Please note I wrote this shortly after being brought back to God. There is undoubtedly room for improvement. Feedback is appreciated.
I grew up as a Christian, in a Christian home. When I went out on my own, I lost faith, and began reevaluating all of my values. A year ago, God woke me up from my apathetic stupor and showed Himself to me - brought me back. Since then, I am re-reevaluating all the old questions - now more curious than the first time around about what the Bible has to say about all of it.
This study sought and found answers to (or despite) these questions:
Does being able to recognize a temptation point to a lack of virtue? In other words: is susceptibility to temptation a sign that a person is lacking in virtue? Can temptation never enter the head of the truly virtuous person, because they wouldn't even recognize it (see "another personal note" before Matthew 4:1)? Or does virtue and moral strength of character show itself precisely in the face of temptation - because then you can make a conscious choice against adversity (see NASB footnote after Matthew 4:1)? Or is a person who enjoys and is inclined to doing good more virtuous than a person who has to struggle against inclination to give in to temptation? How do you know if you are being tempted or if you are being tested (discernment comes from reading the Word and doing it - read on... then do it... that's what I'm doin', anyway...)?
Note that 'temptation' is meant, rather than "evil surmising". According to Brian Brodersen in "Spiritual Warfare" (2004) "Evil surmising originates from within. As Jesus said, 'Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts...' (Matthew 15:19). Evil surmising is within your power to control and has an element of delight in it. The flaming arrows of the wicked one, on the other hand, come from outside of you and are, to a certain degree,
beyond your power to control. They are also offensive to you. You not only do not want to think these thoughts, you consciously reject them," (p. 39).
Some of what Zondervan's NASB Study Bible has to say about temptation and testing:
Matthew 4:1-11 The Temptation of Jesus
Personal note: Jesus never sinned, and never, therefore, felt guilt. Never once had a guilty conscience. This despite being raised in an environment surrounded by sinners - because God the Father brought Him into maturity. When I was an atheist, I wrote, "If you are doing what comes naturally, you are not making a decision -- morality is not a factor." However, I was wrong, in that Jesus made moral decisions during His being tempted, based on what comes (super-) naturally to Him. A slip away from the Truth would be to say that His actions transcended morality, like some sort of Nietzsche's Overman. Rather, Jesus exemplified a moral person. Also, what I wrote as an atheist neglects to note how guilt (always having to do with morality) is often, as a response, almost second-nature (without intention). Being converted makes life more interesting for a thinker, because you can win arguments against your old self, and not worry about hurting anybody's feelings. :-)
NASB footnote excerpt: Jesus had no inward desire or inclination to sin, for these in themselves are sin (Matthew 5:22, 28). Because He was God, He did not sin in any way, whether by actions or word or inner desire (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 7:26; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 John 3:5). Yet Jesus' temptation was real, not merely symbolic. He was "tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15). He was confronted by the tempter with a real opportunity to sin. Although Jesus was the Son of God, He defeated Satan by using a weapon that everyone has at his or her disposal: the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph. 6:17). He met all three temptations with Scriptural truth (vv. 4, 7, 10) from Deuteronomy. ... He became the model for all believers when they are tempted.
Another personal note: before I was converted, and a little bit after, I used to think of Jesus as naive. I thought that since He is perfect, without sin, He is totally uninitiated to reality, like some kind of little innocent child. After I was converted, He taught me the reality - He knows every last detail about life in this universe (including the aspect residing in you) - the beautiful and the ugly. A lack of ignorance (an ability to recognize a temptation) does not equate to a lack of moral innocence, otherwise "all knowing" would equate to "completely evil". Temptation, spiritual warfare, comes from without.
Matthew 4:1 "Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil."
NASB footnote excerpt: This testing of Jesus (the Greek verb translated "tempted" can also be rendered "tested"), which was divinely intended, has at its primary background Deut. 8:1-5 (Ichthus: see also verse 16, and the whole chapter) ... There Moses recalls how the Lord led the Israelites through the wilderness 40 years "that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not." (Ichthus: see also Heb. 2:17-18; Heb. 4:15-16). ... God surely tests His people, but it is the devil who tempts to evil (see note on Gen. 22:1; see also 1 John 3:8; Rev. 2:9-10 and notes; Rev. 12:9-10). Like the Hebrew for "Satan," the Greek for "devil" means "accuser" or "slanderer." The devil is a personal being, not a mere force or influence. He is the great archenemy of God and the leader of the hosts of darkness.
