Temptation…what a loaded word. According to the dictionary, it means “something that tempts, entices, or allures.” I think what that really means is that whatever it is I am being tempted by is something I would not normally do if I did not believe there is something rewarding I will receive in return.
A couple weeks ago I was thinking about the types of things that tempt people:
Food – how many of us have stared at a plate of cookies, brownies, a cake, ice cream and debated for far too long whether or not to partake knowing they are bad for us? Our bodies tell us they are bad, yet still we consider indulging, weighing the good against the bad. Some of us eat our emotions, or eat because we’re bored, or just eat for the sake of eating.
Sex – the sex and pornography industries are built around the allurement and temptation of sexual desire. Even those of us in committed relationships will sometimes struggle with the thought of looking at pornography or pursuing a sexual relationship with someone other than our significant other. We know this would be wrong, but still there is a temptation to ignore our conscience.
Money – for many, money may not seem like a real temptation. After all, we all need money to be able to buy things that are crucial to our survival. Temptation for money, though, comes when our desire to have enough money to take care of our basic needs plus a little more turns into a desire to have more than we need at the expense of others or the expense of our time, family, or moral/ethical standards.
There are so many other things we can be tempted by – fame, gossip, lying, revenge, pride, procrastination, laziness, anxiety, self-condemnation, others-condemnation, just to name a few.
As I was thinking about all these different things we can be tempted by, I began to realize that every single temptation I have ever considered giving into had one thing in common: they all seem like something that would be good, that would, at the very least, bring some amount of pleasure or enjoyment, even if only for a moment.
And that’s when I was reminded of something Jesus once said: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10a). The “thief” is the same person who brings temptation – the devil. What dawned on me is that, if the tempter’s only purpose is to “steal and kill and destroy,” then all those temptations – those things that seem like good things that will bring joy – are meant for only one thing: my demise. They aren’t going to bring good into my life. They are going to bring the exact opposite. While they may bring momentary fulfillment, their ultimate goal is to create a sense of poverty in that area of my life so I will continually come back for more thinking I will never have enough. Think about movie stars who have all the fame and money in the world but turn to drugs, alcohol, and even suicide. They are the ones who have come to realize that gaining their greatest temptations did not bring fulfillment to their lives. All the things that I am tempted to pursue to fulfill my life, only serve to create a greater sense of un-fulfillment.
“While they may bring momentary fulfillment, their ultimate goal is to create a sense of poverty in that area of my life so I will continually come back for more thinking I will never have enough.”
And then I was reminded of the second half of Jesus’ statement: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Jesus didn’t come to tempt us. He didn’t come to lure us to something that would bring us momentary pleasure or fleeting enjoyment. He came to give us abundant life; to give us ultimate fulfillment; to give our very existence the deepest sense of purpose and enjoyment. He didn’t come to sucker us into something that would please himself – he came to douse us in the most exorbitant love and joy and peace we could ever find. In fact, according to St. Paul, he came to do for us more than we could ever hope or imagine we could gain on our own (Ephesians 3:20).
“Jesus didn’t come to tempt us. He didn’t come to lure us to something that would bring us momentary pleasure or fleeting enjoyment. He came to give us abundant life.”
The thief comes only to tempt me and to get me to accept something that is counterfeit, something that looks like it gives real joy, but in reality only brings death, destruction, and a sense of never having enough.
Jesus comes to bring real joy; to give abundant life; to fulfill even the deepest longings of my heart and existence.
Whose gift will you choose to accept?