How Temptation Works

Sometimes we get confused about the way the gospel works. We think that proclaiming the gospel to one another means only encouraging one another in forgiveness and grace and mercy but never warning one another of the dangers of diving headlong into sin. This kind of gospel has no word for the brother or sisters who gives in to temptation over and over again–who, what's the phrase…"makes a practice of sinning".

We avoid the Old Testament with all of its narratives of God's judgment and cherry-pick through the sermons of Jesus and the letters of Paul, goose-stepping the harsh warnings of Hebrews and James. We select only the passages that tell us of God's love and forgiveness and joy. But are these warnings in Scripture not a part of the gospel, too?

Truth: So many of us are failing in the fight against daily temptation.

Could it be that these warnings in Scripture are actually necessary for victory against sin? What happens when we avoid all the warning signs? Is there danger to caving in to temptation over and over again but refusing to see that we are walking in the way of sinners through the wide gate that leads to destruction (Psalm 1:1, Matthew 7:13)?

If you really want victory over temptation, let's turn for a moment to one of those dreadful passages in the book of Judges and see exactly how temptation works:

After this Samson loved a woman in the Valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. And the lords of the Philistines came up to her and said to her, "Seduce him, and see where his great strength lies, and by what means we may overpower him, that we may bind him to humble him. And we will each give you 1,100 pieces of silver." (Judges 16:4-5)

From the start, we know the end of this path. Delilah the temptress has been hired by the enemies of God to lead Samson to the slaughter. But will Samson see the danger before it's too late?

So Delilah said to Samson, "Please tell me where your great strength lies, and how you might be bound, that one could subdue you." Samson said to her, "If they bind me with seven fresh bowstrings that have not been dried, then I shall become weak and be like any other man." (16:6-7)

Samson is in bed with temptation. He's flirting with her. Delighting in her fleeting pleasure, he toys with danger:

Now she had men lying in ambush in an inner chamber. And she said to him, "The Philistines are upon you, Samson!" But he snapped the bowstrings, as a thread of flax snaps when it touches the fire. So the secret of his strength was not known. (16:9)

We do this all of the time. We tell ourselves we can dabble in sin and emerge unscathed. We are strong enough to know our limits. Samson doesn't give his whole heart to temptation–just enough to have fun. And what do you know? He makes it out alive.

The next time, Delilah wants more:

Then Delilah said to Samson, "Behold, you have mocked me and told me lies. Please tell me how you might be bound."  (16:10)

Two more times, Samson flirts with temptation, allows himself to be bound in various ways, and bursts the bonds. See, I'm strong enough. This sin isn't that dangerous. I'll be just fine. I can stop whenever I want to. I'm in total control. 

It was clear from the start that Delilah was leading him by the hand toward death. However, every time she demanded more of him and became more brazen in her attempts on his life, Samson blinded his own eyes to the truth. Each time, he gave in more, came closer to destruction.

In her final appeal, she went for the death blow–for his heart:

And she said to him, "How can you say, 'I love you,' when your heart is not with me? You have mocked me these three times, and you have not told me where your great strength lies."  And when she pressed him hard with her words day after day, and urged him, his soul was vexed to death.  And he told her all his heart… (16:15-17a)

Did Samson ever imagine that a path that began with fun and exhiliration would end in trading his vow to the Lord for a philistine mistress? He who was so mighty gave his heart to a woman bent on his destruction. Temptation wore him down little by little. Each time he was bound was an opportunity to turn back, to renounce Delilah, to repent of his sin and return to the Lord. But he ignored the warnings. All of them.

Samson told Delilah of his Nazarite vow and his uncut hair. Samson was sleeping in the lap of sin, totally oblivious to the danger when his locks were shorn. Here is what happened:

 And she said, "The Philistines are upon you, Samson!" And he awoke from his sleep and said, "I will go out as at other times and shake myself free." But he did not know that the LORD had left him. (16:20)

One of the saddest sentences in the whole Bible: But he did not know that the Lord had left him. He so took the Spirit for granted, he so seared his conscience, he was so blinded by his sin that he could not see that the Lord was no where to be found.

He assumed all the way down the path of wickedness that the Lord was by his side. But his heart was calloused and hardened against the warning of the Lord; he felt no difference when the Lord quietly departed.

And the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes and brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze shackles. And he ground at the mill in the prison. (16:22)

Remember the warning in the Sermon on the Mount? Maybe you usually skip that part, but Jesus says, "If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell." (Matthew 5:29) The story of Samson teaches us this: If you will not gouge out your own eye, God will do it for you–for the sake of your soul. 

You may lose your marriage if you continue in that porn habit. You may lose your job if you continue to defraud your company. You may end up losing everything if you plunge headlong into drunkenness. Sin has consequences. Always.

Eyes will be gouged out, one way or another. If the children of God ignore the warning signs, God's warnings will have to get louder and clearer. In Judges, Samson's eyes lead him into temptation over and over again. It's no accident that God's discipline cuts to the source of his sin.

But here is the good news. God's discipline is meant to save us from eternal destruction. God took Samson's eyes so that he would not lose his soul. The episode ends with hope:

But the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaved. (16:22)

When Samson was blinded, he saw most clearly. No longer led astray by temptation, Samson was able to follow the Lord. God's discipline is not pleasant, especially when you intentionally ignore the warnings–warnings that are meant to keep you from destruction and death.

Do not think you will continue to walk in temptation without consequences. The eye will be gouged out one way or another. Either you can do it, God can do it for you in his grace, or you can fall into eternal destruction.

Brothers and sisters, "As long as it is called 'today,' [be sure] that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin!" (Hebrews 3:13)

(photo credit: Szoki Adams)