Chapter 9: ~ “TEMPTATION IS…”

I hope that every chapter I have written is important and necessary. At the same time, when it comes to understanding the experience of Christ in relation to His being tempted, and what that means to us personally, this chapter is crucial.

Over many years of talking and studying with people my wife and I have come to realize that there is a very common, yet very serious, misunderstanding of what it means to be tempted. Closely connected with this misunderstanding is a failure to realize that as with so many other subjects and words in the Bible the word tempted can have more than one meaning.

The primary meaning of the word temptation is clearly given in this quote:

“Temptation is enticement to sin, and this does not proceed from God, but from Satan and from the evil of our own hearts.”  {Mount of Blessing 116}

Satan tried everything he possibly could to “entice” Jesus to sin. (As we read earlier: “Satan left no means untried to ensnare Jesus.”) Ellen White, in that quote from Mount of Blessing tells us that: “temptation is enticement to sin.” And it is in this sense that it can truly be said of Christ, “He was in all points tempted like as we are.”

Right here is where a critical distinction needs to be made and understood: while “temptation is enticement to sin,” how that enticement is perceived and received by us, and how we react to that enticement is an entirely separate matter. Multitudes of Seventh-day Adventists, conservatives and liberals alike, laymen and ministers alike, hold the mistaken understanding that temptation is only temptation if in some way we find it desirable; that temptation is only temptation if we find it tempting. I cannot overemphasize the importance of coming to a correct understanding of this.

Let me begin with an example that I believe is so clear that no one can fail to see that to apply the above understanding of temptation to this would be ludicrous. And because of the nature of the quote let me try to explain something before beginning.

This study began, and basically centers on the verse:

“Every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust.”  {James 1:14}

In the next chapter I will be spending more time on the meaning of the word lust in this verse, but right now, because of the nature of this upcoming quote, I want to look at the words “man,” “he,” and “his” in this verse. I do not believe that the Bible writer, in this case James, intended to limit this verse strictly to men. The King James often uses the term man or men when really wanting to express the idea of mankind or human beings. Every one of the others translations  that I have apply this verse  to all people. I hope to make it even clearer in the next chapter that James is really intending to say: “Every human being is tempted…”

I bring this out here because this next quote, instead of dealing with men being tempted by women, deals with women being tempted by men. (Because it is such important and timely counsel I will include the entire paragraph.):

“The slightest insinuations, from whatever source they may come, inviting you to indulge in sin or to allow the least unwarrantable liberty with your persons, should be resented as the worst of insults to your dignified womanhood. The kiss upon your cheek, at an improper time and place, should lead you to repel the emissary of Satan with disgust. If it is from one in high places who is dealing in sacred things, the sin is of tenfold greater magnitude, and should lead a God-fearing woman or youth to recoil with horror, not only from the sin he would have you commit, but from the hypocrisy and villainy of one whom the people respect and honor as God’s servant. He is handling sacred things, yet hiding his baseness of heart under a ministerial cloak. Be afraid of anything like this familiarity. Be sure that the least approach to it is evidence of a lascivious mind and a lustful eye. If the least encouragement is given in this direction, if any of the liberties mentioned are tolerated, no better evidence can be given that your mind is not pure and chaste as it should be, and that sin and crime have charms for you. You lower the standard of your dignified, virtuous womanhood, and give unmistakable evidence that a low, brutal, common passion and lust has been suffered to remain alive in your heart and has never been crucified.”  {2 Testimonies 458, 459}

The first sentence in that quote says: “The slightest insinuations…inviting you to indulge in sin.” Clearly, this is “enticement to sin,” which Ellen White tells us is “temptation.” It is just as clear, that in the mind of Ellen White, a godly woman would find this anything but desirable, anything but tempting. As a matter of fact, she uses words that would describe a response completely the opposite of desirable: “disgust” and “recoil with horror.” There is no way in all the world that anyone could possibly get the understanding from this quote that when “a God-fearing woman” encounters this temptation, she is being, “drawn away of [her] own lust.”

Before leaving this quote I would like to ask you to carefully re-read the last two sentences of it and to take note of the context in which Ellen White places lust.

Now I would like to look at two quotes concerning Christ that will shed wonderful light on this question of what it means to be tempted. These two quotes are so perfectly designed to help us understand this point that one could easily believe that God ordained them specifically for this reason.

The first quote is Ellen White’s interpretation of the verse: “For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.” {Hebrews 2:18} Her first words are:

“Would that we could comprehend the significance of the words, Christ ‘suffered being tempted.’”  {Review & Herald, November 8, 1887}

Is not this exactly what we need to help us answer our question? And is not Ellen White going to go on to tell us exactly how we should comprehend those words, “Christ suffered being tempted?”

