September 18, 2016

The nature of temptation

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For 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. 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 4:14–16)

From this passage, Chambers says that all humanity understands the temptation of being drawn away by our own desires, but only after we are born again and Jesus lives in us do we understand the temptations of Jesus. He adds, “Satan does not tempt us to do wrong things; he tempts us in order to make us lose what God has put into us by regeneration, viz., the possibility of being of value to God. He does not come on the line of tempting us to sin, but on the line of shifting the point of view . . . .”

This raises several questions, one of which is: how does this man define sin? If anything takes me from being of value to God, then what else can it be called?

Another question: what is temptation? While Satan’s lies might appeal to the sinful nature in people, being tempted is not a sin. Sin (or not sinning) is what we do in response to it, regardless of how the liar is making his appeal.

Perhaps Chambers is thinking about the nature of Jesus. The Lord was fully human but did not sin because He had no sin nature. Did Chambers then assume that since Jesus had no desire to deviate from the will of God, then the nature of the temptation must be different? Did it not occur to him that being fully human and also without sin is possible, or at least it once was? Adam did not sin, at least at the beginning — and he was fully human. The difference between that man (and also us) and Jesus is that he sinned when tested and Jesus did not.

Those verses from Hebrews say Jesus was tempted in every respect like we are. While my human temptations are based on the enemy’s appeal to my weaknesses and desires, weaknesses and desires that Jesus did not have, this raises another question: in what way was He tempted like I am tempted?

In looking at Jesus’ temptations, I can see that the devil tried to get Him to bypass the will of God and do things that might appeal to a human being. He was hungry and had the power to make bread from stones (Matthew 4:1-11) but He did not use that power to satisfy His human appetite. He also had the power to prove God’s protection but did not put God to the test, nor would He give in to Satan’s suggestion to possess the kingdoms of this world now. This sin would bypass the cross and ignore God’s salvation plan.
The nature of these temptations (the word can also mean tests), unlike Chambers’ suggestion, is that the devil attempted to get Jesus to go against the will of God. The Bible says that sin is going “our own way” (Isaiah 53:6). Could Satan have made an assumption that Jesus was fully human like other humans and had a sin nature like the rest of us?

How then are the temptations presented to Jesus like those presented to me? It seems to me the devil does not want me to do the will of God, so tries to get me to do something else. He might tempt me to take what is not mine, or be envious, or to hate someone, and from those verses above, the devil came to Jesus with those same tests. In His case, He said no, and because He lives in me, I also can say no. Before He came to dwell in me, I did not have that ability.

I flat-out do not agree that my temptations are no longer to do wrong things, only to “shift my point of view.” This sounds too much like the old Greek idea of dualism and that the sins of my old nature are of no account. For example, if I give in to a temptation to lie to someone, I am not merely losing what God put into me (truth), but lying is a sinful, anti-God action. Besides, John said:

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. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8–10)

For sure, Jesus did not sin, but I cannot make that claim either before I was saved or after. However, the suggestions to sin are temptations or tests that He faced and that I face. He didn’t give in to them and I sometimes do, but that doesn’t mean we can change the definition of a temptation, nor can we say going against the will of God is something different than out-and-out sin.

Certainly temptation is Satan’s attempts to get me to step outside of what God has put in me. That is, he wants me to walk by the flesh and not by the Spirit. If there is any dualism, this is the biblical one. We are told to live in the power of the Holy Spirit and not let the flesh run our lives. If I live by my I-wants, that will eventually lead to death. God gave me new life and the devil longs to get me to live by the old one and fall into sin. This is the spiritual warfare of Christian living.

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