When we talk about the biblical definition of temptation, we're not talking about a casual temptation to do something relatively innocuous. You might be "tempted" to eat the whole slice of cake on your plate or "tempted" to sign up for the school musical—and doing those things is not inherently sinful. But when the Bible talks about "temptation," it's referring to a temptation for something that draws us away from God.
Those kinds of temptations, as unpleasant as they can be, are a part of life, but even those temptations are not sinful. Human beings understand the moral scale at a deeper level—regardless of their belief in God—and know when something goes against it (Romans 1:20). For the believer who is starkly aware of their sin nature, temptation can be that much more distressing.
Even the apostle Paul lamented, "Nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me" (Romans 7:18-20). Does that sound familiar?
Remember, temptations are lures that would draw us away from God, His plan, or His will—IF we gave in to them. Temptations can come in the form of an invitation from another person, an emotional or physical desire, or even as a seemingly innocuous thought. Fortunately, experiencing temptation is not a sin. Even Jesus was tempted (Mark 1:13; Luke 4:1-13), but He never sinned (Hebrews 4:15). Sin happens when we give in to those enticing lies that offer fulfillment by acting or dwelling upon those thoughts (James 1:15).
Lust, covetousness, pride, greed, and envy are all sins of the heart that began as insidious thought sparks that have been entertained and grown into sinful inclinations. And yes—even if you are keeping lustful or prideful fantasies in your mind, where they may not be obvious to onlookers, they're still sin (Matthew 5:28; Romans 1:29; Mark 7:21-22).
Giving in to temptations corrupts our hearts and minds (Matthew 15:18-19). Allowing temptations to rule our thoughts and actions and turn into sin will rot the Fruit of the Spirit, turning it into the "fruit of the flesh" (Ephesians 5:9; Galatians 5:19-23).
God will not tempt us (James 1:13), so who's left to blame? The Bible tells us there are two sources of temptation: Satan, who would love to eat us alive (1 Peter 5:8), and our own sinful nature (James 1:14).
Satan is the "god of this world" and spends a great deal of time tempting people to go against God's will (2 Corinthians 4:4). Look at the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. They wanted to appear more dedicated to God when the apostles came around, so they lied about the origin of their offering (verse 3). But Peter spotted the lie and knew the couple had given in to the (false) promises of pride set forth by the Father of Lies (John 8:44). They were tempted to gain prestige by means of deceit and then they sinned by going through with their plan (verses 7-10).
The influence of Satan is also attributed Judas Iscariot's decision to betray Jesus (Luke 22:3; John 13:2). C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters gives a fictionalized account of how Satan might tempt Christians in the sneakiest of ways.
Our sinful nature, though it originated with Satan, is often like an uncontrollable force that drives us to do what we know is wrong. James 1:13-14 says, "When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed."
As much as the Christ-following part of us wants to do good, some days it feels like a constant battle. Paul expresses this struggle in Romans 7:22-23, "For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me."
Overcoming temptation is not always an easy choice, but Jesus said, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33b). Every day, we may find ourselves facing temptations, sinning again, and having to start over once more. But that's a part of the journey of growing and becoming more Christlike (James 1:12). As long as we're still fighting, still struggling against sinful temptations, then we're still winning. Don't give up!
"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind." —James 1:2-8
"The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure." —1 Corinthians 10:13 (NLT)
God is on your side. He'll always give an escape route from temptations. Your part is to look for those escapes and take them! In fact, the Bible tells us to RUN AWAY from temptations rather than try to face them in our own power (1 Corinthians 6:18; 2 Timothy 2:22). Genesis 39:6-12 tells us how Joseph had sexual temptation flaunted in his face daily, but he literally turned and ran out of the house.
Even better, we should strive to avoid tempting situations in the first place (Romans 13:13-14). Jesus told His disciples to "keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41). (Also see: How can I overcome temptation?)
While God promises to provide a way out for us, it would be unwise to walk right into a situation we know may lead to temptation. Avoid that movie, that friend's party, that website—if you know it may cause you to sin. We must take responsibility for our actions, as hard as it may be, and protect ourselves from known temptations, take the escape routes God provides, and keep our minds on "the things above, not on the things that are on earth" (Colossians 3:2).
Temptations, by the biblical definition, are lures that would draw us away from God, His plan, or His will—IF we gave in to them. They may come in the form of a personal invitation, an emotional or physical desire, or even a seemingly innocuous thought. Fortunately, experiencing temptation is not a sin. Jesus was tempted (Mark 1:13; Luke 4:1-13), but He never sinned (Hebrews 4:15). Sin happens when we GIVE IN to those enticing lies that offer fulfillment by acting or dwelling upon those thoughts (James 1:15). We must take responsibility for our actions, as hard as it may be, and protect ourselves from known temptations, take the escape routes God provides, and keep our minds on "the things above, not on the things that are on earth" (Colossians 3:2).
Cat is the web producer and editor of 412teens.org. She loves audiobooks, feeding the people she cares about, and using Christmas lights to illuminate a room. When Catiana is not writing, cooking, or drawing, she enjoys spending time with her two kids, five socially-awkward cats, and her amazing friend-amily.