“Would that we could comprehend the significance of the words, Christ ’suffered being tempted.’ While He was free from the taint of sin, the refined sensibilities of His holy nature rendered contact with evil unspeakably painful to Him.”  {Review & Herald, November 8, 1887}

Ellen White is explaining to us that the words, “Christ suffered being tempted,” are to be understood—not in the sense that He desired to indulge in the sin that He was being tempted with—but that the refined sensibilities of His holy nature rendered contact with this temptation unspeakably painful to Him. This is the exact same picture as presented with the Godly woman that was invited to indulge in sin: she finds it “disgusting” and “recoils with horror;” Christ finds it “unspeakably painful.”

Let me try to make this unmistakably clear by using an illustration. And since this whole question (up to this point) pivots on peoples understanding of the text—”every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust”—allow me to illustrate this in the context of immorality and lust: How would a godly father and mother feel if their beloved daughter turned to all kinds of immoral behavior, even going so far as to become a harlot or a prostitute? Would it not be “unspeakably painful” to them? Now try to realize how horrible the suffering must have been, when Christ “suffered being tempted,” by not only having to see these young women behaving themselves in this manner, but even having some of them (those who were so fully under the control of Satan that they allowed themselves to be used of him in his efforts to overcome Christ) entice Him and try to lure Him into sin. Try to realize that every single one of these young women were His own children by creation. Try to realize that He was about to die for them. Try to realize that He loved these women with a love that is infinitely greater than the love of any earthly father or mother for their daughter. And try to realize, as we read earlier, that He was “Infinite Purity.” To see these young women, His own beloved children, being used of Satan in such a disgusting and degrading manner must have caused Him a degree of pain and sorrow that we can hardly begin to comprehend. Who in their right mind can possibly believe that all the while Christ was experiencing those kind of thoughts and feelings, He was at the same time being “drawn away of His own lust.”

The second quote I want to look at is Ellen White’s insight into exactly what Christ was thinking and experiencing during the third temptation in the wilderness. This is the temptation where Satan showed Christ all the kingdoms of the world and tried to get Christ to worship him. Once again, her first words show how perfectly suited this quote is to help answer our question of what it means to be tempted:

“This was to Christ just what the Bible declares it to be—a temptation.”  {5 Bible Commentary 1083}

As you read through the remainder of the quote pay particularly close attention to Ellen White’s description of what Christ actually saw while Satan was presenting to Him this temptation:

“This was to Christ just what the Bible declares it to be—a temptation. Before His sight the tempter held the kingdoms of the world. As Satan saw them, they possessed great external grandeur. But Christ saw them in a different aspect, just as they were—earthly dominions under the power of a tyrant. He saw humanity full of woe, suffering under the oppressive power of Satan. He saw the earth defiled by hatred, revenge, malice, lust, and murder. He saw fiends in the possession of the bodies and souls of men.”  {5 Bible Commentary 1083}

If you saw “earthly dominions under the power of a tyrant,” if you saw “humanity full of woe, suffering under the oppressive power of Satan,” if you saw “the earth defiled by hatred, revenge, malice, lust, and murder,” and if you saw “fiends in the possession of the bodies and souls of men,” would you find those things “tempting?” Would you find yourself “being drawn away of your own lust” to have them? I think not!

Yet still Ellen White tells us:

“This was to Christ just what the Bible declares it to be—a temptation.”  {5 Bible Commentaries 1083}

This is a perfect example of temptation–both from the view of the tempter and the tempted; and much can be learned from it. In this case the tempter was Satan himself, but in most cases the tempter is some human agent through whom he is able to work. The tempter tries to make his temptation appear as attractive and desirable as possible, and all too often that is exactly how the tempted sees it, which is a major factor in why the person yields to the temptation. But—and this is a most crucial and wonderful truth—if the person being tempted is one with his Heavenly Father, as Jesus was; and if he is full of the Holy Spirit, as Jesus was; and if he is “dead indeed unto sin,” as Paul tells him to be, and as Jesus was; and if he loves his Heavenly Father with all his heart and soul and mind, as Jesus did; then, instead of the temptation appearing beautiful and attractive, as the tempter is trying to make it appear; the tempted will “see it in a different aspect, just as it is;” then, as Ellen White tells us, the tempted will “hate it as the vile thing it is”:

“O that we may cultivate habits of contemplation of the self-denial and self-sacrifice of the life of Christ, until we shall have a deep sense of the aggravating character of sin, and hate it as the vile thing it is.”  {1 Selected Messages 106}

