Temptation: A Matter of Affections

Temptation urges us towards sin by undermining our intimacy with the Lord. The enemy knows that vibrant love for Christ will prove to be a powerful protection against temptation’s attack. In one of the principal passages on temptation, James notes that those who will receive the crown of life for standing the test are those who love God (Jas 1:12).

At least ten times in Deuteronomy, from which the Lord quoted in the wilderness temptation, the people are instructed to “love the LORD your God.” This God-ward love is consistently linked with what should be the resultant obedience of Jehovah’s people to His commands. Says the Lord Jesus, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (Joh 14:15).1  He emphasized, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment” (Mat 22:37-38). To love God above all is the first commandment, and that which temptation seeks to violate. Upon committing whatever sin, we should recognize we have broken this commandment first.

Temptation should actually increase our love for God. When we understand He has placed maximum limits on how far we will be tempted and, additionally, has provided an escape in every single episode, we should respond with grateful affection, for “God is faithful” (1Co 10:13).

Conversely, our growing love for God, His will and His Word will enable us to enjoy increased deliverance in the midst of temptation. “There is nothing unnatural … in an increase of temptations, conflicts and pressures as the Christian goes on with God – indeed, something would be wrong if it did not happen.”2 Though Satan selectively cited to Jesus the passage about angelic protection against striking His foot against a stone, for obvious reasons he neglected to mention what comes right after: “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him” (Psa 91:14-15). This is a wonderful promise of deliverance to the believer who intentionally calls on and clings to God in love in the midst of trouble.

In the matter of misplaced affections, we have previously observed that John cautions, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of [or, ‘for’]3 the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life – is not from the Father but is from the world” (1Jn 2:15-16). We must not deceive ourselves into thinking we can manage to love both the world and the Father. Paul tells Timothy that those who fall into the temptation of greed do so because of misplaced love (1Ti 6:9-10). “Temptation reveals our deepest convictions … our deepest loves.”4 Do we find ourselves coming back to a certain sinful tendency or habit more often than we are savoring His presence? If so, we are in a very dangerous place. With respect to sexual temptation specifically, the Lord made it clear that sin cannot be dealt with too harshly in our lives – whether gouging out the offending eye or amputating the guilty limb (Mat 5:30). Some of the Ephesian converts made the financially costly decision to actually burn the books that represented the passion of their sinful past. Burning rather than selling the books for a profit not only mitigated any future temptation to return to the magic arts but also kept the materials from entrapping anyone else. We must ask the Lord to help us to shun at all cost rather than savour the sin we are engaging in.

In conjunction with a growing love for God, there will come a proportional increased hatred of evil. As our love for God increases, evil habits and deeds will be actively replaced. The closer we are to Him the more abhorrent sin will be to us. Contrariwise, as our love for Him cools, temptation’s threat grows. When temptation urges us toward gossip, envy, worry, over-eating, prideful criticism, lust, unbelief, selfishness, indifference, greed, strife, or any number of other sins, let us be attentive to the psalmist: “O you who love the LORD, hate evil!” (Psa 97:10). Joseph, under temptation’s persistent and seductive onslaught, responded, “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Gen 39:9). That this young man was able to see the sin exactly for what it was, and call it thus at great personal cost, demonstrates he treasured his relationship with God more than his relishing of sin or his reputation with the world.

As Paul laments in Romans 7, the Law cannot deliver from temptation and resultant sin. Neither Paul’s confessed hatred for the sin nor the Law’s prohibition was enough to deliver him from temptation. Romans 8 brings hope to the struggling saint by highlighting the liberating power of the Spirit (v2), the intimate relationship with our Father (v15) and the securing love of Christ (v35). Though the law itself is powerless against temptation, the Scriptures are indispensable for teaching the necessary condition of our hearts and the resources we have been given – the Holy Spirit, the provision of an escape, and the abiding love of the Father. Our responsive love for God and His Word will be rewarded, for “abundant peace belongs to those who love your instruction; nothing makes them stumble” (Psa 119:165 CSB).

We have noted the example of Peter (John 21) and his recovery from the temptation of self-confidence. The Lord does not commission him with a shepherding work based on giftedness or strengthened determination, but on a simple, searching and sustained question, “Do you love me?” As John writes, “This is love, that we walk according to his commandments” (2Jn 6). A life of obedience is less likely to yield to temptation than one of disobedience, for “the LORD preserves all who love him” (Psa 145:20). Against all the forces of present and future temptation, nothing can ever separate us from His love; let us purpose to let nothing separate Him from ours.

1 Bible quotations in this article are from the ESV unless otherwise noted.

2 J.I. Packer, Knowing God (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 246.

3 Considering the immediate context before and after, the Father could be the love’s origin or its object here. I suggest it is the latter.

4 Tim Chaddick, The Truth About Lies (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2015), 16.