Temptation: Is it in me?

=Greg Long wrote:
Thanks, Don. Yes, I think James 1 is instructive here, and very clearly separates temptation from sin.

To paint another scenario, let's say I am at my computer and through no fault of my own, a sexually explicit pop up ad appears. Instantly I am tempted to look longer at it (lustfully), but in that same instant, I overcome that temptation and immediately click to close the ad (and then investigate further what I can do to stop any such ad from appearing again!). I hope no one would say that I sinned in that instant (or else you'd have to say that Jesus sinned when he was tempted, too). Now, simply change the scenario to someone who is, for various reasons, tempted homosexually, and a pop ad appears with a sexually explicit male posing, and I hope you wouldn't say that person sinned if he was tempted to look but overcame that temptation and closed the ad.

Back to my counseling scenario: Note that I didn't say what I, the counselor, would say in response. On the one hand, I would not dismiss his statements out of hand and say, "That's impossible; every time you are tempted it's because you choose to be tempted homosexually" which in effect condemns him for being tempted. On the other hand, neither would I shrug my shoulders and say, "Well, I guess that's just how things are for you. Just be sure you don't give in to that temptation." No, we would work on strategies to fight that temptation, which in many cases, over the course of time, would serve to lessen the frequency and possibly even change the nature of the temptations. From what I understand, many men with SSA report that their desires can shift to a greater or lesser extent from homosexual to heterosexual. Then again, others (including a man in my church) report that the desires/temptations lessen but never fully disappear, and that they must constantly be on guard to fight those temptations with the power of the Word through the Spirit, putting on the full armor of God--just like any of us must do with heterosexual temptations.

Greg, I think our discussion is leading us off the topic on the thread "Where are Southern Baptist leaders headed re: homosexuality?", so I decided to reply to this last in a new thread.

The question we are discussing is where temptation is localized, whether it is inside a person or outside a person.

Let me deal with your scenarios above first, then I'll point out some biblical data:

First, the chance computer pop up is outside yourself, correct. It is the test, the trial, the temptation. How you respond to the temptation reveals the state of your heart in that area and at that moment in time. If you immediately deal with it as you suggest, no you have not allowed yourself to sin. But if you lingered, looked, and then closed the ad, what then? You gave in to inordinate desire for a moment of time. The temptation was outside you, you succumbed because of your depravity.

In the second scenario, the fact that the male poser pops up is the temptation. "Tempted to look" is in fact what is happening - the pop up tempts the man to look. In fact, that is what a 'hetero' pop up is as well, a temptation to look. The temptation is the pop up, it isn't the desire to look.

The desire to look is the product of perverting the very natural sex drive God created us with. There is legitimate expression of that drive only in marriage, but because of our depravity, we indulge it in many ways. The more we cultivate it, the harder it is to turn away. We develop a 'taste' for that particular expression and will turn towards it, if even momentarily, because we have cultivated that taste.

The issue is whether SSA is cultivated or simply innate, something we are born with. I would say that it is cultivated. If we change the scenario to say, alcohol or tobacco, let's say that we go off to a park and find unattended an unopened six pack and a carton of cigarettes. No one is around, Finders Keepers would seem to be a real possibility. The temptation is present for anyone who happens by. The things are sitting there. For me, the temptation would not be strong because I have cultivated an abhorrence of both substances, and have never tasted either one. For someone else, the temptation would be stronger because a taste has been cultivated through years of permissiveness and/or abuse of these substances. I could walk away from it and not give it a second thought (or more likely, destroy it with glee!). But someone else might face that temptation and walk away from it but keep going back to it in his mind, wishing for it, wishing he hadn't been so righteous, etc. The temptation became sin for him even though he didn't physically act on it, he let his cultivated tastes rule his mind.

Here are some thoughts from Scripture on temptation:

When Jesus is the subject of the verb "to tempt [to sin]", the verb is always passive: Mt 4.1; Mk 1.13; Lk 4.2. The action is being done TO the subject, not BY the subject.

The only time Jesus is the subjet of the verb "to tempt" as an active verb is in Jn 6.6 where he is testing Philip's faith, not tempting him to sin.

Every other instance of the verb "to tempt" in the Gospels has to do with someone else tempting Jesus. Mt 4.3, 16.1, 19.3, 22.18, 22.35; Mk 8.11, 10.2, 12.15; Lk 11.16; Jn 8.6.

Say what you will but this seems to point to temptation being outside the individual, not inside.

