Gospel Wisdom on the Relationship of Temptation and Sin from Lloyd-Jones

Sermon from Ephesians 6:10-13 1

I know many people for whom this sermon by D.M. Lloyd-Jones has been gospel medicine for hopeless souls mired in a cauldron of false guilt. Often, well-intentioned Christians (and some otherwise) have led fellow believers to misunderstand and confuse the relationship between sin and temptation in a way that has a devastating detrimental effect on spiritual growth. In fact, some have unwittingly taught a message about sin and temptation to which Satan himself could say, Amen. Drink deeply at the gospel fountain as the good doctor helps us fight off the wiles of the devil and flee to Christ (to listen to the audio of the sermon, go here).

We move now to the consideration of another very fruitful source of trouble in the Christian life resulting from the ‘wiles of the devil’, namely, the confusion between temptation and sin. All who have any pastoral experience will agree that there is nothing, perhaps, on the purely practical level, which so frequently brings God’s people into trouble, and into a condition of fear and of depression and a sense of frustration, as this particular matter. It includes such problems as evil thoughts, thoughts which may at times even be blasphemous, evil imaginations—the imagination tempted to play upon things that are wrong and evil and unworthy. 

James, in the first chapter of his Epistle, talks about ‘filthiness’ (verse 21). We read elsewhere of ‘evil imaginations’. Such things are often mentioned in the Scriptures. We are told that before the Flood the condition of the human race was such that ‘every imagination of the thoughts of (their) hearts was only evil continually’. There are also ‘evil desires’ which arise in thoughts and imaginations. The thought becomes a desire, the imagination leads to a lust.

The Devil’s Lie – To be Tempted at All is Sin

The devil deals with this along certain lines. One line is to suggest that to be tempted at all is sin, in and of itself, and that the Christian should not even be tempted. The very fact that we are tempted is therefore indicative of the fact that we are perhaps not Christians at all, or at any rate very poor Christians. The devil comes and says, ‘Obviously you are not a new creature, you have not been born again, you have not got a new nature. Temptation belonged to the old life and to the past; therefore the fact that you are still tempted is a proof that you are not really what you think you are.’ So he comes and says that either the temptation in and of itself is sin, or else that as Christians we should not be tempted.

Perhaps his most subtle approach is to suggest to us that all these thoughts and imaginations and desires are entirely our own, that they arise within us, and are therefore proof positive that our nature is still vile and polluted and evil. He uses these various arguments with the intent of proving to us that we are not Christians, that we have never been Christians. Thus he depresses us and makes us feel entirely hopeless. The standard he sets up is that we should be in such a state and condition as to be entirely free from such temptations, and altogether delivered from them. The acceptance of such suggestions has often had a crippling effect upon many Christian people at one time or another.

How Do We Fight this Lie of the Devil?

How do we deal with this problem? These ‘wiles of the devil’ have to be analyzed and isolated, and we have to show the appropriate remedy in each particular case. They must be taken one by one. The teaching which suggests that there is but one thing to do, namely, ‘Let go and let God’, is not New Testament teaching. These things have to be taken in detail one by one. It is the only way to deal with them. It is the Scriptural way; and it is the only way which works in practice.

Remember, As Christians, We are Neither Sinless or Perfect

The answer that is given us in the Scriptures is that we must start with the realization that as Christians we are neither perfect, nor sinless. If we think that the Christians is of necessity perfect, and entirely delivered from sin, we shall have no reply to give to the devil. But the teaching of the Scripture is that the Christian in this life and world is not sinless, is not perfect. 

The Scriptural position is stated very plainly in Romans 6:6: ‘Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him’—that is to say with Christ—‘that (in order that) the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin’. We have died with Christ ‘in order that’ this body of sin, which, whether you take it as a description of the ‘mass’ of sin, or more correctly as the sin that tends to remain in the body—we have died with Christ in order that finally, ultimately, we may be delivered from it. The body of sin is to be ‘disannulled’, to be ‘disintegrated’, ‘taken to pieces’, ‘rendered null and void’. In other words the teaching of the Scripture is that there is a relic or remnant of sin that remains in the body. 

