Temptation: Anything Good?

As we conclude this series, we consider the question, can anything good come from temptation? We have noted the many subtle dangers and catastrophic consequences that can result from temptation, its insidious multi-pronged attack, and the daily threat it plays in our lives. But can anything good come from it? Was there anything good that came out of Calvary? After all, it was an all-out Satanic assault on God’s plan of redemption, marked by the betrayal, denial and abandonment of the Lord by His disciples. It ended with His violent death and the cowering of His disillusioned followers behind locked doors. Let us not forget that even at what appeared to be the lowest moment, God had relinquished none of His control, nor was He in any way uncertain as to the final outcome. The Lord had said to His enemies, “This hour and the power of darkness are yours” (Luk 22:53).1 This reminds us of a most important fact, which holds true during temptation’s darkest hour as well: not a single attack can ever be launched against God’s own people without His specific, watchful and measured permission. Whenever He allows temporary testing, it is always for our eternal blessing.

Temptation reminds us that we are dependent on God to stand. As a believer gets stronger, he doesn’t need to rely on God less and less. Rather, the stronger he gets, the more he understands that it is the strength of Another he is enjoying, and leans harder than ever. “It’s not the humbling wilderness that can rescue us; it’s where we learn to look in the wilderness that can rescue us.”2 The wise man wrote, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding” (Pro 3:5). As a believer grows, so will his temptation – and thus, so must his dependence. Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was received with glad acceptance, for it served as a constant reminder of Christ’s strength amidst Paul’s weakness.

“God may bring testing into a believer’s life to teach him certain things he might not otherwise learn.”3 The believer should not be filled with a sense of impending doom by the idea of temptation. James helps us dispense with such fatalism by framing it in much more positive terms: “Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials” (Jas 1:2 CSB). This is not a blissful ignorance of real danger, but “because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (v3). A mature, well-rounded Christian (v4) is one whose encompassing trials have resulted in a growing faith in a delivering God.

Temptation helps us not to forget the struggles of our fellow man. It is not unique to my experience, but rather “is common to man” (1Co 10:13). This keeps us feeling compassion for others, helps us remember we are not superior to anyone, and makes us useful in helping those who feel overwhelmed. An older believer having experienced “youthful passions” firsthand will do well to call to mind what it was like in earlier days, and encourage someone facing them presently.

Temptation puts our faith to the test. “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which perishes though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1Pe 1:6-7). The value of this process cannot be overestimated. Martyn Lloyd-Jones reminds us solemnly of the alternative: “It is a terrible thing when a man reaches that point when he knows that he must die, and the gospel which he has reasoned about and even ‘defended’ does not seem to help him because it has never gripped him. It was just an intellectual hobby.”4 Temptation and trials, by the mercy of God, can serve to test and approve the genuineness of our faith.

Temptation can help stave off complacency. “Watch the seasons wherein men usually do ‘enter into temptation’: a season of unusual outward prosperity, a time of the slumber of grace, of neglect in communion with God, of formality in duty, a season of great spiritual enjoyments, a season of self-confidence.”5 Each of these seasons demonstrates a lack and a need. Whatever may be the tempter’s intention, God, in His sovereign care, is well able to use temptation to awaken us to such needs. Herein lies the blessing – an increased awareness of temptation’s threat, in or out of season, presents us with a perfect opportunity to say no to sin.

Temptation will help to keep our focus on eternity. What happens when resistance to temptation brings greater darkness or trials of greater ferocity rather than a sunnier resolution? That is precisely what temptation will reveal – will I choose to live in the light of eternity, even from within the current storm? The three enemies considered have each been defeated (Joh 16:33; Rom 6:6; Luk 11:22; Heb 2:14) and will be fully vanquished in the future (1Co 15:25-26). This ought to banish the idea that surrender to temptation is inevitable. A laser focus on God in the midst of tribulation has enabled believers to relinquish a stable, privileged job (Gen 39), cherished belongings (Heb 10:34), a comfortable home (11:9), personal wealth (v26), or even life itself (v37) because of their focus on the final reward.

In summary, though temptation presents an ever-present threat, let it remind us of our ever-present God in the midst of every temptation. He faithfully limits the intensity of every trial and sovereignly works to produce endurance and holiness in us. What the tempter intends for evil God turns for our eternal good. Indeed, as a result of temptation, we have a high priest “who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:15-16). Dear believer, may you know inexpressible joy and a deepening love for Him as you experience such care (1Pe 1:8).

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

2 Tim Chaddick, The Truth About Lies (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2015), 23.

3 Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Balancing the Christian Life (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1969), 137.

4 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans), 57.

5 John Owen, Overcoming Sin and Temptation (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 420.