“We…should…abhor sin as the hateful thing it is.”  {Our High Calling 94}

“Appetite and passion are overcoming thousands of Christ’s professed followers. Their senses become so blunted on account of familiarity with sin that they do not abhor it, but view it as attractive.”  {3 Testimonies 473}

Now, as for the word tempted having more than one meaning, or usage. First of all, the Spirit of Prophecy informs us:

“There is a difference between being tempted, and entering into temptation.”  {Temperance 192}

And we saw earlier how she explained James 1:14:

“Says the apostle, “Every man is tempted [that is, enters into temptation] when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed.”  {Signs of the Times, March 9, 1882}

Putting these two quotes together, it should be easy to see that James 1:14 cannot be the description of a person “being tempted,” because the Signs of the Times quote clearly tells us it is the description of a person “entering into temptation,” and the Temperance quote clearly tells us “there is a difference between being temped, and entering into temptation.”

So we see from this that when we encounter the word tempted in the Bible we need to ask ourselves: is the Bible writer using the word tempted in the sense of “being tempted,” or is he using it in the sense of “entering into temptation.”

Now let me examine two other verses where the word tempted is being used in the sense of “entering into temptation.” Galatians 6:1 is one of them:

“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.”  {Galatians 6:1}

Paul’s meaning of the word tempted in this verse, like James 1:14, must be “entering into temptation” rather than “being tempted,” for Paul most certainly understood the truth that, “all are exposed to temptation.” (DA 414)

When we combine all that we’ve just learned about the usage and meaning of the word tempted, Paul’s warning in Galatians 6:1 is seen to be just another way of repeating Christ’s warning in Mark 14:38:

“…considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted”  {Galatians 6:1}
“Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.”  {Mark 14:38}

First Thessalonians chapter three is another example. Paul was so worried that the Thessalonians had fallen into sin that he finally sent Timothy to find out:

“For this cause, when I could no longer forbear, I sent [Timotheus] to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter have tempted you, and our labor be in vain.”  {1 Thessalonians 3:2, 5}

I think this is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the benefit of using multiple translations; at the same time this would probably be a good opportunity to briefly examine the belief that the King James is the only translation that is safe to use.

There are a number of Bibles that I use occasionally, but there are two that I use all the time: the King James and the New Living. Ninety-five percent of the time the two translations are basically saying the same thing, only in different words. (That is pretty much the way it is with all translations.) But I must tell you, I have found that in many instances the New Living translates a passage, not in a way that contradicts the King James, but in a way that expresses more clearly to our minds exactly what it is that the Bible writer was intending to convey. Paul’s use of the word tempted in those two verses from Galatians and First Thessalonians is a perfect example:

“Dear brothers and sisters, if another Christian is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.”  {Galatians 6:1 NLT}

“That is why, when I could bear it no longer, I sent Timothy to find out whether your faith was still strong. I was afraid that the Tempter had gotten the best of you…”  {1 Thessalonians 3:5 NLT}

Even as I sit here examining and writing about these verses it continues to grow clearer that both translations are saying the same thing, only the New Living grasps and expresses the meaning better. Take Galatians 6:1 for example: the King James starts out with the words: “Brethren, if a man be overtaken…,” and ends with the words: “lest thou also be tempted.” The words “thou also” can only be referring back to the man who was “overtaken.” Paul was clearly saying: “lest thou also be overtaken.” The translators of the New Living realized that, and therefore translated the last portion of the verse in a way that clearly expresses that.

The same is true in the First Thessalonians passage. In verse one and verse five of First Thessalonians chapter three we read that Paul was so worried about the Thessalonians that he “could no longer forbear.” All of the modern translations I have translate that portion more along the lines of: “when I could no longer stand it,” or, “when I could no longer bear it,” which is exactly what the King James is saying. What is it that Paul could no longer bear? It certainly wasn’t the fact that they might be exposed to “being tempted.” Paul knew all too well that they were “being tempted” (just read verses 3 & 4). It had to be that they might have “entered into temptation.” And that is why in place of the King James saying: “lest by some means the tempter have tempted you,” the New Living says: “I was afraid that the Tempter had gotten the best of you.” And that is also why Paul finishes with the words: “and our labor be in vain.”