In the first chapter of the Epistle of James the doctrine is stated very plainly. People were going astray about this whole matter of temptation even then. James says, ‘Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God’. Some were ready to say so; but that is the devil’s suggestion. He says, ‘God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man. But every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death’ (1:13–15). There are what James calls ‘lusts’ remaining in the believer, in his body. 

Paul says to Christians in Romans 6, verses 11, 12 and 13: ‘Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord’. That is the Christian’s position. But then the Apostle continues: ‘Let not sin therefore reign in (have control of) your mortal body’. Do not let it control your mortal body, do not be controlled by certain tendencies in your mortal body. It is there, it is ever seeking to use the body. The Apostle continues, ‘Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin; but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God’. Notice the distinction between you yourself and the members of your body as instruments.

The Christian is not perfect in this life. He himself is saved, but his body is not yet saved. That is why the Apostle says again in Romans 8:23, ‘We ourselves also, which have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body’. The body is not yet redeemed, and will not be redeemed until our Lord returns and we are either resurrected from the dead or changed at that moment into the glorified state. Until then the body is not redeemed. Hence as long as we are in this life and in this world there will be this element of conflict, this fight against temptation and sin.

Know that Satan Hides, Whispers Lies, and Covertly Sends Fiery Darts

Having got rid of that difficulty, and having seen that the fact that we are tempted does not prove by any means that we are not Christians, we go on to the second element which is the activity of Satan himself. This is where Satan proves himself to be such a master in these matters. He hides himself altogether; he does not appear, he just whispers to us. We do not know where the voice comes from; we think it is our own true spiritual reasoning. ‘Ah,’ we say, ‘I am tempted, but if I were truly Christian I would not be tempted. These thoughts, these imaginations, these desires are in me, and therefore I am unworthy, I am not a Christian at all.’ While we are thinking in this way we forget the devil himself, the real source of most of our troubles. 

But the Apostle instructs us: ‘Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one’. ‘The fiery darts!’ He is hurling them at us. But we, in our ignorance and our innocence in these matters, do not see him and are not aware of him. We think that all these arise within us from ourselves, and we are not aware that it is the devil hurling them at us from all directions—these fiery darts, these things that burst into flame, thoughts, imaginations, desires that come crowding, rushing in. It is the devil who throws them all; but he has concealed himself. There is nothing which is quite so disastrous as not to accept in its fulness the biblical teaching concerning the devil.

I am certain that one of the main causes of the ill state of the Church today is the fact that the devil is being forgotten. All is attributed to us; we have all become so psychological in our attitude and thinking. We are ignorant of this great objective fact, the being, the existence of the devil, the adversary, the accuser, and his ‘fiery darts’. And, of course, because we are not aware of this we attribute all temptation to ourselves. So the devil in his wiliness will have succeeded admirably. We become depressed and discouraged, we feel that we are failures, and we do not know what to do. So the second answer is to remind ourselves of the devil himself, to expose him, to rip away the camouflage with which he always hides himself.

Never Forget Our Lord’s Temptation

The third argument which the Scriptures bring to us is our Lord’s temptation. He was the Son of God, sinless and perfect; and yet He was tempted. This can never be emphasized too frequently. The Gospels are very careful to record the accounts of His temptations, and particularly His temptation in the wilderness. But when that was finished, the devil only left Him ‘for a season’. He came back to Him repeatedly. We are not given a full record of all our Lord’s temptations. The devil pressed in upon Him, and followed Him all the way until the very end. 

The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews puts it thus: ‘Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted’ (Hebrews 2:17, 18). He is not content with saying it once. He repeats it in his fourth chapter, verses 14–15: ‘Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.’ Tempted, remember, ‘in all points like as we are’, sin apart.

Our Lord’s Temptations were Real, Not a Pretense

How prone we are to forget this! Our Lord’s temptations were not a pretense; they were real; and in all points He was tempted exactly as you and I are tempted. Clearly, therefore, the fact that one is tempted does not presuppose any defect in the person, still less does it presuppose any sinfulness. Our Lord was tempted. As He was perfect, it is clear that His temptation came from the outside only, from the devil. But the important point is to notice that though He was perfect, harmless, free from sin, He nevertheless was tempted in all points like as we are. 