Matthew 6:13 “And do not lead us into temptation” can also be translated “and do not put us to the test, but deliver us from evil.” I point that out because maybe there are others like myself who read that verse and at first think it implies God leads us into temptation (why else would we ask Him not to?) whereas other verses say God does not lead us into temptation. The temptation (by Satan) of Jesus was a divinely intended test -- He was lead into it by the Spirit (Matt 4:1-11). It was Satan who afflicted Job, but God who allowed it, to prove Job’s faith was genuine and not all calamity is God’s judgment. [Rather than judgment, Job’s suffering was a trial that served to prove wrong the great adversary of God and man (and all his advocates)--those in relationship with God do not seek Him to avoid suffering or obstacles (including not knowing the divine purpose of the obstacle) or because it pays.] Neither tests resulted in sin, and both show how Satan is under God’s control. God does not tempt to sin, God does not want us to sin (James 1:13; 1 Cor 7:5). Does that mean that where there is sin, God’s sovereignty has stopped (another thought that entered my head)? No. Our freedom to reject love and responsibility to choose love is a built-in part of this grand creation over which God is sovereign. That we choose to reject love, that we choose to sin in His creation, does not equate to His endorsing what we chose -- but it does equate to His endorsing choice. Without the possibility of rejecting God’s love (at the root of all sin), there is no possibility to choose it. Love must be chosen -- it cannot be forced upon us. So Matthew 6:13 is acknowledging God as sovereign. Jesus just as well could have said, “Let us not wander off and get lost in sin, but lead us with the rest of the fold, away from the wolves who won’t come near your rod and staff without consequence.” Of course, Jesus said it much more concisely.
Hebrews 4:15 "For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin."
NASB footnote: tempted in all things as we are. The author stresses the parallel between Christ's temptations and ours. He did not have each temptation we have but experienced every kind of temptation a person can have. yet without sin. The way in which Christ's temptations were completely different from ours was in the results-His temptations never led to sin.
Hebrews 4:16 "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."
NASB footnote: Because Christ our high priest has experienced human temptation, He stands ready to give immediate and sympathetic help when we are tempted.
STOP! The doubt has entered my head: "Was God not sympathetic before Jesus? Was He not ready to help before Jesus? How is Jesus necessary?" But God's counter-thought tells me: "I will keep talking to you." He will keep teaching us about who He is to us, and who we are to Him. Jesus is the living Word of God, and His coming was foretold in the Old Testament, so that we would recognize Him. The grand narrative is still unfolding.
Genesis 22:1-18 The Offering of Isaac
Genesis 22:1 "Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, 'Abraham!' And he said, 'Here I am.'"
NASB footnote excerpt: tested. Not "tempted," for God does not tempt (James 1:13). Satan tempts us (see 1 Cor. 7:5) in order to make us fall; God tests us in order to confirm our faith (Ex. 20:20) or prove our commitment (Deut. 8:2).
James 1:13-15 "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death."
NASB footnote excerpt: tempted. In vv. 13-14 the verb refers to temptations that test one's moral strength to resist sin. God cannot be tempted. Because God in His very nature is holy, there is nothing in Him for sin to appeal to. ... The three stages (Ichthus: in verse 15)-desire, sin, death-are seen in the temptations of Eve (Ichthus: Gen. 2:16-3:24, emph. on Gen 3:6) and David (2 Sam. 11:2-12:25).
Exodus 20:20 "Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.’"
NASB footnote excerpt: Do not think that God's display of His majesty is intended simply to fill you with abject fear. He has come to enter into covenant with you as your heavenly King. ... fear of Him. See note on Gen. 20:11: A conventional phrase equivalent to "true religion." "Fear" in this phrase has the sense of reverential trust in God that includes commitment to His revealed will (word).
Matthew 5:28 "but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart."
Mark 14:38 "Keep watching and praying that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." NASB note: Here the temptation is to be unfaithful in the face of threatening circumstances confronting them. When that part of man that is spirit is under God's control, it strives against human weakness.
That study answered most my questions - but a few other verses not directly related to temptation help answer the rest - first - no one is perfect but God (Romans 3:23) - and second, He loves us despite that fact (Romans 5:8). The virtue questions are just a guilt trip in disguise.
"A guilty conscience that precedes sincere repentance is the conviction of the Holy Spirit. A guilty conscience following sincere repentance is condemnation that is not coming from God." -- Beth Moore
Here’s biblical backing for the Beth Moore quote: 2 Corinthians 7:10 (Godly sorrow versus worldly sorrow); Luke 7:40-43 (the one whom He forgives more, loves more); 1 John 3:19-20 (for the over-sensitive conscience).
1 Cor 10:13 “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”
Always look for the way of escape -- recognize it as provided by God. There is no greater feeling of victory than to overcome temptation by the power of God.
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good,” Romans 12:21.
Another thread relevant to this is found here:
Hold every thought captive, rather than being held captive by your thoughts.