Mechanism of Temptation 

Previous page: Definitions & Purposes of Temptation

It is important to understand the mechanism behind temptation so that we can recognize it and take action against it.  James 1:12-15 NIV gives us the key details:

12Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.  13When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.  James 1:12-15 NIV

From this passage, we can identify 4 stages of the temptation process, which we’ll examine below. 

Stage 1:  Drag away and entice

Ironically, our own evil desire drags us away and entices us (“drawn away, enticed and baited” James 1:14 AMP).  Often these evil desires can be the actual sources of the temptations we face (Matthew 15:18-19).  Consider this example concerning the love of money from 1 Timothy 6:9-10 NIV:

9People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.  

Note how the "foolish and harmful" desires led the people away from the faith and plunged them into ruin,  destruction and many griefs.  

In addition to the evil desires within us, the devil and his servants may also be sources of temptation.  Paul explained that these forces are real and primarily spiritual:  "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places"  (Ephesians 6:12).  These forces are skilled at introducing tempting thoughts to us that appeal to our natural and/or evil desires.  Since they can't make us sin, they hope to arouse our evil desires enough so that we'll pursue the temptation and sin.

The Bible gives several accounts of Satan tempting people with things that appealed to their desires.  For example, Satan tempted Jesus with things like food and power (Luke 4:5-6).  Though Jesus was without sin, he still had natural human desires that Satan could appeal to.  In Acts 5:3, Satan appealed to Ananias and Sapphira’s greed by “filling” their hearts with the idea to lie to Holy Spirit and keep back some of the offering money.   Other examples of temptation include Genesis 3:1-6, Matthew 4:1, 1 Corinthians 7:5, 1 Thessalonians 3:5, 1 Kings 22:20-22, 2 Chronicles 18:20-21, and Proverbs 7:21.

Stage 2: Conception. James mentions that our evil desire is capable of conceiving.  The Greek word used there for conceive is Sullambano (Strong’s #4815), which means “to clasp, i.e. seize (arrest, capture); specially, to conceive (literally or figuratively); by implication, to aid:--catch, conceive, help, take.”  Applying these definitions, conception occurs when our evil desires clasp or seize our minds in order to engage a temptation.  It is the point when we open the door of our mind to the temptation instead of rejecting it; when we give the temptation a place in our heart instead of treating it like an enemy. Conception can happen as quick as within a few seconds of the temptation. 

Stage 3: Sin is Born. After our evil desires conceive, they birth sinful thoughts and/or actions.  Usually sin occurs in our thoughts before we act it out physically.  "Thought sin" occurs when we respond to a temptation by using our imaginations to dwell on, embellish or fantasize about doing the act.  For example, sexual sin occurs when we respond to the temptation by using our imaginations to speculate about sexual activity based on the temptation source (ex what it would be like, what it would feel like, etc.).   This is why Paul stated that our responsibility as Christians includes "Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5 KJV). 

Stage 4: Death.  Our sin always causes something to die, whether it be physical, emotional or spiritual. God’s word tells us that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).  It is inescapable, yet people continue to believe the lies that the consequences of their sin won’t be that bad.  For example, back in Eden, Satan told Eve that she wouldn’t actually die like God said and that the forbidden fruit would actually help her be more like God.  When Eve sinned, her innocence died, her marital harmony died, her relationship with God died and her peace died (Genesis 3:12-16).  Likewise, Satan and his forces of evil continue to downplay the death that will occur in our lives if we sin.   

Personal application and review questions:

Next page:  Temptation Response Actions

Home            Online Courses            Temptation Study