Our Lord was Tempted More Strongly than Any of Us

So the next time the devil comes to you and says, ‘You are not a Christian at all because you are being tempted,’ reply to him by saying, ‘That does not prove anything of the sort; you tempted my Lord in exactly the same way.’ It is a fundamental fallacy to assume that the fact that we are tempted means that there is any real defect in us. Our Lord Himself was tempted. ‘Ah but,’ you say, ‘it cannot have been real, unless there was something within Him to correspond to it.’ That is a still greater fallacy. The ‘temptation’ meant the suggestion and the enticement of the devil from the outside with all his power. Our Lord was tempted much more strongly than any one of us will ever be tempted. The devil brought out all his reserves in his attempt to shake Him. He did not succeed; but he tried with all his might.

A Temptation Only Becomes a Sin When We Accept It

So I come to my fourth and last answer to the devil at this point. A temptation only becomes sin when we accept it, when we fondle it, when we enjoy it. The suggestion itself, the temptation, the feeling of desire is not sin. But to accept it and to enjoy it and to fondle it is sin. That is the vital point at which we must ever draw this distinction. The thing itself is not sin, but the acceptance of it and the enjoyment of it is definitely sin. Someone asks, ‘How can I tell which it is?’ I suggest certain tests that always apply to ourselves which will enable us to do this very thing.

  • Have you a consciousness that the thoughts and the imaginations and the desires come to you? Do you find sometimes that these thoughts or imaginations come to you perhaps as soon as you wake up in the morning, before you have started to think actively at all, and before you are fully awake? If so, they are not yours. You have not been thinking, you have not had time to think; yet they have already come. They are coming therefore from outside, and are ‘the fiery darts of the wicked one’. 
  • Have you not also found very often that actually while you are reading the Bible these thoughts come? Clearly they are not yours for you are concentrating on reading the Bible. 
  • Perhaps when you have been on your knees in prayer, blasphemous thoughts have come or some ugly, foul, vile imagination. It is not yours. If you are concentrating on your prayer, your Bible-reading, or whatever it may be, and these things have arisen in your mind, that is a sure proof that their place of origin is not your heart, but the devil. 

At the most unexpected moments you find that this happens to you. Recognize it immediately, and, instead of being depressed, say, ‘But I was concentrating on this or that and they came to me’. That is quite right: they do ‘come’ to you. We say that (do we not?) in regard to other spheres of thought or activity, and we seem to be quite clear about it. We say, ‘It suddenly occurred to me’. What you mean is this: ‘I really was not thinking about the thing at all, I was not working it out, but while I was doing something else, it suddenly dawned upon me’. In a similar manner the devil insinuates these thoughts, brings the suggestion, hurls it at you. So it is vital that you should be able to recognize that these things may come to you instead of being part of you.

But consider a second test. Can you say quite honestly that you hate them, that you regard them as evil, and with utter detestation? These may seem to some to be trivial matters; but I can assure you that these simple questions have often been the means of delivering tormented souls. I could give you many illustrations from my own pastoral experience.

I adduce one example only to illustrate my point, and to show the necessity for working this out in detail. I remember a lady who was a very active church worker, the Superintendent of a church Sunday School, who was also a very good singer and skilled in teaching children to sing. Suddenly she dropped it all and was in great distress because she was plagued by evil thoughts, blasphemous thoughts, and therefore felt that she was not a Christian, and not fit to do any Christian work. She resigned from everything, no one could persuade her otherwise, and she was in an agony of soul. She remained in that condition for some considerable time, and gave signs of becoming physically ill in addition. 

Yet all that was necessary in her case was to put these simple points. I said to her, ‘Do you hate these evil things?’ ‘I hate them with the whole of my being,’ she said. ‘Very well,’ I replied, ‘they are not yours.’ But the devil had persuaded her that they were hers, that because she had the thoughts they therefore must be hers. I said, ‘Here is the test. 

  • Do you hate them, do you regard them as evil?’ ‘Of course,’ she replied. 
  • Then I went to my next point, ‘Do you long to be rid of them?’ She said, ‘I would give the whole world if I could only stop it’. 

