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The Power of Temptation

13 August, 2009

corcpicsmallPeople are not good at anticipating the power of their urges, and those who are the most confident about their self-control are the most likely to give into temptation.

I’m always intrigued when studies come out that unintentionally support the biblical portrait of the human condition. The article from which this quote is taken, ‘Temptation Harder to Resist Than You Think, Study Suggests‘, by LiveScience’s Jeanna Bryner, is a good case in point. Bryner interviewed Loran Nordgren of Northwestern University, whose findings suggest that not only are we pretty poor at facing temptations successfully, but in fact the stronger we think we are, the worse we actually are.

Those who puff out their chests in the face of temptation have a deflated view of others. “They also demonize others,” Nordgren told LiveScience. “They take a very dim view of other people who act impulsively, because they have this belief that they themselves wouldn’t act this way.”

For those who fancy themselves less ‘temptable’, usually the opposite is actually true, because those who think they can handle temptation put themselves into more tempting situations than those who are suspicious of their own strength, and therefore succumb to the strong temptations. Their conclusions?

The study has implications for all corners of our personal lives, Nordgren figures. For instance, can a recovering alcoholic attend booze-saturated parties and stay sober? Can a dieter frequent his favorite dessert buffets and refrain from binging? Can a committed husband have drinks with a past fling without fear of infidelity?

“The answer is probably ‘no,'” Nordgren said. “People have less self-restraint than they think, a false belief that often leads people to expose themselves to more temptation than they can handle.”

When I read this article I couldn’t help but think of Proverbs 16:18 and James 1:13-15:

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. (cf. Prov 8:13, 29:23; 1 Cor 10:12)

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 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.

A foretaste of the sort of death temptation brings is to be found in the myriad evil consequences of our pride and lack of self-control. But the solution to this deadly problem that resides in our own hearts and minds is not simply, as Nordgren counsels, to ‘avoid situations where such weaknesses thrive, and remember you’re not that invincible.’ The answer is rather given to us by Christ in the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’ (Matt 6:13).

In fact, Christ not only gives us the answer to temptation, but gives us this answer because he is himself the answer. Christ was led into temptation by God, and was victorious, so that we would be delivered from evil (Matt 4:1-11). The author to the Hebrews puts it this way:

For surely it is not angels that [Jesus] helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Heb 2:16-18)

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (4:15)

  1. 13 August, 2009 5:18 pm

    Super post, brother!

    Oh how I need reminding of these realities. Thanks for sharing this and pointing us to Christ!

    Peace –

    • 17 August, 2009 9:40 am

      Thanks, Matthew. I always need reminding as well of Paul’s admonition, ‘let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall’ (1 Cor 10:12). The only way we can stand and will stand, is not because we *think* we stand, but because we stand in the grace and power of God (Eph 6:10, 13-15; 1 Peter 5:12).


  2. 18 August, 2009 3:54 am

    Excellent! So true. Thanks for replying, brother.
    Peace –

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