Our problem is not that we are prone to temptation, but that we are prone to give in to temptation, following Adam's lead, and individually cultivating our own particular way of sinning. Jim Berg calls this "designer lusts." We can cultivate these lusts almost unconsciously, either in our immaturity, in our lost condition prior to salvation, or even after, and having been caught by the hook have a difficult time getting it out of our jaws. When Satan "yanks our chain," whatever it is, we are prone to look. For some cultivated lusts, it takes a life-time to "unlike" our former loves.

As I said earlier today, I don't have a lot of time just now for this but will try to respond as I have opportunity.

Don, James 1:13-15 seems to

Don, James 1:13-15 seems to me to pretty definitely dispel the notion that temptation is only external. Jesus is of course the only exception, not having a sin nature.

But notice in James 1 that temptation and enticement is clearly separated from sin. It is only when the internal desire is joined with the external enticement that it "gives birth" to sin.

I don't not believe SSA desires are either cultivated or innate. I believe there may be many complex factors, as I have repeatedly stated, including inborn proclivities, history, cultural influences, personal choices (say to look at pornography), personality characteristics, etc. etc.

Let me give you another very real life scenario. The same man I hypothetically presented previously says this: "I am tempted to lust after other men. I have been this way for as long as I remember, to the time when I was seven years old when I was sexually abused by a relative. Ever since then I have struggled with same sex attraction. I don't want this temptation. I have pleaded with God over and over and over to take these temptations away. I fight them as best I can."

Here, something happened to him that was no fault of his own, that stirred up something in his mind that led to SSA for as long as he could remember having sexual attractions. We certainly wouldn't condemn him for the sexual abuse or for the SSA, would we? (Of course we WOULD point out that any instance of giving in to those SSA in thought or deed is clearly sin.) But my response would be the same as I mentioned previously: how can we fight these temptations using the power of the Word and the Spirit so that you can think and live in a way that is honoring to God?

I don't mean to suggest that everyone who experiences SSA is a purely innocent victim of forces beyond his control. Some do make mental and physical choices that end up cultivating certain tendencies and desires that turn from regular heterosexual temptations towards SSA.

One final thought (in this post): Even if I agreed with you that there are absolutely no innate tendencies towards SSA, you will never convince the vast majority of homosexuals or those who struggle with homosexuality of this. I'm not saying they're right and you're wrong, but I'm speaking very practically and pastorally here. When they say "I was born this way," you can argue with them until you are blue in the face, "No, you weren't," but most of them (from what I understand) are absolutely convinced of that fact. You know what I would say in response? "Even if that is true [notice I am not fully agreeing with the statement, just accepting it for the sake of argument], where does that leave you? You are still called to live a life that pleases God by abstaining from sexual sin in thought and deed. You could say that I was born with the desire to lust after every attractive women in the world. And you know what? God calls me to overcome those desires in a way that honors him."

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Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Is all attraction cultivated?

Quote:
The issue is whether SSA is cultivated or simply innate, something we are born with. I would say that it is cultivated. If we change the scenario to say, alcohol or tobacco, let's say that we go off to a park and find unattended an unopened six pack and a carton of cigarettes. No one is around, Finders Keepers would seem to be a real possibility. The temptation is present for anyone who happens by. The things are sitting there. For me, the temptation would not be strong because I have cultivated an abhorrence of both substances, and have never tasted either one. For someone else, the temptation would be stronger because a taste has been cultivated through years of permissiveness and/or abuse of these substances. I could walk away from it and not give it a second thought (or more likely, destroy it with glee!). But someone else might face that temptation and walk away from it but keep going back to it in his mind, wishing for it, wishing he hadn't been so righteous, etc. The temptation became sin for him even though he didn't physically act on it, he let his cultivated tastes rule his mind.
Would you also say that opposite-sex attraction is cultivated rather than innate? Do people start out not attracted to either the same sex or the opposite sex and then cultivation develops a person into being attracted to one gender or the other?

How we think about temptation...

Jay Adams, in his excellent book, A Thirst for Wholeness, deals with the internal/external nature of temptation this way from the book of James: (not a direct quote) The terms for temptation and testing are generally translated by their context. The terms are the same. His point: God does not bring temptation to our lives. He brings events in to our lives. How we handle the events determines whether they are temptations where we fail to obey God and sin, or tests, where we trust God and progress spiritually.

Temptation had to be external for Adam and Eve and Jesus because they did not have a sin nature. We have a sin nature, a powerful ally for Satan. He generally does not have to tempt us externally. We are quick to take the bait and run due to internal motivations many times.


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