Into Temptation… short cuts, substitutes and cheap options

Temptation is the art of making bad things look good. Our human desires make us vulnerable to the lure of shortcuts and cheap substitutes for the life-giving things God wants us to seek out instead. Seeing temptation for what it is is the best way to begin resisting it.

This is Session 2 in Series 2 of the Enter Life Curriculum. [Series 1 HomeEnter Life Home]

The Story

Here are three hypothetical situations that might help you to understand temptation in a new way:

Situation #1: Imagine you could download everything you’ll ever learn at school direct into your brain in one morning – just like like Neo learning Kung Fu in the Matrix movie. You could be earning money by your 7th birthday and retire at 20 …

Or imagine there’s a skills pill you could take to instantly be playing soccer like Lionel Messi. Would you take it?


Situation #2: I don’t know if you like bathing much (personally, I hate it) but imagine back when you were a little kid and you’ve just got out from a long soak. You’re dry, dressed and warm. Then your mom takes you back into the bathroom and tries to convince you to get back into the cold, mucky water again. Not happening right?

Now imagine your mom somehow convinces you that getting back in to that old bathwater was exactly what you wanted to do – so in you jump, and then … yeah, that wasn’t a great idea …

What would it take for you to climb in?

What would it take for you to climb in?

Situation #3: One morning your mom or dad says to you that they have decided to buy you a brand new car for your 17th birthday – a nice one with cool wheels and whatever pimped-up stuff you want. It’s just a few years to wait. But then you reply that actually the old pedal-powered go-kart you had as a kid is all you really want…  cos you can have it now – and learning to drive is SUCH a mission.

Your dream car

Your dream car

Trying to take a shortcut to something valuable; choosing a bad-option that’s been dressed up; settling for cheap substitutes. That’s temptation right there.

These three things are right there in the beginning in Genesis 2:15 – 3:13. Read it and see if you agree with this interpretation:

The shortcut: Hey, if we can be like God then no more being just a lame human! Instant awesomeness and knowledge of deep mysteries. Just take a bite … God’s got no clue what he’s doing …’

The pimped-up bad thing: So we know what happens in the world as a result of the early humans giving into temptation, right?: world wars, natural disasters, genocide, poverty, plagues and epidemics, bullying, addictions, suicide and self-harm, bulimia, STD’s…. Fun hey?

In the story all they see is a fruit that’s pleasing to the eye and good for food. Tragically, it’s too good for them to resist

The cheap substitute: God made us humans in God’s image to be ‘lords’ of creation – to look after the earth and be responsible for it. The one condition was that we allowed God to be God and Lord over us too. We wouldn’t have it. Disobeying God in the garden is about wanting to substitute our status as ‘lords’ for God’s role as ‘Lord’.

Seems a bit stupid when it’s put like that right? It is. And yet we keep getting caught in the trap.

There was a movie that came out a few years back called the Last Temptation of Christ. It was pretty controversial but it nailed the temptation Jesus faced to avoid the painful road that had a cross on it.

Here’s how the Mark described Jesus’ biggest temptation in his gospel:
in Mark 8v31-33 Jesus tells his disciples about the heavy and painful road he needs to walk to the cross. Peter says to him ‘No, I’ll never let you die!’ Jesus says: ‘get behind me Satan.’ Pretty harsh words to say to your closest friend you think – and you’d be right. I think Jesus is harsh towards Peter because he was severely tempted to do things the way Peter suggested – to somehow find an easier way than the cross. The Devil himself tempted Jesus with this in Matthew 4v1-11

Jeremiah 2v4-13 is a passage we’ll keep coming back to in the Enter Life series. In this text God says to his cranky crew of people on earth:

You’ve committed two sins against me: you’ve abandoned me, the well of living water, and you’ve dug for yourselves wells in the desert that are cracked and can’t hold any water.’


Hey, I’m just going to scrape out a sandy hole with my hands in this hot, dry desert and totally ignore the huge oasis right over there!’ said no lost guy in the desert ever …

That seems crazy, but how often do we go in search of things to satisfy our deep desires that have nothing to do with God?

So, what temptations come your way?
We all desire (pretty much) three basic things: someone to love; something meaningful to do with our lives; someone significant to be. There’s no shortage of things that promise shortcuts, substitutes and attractive options for these things. Are these good examples?

  • Cheating on an exam promises a better mark without you really learning anything or, you know, actually having to study
  • Lying to get ourselves out of trouble is attractive because it promises a way out of facing the consequences of something we’ve done to mess things up
  • Gossiping about someone is tempting cos is promises to make us feel better about ourselves by taking down someone we compare ourselves to – even if it’s a friend
  • Watching people have sex on the internet and maybe ‘participating’ in that by masturbating promises an experience of instant sexual intimacy without the hard work (and deep satisfaction) of a real relationship
  • Drinking too much or using some other addictive substance promises to turn us into better versions of ourselves – more able to enjoy a party without our natural inhibitions. It may also promise to dull the pain of something we’re going through – without letting the awkwardness or struggle forge us into better versions of ourselves.

