The Purpose of Temptation

Now Paul hastens to assure us that "God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able." That is reassuring and comforting! But why should He allow any agonizing conflicts to engulf His people? Why not simply remove all temptation? The answer is found in James 1:2-4. "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing."

A new, satisfying picture begins to emerge in these verses. Temptation provides opportunity for spiritual conquest and growth. It is not a disgrace to be tempted. If there are no battles, there can be no victories through strong decision. Neither can there be any nobility of character. Virtue is tried innocence. Untried goodness may be no goodness at all. I could possibly sequester myself in a solitary cave somewhere and not commit an outward sin for a whole week simply because I would have no contact with any other person. Would that week prove me to be a virtuous individual? Not at all. Christianity is not merely the absence of wrong behavior in the life; it has to do with an aggressive practice of positive virtues as well. My life in the cave might prove more than I would like it to prove. I would be good, but good for nothing! The person who avoids all temptation by avoiding contact with all people may do no harm, but neither does he do any good. He is morally anemic.

Now we are brought to Paul's assertion that God will "make a way to escape that ye may be able to bear it." Does this mean there will always be an easy road out of every temptation experience? No. It just means that in every moral trial God will provide us an alternative. There will always be two paths leading out of each temptation—one, the alluring path of evil; the other, an appealing path of good. Paul is saying that we are being drawn in two directions every time we are tempted.

At the same time we are tempted to anger, the Holy Spirit draws us to self-control. When we are tempted to be dishonest, the Holy Spirit draws us to use integrity.

A little boy was standing in a store with his hand in the apple barrel, caressing the attractive fruit. Finally, the storekeeper approached the lad and asked, "Sonny, are you trying to steal my apples?" Quickly the boy answered, "No, sir. I'm trying not to." We can easily understand what he meant by that honest rejoinder. All of us have struggled with those two voices and those two choices.

Now, let's look toward the end of these dual tracks which lead out of each temptation experience. The temptation that makes one character noble by non-consent will make another character mean and ignoble by giving way to it. This law of human nature decrees that we can never be the same after facing temptation. We will either get the victory and be stronger for the next one down the road, or we will yield and be weaker for the next one we face. Our character is built up or torn down depending on the choice we make.

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