Entering Into Temptation

© : Ying Feng Johansson 123rf.com

© : Ying Feng Johansson 123rf.com

Whilst it knocks at the door we are at liberty; but when any temptation comes in and parleys with the heart, reasons with the mind, entices and allures the affections, be it a long or a short time, do it thus insensibly and imperceptibly, or do the soul take notice of it, we “enter into temptation.” (John Owen)

John Owen published Temptation in 1658 to address the nature of temptation, what it means to enter into temptation, and how to prevent it.  A previous article: “Lead Us Through Temptation,” looked at the nature of temptation. Here we begin to look at what it means to enter into temptation. Owen built each of these three facets of his work around the caution given by Jesus to his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Matthew 26:41).

Entering into temptation is not simply being tempted, according to Owen. We cannot expect to avoid temptation. “Whilst Satan continues in his power and malice, whilst the world and lust are in being, we shall be tempted.”  However, the Lord’s Prayer pleads that we be not led into temptation. So then it is possible that we could be tempted, but not actually enter into temptation.

Then it must be something more than the ordinary, daily business of being tempted by our lusts. Perhaps it is something to do with the seduction or allurement of sin. Entering into temptation is analogous to a man falling into a pit from which he does not see how he can escape. But the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation (2 Peter 2:9).

When we entertain a temptation, we enter into temptation. But entering into temptation is not the same as being conquered by it. A person may enter into temptation, yet not fall under temptation. God can make a way for the individual to escape. She can break through the snare, and be more than a conqueror—even though she entered into temptation. Remember that Christ himself entered into temptation, but was not stymied by it.

When we enter into temptation, there is usually some special action or occasion by which Satan tempts us. Something beyond his ordinary allurements and seductions. It provokes some greater tumult, a more profound corruption than normal. Our hearts become so entangled with this desire, that we debate whether or not to act on it. And therefore we are not “wholly able to eject or cast out the poison and leaven that hath been injected.”

The entanglement continues, usually to be manifested in one of two ways. First, for reasons known only to himself, God permits Satan to have some particular advantage over the person. Second, the individual’s own lusts and corruptions encounter objects and occasions that are especially provoking. The conditions and circumstances of the person’s life appear to have been almost orchestrated to manifest the opportunity for temptation.

This state of affairs is properly called the “hour of temptation.” It is the time or season in which everything comes to a head—when we have truly entered into temptation. “Every great and pressing temptation hath its hour, a season wherein it grows to a head, wherein it is most vigorous, active, operative, and prevalent.” It may take a long time to rise up. But there is a time when, from the confluence of outward and inward circumstances, it manifests itself fully and completely.

That very temptation, which at one time had little or no power and was easily resisted, now bears the person away quite like a rushing torrent. Either it has gained new strength from other circumstances, or the person has been weakened somehow. David likely had prior temptations to adultery and murder, like in the case of Nabal; but his hour of temptation had not come. So stay alert for the hour, for who is not tempted?

There will be a time when the cravings of temptation will be more urgent; their justifications more plausible; their facades more glorious; their opportunities more available; their entranceways seemingly more beautiful than ever before. Blessed is the person who is prepared for such a time for there is no escaping it. “If we stay here we are safe.”  Here is how we may know that any temptation had reached its high noon and is in its hour.

First, it solicits frequent and persistent thoughts of the evil it seeks to be manifested. At first, the soul in indignation will be offended at the thoughts. But by entertaining the thoughts, the soul grows familiar with it. Instead of being startled as before, it may say, “Is it not a little one?” Then the temptation is approaching its high noon. Lust has been enticed and entangled and is ready to conceive (James 1:15).

Second, when the temptation is known to have prevailed against others, the soul is not filled with dislike and abhorrence of them and their ways. There is no pity or prayer for the other person’s deliverance. And when a temptation has been able to bring low anyone who had previously been able to prevail against it, surely its hour grows closer. “Its prevailing with others is a means to give it its hour against us.”

Third, it will complicate the situation by insinuating itself with many considerations that are not in themselves clearly evil. So it was with the Galatians and their fall from the purity of the gospel. They sought freedom from persecution as well as union and approval with the Jews. Things that were in themselves good were pleaded for, but gave life to the temptation itself.

Fourth, when its hour approaches, a temptation is restless and urgent. “It is the time of battle, and it gives the soul no rest.” Satan sees that it is now or never. So he musters his forces—the opportunities, pleas and pretences for sin. Some ground has already been taken by previous efforts. If he can do nothing now, all is lost.

Fifth, when fears and allurements are joined together, “temptation is in its hour.”  People sometimes are carried into sin by their love of it; and continue in it out of fear for what will come of it. “But in any case, where these two meet, something allures us, something affrights us, and the reasonings that run between them are ready to entangle us, then is the hour of temptation.”