Any others you can think of?

Often the illusion breaks down almost immediately after we’ve given in – either when we get caught, or realise we’ve been lied to (by others or by ourselves) Check out this tragic and bizarre story of temptation and regret in 2 Samuel 13v1-21.


So how can we resist temptation better?

I think that one of our best defences against temptation is to know how it works. Here are four things that might help:

#1: Home in on the truth. Knowing what’s really real, weakens the seductive power of the lies we’re tempted with. Watch how Jesus combats the lies of the devil in the desert with truth from the Bible in Matthew 4. Jesus offers to show us the truth too – and set us free from everything that holds us captive (John 8v32). Also check out Ephesians 6v14. The ‘belt of truth’ is an essential part of the armour Paul urges us to put on so we can stand firm against temptation. How do we get truth? By letting the message of God ‘live richly inside us’ (Colossians 3v16) and by asking the Holy Spirit to teach us (John 14v15-27).

#2: Be smart. If you don’t want to end up eating the chocolate cake in the fridge then stay well away from the kitchen. Sometimes we can’t avoid being around the things that tempt us. Sometimes we can. Wherever possible give temptation the smallest chance of starting that conversation.

#3: Be open. Sin and temptation has great power over us if we try do battle with it alone. If you can find someone you trust (and who isn’t too easily tempted too) to share your struggle that will really help.

#4: Refuse to feel condemned. Our enemy loves to turn around and condemn us with the things he’s just tempted us to do. There’s no condemnation for those who have faith in Jesus (Romans 8v1). Believe it.

At the same time be open to the conviction that the Holy Spirit brings. Sometimes the Spirit shakes us with the reality of what we’ve done to get us to do something about it. It’s not pleasant, but it’s good.


Teaching Kit

A few ideas about how to teach this session to a class or youth group. These are just our ideas – we’re pretty sure there are some way better ones out there. If you know a video clip or intro idea or teaching illustration we’d love to hear about it and include it here too. Use the comment box below to get in touch.

What’s the one thing you want people to remember when they leave?
How are you going to get that idea across in the time you have?

Intro options

Some ideas to get people thinking.

1) Here are three things people desire:
* knowing who you really are (and that you’re actually ok)
* having something meaningful to do with your life
* having someone to love
Would you be happy if you had these three things present in your life? Which one would you miss the most? Which one would you be most tempted to get quickly, now?

2) Temptation is a big theme in the Lord of the Rings movies. Here’s a clip where Galadriel is tempted to accept Frodo’s offer to take the ring. She knows it will give her great power, far beyond what she possesses now. The real evil behind the temptation is revealed as Galadriel is shown what she will become if she takes the ring.

You could use this clip to open a discussion about how the art of temptation is to make bad things look good. The last line is worth thinking about: the true and lasting path to changing the course of the future is through a long and tough journey. There are no shortcuts to achieving big things or being fully transformed into mature people.

Gandalf is tempted in the same way in this clip.
And Flight of the Conchords have some fun with their song Frodo Don’t Wear the Ring

3) Agree or disagree: There comes a point when you’ve given into the same temptation so many times it’s not really worth asking for forgiveness any more …

Options for your input time

1) Use the examples in the beginning of the article, or think of your own, to help your youth understand temptation as being about shortcuts, choosing bad-options that have been dressed up, or settling for cheap substitutes.

2) Read or summarise the stories in Genesis 2:15 – 3:13 and/or Mark 8v31-33 . See if people can identify the shortcuts or cheap substitutes in the temptations there?

3) Go through the list of common temptations in the article – and add others if you’d like. Can your group identify the shortcuts, dressed-up bad options or cheap substitutes in those?

Finding Jesus in the Story

Can you picture Jesus being really tempted to avoid the cross that both the devil and Peter dangled in front of him? Did you know that the main thing that enabled Jesus to resist that temptation was knowing that if he endured the cross we would be set free to enjoy life with God again (see Hebrews 12v1-3)?

o  How does that change or challenge your picture of Jesus, and the way you imagine he views you now?

Something to take-away

1) Check out the list of things (in the Story tab) we’re often tempted by.  Cheating, lying, gossiping, watching porn, getting addicted to some substance. In what ways could these be shortcuts or cheap substitutes for something more meaningful and satisfying?

2) Which of the four defences against temptation at the end of the article would be good to focus on? Is there anything else that would help?

Group Kit

In this tab you’ll find ideas and questions to help you lead your group through an interactive, story-based journey. Our leaders guide has more info on how to use our Story-based framework.

Click on the time bomb to see how you could run this session in 15 minutes, 30 minutes or longer.

Download a PDF version of this session here

Think back over the past few weeks of your life. What have been some of the things you’ve been tempted to do that you felt bad about afterwards? What one temptation do you find the hardest to resist?

What are your general strategies to avoid or resist being tempted to do stuff you know is wrong?

