Temptation has a bad reputation. We are told to avoid it, guard against it and to pray not to be led into it. Yet we read in Matthew 4:1 that after Jesus is baptized, he is led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. There we find him taunted to make bread from stones, jump off the top of the temple and to worship Satan.
You’ll note that two of these invitations to sin begin with the phrase, “If you are the Son of God….” We might even view that statement as a fourth temptation, the one that is at the core of each and every temptation that we face – the temptation to doubt who and whose we are. We tend to focus on the tempting person, thing, or situation. But our temptations say more about what is going on inside of us than what is happening around us.
When I was a young boy, I remember helping my grandmother make her famous cinnamon raisin rolls. We would make the dough from scratch, patiently wait for it to rise, and then carefully role it flat and slather it in cinnamon, butter, brown sugar and raisins. We’d then roll it into a log shape, cut it into one in spirals and squeeze them side-by-side into a cast iron skillet. I remember asking my grandmother how she was able to make these delectable treats without sitting down and eating too many of them. In her best Nancy Reagan voice she said, “just say no.”
I don’t believe it ever limited my cinnamon bun consumption and I’ve since learned that “Just Say No” is an overly simplistic and inadequate response to temptation. Temptation is not only about choice; it is also about our identity and direction in life.
What if temptation is necessary? What if temptation can be our teacher or a diagnosis? What tempts us? What tempts us into living less than who you really are?