I thought it may be fruitful for many of you if I gave a little explanation of the difference between temptation and sin because I have received a number of questions about it in the last couple weeks. Temptation is the desire for something that reason and revelation might say is not in our best interest though not bad in itself. For instance, you can be tempted to eat an apple three minutes before dinner when your mother told you not to. There is nothing wrong with an apple in itself, but the higher good of obeying Mom makes it less than perfect in the moment.
Temptations will always be part of who we are and are not sinful in themselves. Temptation is a part of our general make-up because of our first parents’ choice to reach out for the knowledge of good and evil. It stems from the disordering of our desires such that they are not always in line with the perfect plan of God. As part of the human make-up temptations are something that we will never drive completely out of our lives, though we can lessen our experience of them by not intentionally placing ourselves in situations involving them (if you don’t want to be tempted to eat doughnuts don’t go to a doughnut shop, etc.).
Sin on the other hand is a conscious choice to do something that we know to be wrong. For example I can’t take my friend’s bike, just because I like it, because I know stealing to be wrong. This is actually a good example to use for explanation purposes. Temptation in this case would be the desire to have the bike because of its cool wheels, awesome colors, comfort in riding etc. This desire in itself is not sinful because in other circumstances this desire can be directed in a good way; for instance, if you saw the same bike at the store it would be completely appropriate to desire the bike and to buy it. Even the temptation to take it is not sinful, in itself, because the natural desire for all its great attributes is just that, natural.
It becomes sinful when either you actually do what you know to be wrong or when you nurture the desire after you have realized that in this case it isn’t legitimate. Once I realize my desire for my friend’s bike it would be wrong to keep coming back to the option of just taking it because I know this is wrong. It is completely appropriate to go and buy a similar bike myself. As you see, the temptation or desire is natural and in itself not wrong.
This is an important distinction because many times we feel bad for even having desires for things, often in the areas of food or human sexuality. What we run into is an attempt to no longer be human, in that we try and eliminate the desire because we think it is sinful. This is impossible though because of the natural drive for self-preservation. This doesn’t mean we should set up a tent outside the doughnut shop when we know we shouldn’t eat doughnuts, but it does mean we need to realize that temptations of some sort will always exist. These desires are a gift from God and it is only what we do with them that is potentially sinful. Prayers Always, Fr. Joseph Altenhofen