‘Well’, I said, ‘cannot you see that these things are coming to you, they are being hurled at you?’ I said, ‘These are “the fiery darts of the wicked one”. They do not arise from yourself at all, but from the devil. But he has persuaded you that they come from within yourself, and therefore, of course, your defences are all down and you are completely defeated. You have got to recognize what is happening to you. 

If you can say that you hate them, that you long to be rid of them, and to be delivered and cleansed from them, and never have to countenance them again, then, I say, they are not yours, they do not belong to you.’ And then I added a last and a final point: ‘As you are tormented by these things, can you say quite honestly that you desire to know God, that your chief desire is to know God, to love Him and to serve Him, and ever to live to the praise of the glory of His grace? Can you say, just as you are, that your greatest desire is to be a true child of God and to know Him and to enjoy Him? If you can, I care not what the thoughts or imaginations or anything else may be, you are a child of God, and you are just being troubled and trapped and deceived by the wiles of the devil.’ The lady was completely delivered.

Draw a Distinction Between You and What the Devil is Doing to You

We have still not finished with this matter of temptation; and I follow the tests which I have suggested by a word of exhortation. First, and most essential, we must learn to draw the distinctions which I have already been emphasizing, namely, the distinction between you yourself as a being and a personality, and what the devil is doing to you. It is good also at this point to remember what we are told later in our text about an ‘evil day’—‘that ye may be able to stand in the evil day’. Sometimes the devil does what we are discussing almost like an avalanche. You will find that some of the greatest saints have recorded such experiences. It is not always so, but sometimes the devil comes, as it were from every direction with all his malignity and power, he trains his guns, as it were, upon us, and shoots his fiery darts at us. Luther felt that it was so on the famous occasion when he took up the ink-pot and threw it at the devil. He felt that the room was full of the devil who was suggesting evil things to him. This is the first way to handle the situation—draw that distinction!

Refuse to Feel Condemned, Stand on Justification

Secondly, refuse to feel condemned. You have to do this; it will not be done for you. The devil is trying to rob you of your assurance; he is trying to make you think that you are not a Christian. He says, ‘A Christian, with thoughts and imaginations such as you have at the present moment! The thing is inconceivable, you are not a Christian at all!’ Take your stand and say: ‘I am a Christian, and your proofs are not proofs; because, according to you, my Lord had a sinful nature, otherwise He would not have been tempted. You are tempting me as you tempted my Lord Himself and you cannot shake me. The fact that I am being attacked by you, far from proving that I am not a Christian is, in a sense, a proof that I am a Christian. You would not pay so much attention to me if I were not a Christian.’ Round on him, attack him, refuse to be condemned. Do not allow him to raise the whole question of your salvation again; stand again on justification by faith only, and say, ‘I am saved, not by anything I do or have done or ever will do. I am not saved as the result of my being tempted or not being tempted; I am saved because the Son of God loved me, and gave Himself for me; and He has done it once and for ever; and whatever you do to me does not affect that most certain fact.’ So stand on justification by faith and refuse to be condemned.

At this point you are beginning to obey the injunction of the Scripture to ‘resist the devil’. James and Peter give us clear instruction about this matter. James in his Epistle gives this specific injunction: ‘Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you’ (4:7). Peter is equally clear about this: ‘Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may devour’ (1 Peter 5:8). What can you do? Are you to run away as quickly as you can? No! ‘Whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.’

Have Nothing to do with the Devil

Again I must emphasize that it is essential that you should know how to put the counsel of James and Peter into practice. You have to come down to details. The devil as a roaring lion attacks you; or he shoots his darts at you. What are you to do? What I am about to say may seem to contradict what I have said so far, but, in my experience, it has often been the point of deliverance to many souls. You resist the devil by refusing to argue with him, and by refusing to reason with him. There is only one thing to do with the devil, and that is, to have nothing to do with him, to dismiss him. If you acknowledge his suggestion, his thought, and begin to try to argue he will defeat you every time. 

