Posted by: edsohn | November 15, 2007

temptation vs. sin

I’ve been challenged by my good peer, nieophyte, to be more personal in these posts. So although this topic is inherently highly theological, let me begin by saying this: I wrestle with this issue in my personal life. Formative to my Christian growth thus far has been an understanding that I need to not only repent of the externalities of sin and its motives, but I have to repent also for the deepest motivations that make me vulnerable to defy the morality written on my conscience, my mind and my heart. But as I engage in this battle against sin, I wonder if targeting even the very fact that I desire to sin altogether is the right way to go.

I’m aware of some of the conventional perspectives on theodicy (the discussion of why evil exists), so I’ll try to scoot around them a little, because that’s not the point here.

I’ve also been notified that this might result in a semantic battle over my terminology. If I’m misusing terms or using them in a way that’s unfamiliar or unconventional, please feel free to discuss them as you redefine them, but I also ask you to bear with the terminology and try to see the concept that I’m describing here.

Here goes nothing.


There’s an invisible line, somewhere in our hearts, where we cross from temptation into sin. It’s not inherently evil credited against us simply to be tempted. The sin of Eden was that of indulgence; Adam’s wrong against God was not that he was attracted to the fruit, but that he took and ate it. Likewise, the Bible claims that Jesus was perfect but also that Jesus was tempted.

Because God created man with a nature that longs for sin (else why would Eden’s serpent have any affect on Adam and Eve), and the incarnate God-man himself was tempted to the fullest as well (Christ’s temptation in the desert), temptation and that tugging in our hearts to indulge is NOT inherently equal to sin.

So I come to terms with the fact that for whatever reason, God created me, as a person in the fallen world, to be tempted by sin. It’s not masochistic or cruel; we can trust that He doesn’t want SIN ITSELF, since He commands us away from it. But whatever theodicy you claim, the fact is that we are fallible, and the broken world chooses sin away from God daily.

I’m fighting this battle of sin every day too! The trappings of money, power, popularity beckon my heart and shape my behavior. Less conspicuous but equally tempting struggles include false modesty and spiritual pride. So how shall I fight? What does it really mean to fight off sin? Is my goal to be untemptable, in Buddhist fashion, and transcend desire to reach enlightenment? Or is my goal to behold the Lamb and taste His goodness, whetting my appetite with a holy hunger for God that is greater than the appetites of temptation? Does God’s grace assail the “temptability” in our own hearts, or does it enable us to live in tension with victory?

I think that if these are all true statements, the way I fight my battles will change. The way “victory looks” will change the manner in which I fight. I can fight with the goal of increasing my desire for what is good to resist the sinful nature, instead of being wistful or even apologetic that such a nature even exists. I can call victory over sinful nature what it is–not the total extinguishment of the desire but rather the power to resist it and choose a greater hunger. I can put aside self-flagellation that is always paranoid about the next sin that will come out of that dreadful sin-machine inherent in my nature, and be assured in the Spirit empowering and developing reflexes of defeating temptation at every turn with God’s great grace.

I’m left with the feeling that what I’ve written is actually not a big deal at all. But it’s something that I’ve tracked in my own spiritual journey, a self-effacing culture that is disgusted with the taint of sinful nature. And indeed, I believe that when we are glorified in the final days, that nature will be vanquished once for all. But in the meantime, it’s liberating for me to consider that perhaps the goal of spiritual life on earth is not to erase the existence of temptation but instead to deny it with overcoming affection for God.

(By the way, to be clear, I DO think that the habitual denial of our sinful natures will eventually mute their appetites, but I don’t think that effect is what we’re primarily shooting for. Rather, I think we grow more and more enamored with God, and more filled with grace, so that even as new temptations and sins arise, we can meet them stride for stride with renewed passion for godliness.)



  1. Everything you are saying is striking a chord in me ana– and yet I just don’t want to hear it. I think for a long time now I’ve given up fighting and given in to so many temptations it’s hard to keep track, and yet I think keeping track is what is the problem. Why do we maintain a point system with God? I’ll give you this much righteousness and you can repay me with this much blessedness… where does that come from? Is it our protestant ethic? Or the fact that my parents raised me on a similar metric system (good grades from me yielded presents and expressions of love from them).

    When will I stop seeing my life of faith as a game where I am protagonist against an OMNI-everything (-potent, -present, -scient) antagonistic game director, and start seeing it as a journey along a path that is guided, pioneered and guarded by Christ?

  2. I couldn’t agree more. I feel as if the more I give into sin and allow temptation to get the best of me, the more I become numb to what I am doing. I feel as if I try to find a way to justify everything I am doing, and my standards, therefore, begin to lower. I find myself very sadden at this thought- this fact and behavior. Yet, there is a part of me that enjoys these things. Does that make sense? Like a part of me enjoys sinning, and another disdains it.

    I do not want to lose my conscience, yet I feel as if some conscience is lost.

  3. […] swimming in To the nature of our inner sin Are we challengers, or bargaining peace? Politics to theology, Economics made idolatry, The list of topics will never […]

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