Question

What’s the difference between temptations and trespasses?

Answer

Thanks for your question. Let’s begin with temptation. It’s important to understand that temptation is not, in and of itself, a sin. While submitting to temptation is a grievous sin, just being tempted is not. Jesus himself (human, like us) never sinned. But (like us) he was tempted to sin (cf. Matt. 4:1-11). As the writer of Hebrews reminds us, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).

The distinction above is critical for the saint to comprehend. Numerous Christians are in bondage thinking they have sinned just because they have been tempted. But just because you are tempted to go 75 mph in a 55 mph zone, it doesn’t mean you will get or need a ticket for breaking the law. Just being tempted isn’t a sin. Police officers don’t read your mind; there are no blue lights in your rearview mirror or violation of the law for just being tempted to speed.

Also, if you consider temptation as sin, you have already lost the battle because you've given up the fight of faith—which is sin! (cf. 1 Tim. 6:11-12; Heb. 11:6). James 1:14-15 tells us about how sin progresses, starting with desire and leading to death. Yet God is working in you and with you (Phil. 2:13) to stop the process at the level of desire. Here there is victory, not sin! (Please see “How Does Temptation Work?” below.)

The Lord’s Prayer instructs us here. In Matthew 6:12-13 our Savior says to pray, “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors," and "lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” It's been suggested the Lord's Prayer is more appropriately called the Disciple's Prayer because Jesus never trespassed (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 7:26; 1 Pet. 2:22). Regardless, Jesus makes it very clear that:

(1) Debts (or trespasses) require forgiveness
(2) Temptation requires deliverance

We should prayerfully train ourselves to be aware of desires that can take root when tempted and become sinful in thought and take form in word and deed. Call them "reality debts!" We need to diligently pray, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matt. 6:13). Similarly, in the Old Testament God is asked to always lead us in his ways (Psa. 5:8; 27:11). We are weak within ourselves, but prayerful reliance on Christ makes us strong.

Related Topics

How Does Temptation Work?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).