Question of the Week: When is the line crossed from temptation into sin?
The difference between temptation and sin is the difference between desire and decision. Temptation naturally produces sin, but there is an intentional distinction between the two. In order to establish an informed understanding of the difference between the two, we will look at how scripture defines both in their own context. We will also then apply those definitions consistently to Jesus of Nazareth and how scripture presents Him as our example.
Beginning with the definitions of Temptation and Sin, Temptation is defined biblically by the Apostle James in his epistle. And fortunately for the sake of the question being asked, he also explains how it relates to sin without necessarily being sinful.
Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.
James 1:12-15 (NKJV)
James defines temptation as being drawn away by desires and enticed. What you’re being drawn away from and enticed into were explained in the verses that led up to when he provided his definition. The claim that God is the one tempting you is impossible because God by nature can’t be tempted and is incapable of being tempted. This is also true of sin, but we’ll establish that in a separate context. Temptation is drawing us away from God’s nature because it naturally follows that God’s nature wouldn’t be to draw something away from Himself. James then goes on to explain the transition from temptation into sin, showing there is a distinction between the two. Illustrating the conception of a human child, the desire he defined as temptation can produce sin if given time and nourishment. The desire that draws you away from God puts you in a state that is sin by definition.
Sin is an archery term that literally means “to miss.” In the context of biblical morality, to sin means to miss God’s nature. Temptation would be the desire to miss this standard, but not the missing in of itself. A desire isn’t an action, but rather a call to action. The reason a Bible-believing Christian needs to clarify the difference is because Jesus demonstrated this first hand. He was tempted, but did not sin. Therefore, it is not a sin to be tempted.
For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.
Hebrews 4:15 (NKJV)
For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: “Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth”;
1 Peter 2:21-22 (NKJV)
Peter’s quotation of Isaiah 53:9 in reference to Jesus as well as the author of Hebrew’s point about Jesus being tempted in all ways as we are makes the Christian incapable of concluding that temptation is sinful. Having a desire is something Jesus experienced without sin because it did not draw Him away from the Father’s nature in action or attitude. The desire was there because of His adopting of human nature, but the follow up action of sin those desires were leading Him to were never acted upon because of His nature as God. This is the same premise that James establishes when calling Christians to endure temptation like our Lord did. Through the Holy Spirit, we have the capability of choosing God’s nature above our own.
In conclusion, the differences between Temptation and Sin are as follows;
1. Temptation isn’t sinful. Sin is.
2. Temptation is a desire for separation from God’s nature. Sin is actual separation from God’s nature in action or attitude.
3. Temptation was something Jesus experienced and endured. Sin was something Jesus never committed.
“You can’t stop the birds from flying over your head, but you can stop them from making a nest in your hair.” -Martin Luther
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