The Real Purpose of Temptation (and it’s not for sinning)
People often mistake temptation for sin. What temptation is, “a thought, a feeling, an inclination, or a tendency that solicits us to violate the law of God for our own satisfaction.” There are many fallacies when it comes to temptation, who it comes from and how to overcome it. Let’s take a look at some of these tempting issues:
TRUE: God allows us to be tempted
Yes, we can even find this in the Bible where the devil asks to tempt Job. Jesus willingly goes into the desert to be tempted. If the devil is brave enough to think he can tempt Jesus, he must think it easy pickings when he tempts us.
FALSE: You’re being tempted because you are far away from God
Fr. Michel writes, “The devil declares war especially against those who detest his rule, who fight against their passions, who are disciples of Jesus Christ.” Think of it this way, if we are being tempted, and we understand it is just a temptation that can be defeated, we can work to become even closer to God through the struggle.
TRUE: Temptation is not a sin, until you sin
Yep, being tempted is not sinful, in itself. It is ultimately our choice (and not the devil) if we fall into that temptation, or defeat the devil’s lure by running to God.
TRUE: Temptations are not punishments
God does not punish us by tempting us to sin. He actually calls us out of sin and will give us the tools to overcome the temptation. If you believe temptations are punishments, look at it this way: it is the devil punishing us for loving God so much, and it is him that is trying to lead us away from God. Pretty perverted, huh?
FALSE: It is better to ignore temptations rather than face them straightforward
If it is a short, passing temptation, then we should “simply turn our heart to God in some aspiration of love and piety” and the temptation will not be able to harm us. If it is a temptation which returns often, we need to figure out if we are encouraging that temptation (i.e. clicking on inappropriate links or even looking at a website which can lead to other “tempting” links), and avoid that which leads us to sin (the words we pray in the Prayer of Sorrow). We need to recognize the temptation and ask God to provide us a way out of sinning (1 Cor 10:13).
TRUE: You need to be ready for a “tempting battle”
Again, this comes down to recognizing the temptation or what leads us to the sinful behavior, so that we can arm ourselves to battle that temptation before it comes. Just as Jesus said, “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (Matthew 5:30). If it is a friend which causes you to sin, avoid that friend (or tell him why so that he too can avoid sinning). If it is a website, block it or don’t go on the computer.
TRUE: You must stand strong against temptation
Pray for a way out of the temptation, and God will provide us one. We are weak on our own and we may need more help to avoid sin. After praying, ask a friend to help and give support. Go to a meeting with people struggling with the same temptations. Do something and face it head on. We can even use Jesus’ own words, “Get behind me Satan!” (Trust me, it works!!!)
FALSE: The devil tempts us only with “big sins”
The devil will tempt us in all things, but he often squirms his way in little by little. It is the small lie, the little deception, the coaxing of a friend saying, “this won’t hurt anyone” which can lead to bigger and bigger sinfulness. This is why we must stay vigilant, turn away from the small temptations or “little sins” (even the “little white lie”), and turn towards God by practicing the sacraments (especially Mass and Reconciliation) before we become victim to the mortal sins.
TRUE: We should never reason with temptations
We need to go no further than Genesis chapter 3 to find how true this is. Eve entertained the serpent, answered his questions and reasoned why it was “good fruit to eat” even though God said no. There is no gray area (especially 50 shades), sin is sin, no matter how large or small.
TRUE: You must never yield to despair, especially after you’ve yielded to temptations
Sadly, by our fallen nature, we all sin. But just because we sin, we are not worthless. Some are easier sins for us to forgive ourselves for, others can be very difficult because they hurt so many. Just remember, there is NO sin God does not forgive if we are truly sorry for and ask for forgiveness. None! Nada! Zip! The only sin God cannot forgive is if we don’t accept his forgiveness.
These are the key points you will learn when you read Temptations: Where They Come From, What They Mean, and How to Defeat Them by Father P.J. Michel, S.J. (Sophia Press). Fr. Michel writes a quick book (which is important when confronted by a temptation we need to overcome now!) on what temptation really is and how it should be dealt with and defeated. Each chapter is only a few pages and contains invaluable information on why we are allowed to be tempted, what we need to do to avoid sinning or what we need to do if we fell into temptation and need forgiveness. Trust me, the cover alone will make you want to avoid sinning, at all costs! (Seriously, look at that lizard and snakes and fire!).