Adam and Eve were perfect, but the devil defeated them. Who are you to succeed when they failed? So, do not argue, turn from him; have nothing to do with him. What you have to realize is that these things are from the devil, and therefore, you must have nothing to do with them at all. Say to him, ‘I have no dealings with you, I listen to nothing you say. You were a liar from the beginning, you are a liar still and the father of lies. I am not interested.’ ‘Ah but,’ he will say, ‘surely you believe the Scriptures?’ Reply to him, ‘I am not interested in it as you quote it; I am not interested in anything you say’. You may laugh at that, but a day may come when you will be very grateful for what I have said. It is essential to reject the devil in toto. Remember that he can transform himself into ‘an angel of light’. He knows the Scriptures much better than you do, and he will say, ‘But what about this?’ If you foolishly say, ‘Very well, let us have a look at it’, you are behaving in a foolish manner. Have nothing to do with him. 

‘Resist’ means that you have nothing whatsoever to do with him. Tell him that he is a liar, take up ‘the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God’, and do what I have been saying. Do not take up any point, any word, any phrase; have nothing to do with him, and he will flee from you.

In addition, you can say to him, ‘I am in Christ; the blood of Christ is on me, I am in the Kingdom of God; I do not belong to your realm any longer. I once did, but not now. I have been translated out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son; I have been delivered from your dominion, and my inheritance is now among the children of light. There was once a time when I was in your clutches—no longer! The whole world lieth in the evil one, in you. I do not belong there. “Ye are of God, little children, and that evil one toucheth us not.” You cannot touch me. No more am I going to be intimidated by you, no longer am I going to be alarmed, no longer am I going to receive your suggestions, no longer am I to be depressed by you. You are a liar, I have nothing to do with you, and you cannot touch me.’ Then the devil can do nothing.

This is the literal teaching of the Scriptures; and, thank God, it is literally true! So you have to attack him in that way in detail. That is how to ‘resist him, steadfast in the faith’. But above all, I say again, do not argue with him, do not reason, do not accept any of his suggestions for a moment, because you will always be defeated. Reject him and all his works, and everything that belongs to him, and he will not be able to touch you.

Remind Yourself of Your Status and Standing in Christ

The last step in this exhortation is to remind yourself positively who you are and what you are. Remind yourself of your status and of your standing in Christ. Remind yourself of your prospects. This is the finest tonic for any weak Christian. This is positive. We have been dealing with the problem negatively, so far, and this is inevitable. But never stop at that, go on to the positive. Remind yourself of the truth about yourself as a Christian, that you are already saved, that you have already died with Christ, that you are ‘in Christ’, that you will never be more saved spiritually than you are now. If you are a Christian at all, you are ‘in Christ’, you have been crucified with Him. Thus to be crucified is not something you have to do, ‘having believed’. 

Romans tell us what has happened to us, not what should happen to us. ‘You have been’—it is in the aorist tense. ‘Knowing this, that our old man has been crucified with Christ,’ once and for ever. Remind yourself of that. Remind yourself that, as you died with Christ, you have also risen with Him, that you are seated with Him in the heavenly places, and that the devil is therefore attacking you in order to shake your confidence in your complete security in Christ.

Answer the devil therefore by redoubling your hold upon the truth, by making ‘your calling and election sure’. Take a firm grasp of it, go back to the Scriptures and say, ‘This is my position’, and hold on to it and stand on it. That will then enable you to hate the suggestions and the thoughts and the insinuations of the devil still more. So that when he comes again you will be able to resist him at his first appearance, and you will not have the struggle that you had before. You have to continue to do this, and eventually you will have done it so well, and so successfully, that he will leave you alone at that point and will have to think of something else. This is the way in which this particular problem must invariably be dealt with by the Christian.

  1.  Lloyd-Jones, David Martyn. 1976. The Christian Warfare: An Exposition of Ephesians 6:10–13. Edinburgh; Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust. Only the introductory paragraph and the headings have been added.
By |January 26th, 2023|Categories: Blog, Featured|

About the Author:

David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky and assistant professor of Christian preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of In the Arena and Church with Jesus as the Hero. He blogs at Prince on Preaching and frequently writes for The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, For the Church, the BGEA and Preaching Today