What About Temptation?
We continue looking into the great foundational truths of our union with Christ. Here Norman Grubb discusses the all-important subject of temptation: what it is, what it isn’t, and how to handle it.
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.
Temptation is not Sin
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 downward 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.
Faith replaces Fear
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.