It’s impossible to have a relationship with God without experiencing temptation.
No I’m not crazy, and no I’m not making a stretch to reach such an inconvenient conclusion. Let me break it down step by step, starting with the basic definition of temptation. This is straight from the dictionary:
A desire to do something, especially something wrong or unwise.
The Christian perspective will recognize here that God’s preference for how we make a decision is never on the “wrong or unwise” side of the fence. God’s desire represents goodness and wisdom in every situation, even when we don’t understand it. His eternal perspective awards Him that benefit of the doubt. This leaves a vague mixture of our own desires and those of the great Tempter (AKA Satan) as the instigator of all wrong or unwise options.
Can our desire in a specific area ever be good? That’s debatable, however, I would argue that it’s possible even if it’s only for a brief moment before our selfish motives creep back in. But what isn’t debatable is that our desires get better and wiser as they get closer to God’s desires. Jesus didn’t think it was possible for our desires to ever measure up completely with God’s, and that makes total sense. But the point is to recognize that God, not man, is the author of good. God created all of it long before we were around, so He gets all the credit all the time. “Good” is never really ours, but His, which we as His creation either line up with or not.
Where mankind gets sidetracked is when we take God out of the good He has created and still try to call it good. As soon as we attempt anything without God, it’s out of its original context and it instantly becomes wrong and unwise. It’s an automatic switch because without God, nothing can truly be good.
If you’re like me, you’ve been frustrated by temptation often. Maybe you’ve even cursed it and asked God to remove it completely from your life. But here’s a tricky question: What would it really mean if there was no such thing as a wrong or unwise decision? Temptation no longer exists– every possible decision leads to righteousness, no matter how selfishly motivated it might be at its core.
No wrong decisions means no higher power than ourselves to follow, worship, or trust. With no temptation, morality becomes one enormously level playing field. We would be just as reliable and capable as our Creator and Savior.
While they are admittedly extremely annoying to battle against, temptations do one very important thing: they reveal our unique, active relationships with God. Our response to temptation exemplifies and even defines our personal pursuit of Him– our trust in His way and distrust in our own, or vice versa. Temptations are our opportunity to actually do what Jesus commanded in Luke 9:23– to deny ourselves; to pick up what we often don’t understand and definitely wouldn’t naturally bring upon ourselves, and follow a way we hold as higher than our own.
Consider Jesus and the glimpse He gave us of what it’s like to be in complete and perfect relationship with God the Father. We measure His perfection by how he chose God’s will over the temptations of His flesh both in the desert at the beginning of His public ministry and at the end, in the garden just before He was arrested. I’m sure there were countless other temptations He endured and conquered.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that “temptation” and “trial” use the same Greek word in the Bible: peirasmos. (Just give up on how to pronounce that.) These words are synonymous in the scriptures because I don’t think the early Church leaders saw temptations as cruel punishments. I don’t think they saw them as individual identities, either. They saw them as opportunities to prove their loyalty; opportunities to deepen their individual relationships with God through an active trust. And I think they were really onto something.
Through some of my own exercises of resistance against temptation, I’ve discovered a deep level of joy and intimacy with the Lord. That joy and intimacy is a direct result from the struggle itself simply because I am seeking Him in a moment of weakness, asking Him to take over. Every time I say “No” to what my flesh wants, I’m really saying “Yes” to what I know God wants for me. And that brings about a relationship you just don’t get when I get to do whatever I want. It reinforces over and over that my life isn’t about me, but rather Him.
Relationships require constant interaction. Our relationships with God are no different, and temptations are what bring about those interactions with Him. It would be pretty pointless to acknowledge God if we didn’t experience temptation– apart from maybe a vague explanation of how life initially came into existence. Jesus’ death and teachings would also be completely unnecessary since we would already have righteousness in our hearts.
This is more relevant than you might think. Our culture (a demonstrated collection of mankind’s desires) has tirelessly worked to get us to excuse and even embrace issues that are ultimately deep-seeded temptations. It’s become taboo to suggest that our basic desires aren’t automatically good just because they’re found in hormones and endorphins. It’s considered narrow-minded to say that the best of intentions are still unwise and, dare-I-say, wrong without submission to God as the central motivation. That doesn’t make anyone better than anyone else. It just makes us all sinful, unworthy, and in need of a Savior that isn’t found in our own perceived righteousness. The fact that we have a gospel of Jesus in the first place requires that are in need of salvation. But people who are already safe just the way they are don’t need salvation. At most, that’s just a promotion.
This culture, which worships a few years of selfish pleasure over eternity, will naturally make war with the idea that some choices or desires aren’t as good or wise as we like to think they are. Because in this culture, we are the judges, and we simply like pleasure and convenience way too much. I know it’s offensive, but our desires don’t automatically have our Creator’s support just because they’re considered “natural.” Natural means that something is a product of the world, but so are a lot of things that can hurt or even kill us if they’re not treated properly. We like to say we aren’t impacting anyone else with our choices, but even if that were the case (it rarely is), that disregards how our choices affect ourselves on a spiritual, intimate level with our Creator. He knows (even when we don’t) that our relationships with Him are more important than anything else. That’s why He promised and sent a Savior before we knew to ask for one.
Temptations are rooted in natural desires and feelings. But they’re not meant to define us. They’re not meant to be catered to, although that is the easiest route to take. They’re unique opportunities to take all of our past circumstances, experiences, and all of the information we’ve been fed by others, and then give them to God as the ultimate test of truth. And eternity is found with whoever we trust to be right.
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
-1 Corinthians 10:13