What Is Temptation?

by Mike Ratliff

41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41 ESV)

38 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:38 ESV)

45 And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, 46 and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” (Luke 22:45-46 ESV)

Temptation: Temptation is any thing, state, way or condition that, upon any account whatsoever, has a force or power to seduce, to draw the mind and heart of a man or woman from his or her obedience, which God requires of them, into any sin, in any degree of it whatsoever.

As Jesus agonized in Gethsemane in the hours prior to His trial, torture, and crucifixion, His disciples had a hard time staying awake. He went off by Himself to pray, but asked James, John and Peter to watch and pray. However, each time He came to them, He found them asleep. If we look closely at Mathew 26:41, Mark 14:38, and Luke 22:45-46, we will see the whole of our Lord’s caution to His disciples seems to have been, “Arise, watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation.” Our Lord knew that danger was near. He knew that His disciples would be scattered from Him when He was arrested. However, His concern seems to be on these men that they would not enter into temptation. Notice also that it is the flesh that is weak and it is the watching and praying that keeps them lined up with the spirit that they be one in spirit with Him. If they would do that then they would not enter into temptation.

It seems that these men, who knew that Jesus would be betrayed because He had told them earlier in the evening, were more concerned with their comfort, their sleep, than for their Lord. It is as if they had forsaken all of their love toward Jesus in lieu of caring for themselves. They fell fast asleep. On the other hand Jesus knew what was going to happen. He knew that He would go to His death to die to pay the penalty for their sin. Of course, these men were not aware of that yet. They would soon, but before the crucifixion of our Lord, they did not understand. As we see in Gethsemane, however, their flesh controlled them. All men and women, no matter how noble, when left to themselves, will quickly appear to be far less than nothing. All of our strength is weakness, and all our wisdom folly.

35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.
36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” 37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” 40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:35-41 ESV)

Peter proclaimed to our Lord that He would never deny Him. However, when Jesus asked, “So, could you not watch with me one hour?” He could very easily have added, “Are you he, Peter, who but now boasts of your resolution never to forsake me? Is it likely that you should hold out when you cannot watch with me one hour? Is this your dying for me, to be dead in security, when I am dying for you?” Of course, we know that Peter’s boast was flesh bound and not in any way based on being one in Spirit with our Lord. It was a careless promise. Let us not look too harshly at Peter, however, because this same treachery lives and works in our own hearts. It bears fruit that we see every day. We make great promises to our Lord to obey Him, but quickly find ourselves in a pit of sin.

18 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. (Romans 7:18 ESV)

What is our Saviour’s admonition to avoid this state of spiritual inconsistency? He said, “Arise, watch and pray!” What was the temptation(s) that our Lord was concerned about? One of the major ones would be the scandal of the cross. However, we must read our Lord’s words here as a warning to us as well. There are three things we must glean from this warning so we can also know how to not enter into temptation. The first is that our Lord is warning us about evil. This is real evil, for temptation has as its goal to bring evil to bear on us. The second is the means by which we succumb. That is, we enter into temptation. We don’t fall into it. We don’t accidentally encounter it. We enter into it. The third thing is that our Lord gives us the way of preventing it, to watch and pray.

The word tempt or temptation carries with it the idea of “testing” or “trying.” It may also mean to experiment or prove. God is said sometimes to tempt; and we are commanded as our duty to tempt, or try, or search ourselves, that we may know what is in us. We are then to pray to God that He would search us and try us as well. So in this sense temptation is not the evil form, but a way to know what is inside or the quality of something. However, outside of this context, temptation does denote evil as its special nature. It is considered either actively, as it leads to evil, or passively, as it has evil and suffering within it.

2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, (James 1:2 ESV)

The “trials” in v2 are “temptations” that, in this sense, denote affliction. We can count it all joy when we meet these “temptations,” but do not enter into them.

Temptation denotes in the tempter a design for the bringing about of the purpose of it, which is to lead the one tempted into evil. In that sense we know that God is not the one tempting. (James 1:13) However, God will take His hand away at times to allow our enemy to bring temptation to bear. In that sense, in God’s eyes, it is a trial. Never forget that God allowed a deceiving spirit to cause false prophets to lie to Ahab the King of Israel to tempt him to go to a battle where he would be killed. So, in the sense that God does this we need to learn why He does it and the way whereby He does it.

God allows us to be tempted because it shows us what is within our hearts. It reveals our fallen nature to us in either how God’s grace has worked in us to overcome it or in how corrupt we really are outside of His grace. Both grace and corruption exist and work deep in our hearts. We often deceive ourselves into thinking our fallen nature has been abrogated by our regeneration and our good works. When we are in that state, we are setting ourselves up for a great fall. Also, when we try with our own abilities to be Christlike, corruption appears. On the other hand, when we examine ourselves deeply we often find God’s grace working within us to our amazement. We are kept in uncertainty in that we do fail in our trials. God’s trials, no matter of what nature, consist of Him examining what is deep within our hearts. He will then work things out so that we will be shown what is in us. We will know of what we are made at those moments.

