Is it a sin to be tempted? Traditionally, the answer has been “no.” This is because of the case of Jesus. If it is a sin to be tempted, and Jesus was tempted, then Jesus committed a sin. Further, there seems to be the problem of the external tempter. If some one or some thing tempts you to commit some sin, their action is certainly not under your control. But you can hardly be morally responsible for something not under your control! So it seems temptation is not a sin.
However, what has precisely been shown in the above scenarios? I contend that all that has been shown is that temptation is not inherently a sin. These examples, individually or jointly, do not show that no temptation is a sin. I shall consider two lines of evidence: moral and biblical.
First, there are cases where one might not be able to control whether or not he is tempted in a particular way, but where he—at some crucial time earlier—made a decision that was under his control, but later results in such a temptation. Consider addictions to pornography, for example. A man makes an initial choice or series of choices to view pornography. And while perhaps the initial temptation, or set of temptations, was not up to him, his responses to them were. Now suppose each response to view makes it both more likely he receives these temptations, and less likely that he can refuse them. So long as his choice to view is free initially, then each subsequent temptation that would not have been present (whether at all or in level of strength) is in fact a result of his choice, which means it is under his control. In such cases, it seems to me, we ought to say the temptation is a sin (or a very negative consequence of lingering sin).
Second, the Bible seems to support at least the more modest claim that these temptations are direct and lingering consequences of sin that is up to the person. Consider James 1:14: “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.” For some people, it really is their own fault at some times when they experience temptation.
So what should we do about it? Condemn those who experience these consequences? Surely not. Instead, in some cases, we ought to examine our own hearts, and see where we need spiritual growth and maturity. In short, we ought to measure ourselves up to Christ!