This then is what it means to “enter into temptation.” And there are two means by which we are to prevent it: Watch and Pray. The first is a general expression to be on our guard; to consider all the ways and means by which an enemy could approach us (1 Corinthians 16:13).

A universal carefulness concernment and diligence, exercising itself in and by all ways and means prescribed by God, over our hearts and ways, the baits and methods of Satan, the occasions and advantages of sin in the world, that we be not entangled, is that which in this word is pressed on us.

Of prayer, Owen said he did not need to speak of it. He felt the duty of prayer was known to all. Together with being on guard, “these two comprise the whole endeavour of faith for the soul’s preservation from temptation.”

There are many areas of temptation to which John Owen’s advice can apply. But as I read this chapter, I was struck by its uncanny applicability to individuals who struggle against addiction. Lord, may they watch and pray so that they do not enter into temptation. A digital copy of Owen’s work, Of Temptation, is available here.


Lead Us Through Temptation

We shall never know what strength there is in grace if we know not what strength there is in temptation. We must be tried, that we may be made sensible of being preserved. (John Owen)

Although John Owen published Temptation in 1658, it continues to speak today with clarity into the nature of temptation, what it means to enter into temptation, and how to prevent it.  Each of these three facets of his work were built around the caution given by Jesus to his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation”  (Matthew 26:41). Owen’s first task was to lay out the general nature of temptation and tempting, leaving the special nature of how it denotes evil for another chapter of his book.

Temptation, then, in general, is any thing, state, way, or condition that, upon any account whatever, hath a force or efficacy to seduce, to draw the mind and heart of a man from its obedience, which God requires of him, into any sin, in any degree of it whatever.

Whatever causes or provides an opportunity for us to sin is temptation. It is anything that distracts us from our duty or diverts us from communion with God. It will seek to thwart the obedience required of us by either bringing evil into our hearts, or drawing out the evil that indwells there.  Anything within or outside us that has the ability to hinder our duty or provoke the occasion to sin is temptation. An exquisite portrayal of this reality lies within the pages of C.S. Lewis’s classic, The Screwtape Letters.

Be it business, employment, course of life, company, affections, nature, or corrupt design, relations, delights, name, reputation, esteem, abilities, parts or excellencies of body or mind, place, dignity, art,—so far as they further or occasion the promotion of the ends before mentioned, they are all of them no less truly temptations than the most violent solicitations of Satan or allurements of the world, and that soul lies at the brink of ruin who discerns it not.

In this general sense, temptation is neutral. Owen likens it to a knife that can either cut meat of the throat of someone. “It may be his food or his poison, his exercise or his destruction.” And God uses it to try or prove us. First, He uses it to show us what lies within us. He tempted Abraham to show him his faith. Owen said Abraham did not know the power and vigor of his faith until God drew it out of him.

God also tempts us to show himself to us. We discover that God alone keeps us from sin. “Until we are tempted, we think we live on our own strength.” Although anyone else may sin in a particular manner, we will not. And when the trial comes, we quickly see what our defense is by whether we stand or fall. Remember how Paul said in Romans 7:18, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is my flesh.” According to Owen, we must be tried so that we may realize how we are being preserved.

Many times I have talked with Christians who see the wreckage of their lives from active intentional patterns of sin in their lives. They often have great difficulty seeing past the broken relationships; the wasted years; the hurt they did to others. What I try to do is to get them to see, without excusing or diminishing the serious and consequences of their sin, is that despite all that they have done, God still chose them. For by grace they were save through faith. We cannot know the strength of grace without knowing the power of temptation.

I knew a man who came to Christ after his toddler son drowned in a swimming pool accident.  He was in early recovery and instead of picking up drugs he picked up salvation. He had a tattoo on his forearm that said “Li’l Devil” and from what I heard him say he really was when he was an active drug user. He used to talk about how he LOVEDD to get high. God eventually took him through the complication of liver failure due to Hepatitis C. He’d not used drugs since before coming to Christ.

I knew a man who’s surname was Grace—he was well-named. He kept the return of his cancer secret because he needed to care for his wife who had her own health problems. At her funeral it came out that his cancer had returned. He lost his arm and eventually his life to cancer. But he was one of the best examples of a husband and a man of God that I was privileged to know.

I know a couple whose faith and marriage has been tried by what Owen called “an active efficiency towards sinning.” God used sinful circumstances to turn their lives and family upside down. Yet they arose with a stronger, deeper marriage and relationship with Christ. And they wouldn’t trade what they’ve been through if it meant they couldn’t be guaranteed the same deepening of their marriage and their faith.

Owen would point to these people and say that God accomplished their trial or temptation by putting upon them great sufferings. “Our temptations arise from the ‘fiery trial;’ and yet the end is but a trial of faith.” Oh Lord, lead us through temptation. Help us to know you better and deeper. That we may clearly see the beauty of salvation and the strength that is in your grace.

A digital copy of Owen’s work, Of Temptation, is available here.