1 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” 6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. 7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together. 9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.” 15 And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:1-18 ESV)

God tempted Abraham to show him his faith. Abraham did not know what power and vigor made up his faith until God drew it out through this trial that must have been heartrending for him.

12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” (Genesis 22:12 ESV)

When God said, “I know that you fear God,” He made Abraham know it as well.

25 But Hezekiah did not make return according to the benefit done to him, for his heart was proud. Therefore wrath came upon him and Judah and Jerusalem. 26 But Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart, both he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of the Lord did not come upon them in the days of Hezekiah. 27 And Hezekiah had very great riches and honor, and he made for himself treasuries for silver, for gold, for precious stones, for spices, for shields, and for all kinds of costly vessels; 28 storehouses also for the yield of grain, wine, and oil; and stalls for all kinds of cattle, and sheepfolds. 29 He likewise provided cities for himself, and flocks and herds in abundance, for God had given him very great possessions. 30 This same Hezekiah closed the upper outlet of the waters of Gihon and directed them down to the west side of the city of David. And Hezekiah prospered in all his works. 31 And so in the matter of the envoys of the princes of Babylon, who had been sent to him to inquire about the sign that had been done in the land, God left him to himself, in order to test him and to know all that was in his heart. (2 Chronicles 32:25-31 ESV)

When God left Hezekiah it was that He might see what was in his heart. He tended to be proud and powerful, but when God tested him what came from his heart? It was nothing but pride. When God does this to us it is for our best. When we see what is really in us we should be thankful and humble.

God also tries people to show Himself to them in a way of Preventing Grace. What? We see that it is God alone who keeps us from all sin, not our will power or good intentions. Until we are tempted, we think we are the ones being pure by our own strength. Preventing Grace is a special grace that, when we are not trying to use our will power to not sin, protects us from further sinning. When Peter proclaimed that he would never deny Jesus he was relying on his own will power. When the trial came, and it came quickly, he saw that his preservation from sin was not in himself.

God tries people to show Himself to them in a way of Renewing Grace. In 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 Paul tells us of a thorn given to him, a messenger of Satan to harass him, to keep him from being too elated or proud. Then Paul pleaded with God to take the thorn away, but God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul then proclaimed that it was right that he be made weak so that the power of Christ might rest upon him. We have no idea the power and strength that our God puts forth on our behalf until we compare the temptation with our own weakness. Then we see it. Rattlesnake anti-venom works, but we really don’t know that until we need it because the viper has attacked and we are full of his poison. Our diseases make the preciousness of medicine known to us. We learn the strength of God’s grace when we see the strength there is in the temptation. We must be tried so that we may know of God’s preserving and renewing work in us.

One of the ways God tempts or tries is by giving us tasks or duties that are too great for us. They are beyond our strength. God calling Abraham to sacrifice Isaac is an example of this. It was beyond reason for God to command this. Abraham learned what was in him through this though. The tasks or duties that God gives us to do are not proportional to our strength. However, we are to acknowledge this and plead our case to our Lord for His grace that we may obey. How is God glorified in us if all we do is within our own abilities? When we obey God, fully relying on His grace to enable us to do it then we are in the midst of a trial or a temptation in the yoke of Christ.

Another way God tempts or tries is by allowing great suffering. Read Fox’s Book of Martyrs for example after example of people finding amazing strength to die at a stake, to suffer tortures for Christ! It was definitely a call to a trial for this to come upon them. According to 1 Peter 1:6-7 we learn that we are brought into fiery trials from our temptations that are trials of our faith.

These temptations are trials directly from God. He may indeed use our enemy in this, but God does do this. On the other hand there is the other form of temptation that is an active “drawing” toward sinning. It is evil with the intent of causing evil. How does our enemy tempt us? His temptations may be directly from him, or the world, or other men in the world, or from ourselves, or jointly from all or some of the above in any combination we can conceive.

Temptations directly from Satan take the form of an injection attack into our minds of evil and blasphemous thoughts of God. Sometimes he makes use of the world. This is how he tempted our Lord Jesus Christ in the wilderness by showing him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. Sometimes he has a willing participant in our temptation in ourselves. Yes, that is right. We are often the source of our own temptation to evil.

14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.(James 1:14-15 ESV)

Judas was tempted this way. (Luke 22:3) Satan entered into him. I’m sure we could come up with innumerable example of all of the ways we can be tempted to do evil. Because of this, we must learn to watch and pray, to be vigilant in not entering into temptation.

Soli Deo Gloria!

6 thoughts on “What Is Temptation?

  1. Amen Mike. I will have to take a second reading as there’s so much good doctrine in this article that is worth remembering. It’s a good thing to ask the Lord to show us what is in us, for good or for worse.

    Keep up the good work brother.


  2. That one short paragraph about Preventive Grace was worth the price of admission. Most excellent, my brother! No flesh will boast before God! This is another “keeper”.


  3. Pingback: What Is The Danger of Entering Temptation? | Possessing the Treasure

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