What does the Bible say about temptation?

Temptation is the desire or inclination to act against God's will. All humans experience desires contrary to God's will at some point in their lives. Feeling the desires is not in and of itself a sin. However, sin occurs when we act upon these temptations. Because temptation is part of the human experience, the Bible has much to say on this topic.

Temptation is "common to mankind" (1 Corinthians 10:13, NASB). Because temptation is a universal experience, even Jesus faced temptation when He took on human form and was "born in the likeness of men" (Philippians 2:7). The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record how Jesus was tempted in the wilderness after forty days and nights of fasting (Matthew 4:1–11; Mark 1:12–13; Luke 4:1–13). The writer of Hebrews says of Jesus, "We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus faced temptation yet never succumbed to sin.

Temptation arises both from our own human hearts and from the Devil. In Jesus' experience, Matthew stated, "Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil" (Matthew 4:1). The Devil actively offered Jesus sinful ways to fulfill His desires. James wrote that "each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire" (James 1:14). Paul similarly wrote, "But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction" (1 Timothy 6:9). Our own hearts stir up desires to act contrary to the will of God and sometimes the Devil uses those desires to entice us to sin.

Giving in to temptation and choosing the sinful option is not a hopeless situation; it does not bind a person to condemnation. When we put our faith in Jesus, all our sins are forgiven (Ephesians 1:3–14; John 3:36; Romans 8:1; 1 Corinthians 6:9–11; 2 Corinthians 5:17–21). However, even believers still sin against God. When we do, it still produces the effects of death (James 1:13–15). It harms our fellowship with God. John instructs, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:8–9). Paul told the believers in Galatia, "Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted" (Galatians 6:1). Believers who have given in to temptation can be called back into right relationship. When fellow believers call each other away from sin, Paul urges them to do so humbly by recognizing their own vulnerability to temptation. James encourages, "Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed" (James 5:16).

Clearly, though, we would rather not give into temptation. How can we resist? Jesus taught His disciples to pray for God's help when facing temptation. When He asked them to stay awake and pray for Him in the garden of Gethsemane, He said, "Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41). He knew His disciples' desires to stay awake, to support Jesus in His time of need, and to stay faithful to Him, but He also knew how tired their bodies were and how fearful their spirits would become once He was arrested. So Jesus instructed them to pray. Earlier in His ministry, He had taught them to pray "lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" (Matthew 6:13). Jesus expected His followers to rely on God's help when facing temptation.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians that, "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it" (1 Corinthians 10:13). So not only can we pray for God's help when facing temptation, but we can also look for the way of escape God has promised will be there. Jesus overcame the temptations in the wilderness by quoting Scripture. Clearly, for Him, one "way of escape" was by having God's Word memorized to be called to mind in times of need.

After describing how temptation arises from our own desires, those desires get nurtured and lead to sin, and sin brings about death (James 1:14–15), James reminds his readers of God's nature. He writes, "Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures" (James 1:16–18). When we remember who God is and what He has done for us, we are less likely to fall for the deceitfulness of sin and more likely to resist temptation.

Looking for the promised way of escape, having Scripture memorized, and praying for God's help are reliable ways to face temptation. Perhaps one of the most comforting truths in a time of temptation is that Jesus does "sympathize with our weaknesses" (Hebrews 4:15) "because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted" (Hebrews 2:18). So "Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16).

Related Truth:

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If Jesus forgave all my sins when I became a Christian, why shouldn't I continue to sin?

How can I overcome temptation instead of giving in?

Why are there still consequences for sin if Jesus already paid the price?

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