Now I would like to take a brief look at the teaching that the King James is the only Bible that should be used. The first argument I would make, the argument that I feel should settle the whole question, is the fact that Ellen White often quoted from the Revised Version, as well as occasionally from other translations. Why do you think she did that? Do you think that she just randomly decided to quote from a different translation? Of course not! Obviously she felt that the other Bible translated some aspect of that particular verse in a way that expressed the truth that God wanted us to know in a better, or clearer, or more powerful way. Along with that comes one of two unavoidable conclusions: #1—Ellen White must have been fairly familiar with those different translations, otherwise how would she have had any idea when to substitute them for the King James; or, #2—she went looking through those other translations to see if they stated the verse in a way that was clearer or better. Either way, if God’s inspired prophet, who we know was led of the Spirit, made use of other translations, so should we. (Slowly flip through 8 Testimonies 262-285 and you will be convinced.)

Daniel 7:9 is a classic example, as well as an extremely important one for Seventh-day Adventists, of an instance where the modern translations undeniably translate the verse in a way that makes it much easier for the reader to come to a correct understanding of what the Bible writer was actually wanting to say. The King James reads:

“I beheld till the thrones were cast down.”

All modern translations I have ever seen read more like this:

“I kept looking until thrones were set up.”  {NASB}


“I watched as thrones were put in place.”  {NLT}

Ellen White, in both the 1888 and 1911 editions of The Great Controversy, quotes Daniel 7:9 from the Revised Version

“I beheld till thrones were placed.”

Stephen Haskell in his book, The Story of Daniel the Prophet uses two different translations. And Uriah Smith in his classic, Daniel and the Revelation, says:

“By an unfortunate translation in verse 9, a wrong idea is almost sure to be conveyed. The words cast down are from a word which in the original signifies just the opposite, namely, to set up.”  {Daniel and the Revelation; his comment on Daniel 7:9}

Since I mentioned the 1888 and 1911 editions of The Great Controversy, I would like to touch briefly on a similar teaching that some of you have probably encountered: that the original edition of The Great Controversy, which is the 1884 edition, also known as Spirit of Prophecy Volume IV, is the only edition of The Great Controversy that is safe to read. The proponents of this teaching say that the church has so tampered with The Great Controversy that it is no longer giving the message that Ellen White intended it to give. I believe this is nothing but a distraction from the devil and another manifestation of the fulfillment of the warning:

“The very last deception of Satan will be to make of none effect the testimony of the Spirit of God…Satan will work ingeniously, in different ways and through different agencies, to unsettle the confidence of God’s remnant people in the true testimony.”  {1 Selected Messages 48}

This next quote is a statement by Ellen White herself concerning the 1911 edition of The Great Controversy. It is found in the supplement of Spirit of Prophecy Vol. IV. (I will quote it exactly as it is in the supplement.)

“A few days ago I received a copy of the new edition of the book Great Controversy, recently printed at Washington. The book pleases me. I have spent many hours looking through its pages, and I see that the publishing houses have done good work…
“Recently it was necessary for this book to be reset, because the electrotype plates were badly worn. It has cost me much to have this done, but I don’t complain; for whatever the cost may be, I regard this new edition with great satisfaction…
“When I learned that Great Controversy must be reset, I determined that we would have everything closely examined, to see if the truths it contained were stated in the very best manner, to convince those not of our faith that the Lord had guided and sustained me in the writing of its pages.
“As a result of the thorough examination by our most experienced workers, some changing in the wording has been proposed. These changes I have carefully examined, and approved. I am thankful my life has been spared, and that I have strength and clearness of mind for this and other literary work.”—Letter 56, 1911  {Spirit of Prophecy Volume IV 530}

In the desire to not leave a wrong impression, I need to try to make one thing clear before going on to the next chapter. In chapter eight I spent a good deal of time looking at the fact that redemption is a process; that we do not go from a lifetime of wrong habits and practices to Christ-like perfection overnight. There may often be times, especially in the earlier stages of our Christian life, when there is a part of us that does desire to commit the sin that Satan is trying to entice us with. The thing I want to try to make clear is: I believe that a victory is definitely gained if we do not give in to those desires. But (and here is the part that I believe is so critical), this was never the experience of Jesus; and equally important, as we “grow up to the full stature of men and women in Christ” we must, and will, come more and more to the point where these temptations have no appeal to us whatsoever, and we actually come to hate them:

“Those who become new creatures in Christ Jesus…will no longer fashion themselves according to the former lusts, but by the faith of the Son of God they will follow in His steps, reflect His character, and purify themselves even as He is pure. The things they once hated they now love, and the things they once loved they hate.”  {Steps to Christ 58}

“When the sinner has a view of the matchless charms of Jesus, sin no longer looks attractive to him; for he beholds the Chiefest among ten thousand, the One altogether lovely.”  {Faith and Works 107}