Paul’s Teaching on the
Reality of Temptation
in 1 Corinthians 10:12–13
As a believer in Jesus, are you confident that you have already been saved, and will never lose your salvation? The perseverance of the saints is a biblical doctrine, but at the same time Paul teaches in 1 Cor 10:12 that “the person who thinks he stands” should “be careful lest he fall.”
The biblical doctrine of the salvation of the elect needs to be held together with the biblical doctrine of the need for the perseverance of individual Christians in the faith. Saving faith is not a once-off transaction. Saving faith is an ongoing positive orientation to the word of God that needs to be defended and developed in the midst of daily temptations throughout one’s life. It is good to be confident in our salvation, as long as our faith is genuine. But we need to be careful not to allow such confidence to lead to spiritual arrogance or spiritual laziness.
There were many people in the Corinthian church in Paul’s day who were spiritually arrogant. They emphasized their privileges and authority that they had in Christ. They emphasized how they had authority to rule over creation (1 Cor 4:8), and how they had been blessed with powerful spiritual gifts (see 1 Cor 1:5, 7; 12; 14). But Paul’s message to them was that they should not start to think that were beyond the possibility of falling into temptation and missing out on salvation.
No one in this world (including Christians) is beyond being tempted.
This is why Paul states: “let the person who thinks he stands beware lest he fall” (1 Cor 10:12). According to Paul, the faith that saves is a faith that overcomes temptation. In 1 Cor 10:13 Paul reminds us that all human beings are subject to temptation. If Jesus, who was perfectly dedicated to God, was subjected to temptation, then everyone else will be tempted too. In this world temptation is an ever-present reality, and none of us is beyond its power.
However, Paul also says in 1 Cor 10:13 that no temptation has overtaken us except what is common to all of humanity. The good news is that God controls Satan’s attempts at temptation. “God is faithful, who will not let you be tempted beyond what you are able, but will also provide with the temptation an exit to be able to bear it” (1 Cor 10:13).
God’s plan in creating this world was for this world to experience his blessing.
As part of this plan, many human beings would know what it is to live in such a world. Because God’s plan is ultimately for the blessing of this world, he will not allow Satan to take too many of people down to hell. Therefore, God does not allow us human beings to be tempted beyond what we can bear, for otherwise we would all be doomed. In his faithfulness, God always provides (in the midst of the temptations that come) a way by which we can escape those temptations.
The way of escape from temptation, as it was for Jesus, is faith in the word of God (see Matt 4:4, 7, 10).
We need, therefore, to model ourselves on Jesus, take God at his word, and simply trust in God to provide everything that we need for life and blessedness. If we are confident in God’s love and provision for us, then there is no reason to give into temptation.
By way of analogy, just imagine that you are a hungry fish living not in the ocean but in a fishing pond. You have been told by the builder and owner of the pond (because you are one of his favorite fish) that all of the food that does not come from the owner’s hand is dangerous. It might look like food, and smell like food; but it is not food, unless it comes from the pond owner’s hand. Any other food is either chum or bait, a type of food that has been designed to attract your attention, to get you to strike at the bait, get caught, and lose your life. If that then is the case, as a hungry little fish, what do you need to do? You might be very hungry. You might be starving. You might see all the other fish going after food or what looks like food, but to be safe what do you need to do? You need to constantly remind yourself: “Don’t go for the bait. Don’t go for the bait. I need to wait for owner’s provision!”
On a spiritual plane, we need to control our desires, and not allow ourselves to be baited by the enemy.
But that is not to say that Christians will always make use of the way of escape that God provides in every single instance, but a way of escape is always there, and Paul’s words in 1 Cor 10:13 encourage every Christian to make use of the escape route that God provides.
Therefore, when it comes to the question of the state of our salvation in the future, the Bible encourages us not to worry about what the future might hold, but to be confident in the faithfulness of God to us both now and in the future. Christians can be totally confident that those whom God has chosen for salvation will indeed be saved, and that God will make sure that no temptation will arise that will necessarily result in our destruction. But at the same time as being confident in the faithfulness of God, we also need to avoid becoming spiritually arrogant to the point that we start to think that the victory is ours already without the need for endurance in the future.
True saving faith needs to be an ongoing reality in life of every Christian. The faith that God has given us must always be defended and developed in the midst of daily temptations. So be confident! But at the same time, if you think that you stand, just be careful you do not crash and burn.
Steven Coxhead has served as a visiting lecturer in Hebrew and the Old Testament at the Sydney Missionary and Bible College since 2002. He also teaches Johannine Theology and the Old Testament at the Wesley Institute in Sydney. In addition he has worked as a part-time lecturer at the Presbyterian Theological Centre in Sydney from 2002–2010, teaching the Old Testament, Romans, John’s Gospel, Biblical Hebrew, and New Testament Greek. He has had experience teaching Old Testament, New Testament, and Systematic Theology in South-East Asia.