore, is not a friendly voice but a deadly invitation. To better understand the nature of temptation, let’s consider what it isn’t and what it is.

Temptation Is Not Iniquity (Matt. 4:1–11)

Reid was plagued by anger. In heated moments, he had an impulse to punch tables—or worse, people. His background as a brawler was difficult to escape. But just because he was tempted with outbursts of anger didn’t mean he was sinning.

Scripture repeatedly warns us not to give in to temptation. For instance, God warned Cain, “Sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it” (Gen. 4:7). Likewise, Paul told the Ephesian church what my friend Reid needed to regularly hear: “Be angry and do not sin” (Eph. 4:26).

Scripture repeatedly shows us that temptation and sin are not the same. Jesus was tempted by Satan yet escaped without sinning (Matt. 4:1–11; Heb. 4:15). By the power of the Spirit, we too can resist temptation (Rom. 6:1–14; 1 Cor. 10:13). Jesus taught us to pray “lead us not into temptation” because he is eager to help us resist it (Matt. 6:13).

It is possible, by the power of the Spirit, to be tempted by sin and not give in.

Feeling anger doesn’t necessitate being bitter, cursing, punching, or murdering. Being tempted with wrongful attraction doesn’t need to lead to lust, masturbation, or adultery. Considering sin doesn’t have to mean conceding to it. Knowing this keeps you from being crippled by unnecessary guilt; it gives hope to keep fighting, even when temptation is raging. It is possible, by the power of the Spirit, to be tempted by sin and not give in (Rom. 6).2

Temptation Is Not Immaturity (Phil. 3:12)

Daniel’s battle with anxiety hadn’t improved much over the years. He still hated flying; his palms still sweat before walking into a crowded room. He still struggled to sleep because his mind often raced with anxious thoughts. Yet he had been intentionally fighting sinful anxiety for years. At times, he wondered if he’d matured at all.

But abiding temptation is not always evidence of immaturity. Just because temptation continually haunts believers doesn’t mean they aren’t becoming more like Jesus. Until we see Jesus, we will continue to suffer temptation. So don’t be discouraged just because temptation won’t stop calling.

Temptation Is Not Irresistible (1 Cor. 10:13)

At times, temptation seems impossible to resist. Gossip felt this way for Shannon. Being in the know empowered her. Seeking and sharing information about others made her feel important and included. She knew being exalted at other people’s expense was wrong, but it was the only way she knew how to connect with her friends.

Temptation sometimes feels irresistible. God assures us it is not. “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability” (1 Cor. 10:13). The Holy Spirit promises power for self-control. He enables us to speak edifying words instead of destructive words (Eph. 4:29–30). Believe this: the same power that raised Jesus from the dead enables us believers to resist any temptation we face.

Temptation Is an Invitation from Satan (Gen. 3:1–5)

Genesis 3 records the fall of humanity into sin. Genesis tells us that Satan slithered up to Eve in the garden of Eden with one thing in mind: to convince her to forsake her God. His sinister whisper worked: “Did God actually say?” (Gen. 3:1). His invitation to know “good and evil” in a way that was “like God” seemed liberating (Gen 3:5). He led her thoughts away from a “sincere and pure devotion” to God (2 Cor. 11:3). Through temptation, Satan invites us to sin against God while promising happiness apart from God. He calls us to forsake God’s provision for a fleeting pleasure. He entices us to sin and falsely assures us, like he did Eve, that “you will not surely die” (Gen. 3:4). Meanwhile God truthfully assures us that sin “wage[s] war against your soul” (1 Pet. 2:11).

Understanding the nature of temptation should sober us. It reminds us that no matter how good temptation makes sin appear, it’s a mirage. The temptation to be stingy is an invitation from Satan to resist the generosity that reflects Jesus. The impulse to click on pornography is an invitation from Satan to grieve God for a quick rush of lust. The urge to hurry your prayers and neglect Bible reading is an invitation to trust your wisdom over God’s. Temptation stokespride and tells you that you deserve to be at the center of the universe. Indulging in its fleeting offerings only leaves us empty and full of regret.

God, however, has a better way. His path leads to life (Matt. 7:13–14). Everything he promises comes true (Num. 23:19; Heb. 10:23). Everything he gives is good (Luke 11:10–13). His invitation is to a life of abundance now and forevermore (John 10:10; Rev. 21–22). Let us all forsake Satan’s call and fight to follow God by faith.


  1. For the believer, this death refers primarily to missing the abundant life of Spirit-filled peace and joy that comes in fellowship with God. It can also, however, refer to physical sickness or death that God may ordain as an act of discipline for unrepentant sin (1 Cor. 11:30).
  2. This does not deny the fact that sinful desires are sin. For instance, feeling sexual attraction toward a member of the same sex is evidence of our fallen nature. If one resists giving in to unnatural desires, they are not sinning and do not need to feel perpetually displeasing to God.

This article is adapted from How Do I Fight Sin and Temptation? by J. Garrett Kell.

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