Tuesday

In the throes of temptation


From Quote Garden:
A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means.  This is an obvious lie.  Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is ...  A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later.  That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness.  They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in.  ~C.S. Lewis
What makes resisting temptation difficult for many people is they don't want to discourage it completely.  ~Franklin P. Jones 
Have you ever been tempted? Have you ever experienced that burning desire that just will not go away?  What did it feel like when you tried to fight it? Did you feel like you were drowning and your feet were entangled in the seaweed below? Did you give in? Did you master it? Did you say "no" because you knew it was wrong but privately wished that you could do it? 

I Corinthians 10: 13 in the NIV says: 
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
 This is true, but sometimes you have to go through a lot before you see the way out. 

So, what is temptation? According to Merriam-Webster.com, temptation is a strong urge or desire to have or do something; something that causes a strong urge or desire to have or do something and especially something that is bad, wrong, or unwise. 

You have that right, Daniel. However, the word strong is not strong enough. I would say it is more like a burning down deep in the recesses of your soul. 

Despite the title of this post, I am not suffering under the weight of tremendous temptation right now, but I have in the past and most likely will again. The Lord brought that to mind the other night and inspired a blog post on the matter. I hope that what I have learned will help you in some way.

It seems like nowadays, we equate temptation with food. This can be true. Esau, the brother of Jacob, gave away his birthright for a bowl of lentil stew, but I think that most of us deal with temptation on a much deeper level than we are willing to admit. Of course, gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins, but gluttony involves more than food. It involves a lust or desire to have as much of whatever you want when you want it. The other sins include wrath, sloth, greed, pride, lust and envy.

Catholic theology, divides sinful acts into venial and mortal categories. 
Venial sin (meaning "forgivable" sin) is a lesser sin that does not result in a complete separation from God and eternal damnation in Hell. A venial sin involves a "partial loss of grace" from God. They do not break one's friendship with God, but injure it. 
Venial sins are so 'small' in fact, one may not know he or she committed the sin.
A mortal sin is a grave, or serious, matter. "It must be committed with full knowledge, both of the sin and of the gravity of the offense (no one is considered ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are inborn as part of human knowledge, but these principles can be misunderstood in a particular context). It must be committed with deliberate and complete consent, enough for it to have been a personal decision to commit the sin."
The seven deadly sins do not belong to an additional category of sin. Rather, they are the sins that are seen as the origin ("capital" comes from the Latin caput, head) of the other sins. A "deadly sin" can be either venial or mortal, depending on the situation; but "they are called 'capital' because they engender other sins, other vices".
What the Catholics have done is to put sin into a perspective that is understandable for we mere mortals. It is this way in the law. There are different degrees of murder, theft, and other crimes. There are felonies, and there are misdemeanors, and there are different levels or classes within those two major categories.  How the courts punish a crime depends on the intent and knowledge of the perpetrator. Catholic theology classifies sin the same way. 

I know there are those who will disagree with me. You believe that "sin is sin." To a degree, you are right. Sin is sin in that we do not want to give into it at any level. If we do, it leads to more sin. However, some sins are worse than others are. They emanate from a depraved heart that has given into 'smaller' sins more often than it can count. Those 'smaller' sins snowball into evil we do not stop them. For a richer perspective, please see Thomas Aquinas' discussion on mortal and venial sin in his Summa Theologica.

Concerning temptation, sin does not happen until you give into temptation. Being tempted is not a sin, but it does reveal an inner problem. Consider James 1:13 - 15:
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 (he or she is) dragged away by (his or her) own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.*
We can learn three things from this verse. 

Inner desire leads to temptation

Temptation almost mastered me in one area until this verse hit me like a ton of bricks. At first, though, I did not want to admit that temptation stemmed from my own evil desires.  It was Satan's fault. Unfortunately, no matter how many times I told the Devil to get behind me and no matter how many times I claimed scripture, I was still weak. It was when I recognized and believed that the Devil could only tempt me with what was desirable that I mastered that particular temptation. In prayer, I confessed that evil desire to the Lord and asked him to help me overcome it because in my heart I knew it was wrong and I did not want to go that way. This did not happen right away, but slowly over time, with more tests, the Lord changed me so that the temptation was no longer a desire and therefore not a temptation.

God does not tempt 

"God only tests. God does not tempt." This is what I learned growing up in the church. Now I would say, "God does not tempt us; he does, however, allow us to be tested." In the Lord's Prayer, Jesus taught his disciples to pray, "Lead us not into temptation".   If God does not tempt, then why did Jesus teach us to pray this way? Matthew Henry (1664 - 1774), the Puritan commentator, whose work is timeless, said:
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. This petition is expressed  (1.) Negatively: Lead us not into temptation. Having prayed that the guilt of sin may be removed, we pray, as it is fit, that we may never return again to folly, that we may not be tempted to it. It is not as if God tempted any to sin; but, "Lord, do not let Satan loose upon us; chain up that roaring lion, for he is subtle and spiteful; Lord, do not leave us to ourselves (Ps 19:13), for we are very weak; Lord, do not lay stumbling-blocks and snares before us, nor put us into circumstances that may be an occasion of falling." Temptations are to be prayed against, both because of the discomfort and trouble of them, and because of the danger we are in of being overcome by them, and the guilt and grief that then follow.     Source: Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible Volume V (Matthew to John) 
In other words, pray against temptation because it is a terrible ordeal and we do not want to fall. Note that Henry asked the Lord not to lay stumbling blocks before him - that was very Puritanical of him. 

Sin leads to more sin

Once you give into sin, it becomes easier and easier to give in again. In the quote by C.S. Lewis, 20th century Christian apologist and author, Lewis says that some people give into sin so much that they do not know what "badness" is. They do not know what resisting temptation feels like because they do not resist. Once you give in, it is easier to give in the next time. Soon, what was once a temptation now feels like a need. Your attitude may become, "If I don't do this I'll die." You will also rationalize that everything you are doing is right. You might even believe that God condones your behavior. No wonder Peter warned us not to give the devil a foothold by caving in to 'less serious' sins. Once Satan gets a foothold it is much easier for him to get in the door. 

If we are going to call ourselves followers of Christ, we must do our best not to give in to temptation. However, if we do sin we need to remember that Jesus will forgive us when we ask.  He will also empower us not to sin if we truly seek him. It is our choice. 
 
 *Parenthesis mine. I do not know why, but the translators of the recent NIV are terrible about subject-pronoun agreement. The original sentence said "but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed ..."