What About Temptation and Sin?
To boldly proclaim that Jesus Christ is living out His life in my form raises some basic questions: Why do temptations still pull at me? And how is it that I still sin? In the following excerpt from "Yes, I Am," Norman gives keen scriptural insight into the difference between temptation and sin, God’s ultimate for-others purpose in our temptations, and how our temptations and trials are His opportunity to move into faith-action as us.
Life is not a bed of roses. Life is not lived on a Cloud Nine. What about those areas of our daily living which appear to contradict a life which we say is not we living it, but He as us? What about what are certainly temptations, and appear often to be failures and even sins?
Paul and James speak of these aspects of life as temptations and trials (one word covers both concepts in the original Greek). Temptations are enticements to want what we should not; trials are those times when we are faced with what we don’t want, but can’t avoid!
First then, temptations, which until we have them in right focus are the most troublesome to us. They are the reason why many people say, "This Christ-in-you life is not livable or workable, because of the way we succumb to so many temptations." Yet we know that temptations are just as continuous in a perfect human life, because it is said of Jesus that He "was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15). Therefore temptations and their enticement are part of a perfect, not imperfect life– and are not themselves sin.
So we squarely face constant temptation on this new level of living, just as much as in the former. The question, then, is often asked, "What is it in us which is tempted and responds to temptation, if we are this new man in Christ and say we are dead to sin and have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts?" The answer is simply that, as we have already said, we are human selves, and our oneness with Christ does not alter our two-ness in being He and I. God’s whole purpose is to express Himself through our fully human selves, just as He did with Jesus.
So this human self of ours is just as continually tempted as His was. James explains temptation as being related to the obvious fact that I, as a human, have all the human appetites and faculties of soul and body. In fact, it is by these that God manifests Himself through our selves. Our humanity is responsive to what we might call the "upward temptations" of producing the fruits of the Spirit (see how God "tempted" Abraham to sacrifice his son–Gen. 22:1). So also it is fully open and responsive to all the down-ward temptations of the flesh, world and devil. This world contains every form of solicitation to the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes and the pride of life, for "the whole world lieth in the wicked one." To these we in our humanity have responded and lived in all our unsaved days. We have been at home in them. So no wonder that we are constantly assailed by such "drawings." For James says temptation is when we are "drawn away by our own desires and enticed" (1:14); and enticement makes us really want to do it. So temptation definitely makes us want to do what we should not.
Now the vital point is to recognize that this is not sin. Scripture clearly states that Jesus was tempted at all points (and that covers a great deal) as we are, so temptation is not sin for He was "without sin." That means He was enticed to do such things and yet never sinned. Therefore, temptation is not sin. We know He was so tempted because we are given one instance when He did temporarily respond to temptation. That was after He had constantly told His disciples that His Father’s will was for Him to die and rise again. Yet when the time came, He plainly said He didn’t want to die. He was "enticed" to want to escape death and live. "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me." That was temptation, and He plainly had it. Of course His victory was, "Nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt," and that took three hours of bloody sweat to have it settled.
This is of great value to us. Just because we are so often tempted, just because we feel the various pulls of soul and body, we should not drag our feet under a sense of guilt and false condemnation.
Sin is only when we go a definite further step. When, as James says, "lust has conceived, it brings forth sin." Conception and birth are the results of a marriage union. In other words, we have gone beyond the "wanting" condition to a deliberate, conscious choice of doing the thing; and we don’t often go that far.
But now in our union life, a total reversal has taken place: not just a change of our spirit joined to His Spirit, but of the control of our whole personhood, including our soul emotions and body appetites. All are now His property. Our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit. Our members are "instruments of righteousness unto God." We are slaves of righteousness, whereas we used to be slaves of sin. We are "renewed in the spirit of our minds," and every thought is being "brought into subjection to the obedience of Christ." There is now this upward pull on our souls and bodies– upward temptation to respond to Him. Our bodies are living sacrifices. We delight to do His will.
This is a radical reversal from our fear of flesh responses and our constant guarding against them. Even though Christians, we have become so used to seeing ourselves negatively: Sex is so dangerous and so close around the corner that we are captured by illicit desires also by greed and love of material things and by jealousy and hate and resentment. We have been afraid of our flesh, and by no means free to fearlessly use our body faculties and soul emotions for Christ and others.
We therefore, in our new union relationship, take a further step of faith on the soul-and-body level. We are firm in faith that we are kept, and He does the keeping. "Kept by the power of God through faith," wrote Peter. "Now unto Him who is able to keep us from falling," wrote Jude. And said John, "Perfect love casts out fear." So why be fearful?
So, in this new way, we have our emotions to use to express our love and joys and interests, and our minds to be stretched in daily launches of faith in the God of the impossible; our bodies too, appetites and all, are free to express our love and care for others, without being fearful of their misuse. That is our new boldness of faith, though those appetites and emotions have formerly had such a negative hold on us. But fear not. Have faith in the Keeper.
