Temptation: Out of this World

The world is one of the three prongs by which temptation will launch its pernicious attack on the heart of a person. The world appeals to our desire to have certain things. We are constantly being bombarded by the glamour and glory of worldly possessions, comfort and success. The world is not only one of our tempting enemies, but also represents the sphere in which all three enemies operate. Comprised of manmade things and systems, and operating in conjunction with our flesh and the devil, it is the enemy that is all around us.

Paul wrote to the Ephesians distinguishing between “the age of this world” and “the coming one” (2:2; 1:21 YLT). Temptation works constantly to heighten our interest in the former while blurring our focus on the latter. In a previous article we noted the temptation of the world was for Eve a “delight to the eyes,” and as John puts it, “the lust of the eyes.” It is the appeal of things I see and want to possess now. Worldly temptation cultivates doubt that “faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen” (Heb 11:1 CSB).

The “You deserve this!” refrain aims to arouse within us a sense of entitlement for something God has not chosen to give or, as in the case of Eve, has strictly forbidden. Lot’s wife[1] was loathe to walk away from all that she regarded as her most valued possessions – her sense of comfort, security and wellbeing. The world sank its talons deep into her heart, a tragic state from which she would never recover. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mar 8:36).[2] From the eternal perspective, to gain even the whole world would be to suffer a colossal net loss. Though its threat looms large, in terms of value “it’s a small [and fleeting] world after all.”

Since we live in the world, protection against it is not found in isolation from it. But neither are we to surrender, concluding that indulgence is inevitable. “We are neither to seek to preserve our holiness by escaping from the world nor to sacrifice our holiness by conforming to the world.”[3] Rather, it is by recognizing a change in my relationship to it. Paul states that “the world has been crucified to me through the cross, and I to the world” (Gal 6:14 CSB). There is a decision to be made: the world and its things, or God and His interests.

James asserts that true Christianity will couple sacrificial ministry to the needy with keeping “oneself unstained from the world” (1:27) and that “friendship with the world is enmity with God” (4:4). The temptation is that my desire for the world would supersede what the psalmist describes as my thirst for God Himself (Psa 42:2).

Not only does the world compete for our affections toward God, but it is also a fleeting entity. It denies that there is “a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Heb 11:16). John says, “The world is passing away along with its desires” (1Jn 2:17). Satan was able to show the Lord “all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time” (Luk 4:5). There was no depth to explore, no lasting significance that could be weighed – it offers but a flash of momentary pleasure and disappearing glory.

In chapter 6 of his first letter, Paul gives Timothy a two-part antidote to the world’s temptation. This involves clinging to true treasure and enjoying true contentment. The world incites us to want more and to get more. A discontented person will be most vulnerable to the world and its tantalizing prizes. “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world” (1Ti 6:6-7). “No-thing” and “any-thing.” The world tempts us with “things,” but these cotton candy morsels are sweet for the moment and then gone. Paul tells us that those who fall into the snare of worldly temptation are “those who desire to be rich” (v9). This might look like social media envy, workaholism, the extravagance of self-indulgence, the web of distractions of this present age, or the seduction of wealth or competition.

The writer to the Hebrews says, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Heb 13:5-6). We are not asked here to be content with nothing, or even with little. The reason for discontentment, and the world’s successful campaign of temptation, is not that we are short on treasure but that we have forgotten what we have – namely, the unwavering presence of the sovereign Lord of all. While the worldling desperately seeks all the significance, security and safety that money can buy, the believer rests in the thrilling truth that my helper is none other than the Lord Himself! The temptation of the world seizes upon our dissatisfaction with God and with His provision in our lives, while contentment recognizes Him as the greatest treasure one can acquire.

While the world and its trinkets insist, “This is the life!” Paul enjoins Timothy to “take hold of that which is truly life” (1Ti 6:12,19). When the world beckons, let us not loosen our grip on timeless treasure in exchange for trivial trinkets. In her hymn “Take the world, but give me Jesus,” Fanny Crosby accurately assessed the world’s fleeting, empty offerings against “the height and depth of mercy … the length and breadth of love … the fullness of redemption, pledge of endless life above!”

The world dazzles us with its offerings. It seeks to awaken a desire within that “I will acquire what I want.” But it is a cheap and fading substitute for God’s provision in our lives. Against the world and its persistent temptations, we must pursue contentment in God.

[1] In fact, the whole family was evidently affected, though not all as desperately as she was.

[2] This and all remaining Bible quotations are from the ESV unless otherwise noted.

[3] John Stott, The Radical Disciple (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010), 19.