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Temptation

by David L. Paulsen

"Temptation" and related terms in the Old Testament are translated from the Hebrew nasah, meaning "to try" or "to test." Such a test elicits responses demonstrating a person's disposition and will rather than abilities. In this sense God is said to "tempt" human beings. Thus did "God tempt" Abraham by commanding him to sacrifice Isaac (Gen. 22:1). In Abraham's account of creation in the Pearl of Great Price, the Lord indicates that mortal experience constitutes such a test (Abr. 3:25). In other latter-day scriptures, temptation usually refers to the enticement of human beings into attitudes and actions that alienate them from God and jeopardize their salvation. The Lord taught people to shun this kind of temptation: "And lead us not into temptation" (Luke 11:4; cf. JST). Although in this kind of temptation the individual is usually enticed from without (whether by human or nonhuman agents), the scriptures make clear the individual's responsibility and accountability:

Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for 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 [James 1:13-16].

Latter-day Saints believe that though God does not tempt human beings to do evil, he does, for benevolent purposes, allow them to be tempted. If people were not confronted with opposing possibilities and inclinations, they would not be able to exercise their agency, and, thus, their opportunity for moral and spiritual growth would be diminished. The prophet Lehi explained:

To bring about [God's] eternal purposes in the end of man, after he had created our first parents,…it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter. 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 [2 Ne. 2:15-16].

Though confronting temptation is an essential and unavoidable element of mortal experience, God mercifully limits the extent to which people can be tempted. For example, he does not allow Satan or his hosts to tempt little children until they begin to be accountable (D&C 29:47), nor anyone beyond his or her capacity to endure (1 Cor. 10:13). During the Millennium, Satan and his angels will be bound so that they cannot tempt humankind (1 Ne. 22:26; 4 Ne. 1:15). Satan will be loosed for "a little season" following the Millennium, and will finally be banished with his angels as part of the final judgment (D&C 88:110-115).

Since God knew that all humans would yield in some degree to temptation and become sinners, he planned from the beginning and carried out through Jesus Christ an Atonement whereby people can be forgiven of their sins and obtain power to resist temptation in the future, when they accept and follow his gospel.

The language of temptation in the scriptures can also refer to the various trials that humans experience in mortality. While these trials may become stumbling blocks, they may also become opportunities for moral and spiritual growth. Regarding such temptations, James counsels,

My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing…. Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him [James 1:2-4, 12].

Sometimes the scriptures speak of people tempting God or of sinful human ways of responding or relating to God. People may "tempt God" by complaining against him or by challenging him in unbelief (cf. Ex. 17:1-7; 1 Cor. 10:9), by defying him in disobedience (Heb. 3:8), or by demanding signs or miracles from him for an unworthy motive, such as to exalt themselves or to satisfy their curiosity (Matt. 12:39). Compare also Satan's temptations of Jesus in the wilderness and the Lord's rebuke: "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God" (Matt. 4:1-11).

(See Basic Beliefs home page; Doctrines of the Gospel home page)

Bibliography

Madsen, Truman G. "The Better Music." IE 66 (June 1963):554-55.

McKay, David O. "The Temptations of Life." IE 71 (July 1968):2-3.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 4, Temptation

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

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