This also gives us a radical change of outlook on temptation. It used to be something to be fearful of, avoid, and feel greatly guilty about; now we see temptation as an asset, not a liability! Why and in what sense? Because light must have darkness to shine out of. Temptations are pulls back to walk again in darkness. But if we now know who we are, we see all our temptations as what God is meaning us to have, and each exactly suitable to us. We see them all as opportunities to manifest Him through our souls and bodies. Temptation has become opportunity! We understand why James tells us to count all temptations as joy. Christ is manifested by them.
But how can we say that it is Christ who is manifested when we are tempted? Let us look at what we do when we are tempted, and then at the remedy for it.
What happens during temptation is that the human part of us is being drawn away by some solicitation to function just as our old flesh-self used to; and what this means is that we temporarily forget who we are. We forget we are Christ in our human form, and we are pulled to respond as if apart from Him. Instead of being in our normal daily condition of subconsciously recognizing that we are in our vine-branch union (which is what Jesus meant by "abiding," which in the Greek means "remaining"), we are diverted into believing in some attractive flesh-response of body or soul; and what we are believing in at any time holds us in its grasp.
Now in our former self-striving life, trying to combat temptation and sin in our own strength, we would try to resist it even while we responded to it and, as a result, have an inner sense of condemnation because we were even dallying with it. But usually the more we resisted and condemned our-selves, the more the thing gained its hold on us. So we lived a fighting, struggling, supposedly two-nature life–the one striving against the other.
But now, in our new understanding, we don’t deny or fight the temptation. We do not resist or struggle against it. No, we admit and accept it, because we recognize it is not sin but is the normal pull that the outer world, through the flesh, has on us–as it did on Christ–and that God means us to have it. But the importance of accepting, acknowledging, and not resisting is that this "draws the teeth" of the temptation. What you resist, resists you. What you fight, fights you. In this sense I apply Jesus’ words, "Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest thou be cast into prison." In other words, acknowledge that he is your adversary, and that will take the bite out of him.
So the result of my accepting and agreeing is that it takes the heat out of any resistance by me, and loosens me from the grip of my diverted believing in this enticement and as I free the temptation to be a temptation, I equally free myself from being bound to it by my false believing in it. And I am free to do what? To remember and recognize who I really am–Christ in me! Recognition is faith in its completed form. So I recognize that He is peace when I am tempted to worry. He is courage when fear grabs me. He is genuine love for a person I am feeling hatred for. Furthermore, He is other love who can reverse my temptation to an illicit love, and can cause me to love that one for his or her own benefit and not for my self-gratification. Since He is all these to me as me, I am the manifestation of peace, love and power. Christ is the light who uses the darkness as something which, by His swallowing it up, manifests Him as light in a new form. If I wasn’t tempted to hate, I couldn’t experience and manifest His love. If I wasn’t tempted to fear, I couldn’t experience and manifest His courage. If I wasn’t tempted to an illicit love, I couldn’t experience and manifest His other-love for the benefit of that person through me. My temptations are my assets in continually manifesting Him in new forms.
This is the way in which we totally reverse our outlook on our temptations. We used to be frightened of them because, while still thinking we were independent selves, we were afraid of ourselves and how we could be captured by sin so we would pray the beginner’s prayer, "Lead us not into temptation." But now we see temptation as the adventure of faith! For it is this necessary negative on which the positive of Christ is built. That’s why I can say with James that I "count it all joy" (a strong, total word–count, not feel) when I have my various temptations.
Let us look a little more closely into how James gives us the remedy for the assaults of all kinds of double-mindedness, in his strongly practical letter. Here we will see works not as antagonistic to faith, but as its fulfillment. The basic question will be, How do we add the right kind of works to our faith?
In this epistle it looks as if we believers have a constant struggle. James speaks of us having the problem of two minds (either believing or wavering); having two standards in our brotherhood relationships (one for the rich but another for the poor); using two tongues (for blessing and cursing); holding two friendships (for the world and for God); having two motives in prayer (self-interest and for others). James mentions all these doubles and presents us as having a conflict between them, with the negative usually overwhelming the positive.
This is a two-nature struggle, all right, and it’s set forth in a letter to believing brethren! But now look more closely at the beautiful remedy James slips in for those eager enough to search it out and find it–or, shall we say, who are open to its God-given reality. In the first chapter he speaks of God’s goodness in "begetting us with the word of truth"–his expression for the new birth (1:18). But then, he continues, we get mixed up with all kinds of disturbing self-reactions, not yet knowing the remedy for the "self" problem. He calls this "all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness" (1:21). So what is the answer? We experience it when, by faith, the living word of truth has not only begotten us but is also engrafted into us–his way of describing the vine-branch union relationship –and we become inwardly fixed. This fixedness comes as we see ourselves in union with Christ–that we are forms by which He is manifesting Himself. James calls this blessed insight "the perfect law of liberty" (1:25).
Now he gives this subtle illustration. While we are still in the old self-effort illusion and don’t yet know Christ in us as us, we are like a man who looks into a mirror and sees him-self just as his normal, helpless self– with no hope of any means of changing himself (1:24). So he just goes away and forgets about it. But, James says, when we know the inner union, He in our form, then when we look into the mirror we no longer see our human, failing selves, we see our-selves as who we now are: human expressions of that perfect law of liberty, Christ Jesus, who is the Spirit of other-love. So now we can go out into life with confidence, because we are no longer just ourselves, we are Christ in us as us.