Get the conversation started …

Get everyone to check out the WordSpace posts from this week on their phones or from a printout (you’ll find them in the next tab.)

o Is there a post that stands out for you? Why so?

o Is there something in a post that raises a question for you? What is that?

o If you had to choose one post to share with a friend, which one would it be?


Read the post in The Story tab.


Some questions to help you replay your story …
o  How do you feel about what you encountered in this session – encouraged, discouraged, hopeful, disappointed, anything different?

o  Did anything seem like particularly good news? Anything that was not so great news for you, or hard to understand?

o  Imagine you were able to see the truth behind the things you’re tempted by and had the strength to resist that temptation better? How would your life be different?

Re – draw your picture of Jesus
Can you picture Jesus being really tempted to avoid the cross that both the devil and Peter dangled in front of him? Did you know that the main thing that enabled Jesus to resist that temptation was knowing that if he endured the cross we would be set free to enjoy life with God again (see Hebrews 12v1-3)?

o  How does that change or challenge your picture of Jesus, and the way you imagine he views you now?



What practical action, response,or new way of thinking do you need to take into the week?

Re-pent …
If you’ve given in to temptation and wondering what to do,God has given us a gift for that: it’s called repentance (Romans 2v4). Repentance is not just saying sorry and forgetting about it. Repentance is about recognising the trap you’ve fallen into, asking for forgiveness and actively putting in place a strategy to do the opposite thing in future. Jesus beat the power of evil over us and refuses to condemn us – so don’t believe otherwise!

Is there anything specific you need to repent of?

Some questions to help you remix your story …
o  Which of the four practical suggestions about resisting tempation do you need to practise this week?

o  What ways could you let God’s truth about yourself and the things you desire live more richly in you? What can you do to access that truth when you need it most?

o  Is there someone with whom you can share something you’re being tempted by this week?

WordSpace Posts

Here are five posts from the WordSpace we’ve posted specially to tie in with this topic:

Did Jesus ever struggle with temptation? Absolutely. Jesus was tempted in ‘every way’ (Hebrews 4v15) but one was especially hard for him to resist: was it sex, money, drinking, smoking weed?

I think it was taking the easy way out: in the desert with the devil (Matthew 4v8-11), hearing Peter say no to the cross (Mark 8v33) and in the garden (Luke 22v39-44) Jesus really wanted to avoid the cross. But he chose the hard path – the only way to deal with sin.

Being prepared to say no to the easy life teaches obedience, brings maturity and strips away all the fat that weighs us down. Not many choose it. We’re celebrating the life of a man who refused the easy path this week.
Are you up for the challenge?

Read Matthew 7v13-14 here:
Great Jars of Clay song on this here:

God is like Iron Man. Tony Starke designs a protective suit of iron armour that helps him do amazing things and fight bad guys.

God has also made armour. In Isaiah 59v17 it says that God, as he fights against injustice, puts on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head. Sound familiar? God not only made armour for himself, he’s made special spiritual iron man suits for us. Why? Because it’s dangerous out there and we need God’s protection against the devil’s evil tricks.

Are you wearing your spiritual iron man suit or are you running around in spiritual underwear?

Read Isaiah 59 here:


We recently asked WordSpace subscribers to say what sins tangle and trip them up.

Here’s just some of what we got back: Porn, lust, dodgy stuff in relationships, money, vulgar words, lies, game addictions, losing trust in someone, pride, selfishness, anger, guilt, comparing the way I look to other people, cheating on a boyfriend, gossiping, the way I eat…

On that cross Jesus experienced the full effect of each one of these (imagine that for a minute).

Does believing in what Jesus did simply make these struggles go away? Well, no – not always. But it does mean we don’t have to be separated from God any more. And that’s where healing begins…

What’s your response to that?

Read Colossians 2v13-15 here:


It’s no Flappy Bird, but Temple Run is a pretty cool cell-phone game. You play the part of a treasure hunter who, after stealing an ancient relic, is immediately chased by a pack of evil-shadow-monkey-guardian-things. One wrong move and you’re dead. It’s terrifying.

Proverbs 13:21 describes a similar feeling: ‘Trouble chases sinners, while blessings reward the righteous’. Sin leaves us anxious, looking over our shoulder, wondering when our actions will catch up with us. But right choices bring the peace and joy that only God can give.

Why live with the stress of sin when we can relax in the blessing of right living?

Read Proverbs 13 here:


It happened again yesterday. I heard the question. I knew the truth. And as much as I felt bad for doing it, I said something completely different. ‘Yes I have’ (I haven’t), ‘I meant to call you’ (I totally didn’t), ‘I’m fine’ (I’m really broken).

Why am I so afraid to speak the truth? My body isn’t fooled – my itchy nose and blushing cheeks feel awkward. I suspect my friends aren’t fooled much either…

Jesus, speak gently to my heart. It’s the source of everything I say. Help it to trust you more. Heal what’s broken inside. I want to find freedom in the truth of my words.

Luke 6:45 here:
Proverbs 4:23 here:


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