Everyone is put to the test by being attracted and seduced by that person’s own wrong desire. Then the desire conceives and gives birth to sin, and when sin reaches full growth, it gives birth to death. (JAMES 1:14-15)
Imagine Eve walking in the Garden of Eden one bright, sunny morning.
As she looks around, her eyes rest on one particular tree. The voice of Adam echoes in her mind. “God says we can eat the fruit of any of the trees, except that one.”
Instantly, she hears another voice. “Did God really say that?”
The very short exchange that follows weakens her resolve by the second. She doesn’t even realize her gaze is firmly fixed on the tree.
She reconsiders her options.
The woman saw that the tree was good to eat and pleasing to the eye, and that it was enticing for the wisdom that it could give… (GENESIS 3:6a)
You know what’s about to happen next, right?
But before we talk about that, let’s first explore this powerful insight from St. James on how temptation works in our lives.
Everyone is put to the test by being attracted and seduced by that person’s own wrong desire.
My siblings and I once ate in what’s called a revolving sushi restaurant. We were seated at an oval shaped bar, with a conveyor belt right in front of us. Different types of sushi served in small portions were placed on this conveyor belt and paraded before us. All we had to do was grab whatever looked appetizing for each of us, eat it, put the empty plate on one side, and then grab the next plate that appealed to us.
As plates piled up on our table, so did our bill.
Temptations are like those sushi on a conveyor belt for two reasons.
FIRST, they offer something for everyone. Temptations are custom-built to make sin appealing to you.
What tempts you may not tempt me at all. We can be looking at the same thing, like an opportunity to make quick money through shady means, but our responses can be different.
The temptations that catch our attention and struggle with are only those that offer what we want. So the source of temptation lies within us. There has to be something inside us already to make the tempter’s plan effective.
According to St. James, we are attracted to a particular sin because of our own wrong desires.
So what is it you want? Physical intimacy without commitment? Religion without sacrifice? Wealth without work? Maximum reward for minimum effort? More of what you already have enough of? The admiration of people?
The tempter offers various ways to fulfill your wrong desire.
SECOND, temptations are usually served in small portions. And then builds from there.
Maybe I’m ignorant, but I don’t think anyone will be tempted to steal a million pesos out of the blue. It starts with a few pesos here and there. Or that anyone will be tempted to commit outright adultery in one single instance. It starts with a few “harmless” glances and conversations. Or that anyone will suddenly be tempted to murder another person. It starts with hatred, resentment and character assassination.
C.S. Lewis expressed it best when he said, “The safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” (The Screwtape Letters)
Then the desire conceives and gives birth to sin.
Temptation is the bait to make you sin. But it is not sin yet.
Let’s go back to the Garden of Eden where we left Eve intently and intensely looking at that tree, seriously considering her options.
As I’ve said, you know what’s about to happen next, right? You’re familiar with the story. You’ve heard the story. You’ve read the story.
More importantly, you’ve lived it.
You know how it feels like to be in the middle of a tug-of-war between a force pushing you to just do it and an equal force pulling you back.
You know right from wrong. Yet there’s that voice convincing you that right and wrong are relative words, making you question the line between the two. And another voice urging you to just walk away.
Remember Tiger Woods’ on-camera apology for his much publicized multiple infidelities? His confession gives us a glimpse of what goes on inside our heads when we’re right smack in the middle of temptation. Here are some of the things he said (in italics):
I never thought about who I was hurting. Instead, I thought only about myself.
A voice convinces you: This will make you happy.
Another voice urges you: This will hurt your loved ones.
I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to.
A voice convinces you: No one will ever know.
Another voice urges you: But God knows.
I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled.
A voice convinces you: You deserve to be happy.
Another voice urges you: You need to be more holy.
You know what?
There’s really only one ending to this struggle. You either come out of it victoriously or cross over that line that separates right from wrong, good from evil.
It’s a sink or swim kind of situation.
In the end, Eve chose to sink. So did Adam.
So she took some of its fruit and ate it. She also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate it. (Genesis 3:6b)
And when sin reaches full growth, it gives birth to death.
Giving in to temptation does not simply satisfy a craving; it actually strengthens it.
Think of it this way. Let’s say eating chocolate cake is bad for you because your blood sugar level is dangerously high. But in your fridge right now is a very moist cake called Death By Chocolate.
You know you want it.
But you also know you shouldn’t have it.
Don’t think for one moment that by giving in, you will eliminate the craving. On the contrary, what it will actually do is weaken your resolve to resist future temptations.
You’ve been there. You know what I’m talking about.
Giving in to temptation does not free you from the struggle; it binds you to it. Until eventually, without even realizing it, you no longer feel tempted. Not because you’ve finally overcome it but because you’ve already given up struggling with it. Sin by this time has become a normal way of life for you. And its consequences don’t really matter to you anymore.
You’ve successfully silenced that other voice.
FIGHT OR FLIGHT?
The most common (and often fatal) mistake we commit when struggling with temptation is brilliantly illustrated in a comic strip wherein the main character, Cathy, is trying hard to diet. Her main weakness is candy. This is how the strip goes:
First frame: I’ll take a drive, but I won’t go near the grocery store.
Second frame: I’ll drive by, but I won’t go in.
Third frame: I’ll go into the grocery store but I won’t walk down the aisle where the Halloween candy is.
Fourth frame: I’ll look at the candy, but I won’t pick it up.
Fifth frame: I’ll pick it up, but I won’t buy it.
Sixth frame: I’ll buy it, but I won’t open it.
Seventh frame: Open it, but won’t smell it.
Eighth frame: Smell it, but won’t taste it.
Ninth frame: Taste it, but won’t eat it.
Tenth frame: Eat, eat, eat, eat, eat, eat.
Can you relate?
So if you are right smack in the middle of a different garden at the moment, your attention drawn to one forbidden tree, please heed this advice: Do not give the devil a chance to work on you. (Ephesians 4:27)
Never underestimate any tempting situation. Instead, underestimate your ability to deal with the situation.
Don’t stay to fight another day. Don’t even think about it. Just run away. Run the opposite way.
And stay away.
Know that when it comes to temptation, the best resistance is avoidance.