So now we understand the conflict of these doubles not as the contest of two natures, one pitted against the other; rather, we see the temptation as something not within us but something seeking to draw us away from who we are. So we "resist" that drawing not by denying or fighting it but by recognizing Christ in us as us. Thus He uses the temptation for a new manifestation of Himself by us.
So, James says, life will always consist of endless trials and temptations, because they are the negatives by which He the positive can reveal Himself. Therefore, when we lack wisdom in a situation and ask for it, let us take it for granted that He is in the process of giving it to us. But along come questionings. Will He really show us what to do? Now if we were in the old two-nature conflict, we should be swinging between faith and doubt; but we, knowing we are He in us, dissolve the temptation by saying, "I’m not taking that temptation to doubt. That is an external assault on me. I’m not double–I’m single. And Christ is my wisdom." The stand of faith dissolves the doubt.
The same is true with our new tongues, says James (3:118). Our old tongue is a filthy one; our new tongue glorifies God and blesses man. So what then when our tongue slips back into some negative speaking?–if instead of blessing God we curse men, who are made after the similitude of God? Have we then two tongues, and must we always swing from the one to the other? No, says James, for we are like a fountain of water which can’t produce "both salt water and fresh" (NIV). We know we are a fountain of fresh water. Therefore, the salt was just something which got mixed up with the water as it flowed out of the fountain. The defect cannot be within the fountain itself, nor can it be in us. So we recognize the wrong things we said as a slip into temptation–not affecting the purity of the fountain in our union reality–and remedied by a word of repentance and cleansing. We no longer live in a struggle between two kinds of speaking, good and evil discourse. We speak positively and lovingly from our love source with what James calls "the wisdom that is from above," rather than from beneath.
Then he raises the question of our motives in prayer (4:14). Are they sometimes double, and mainly for our own self-interest? Once that was so, and it caused us to question what we were asking for, as if we lived with double motives. But now we don’t. Our motives are pure from their pure center, and we go boldly forward in our prayer requests, asking, as Jesus said, "whatsoever we desire." So we have become established in this glorious fixed reality wherein we see our-selves as the expression of the perfect law of liberty, that law which James also calls "the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." And we are that! And we remain unchanged through all the temptations. "I am single, not double." The assaults of doubleness are only attempts to divert me from my basic singleness. That is why temptations are always such an adventure of faith, and the means of perfecting my faith so that I "count them all joy." Finally, James calls on the brethren to move into this faith union in Christ, and out from that apparent double-mindedness. "Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double-minded" (4:8).
There is one further question which is always being asked about the temptation issue–a favorite question. "But what about sin? Do we still commit sins?" Why do people always bring that up? Because, until we have found a way out, we are so congenitally sin-minded. We have become so used to our struggles and failures and guilt–and perhaps we also want some excuse for our continuance in sin!
The usual scripture on which people base that question is 1 John 1:89, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves .If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins ." But our anxious concern about sin is what gives us away, for the whole point of this summit let-ter of John’s on the union is not about sinning, but our union reality. We are in the light as He is in the light (for He is the light in us). We walk as He walked (for He is walking in us). We know all truth (for the Spirit is the knower in us). We live the right life, as He does (for the sin spirit in us has been replaced by the Holy Spirit). We love as He loves (because He is love and dwells in us). We believe as He believes (with the world-overcoming faith of the Son of God). We are as He is ("for as He is, so are we in this world"–1 John 4:17). It is the total union level. The totally positive level. We are! We know we are! Yes, I am.
But because we have our real, temptable humanity, John started his letter with these sin statements. He declares that there is sin, and that if we sin there is this immediate remedy in Christ’s blood. If it is quick sinning, it is quick cleansing. Indeed, we add sin to sin if we don’t immediately replace the sin and guilt-consciousness with a total forgetting of it in Him of whom it is stated that "our sins and iniquities He remembers no more." We go right ahead praising, and indeed use a sin "slip" once again to magnify the grace of God. The loss turned to gain! But then John also adds, "These things I write unto you that ye sin not." That is all that John has to say in his whole five chapters about the possibility of our sinning. It is a detail to him. We are Christ-minded, not sin-minded. We walk so confidently in our new union-relationship that John says, "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin he cannot sin, because he is born of God" (3:9). We cannot return to sin as a principle, but if we do slip into a sin there is the immediate remedy. Confess it and forget it; don’t rehash it or ask sin questions. Talk Christ union and live it because we can’t help it.
More Articles from The Intercessor, Vol 23 No 4
- What About Temptation and Sin?
- Editor’s Note
- Every Man is Tempted
- Victory in the Every Day
- Adversity or Adventure?
- Quick Down, Quick Up
- Dealing With Temptation–In the Home
- Bible Study: Real Deliverance From Sin: Is It Possible?
- Temptation and It’s Beneficial Effects
- Free At Last!
- False Condemnation
- It Remains Tough
- Words to Live By
- No temptation too great…