Could Christ Have Sinned?: Understanding Temptation as “trying” or “proving”

In the New Testament, the Greek word peirasmos, is the word that is typically used when we read the words “temptation”, “trial”, or “test”, and it is the idea of trying or testing that I think sums up the nature of temptation (the other aspect of being tempted, which is being drawn away by our lusts or desires, I still want to talk about, but that needs a whole post to itself). At this point you might be saying, “what’s the big deal, I’ve always thought about temptation this way. It’s a trial that we have to face, a time of difficulty, a test.” And you’re right in a way. But sometimes, the concepts that we hold about a word or an idea don’t translate as neatly as we think they do. Sometimes, they actually introduce contrary concepts into the mix.

Let me try to explain how it happened to me. You see, I always used to think of a trial in the courtroom sense, and while that works on a certain level, I would let the other aspects of a courtroom drama invade the way I thought about the word. The essence of a trial is that something is tried against a standard, in the same way something that looks like gold is tried to determine if it is, in fact, actual gold, or in the case of a courtroom, the way a defendant is tried against the law to determine how they stand in relationship to it.

To my mind, temptation functions much the same way. When we are tempted by our desire for something, we are tested against the law based on whether we attempt to achieve our desire in accordance with the law.

As an example, let’s take a look at the three clearly documented temptations of Christ: He was tempted to turn stones into bread to satisfy his hunger, he was tempted to take his rightful place as ruler of the world, and he was tempted to use his position as the Son of God to bring glory to himself. (If these descriptions sound odd to you, go back and re-read the text.)

With the stones to bread, I think there is little controversy. Christ was hungry from his fasting, but his time of fasting was not yet complete and/or it was not His Father’s will that he do miracles yet.

When Satan offered him the kingdoms of the world, Christ’s temptation was not to worship Satan, but rather the thing that he rightfully desired was to take his place as King of King and Lord of Lords. Worshipping Satan was the unlawful means that he was offered to bring it about.

When he was taken up onto the pinnacle of the temple, he was tempted to extricate himself from a physical location in a way that would bring glory to himself (think angles streaming down from heaven to catch him). The unlawful means that Satan offers Christ was to tempt (test – same Greek root word) God by putting God in a position where He would have to act to save Christ.

One last note that I’ll make in this post is that the things that Christ was tempted by were not evil, but were good things (feeding his hungry body, taking his rightful place as the King of the earth, and bringing himself glory.) It was only the unlawful means that Satan offered that would have been sin. For me, this ties right into Galatians 4:4

But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law

What do you think?

2 thoughts on “Could Christ Have Sinned?: Understanding Temptation as “trying” or “proving””

  1. I think your thoughts on Christ’s temptation dovetail with with mine expressed in the comment to the prior post.

    As for this entry, I agree in terms of dividing temptation into categories, i.e. the obvious ones: “Do I finish this comment and then surf the internet for porn?” v. those actions which, while not per se sinful, are actions which do not confirm to God’s will under the circumstances. I would suggest that the former is confronted by all humans, regardless of their spiritual condition; the latter by Christians alone.

    Cheers.

  2. I think your thoughts on Christ’s temptation dovetail with with mine expressed in the comment to the prior post.

    As for this entry, I agree in terms of dividing temptation into categories, i.e. the obvious ones: “Do I finish this comment and then surf the internet for porn?” v. those actions which, while not per se sinful, are actions which do not confirm to God’s will under the circumstances. I would suggest that the former is confronted by all humans, regardless of their spiritual condition; the latter by Christians alone.

    Cheers.

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