Is Temptation a Sin?

By Elizabeth Prata

Yesterday at my personal blog I’d posted an essay explaining Why I Will Never Watch ABC’s ‘The Good Doctor’ Again.

In the November 26th episode called “Empathy” a character who had constant thoughts and sexual desires for children was featured. He hated his own desires and sought to rid himself of them, via medicines, mutilations, and therapies. He prided himself on never having acted on his desires, because he knew they were depraved. The build-up in the show, apparently, was to develop empathy for the ‘in thoughts only’ pedophile because of the extreme lengths he went to in order for him to make sure his desires remained unfulfilled.

This is called the “virtuous pedophile.” The title is an actual title, based on a growing internet support group of people who acknowledge their depraved desires but do not act on them. Their restraint is supposed to be virtuous.

Someone commented in reply to my essay that “To be tempted to something is not a sin. I have no desire to normalize or justify pedophilia if that is what the show is doing, but if it deals with an individual tempted but resisting that temptation I’m not sure that would be wrong.”

Let’s explore that a bit here on this blog. I appreciated the nuance and grace in the comment. I thought about it for a while. In the end, I’d replied that temptation itself is not a sin, else Jesus, when he was tempted in the desert, would be sinning just for having experienced a temptation. So, I agree temptation is not a sin. What is a sin is how we respond to it. Responding to temptation is not solely the act, but also the entertainment of those thoughts. In His temptation, Jesus resisted sin by refusing even to entertain the thought and refuted satan by immediately referring to His Father’s word.  More here.

That said, the show I’d reviewed was not about temptation. It was about the normalizing pedophilia by calling those who have the desires but who don’t act on them, virtuous. It was about the manipulative forcing of an empathetic reaction to someone who has admitted many desires for children in the sexual sense. The show made a great deal about how much the man was consumed by lust for children. It, apparently did not make much if his efforts to rid himself of the thoughts, only restraining himself from the action.

John MacArthur puts the issue to a concise point when he says (of homosexuality)

No matter how much you desire to be compassionate to the homosexual, your first sympathies belong to the Lord and to the exaltation of His righteousness.

So how should we respond to various desires we have in the flesh? And remember, not all desires are equal. Heterosexual desire is normal, but when it turns to lust for another woman it’s a sin. Yet, homosexual desire is always depraved, because it is expressly forbidden in scripture. As noted in the GotQuestions essay above and as I’d said in my essay,

Lust, for example, is sin even though it may never be acted upon (Matthew 5:28). Covetousness, pride, greed, and envy are all sins of the heart; even though they may not be apparent to anyone else, they are still sin (Romans 1:29; Mark 7:21-22). When we give in to the temptation to entertain such thoughts, they take root in our hearts and defile us (Matthew 15:18–19). emphasis mine

Romans 1:26 calls homosexual desire a “degrading passion.” Ergo pedophilia too. JMac again-

It is a lust that destroys the physical body, ruins relationships, and brings perpetual suffering to the soul—and its ultimate end is death (Romans 7:5).

The Good Doctor did get one thing right. In the end, the character committed suicide. Degrading passions lead to death. The Gospel is the only way to overcome degrading passions, including pedophilia. Striving to live a righteous life, denying our biblically forbidden passions and lusts, this is what is pleasing to God.

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Further resources

Is Same-Sex Attraction a Sin? Answers in Genesis

The gospel offers more than sin management; it offers present transformation of our desires and eternal joy (Philippians 2:13). God welcomes strugglers who regard His glory over their own lust, and He arms them to fight joyfully against enslaving temptation inherited from Adam.

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