Definitions and Purposes of Temptation 

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It's important to first nail down some definitions of the words involved with temptation so that we have a clear understanding of the meanings.  The definitions themselves reveal important facets of temptations that will help us combat them more effectively.   

Tempt: (Webster’s)

  1. “To entice to do wrong by promise of pleasure or gain”
  2. “to make trial of : TEST”

Temptation: pirasmos (#3986) - the only Greek word used for temptation in the New Testament

    1. “an experiment, attempt, trial, proving”
    2. “the trial of man's fidelity, integrity, virtue, constancy”
    3. “an enticement to sin”

Since temptation is "enticement to sin," we should also consider the words used for sin:

  1. Hebrew Chatta'ah (#02403): “an offence, and its penalty, occasion, sacrifice or expiation” (Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon)
  2. Hebrew Chatta’ (#02398): “to sin, miss, miss the way, go wrong, incur guilt, forfeit, purify from uncleanness” (Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon)
  3. Greek Hamartano (#264): “to be without a share in; to miss the mark; to err, be mistaken; to miss or wander from the path of uprightness and honour, to do or go wrong; to wander from the law of God, violate God's law, sin”  (Thayer's and Smith's Bible Dictionary)

Purposes of Temptation:  With the above definitions in mind, we can now discuss the purposes of temptation. 

1.  Block our inheritance as sons of God by enslaving us to sin (Galatians 4:7):  From the very beginning, Satan has been attempting to block and destroy our rightful inheritance as sons of God.  This inheritance includes dominion over the world (Genesis 1:26-28) and a personal relationship with God.  When Satan enticed Adam and Eve to disobey God, Adam forfeited mankind's dominion over the world to Satan (John 12:31; John 14:30; 1 John 5:19) and was separated from God because of his sin.  

Jesus Christ restored peace between God and humanity through his death on the cross and won back man’s right to rule over the world.  Those who place faith in Jesus can now move forward in taking dominion over the world and subduing it for God’s kingdom.  Satan resists the execution of man's rightful dominion through Christ and he does everything in his power to thwart man through temptation into sin.   Satan aims to keep people enslaved to sin (Romans 6:16) and unable to subdue the world as God intended.  

Temptations appeal to our primary sin tendencies of lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh and the pride of life (1 John 2:15-16).  Since he cannot force us to sin, Satan tries to persuade us to sin through clever lies, tailor-made for our specific weaknesses.  For example, Satan appealed to Eve’s desire for wisdom with the notion that she could be like God if she ate the fruit.  Her desire for wisdom and the attractive appearance of the fruit was the winning combination that enticed her to sin (Genesis 3:6). 

Following the temptations of our sinful nature will prevent us from enjoying the fruits of our inheritance as sons of God.  The Holy Spirit grows these fruits in us and they include love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23 NIV).  Our sin thwarts the growth of such fruits because it directly opposes the Holy Spirit’s work in us.  Paul wrote, “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.  They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want” (Galatians 5:16-17 NIV). 

Following the sinful nature not only opposes the Holy Spirit, but also it prevents us from being able to please God.  Paul explained this in Romans 8:5-8 NIV: “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of the sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God.  It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.  Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.”  With our minds hostile to God, we will not move into our role as sons of God in Christ. 

2.  Lead us to entertain evil thoughts with our minds:  Once we entertain an evil thought, we engage the power of our imaginations and create sin.  Our imaginations are powerful tools that God has uniquely gifted us with.  Made in God's likeness, our imaginations are scaled down versions of God's imagination.  God imagined creation and then spoke it into existence.  Likewise, we too can create realities in our imaginations. 

When based on evil thoughts, our imaginations are against God.  For example, pornography is often the visual bait that Satan uses to get people to fantasize about having sex.  Once we’re entertaining the thoughts of adultery or fornication, or any other sexual sin, we’re essentially committing the sin.  Jesus identified this principle of “thought sin” in Matthew 5:28 NIV:  “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  This isn’t just limited to adulterous thoughts.  For example, Jesus explained that hating another person is basically the same as murdering him (Matthew 5:21-22).   Even Lucifer’s sin began in his thoughts (Isaiah 14:13-14, Ezekiel 28:15-17).   

3.  To test our faith:  Though God does not send temptation to us (James 1:13), he may allow us to be tempted for a period of time to test the sincerity of our faith.  Here are some verses that mention this:

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:2-4 NKJV

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”  1 Peter 1:6-7 NIV

God will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear.  Paul wrote, “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 stand up under it”  (1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV). 

Jesus explained in Luke 8:13 that some people who hear God’s word will fall away during temptation because they have no “root.”  When our faith is not grounded in the truth of God’s word, it will be weak like plants without roots.  A key to defeating temptation which will be discussed later in the study is strong faith in the truth (i.e. God’s word).  If we stand fast in our faith and overcome the temptations, we will bring praise, glory and honor to God.  We’ll also be “perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:4 NKJV).  

Personal application and review questions:

Next page:  Mechanism of Temptation

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