Is the temptation to sin and desire to sin the same thing?

First,I appreciate the time and attention to precision with which each questioner is answered.
Tonight, in studying Roman’s 7 at youth group, we came to a question of whether temptation and the desire that the temptation “came to town on” are the same or sin? Temptation in itself is not sin, we agreeed as Scripture shows in Jesus’ life. How might you distinguish the two and help clarify the right/wrong for those? The examples immediately brought up in our group were same-sex attraction and slander.
-Mary

Thanks for this question Mary!
First, kudos for teaching your youth group Romans 7, this is not an easy passage and I know many who would shy away from teaching it to teenagers in favour of something a little less technical. Despite its technicality, however, Romans 7 is an important passage for the topic you raised in your question, namely whether temptation and our desire for it are the same and whether they are sinful.
I want to answer your question by asking you to think about three very related yet distinct aspects of temptation, namely ‘sin’, ‘the flesh’ and ‘the devil’. The first two are concepts that the Apostle Paul discusses a lot in Romans and both terms are right at the heart his case in Romans 7. ‘Sin’, of course, is those actions or thoughts that disobey God’s will and are against He calls ‘right’ or ‘righteous’. ‘The flesh’ is the New Testament’s term for the brokenness of our human nature since The Fall (Gen 3). It is that part of our nature that finds ‘sin’ attractive and creates ‘desires’ (another Romans 7 word!) in our spirit to do things that disobey God. Finally, the agent behind ‘sin’ and temptation is the devil. When i was a youth pastor, I used to try to illustrate to my teenagers how these three things relate to each other in the experience of temptation by using the analogy of fishing. If you think about a fisherman throwing a line and baited hook into a river to catch fish, it may help us to understand temptation: The fisherman is the ‘devil’, the agent behind the baited line seeking to lure in a fish in order to “seek and kill and destroy it”. The bait on the hook is ‘sin’, those activities that once we embrace them catch us in a deadly snare and, without rescue, will lead to our destruction. Yet the only reason why the bait is so attractive to the fish is because inherent within that fish’s nature is a desire and attraction to have the bait. Hooks without bait don’t attract fish, because fish don’t have a desire for hooks! So, in that sense, the fish has in its basic nature, its ‘flesh’ if you will, a potential to be attracted by something that is ultimately deadly for it. Forgive this very trivial example but hopefully you get the point: In temptation, the devil throws out a baited line in front of us. He gets our attention with something that is strategically designed to take us away from God and disobey Him if we are lured in to take it. Yet there is something within us, a desire in our ‘fleshly nature’ that finds that particular sin (bait) attractive - otherwise the devil wouldn’t use it!
So to come back to your question about whether temptation and the desires of our ‘fleshly nature’ are the same thing, i would say ‘not quite’. They are closely related in that temptation to sin wouldn’t be tempting if our ‘fleshly nature’ didn’t desire those things but they are not exactly the same thing. Furthermore, as Christians, we retain these attractions of ‘the flesh’ in our natures until resurrection or, in Romans 7 language, ‘until we are delivered from this body of death’. That’s why in Romans 7 even the great Apostle Paul can get so frustrated with himself when he reflects that even though he knows what the right thing to do is - and deep down wants to do it - he still finds himself not doing it and sinning. Why? Because the flesh is still present and very powerful.
So is there any hope of not giving in to temptation if the flesh is so powerful in our lives? Absolutely yes! That’s why God has given us his Spirit and this is exactly the point that Paul moves on to in Romans 8. God has given us a new nature with new POWER to not give in to the desires of our flesh but to have new desires for what God wants so that we can resist temptation and choose God over sin. So if, like the Apostle Paul, we find ourselves with mixed desires - some for God and some for sin all on the same day - then thats the experience the NT expects us to have because we have the old fleshly nature pushing us one way (away from God) and the Spirit drawing us in another way (towards God). The flesh and the Spirit are constantly in conflict with each other and the one that will win is the one that we feed more (cf. Galatians 5).
So if as Christians we find ourselves having sexual desires for people of the same sex or being really attracted to slander people (even if we think they deserve it!), I would say that these desires are evidences that our brokenness and that our ‘fleshly nature’ still remains, but simply having these attractions isn’t sin in itself. It is only when we indulge these desires (in thought or action) and bite on the bait (so to speak) that they become sin.
Hope that helps in some way! Keep going with your youth group. It sounds like they have a great leader in you.

3 Likes