When I was a child my mother read to me often. One of the books she read from was a children’s Bible. While I liked to hear all of the stories, my favorite was always the temptation of Jesus. I’m not sure exactly what it was about it that appealed to me so strongly. Perhaps it was the supernatural drama. Perhaps, even at that tender age, I could identify with Jesus, or maybe I recognized that Jesus identified with me.
Along with the temptation of Jesus, I remember listening as my mother read about the temptation of Adam and Eve, the very first temptation. There was no identification for me with this story. Adam and Eve had absolutely everything anyone could ever want, and only one rule. Perhaps I was alone in my thinking, but as I pondered their situation I was certain that, given the same circumstance, I could definitely obey one little rule.
As long as there have been rules, there has been temptation.
I’ve breathed the air of this existence for nearly half a century now, and if I have learned anything, it is this: I probably would have eaten the fruit too. I could come up with all sorts of explanations as to why I would be stronger than the first sinners, the fact that they were the only ones without a “sin nature” comes to mind, but none of them, especially this one, holds any water. If they, without a sin nature, failed, I’m certain that I would find myself standing by that tree trying to figure out what made it so special. Yes, I’d have eaten from the tree, with or without Eve’s “help.”
I want that which I cannot have simply because it has been forbidden, even if it doesn’t stir up desire on its own. James spells it out for us. “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:1-3, ESV).
It is not a sin to be tempted, but to dwell on the object of your temptation is. Martin Luther once said that “you can’t keep a bird from flying over your head, but you can keep it from making a nest in your hair!” Temptations will come and go until we find ourselves in the presence of the Lord in Heaven. What we do with those temptations is a daily battle.
Not that we will never sin…. Paul explained it this way: ““What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that 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” (Romans 7:7-19 , ESV, emphasis mine).
This brings me full circle to the beginning of this post. Thank God that Jesus identified with me, and with you! “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16, NASB).
So, when you find yourself face to face with temptation, remember that Christ can identify with you. And He will be with you and strengthen you through the trial. “Take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:13, ESV).