Sin Vs. Temptation
1 - The Necessary Change
We are told, without any ambiguity, that "the wages of sin is death." (Rom 6:23) This is not because Christianity is a works-based religion, but because if one is "in sin," he or she has a corrupted soul that leads to those actions that our Father in Heaven condemns. Those who try to please God, therefore, or to "grow" in the faith by attempting to merely stop this or that action or habit… they are as those trimming the branches off of a hedge, when what they should be doing is attacking the root - addressing the cause, the inner man, and not the effects. (Eph 3:16)
Conversion to true Christianity, regardless of how long one has been religious, or a church-goer, does not result from a change in actions. The necessary change, to pass from sinner to saint, to pass from death to life, is a change of the inner being: heart, soul, and mind. After this, the actions follow naturally, (Luke 6:45) so that the only effort of will is to accept God's healing, and His working through us. Of the Spirit-filled believer, not one who is merely "trying" to be a good Christian, "it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure." (Phil 2:13)
Now, that verse is a powerful one, because it does not merely say that God will do things through us. It says that God with both will and do His good work through us. He provides not only the actions, but also the desire and drive to accomplish them. So the question may then be asked, "What is left for the Christian to actually DO?" The beautiful thing is this: If the Father supplies both the will and the work through our acceptance of His Son, all that is left for us to do is agree with His will, (Amos 3:3) and to enter into a state of spiritual rest. (Mat 11:28, Heb 4:9-11)
2 - A Key Difference
Now, Satan is an agent of sin and chaos, in direct contrast with the Father and Son, who stand for holiness and order. He is not content to have the Christian entering into God's rest, being transformed by the renewing of his mind, (Rom 12:2) and ceasing to participate in self-destructive behavior that will ruin both this life and hopes of the life to come.
He knows that if the true believer actually abides in Christ, and allows Christ to abide in the his heart, the enemy's power will be utterly broken. He knows that once the Christian has been converted, and has entered into rest, it is a practical impossibility to draw that person once again into sin. This is the true power of the Gospel, not only that we are forgiven through the sacrifice of the Savior, but that we are forever changed because we accept that forgiveness. We enter a state of mind that is in harmony with the Law of God, and then it becomes true of us that, "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for His Seed remaineth in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." (1 John 3:9)
This is an extremely powerful verse, and it is elegant in its simplicity. The Christian does not commit (i.e., deliberately engage in) sin, but not because he "tries and tries" to avoid it until he succeeds. It is far more wonderful than that. The Christian "doth not commit sin" because Christ, the perfect life, is in him. And not only does the Redeemer drop in for a visit once in a while, but He "remaineth" in him. He stays there, abides there, becomes a permanent aspect of the beleiver's character, and therefore "he cannot sin, because he is born of God."
The obvious response from Satan is to prevent belief in the meaning of this verse. He tells people, "That's not really true," or "It's just an ideal, not a reality," or, "Even if it is true, nobody can really do that." Notice that the common element of all of these is a twisting of what is "real." Satan wishes to have the believer accept his version of what is real, and not God's. This will change the perception of the Christian entirely, for it is only when we believe that we can see the miracles that our Father has promised us. (Mat 21:21, Mat 13:58)
But the less-obvious (yet equally effective) tactic of Satan is to permit the Christian to believe the verse, but to become too discouraged to claim it and be healed. One of the ways he does this is to have the would-be believer become confused about the difference between "sin" and "temptation." Some, who are eager to believe, and genuinely wish to cease from sin, are actually relieved when they discover the truth: that there IS a significant difference between the two.
We read, "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 1:14, 15)
Notice that temptation is the result of lust (Biblically, this is a general word that simply means "desire"). Satan, knowing what we desire, seeks to draw us away from God by offering us these things in exchange for departing from the path of holiness. But at that point, there is no "sin." The desire must "conceive," a term that is translated from the Greek syllambano, and despite the use of the word in English for the making of children, this word has nothing to do with such a blessed process. Syllambano means "to seize, to take as a prisoner, to overcome in a hostile manner."
It is only when the desire has take us "prisoner," and overcome our sound judgment, it is only then - and not a moment before - that sin is brought forth. What does this mean? It means that even the righteous, the born-again, will be subjected to "evil thoughts." But if those wicked thoughts, those desires for unlawful things, are rejected through the power of the Savior, the sin is not brought forth!
Some, when hearing that "whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin," have asked, "Haven't you ever had a bad thought? Haven't you ever wanted X or Y, though it is contrary to the will of God?" The Christian may honestly, and in full integrity, answer, "Yes, of course - but in faith I rebuked the temptation, and did not cherish the thoughts that I had."
There is a great freedom in understanding this. Of course, we are responsible for our thoughts, but not for preventing them… rather for subduing them, for "bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ." (2Cor 10:5) In other words, we may not be able to control what thoughts enter our minds, but we have the option of bringing them into captivity, rather than having them bring US into captivity, and therefore into sin.
"But," some may ask, "didn't Christ say, ‘whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart' (Mat 5:28) when speaking to His followers?"
Indeed He did; but He did not say, "Whosoever looks at a woman with desire has committed adultery in his heart." He said that one who looks on a woman "to lust after her" is so guilty. Desire is natural - it is necessary for human reproduction, after all - but to look upon a woman (and in this context, one with whom "adultery" would be possible) for the deliberate purpose "to lust after her" speaks to a cherished desire, to motive; again, it speaks about the state of the "inner man," rather than a mere biological and emotional reaction.
Ultimately, temptations come to us all, but sin is always the result of a choice. That is a very important difference.
3 - Summary
The Christian, despite Satan's suggestions, need never "fear" accidentally falling into sin. The Christian, in fact, need never fear falling into sin at all. We will be tempted, severely, but this is a sign of our faith, not our unrighteousness. The more sensitive we are to the desires that seek to draw us off the path, the more this speaks to our spiritual "eyesight," and our desire to maintain the victory over sin.
We are told, "God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." (1Cor 10:13) God does not abandon the tempted. He does not rebuke them, nor chasten them - as He would with those in sin. Rather, He helps them, He gives them a way of escape, and limits the trials that we endure only to what He knows we can handle. How, then, can any say that victory is impossible, if we have such an able Helper to prevent our temptations from taking us captive, and bringing forth sin?
Through faith, we are as our Savior Himself in regard to sin and temptation, of whom it is written, "[He] was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." (Heb 4:15)