Thursday, June 16, 2011

Being Tempted Doesn't Make Me (or You) A Bad Person

No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of the wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means--the only complete realist.       
C.S. Lewis
I used this quote in a post from last month, but it also applies to this topic. Here's what I mean:

Agency - the ability to be one's own agent, make choices, and be accountable for them - is an important part of our earthly experience. In order to be able to make a choice though, it's necessary to have options to choose between. Here are some supporting scriptures found in the Book of Mormon:
(11) For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my first-born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.
(14) And now, my sons, I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning; for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon.
(16) Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.
from 2 Nephi, Chapter 2 
Therefore, in order for every person to have the opportunity to choose, to "act for himself", every person needs to be "enticed by the one or the other." Or in other words, we all need to face temptation. But isn't it sinful to be tempted? Doesn't it mean that I'm weak if something tempts me?

Christ was also tempted. And yet, He was without sin. The accounts in Matthew 4 and Luke 4 chronicle the Savior's experience of being tempted after 40 days of fasting. As in everything else, He set the precedent for how we should respond - when faced with temptation, Christ said no, and made it clear that when choosing between following God and Satan, He would serve God.

I felt like this is an important question to clarify, because it's one that crossed my mind when I was younger. Being tempted by something doesn't make you guilty of that sin. Being tempted is a necessary experience that is vital to our spiritual development because it gives us an opportunity to choose; we exercise our "spiritual muscles" by using them in making choices, and choosing to follow Christ makes those spiritual muscles stronger. That said, one hardly needs to go around looking for temptation in order to accelerate his or her spiritual growth :P

One way that I work on my relationship with Christ is evaluating my actions and if they're in line with what He teaches/commands. Do I love my neighbor? Odds are that I don't hate him, but if I don't love him yet, then I have room to improve. Not only can we be tempted to do bad things, but we can also be tempted to not do the good things.

So keep on keeping on! Life is meant to be a struggle, because those are the times we learn the most. And the great news is that we can always have Someone to help us through the struggle and be victorious! That person is Jesus Christ. I know that Christ has my best interests at heart and in action, and that as I draw close to Him and learn from Him, I am able to do so much more than I could ever do on my own. I am grateful for my Savior and the million ways that He helps me every day.

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