BITE-SIZE THEOLOGY (202): How do we handle temptation?

Rev José Mario O Mandía

At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus was tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1–11; Mark 1:12–13; Luke 4:1–13). The Master himself was tempted. So also with his followers.

The CCC (2847) differentiates trials from temptations. “The Holy Spirit makes us discern between trials, which are necessary for the growth of the inner man (cf. Luke 8:13-15; Acts 14:22; Romans 5:3-5; II Timothy 3:12) and temptation, which leads to sin and death (cf James 1:14-15).”

The same point also points out: “We must also discern between being tempted and consenting to temptation.” Being tempted is not sinful, but consenting to temptation is.

CCC 2847 continues: “Finally, discernment unmasks the lie of temptation, whose object appears to be good, a ‘delight to the eyes’ and desirable (cf. Genesis 3:6) when in reality its fruit is death.” Temptation is always meant to be attractive. The devil cannot tempt us if he appears the way he is. He has to disguise himself as something good and desirable. Remember Eve? “The woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6).

Saint Peter explains why we undergo trials: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 1:6-7).

Saint James also tells us in his Letter (1:2-4): “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

God allows us to be tempted in order to test our virtue and to give us an opportunity to grow and to earn merit. Nonetheless, He takes our capability into account and supplies us with His grace. Saint Paul says in I Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

Temptation, in another sense, is an enticement or invitation to sin. This invitation can come from several sources:

(1) the world: men and society at large, when they do not work with God in mind;

(2) the flesh (our wounded nature), manifested, according to Saint John (I John 2:16) in

(2a) the lust of the flesh (a misuse of the power of procreation and other sensible pleasures);

(2b) the lust of the eyes (an abuse of the power of lordship over all material creation, which, ironically, brings about an enslavement to material things);

(2c) the pride of life (autonomy from God, an abuse of freedom, which comes from man’s intellect and will (cf BST 197).

(3) the devil, whom Saint Peter describes as “a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour” (I Peter 5:8).

As we have said, it is important to note the difference between being tempted (this is not sinful), and consenting to temptation (this is sinful). Moreover, even if we do suffer temptation, we should not expose ourselves to it. “You play around with temptations, you put yourself in danger, you fool around with your sight and with your imagination, you chat about… stupidities. And then you are anxious that doubts, scruples, confusion, sadness and discouragement might assail you. —You must admit that you are not very consistent” (St Josemaría, Furrow, 132).

Temptations, by themselves, do not cause us to sin. It is the will that consents which causes sin.

What good things can come out of a victory over temptation? Jordan Aumann OP, writes in Spiritual Theology (Manila: University of Santo Tomas, 1982, pp 157-158): “Victory over temptation humiliates Satan, makes the glory of God shine forth, purifies our soul, fills us with humility, repentance and confidence in the divine assistance. It reminds us to be always vigilant and alert, to mistrust ourselves, to expect all things from God, to mortify our personal tastes. It arouses us to prayer, helps us grow in experience, and makes us circumspect and cautious in the struggle against our enemy.”