Should I Feel Guilty When I Am Tempted?
Written by: Nathaniel Wall
When I surrendered my life to Christ, I went all in. I asked God to lead me wherever he wanted because I wanted to live my life for him. With a fully devoted heart, I also became sensitive to anything I thought would lead me to live contrary to Jesus. While that type of devotion may sound super spiritual, my confession is that I also had some unhealthy religious beliefs that God’s grace needed to heal. I was unfortunately and unknowingly holding on to some forms of legalism.
Yes, it is nice to be sensitive to sin, but not in the way my sensitivity was leading me. Part of my struggle was over the fact that I didn’t know what to do with temptation. Early in my Christian walk, I thought temptation was sinful. Frankly, every time I felt tempted it drove me nuts! I beat myself up over it. I was fixated on trying to figure out how to avoid all temptation. I even imagined hiding myself as a recluse just to avoid sin and temptation! I walked around with unhealthy guilt because of temptation.
What I didn’t know at the time was that many Christians throughout church history have also struggled with similar battles over temptation. In early Christian history, some people even tried living in isolation so as to avoid sinning. If you have ever heard the word “hermit”, it means desert dweller. It was a term coined to describe Christians that moved to the middle of the desert and lived on tall towers so they could isolate themselves from others with the hopes of never being tempted. Unfortunately, these hermits soon found out that isolation wasn’t enough to stop the human heart from sinning.
Thankfully, early in my Christian journey I was led to a powerful verse–a verse that helped me wrestle with the idea of temptation. What was interesting is that the verse I encountered not only dealt with temptation, but revealed that the central figure regarding temptation was Jesus.
Hebrews 4:15 “For we do not have a high priest (Jesus) who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are…
Did you hear the verse? It says Jesus was tempted as we are!!!! How could perfect sinless Jesus be tempted and still be perfect sinless Jesus? At first this was a hard verse for me to swallow. After all, I felt like it was wrong to be tempted. Yet, Jesus was tempted? How could I believe temptation was wrong, but at the same time acknowledge that the Bible says Jesus was tempted? The obvious answer was that something was wrong with my understanding on temptation. So, I began to dig a little deeper and here is what I learned:
Temptation is something we face every day. TV commercials and print advertisements are designed to thrive on temptation. They want to play on your fleshly desires in order to convince that you need something. They “tempt” you.
Now, if you are like me, you don’t really care about 99% of the advertisements or commercials you see. They “tempt” you, but most of the time you aren’t interested. However, occasionally something will appeal to your desires. When you or I give into those desires, we accept the lure of temptation. This is exactly how the book of James describes temptation.
James 1:14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.”
The word “dragged away” in James 1:14 is the same word for “lured”, as in a fishing lure. What James is saying is that temptation is a lure. We are being lured all day long by temptation. However, we don’t bite the lure until the bait attracts desires in our flesh and we give in to them. This means temptation itself isn’t a sin. Sin doesn’t happen until someone is attracted to an ungodly lure and chooses to bite it rather than walk with Christ. When you bite the lure of sin, you are dragged down a destructive path.
What does this mean for you? You don’t have to feel guilty about temptation. Temptation simply means you are human. Remember, Jesus was tempted. Yet, Hebrews 4:15 also tells us Jesus didn’t sin. It’s not temptation that is wrong, it’s what you choose to do with it that matters. It’s not until we give in to the lure that you or I will be captured by sin. This is why the Christian life is described as a battle. Rather than give our lives to the lure of our fleshly temptations, we should give our lives to Christ. The goal should not be to simply flee temptation, but to allow your life to be captured by something greater…Jesus.
Was Jesus tempted? Sure, he was human. We are all tempted. However, would Jesus have sinned? Never! Why? His heart was captured by another. He was sold out to the will of the Father.
What you do with temptation will determine if you sin or if you honor God. The next time you are tempted, you don’t have to feel guilty. What you are feeling is simply called “being human”. In that moment of temptation, you also have a great opportunity to show what you value… The world or Jesus? Temptations are battle grounds to demonstrate what our heart desires.
You will face temptation every day. You can’t turn it off, and becoming a hermit won’t fix it. Instead, learn to run to Jesus. You know where you are weak to temptation. Find a couple of Christians to encourage you in this battle. The key to fighting temptation is not to simply avoid the temptation (though this is profitable). The key is to desire Christ above all and live on mission for Christ with others.
Know that if you give in to temptation, the Lord still loves you. God knows you aren’t perfect, and God still wants you near him. He gave his life for you so you could be free from the guilt of sin and enjoy his presence. My friend, do not quit! Know God’s grace is new for you every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). Jesus cares about you and He wants to do a great work in your life.
Here are some of my favorite verses the Lord has used to encourage me in my failures: Romans 8:1 and 1 John 1:9-2:2, Romans 5:8; Psalm 51.