FROM this one perfect insight given us into the meaning and mastery of temptation, we learn several important points. One is that temptations met and mastered are the only high road to stabilization of character and spiritual progress. Temptations always touch the vulnerable point. That is their chief use, as well as their great danger. In a two-way world, laid open to the illegal knowledge and contrasting claims of good and evil, every instinct of body, soul and spirit has to go through the crucible of temptation, and go there again and again, until it can come out purified and fixed in God. We may be sure that every temptation that comes to us comes because it exactly suits our condition, for we are only temptable at the points where we are sensitive to that particular type of appeal. In fact, in one sense we draw our temptations to ourselves. Out of all life's innumerable stimuli which reach out a beckoning hand to us, we automatically select and respond to those with which we have affinity. They draw us. But for every attraction in one direction, in the nature of things there is a counter-attraction in the other. If one is of the flesh, the other is of the Spirit, or vice versa. Thus a choice is forced upon us. We make it. If we know the secret of the Spirit, we do not meet the pull of the carnal with an ineffective "No" (the "thou shalt not" of the law), which leaves the conflict unresolved, or at best gives victory only by the skin of the teeth; but we meet it with the positive, sublimating alternative of the gospel, the "Christ hath delivered us from the curse of the law'*; he ringing declaration that the "I" who might respond to the temptation is "crucified with Christ", and now "Christ liveth in me". A victory is won which is real and complete; the draw of the temptation disappears, swallowed up in the greater attraction to the soul of the Living Christ. The instincts of soul or body which were previously divided, part drawn out in affection to the lower and part to the higher, are now all centered and satisfied in Christ. There are none left still to feel the pull of the lower. The temptation has disappeared, not that the stimuli are not still present in the world or the capacity to respond in soul or body not still there, but the counter-attraction of Christ has occupied the whole man. The joy of the Lord is his strength. His choice, stirred into action by the temptation at the point at which his nature was still responsive to that particular temptation, has integrated or reintegrated his nature in God. A further stage forward has been taken in the formation of spiritual character, a further release given for spiritual service, an invisible victory won which undoubtedly has its hidden repercussions through the whole world, and reverberates through eternal history, for "he that ruleth his spirit is better than he that taketh a city." In some instances, in one great contest with temptation, as with Christ on the Mount, a choice of such magnitude and intensity is made that the soul passes completely out of the range of that temptation, and in that latter becomes fully fixed in God. In others, particularly in the lesser temptations of daily living, repeated contests and choices, often interspersed with defeats, form a gradually ascending pathway to habitual victory and ultimate immunity. At the same time, we are clearly warned that many assaults of temptation are our own fault. If we maintained a close walk with God, our hearts would remain so filled and thrilled with His presence that there would be immunity in the moment of assault. "Watch and pray lest ye enter into temptation." Christ wrestled while the disciples slept, and, when the awful moment came, Christ was in calm mastery over His very captors, while the disciples fled. It is right to fear temptation and not meet it, still less welcome it, in a spirit of bravado, lest it overwhelm us with the suddenness of a cloudburst; daily we are to pray: "Lead us not into temptation;" but, at the same time, we can learn and see that temptation is our battleground and opportunity. Such an understanding will give us a healthy, hopeful, not repressed, defeatist or resentful, attitude to life's conflicts.
One other point is of great importance. It is to have a clear insight into the fact that temptation must by no means be confused with sin. In no case is the actual temptation sin, even though at times we have come within its influence through neglect. We have tried to make it clear that all human instincts and capacities are by their nature neutral, neither good nor evil in themselves. The good or evil resides in the heart and will that governs and directs the instincts. Thus, to be drawn by an instinct (whose function is always to respond to stimuli and thus originate action) is natural and normal; whether it be by fear or its substitute faith; anger, or its substitute gentleness; pride, or its substitute praise of another; lust, or its substitute love. It all depends on the choice made. It is at that point that the sin comes in. James, the analyst of human nature, makes this plain. (James 1: 13-15) Temptation, he says, comes from an evil source: it is a legacy of the fall. Man is in the environment and atmosphere of this evil thing, proceeding from an evil being, the devil, through his evilly-infected agent, the world. The way temptation works upon us, then, is this, says James: an instinct, a natural desire (called in the text a "lust," which can give a wrong impression, for the word "lust" is in the original just a neutral "strong desire," not necessarily evil or good) is stimulated by some object. It "draws" the man and entices him. No wrong in this, except it be the general wrong of a fallen condition which has corrupted man's instincts and made them all too prone to "inordinate affections." But, continues James, the crisis is in the choice; not in the instinct which draws and entices, but in the will of the man who either responds to the temptation or alternatively cleaves to the highest stimulus of an indwelling Christ, and thus lifts his troublesome appetite on to a new spiritual plane of satisfaction in Him. It is here, he says, that sin enters: "When lust hath conceived;" in other words, when man's free will, his power of choice, has been married to the enticing instinct; when he has consented to it, joined himself to it, then the child of that marriage is sin.
This is a liberating thought for many Christians, for many endure much inner condemnation and bondage through constantly feeling that they have guilty desires, and that as a consequence their Christian profession is hypocrisy because their inner condition is a secret contradiction to it. Not so. It is natural for instincts to be the instrument for temptation. The tempter is the evil one. The sin is in the response, not in the instincts; but, alternatively, victory in the temptation fixes those instincts more and more definitely as agents for revealing God to the world. Let us, then, be free and unafraid in Christ, healthily recognizing what is the battleground, what the enemy, what the weapon of victory, and what the outcome.