I don’t know if it is just me, but there is something mystifying about fire. All you need to do is watch the kids, young and old, around a camp fire. It is something that we are tempted to play with, but it is too easy to get burned. This metaphor of playing with fire can also describe the follower of Jesus playing with temptation.
The Bible has much to teach us and warn us about temptation. The more we understand about temptation the wiser we are to it’s tricks. So let’s touch on several often overlooked Biblical truths about temptation. It will help us from getting burned.
First, we need to grasp that temptation is not normally an isolated event but a procession of events as we march toward sin. James makes this clear when we writes, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”(James 1:14–15) Take a moment and ponder the terms that he uses, lured, enticed and conceive. It speaks of a process that begins in our minds and eventually is culminated in an act. What we need to grasp is that almost always there is a well worn path that we walk in temptation that leads to our getting burned. The wise follower recognizes this and takes evasive action early since the longer we walk down that path the harder it becomes to break free.
Second, we need to grasp that temptation is not sin. Temptation is the pull to commit a sinful act but it is not sinful in or of itself. Our verse above clearly spells out that temptation leads to sin. James writes, “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin,” So how do we distinguish between temptation and sin, especially those sins of the heart. I call it the second look. The first act of temptation is to cause me to be tempted to look or think about something the first time. This is not sin. But it does become sin when I take a second look or ponder too long the first time. Let me illustrate, “I once found a wad of bills on the floor at a mall.” I was tempted to keep the money for myself. You know the saying, “Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers!” But I responded to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and turned the money into the Mall office. It was not a sin to think about how I could use the extra cash… It would have become a sin if I chose to keep it or delayed in acting in a timely manner.
Third, we need to grasp the power of temptation. I know as I boy I enjoyed playing with fire. My reasoning was, “I could handle it!” I had deceived myself. The same thing happens to followers of Jesus. The result is we see how close we can walk to the line before committing the act. The end result is we eventually get burned. I am reminded of Paul’s instruction to the church in Galatians, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7–8) The path that we choose to follow will determine the choices that I make. Paul’s advice to his protégé Timothy was “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things.” (1 Timothy 6:11)
Our world is filled with temptation. The question for each of us is “Am I playing with fire now?” It all begins somewhat innocently with the things we choose to think about but it is soon manifest in our actions.
-Pastor Joe Parkinson