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Pointers along the way #184

Thinking through temptations
- Jacob Ninan

Our mind is the battleground where temptations are fought through, and our thoughts are what are exchanged in the battle. The attack comes in the form of thoughts that are propelled by the desires in our flesh (Jas.1:14). These thoughts may come from our own mind as a result of associations with similar situations in the past. They may be ideas that are whispered into our minds by Satan or his evil spirits in the same way as he did with Jesus (Mt.4:3), or they may come from other people. When this attack comes, the temptation begins.

At this point it is still only a temptation and not sin. Just because we have been tempted, we have not become defiled. Jesus was also tempted in all points and that did not make Him a sinner (He.4:15). It becomes sin only when we yield our heart to it, by doing what the temptation sugggests or by enjoying the sinful pleasures we get by letting imaginations run in the direction of the temptation (Jas.1:15). But if we stop the temptation right there, and refuse to yield to it, we become victors in the battle.

Most temptations are simple in nature, enticing us to do something that we know to be wrong. To sin is to do it, and to overcome is to resist doing it. But there are also temptations that are not so straightforward, where we are not sure what we should do. In such cases we may need to spend a long time waiting on the Lord, seeking to know what He would have us to do. When Jesus prayed three times in Gethsemane asking the Father whether He really wanted Him to go to the cross or there was another way to achieve the Father's goal without having to go through the suffering, it was this kind of temptation. The agony of this temptation was so great that Jesus sweated drops of blood during the process. It is comforting for us to know that even though Jesus took so long to decide or prayed the same prayer three times it did not amount to sin.

Another kind of temptation is where we know in our heart what is right and wrong, but we are too weak to reject the sinful suggestion straightaway. The attractions are so great that we waver in making a decision. We keep hoping that perhaps it would be all right if we give in, trying to justify ourselves or imagining that God may agree to it just this time. We know deep in our heart that it would be wrong to give in, but we are not spiritually strong enough to quit on the spot. Of course this is not the best way to deal with temptations, but this is a part of growing up. I suggest that God would consider it 'not sin' as long as we are fighting against the temptation, and that it would become sin only if we give in. He knows that we are weak, and that we are struggling with the temptation. It is this struggle that marks the strength of temptation.

Our ultimate goal is to overcome in temptation. Even if the battle takes long and we are tossed to and fro, our final victory will be sweet. Even if we lose some battles, we should aim at winning the war.