The urge to disobey rules which have been externally, coercively imposed is not temptation, it is resistance. Temptation is only comprehensible within the framework of covenants freely entered into. In order for a covenant to have meaning, it must not only be freely entered into, but with full knowledge of the nature of the covenant. When two parties enter into an agreement, and one party fails to provide critical information that would change the nature of the agreement and that might, if disclosed, dissuade the other party from entering into the agreement, that is not a covenant. That is a fraud. But when we have all the information necessary to make a particular covenant, and when we freely agree to abide by that covenant, then and only then can we experience temptation.
Oscar Wilde famously said: "The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it." But a life without temptation, and without resistance to temptation is a life without meaning, without growth, without structure, and ultimately without joy. That is because the promises we make, make us! When we make a promise, any promise, the very nature of it means we will sooner or later encounter a situation where it might be temporarily advantageous to abandon our promise. If it weren't so, there would be no need to make a promise! And it is those situations where the seriousness of our promises is tested. It is those situations where we get to see how much we really meant what we said, and whether we are the kind of people who are able to keep promises. When we succeed at these kinds of tests, we begin to build character. Our life begins to take a form that is shaped by our intentions, our desire and ultimately, our love.
So temptation is a good thing! When we experience it, we know that we are making something of ourselves! We are choosing, and being true to our choices. Nothing is more tragic than a life in which we drift along, never letting anything more than the contingencies of each moment determine our choices. Granted, there is a kind of freedom we can experience as drifters. It can feel good to let go of everything, to hold on to nothing, to let life take us where it will, like a leaf on the current. Maybe we all need to experience that kind of freedom at least for a time. But eventually we learn that a life lived too long without commitments is a life devoid of the deepest satisfactions. That's what Mormons think of as a "telestial" life. But even the liberal UCC prays for God to protect us from a life of "aimlessness and sin."
Temptation can be painful. But if you think about it, the more painful the temptation, the better it is at shaping our character. It is the really, really painful temptations that force us to decide what it is we really want in life. And we can only surmount such temptations with a grander view of ourselves and our life's purpose. That's why prayer, meditation and scripture study are so important. Any kind of spiritual practice is, effectively, a urim and thummim to us. It helps us see ourselves and our world in a larger, more timeless perspective, a perspective that will provide us the knowledge necessary to make the kinds of promises worth making...!
When we experience temptation, we sometimes feel dirty, we feel bad. We feel as if we must be weak or immoral to experience temptation. It is not so. Temptation means only that we are alive, and that we are on a journey that is worth going on!
I said earlier that temptation is only meaningful within the framework of covenants, and that covenants can only be made under conditions of knowledgeable consent. All of us, if we live long enough, will have the experience of making a commitment under one circumstance, only later to learn and to grow and to acquire knowledge that sheds new light on our circumstances and our promises. This is a natural process, and it is a good process. In a religious framework, we can look at this in terms of lower laws and higher laws; telestial laws, terestrial laws, and celestial laws. We begin at one place, and we make a series of promises within a more limited framework. And those promises shape our character, allowing us to grow and learn. Eventually, we come to a point where the old promises no longer make sense. New knowledge requires renegotiation. We enter into and accept higher laws and make higher covenants which become a new framework for character growth. The times of transition can be disorienting. They can even feel very much like times of temptation. But they are something of a different order entirely.
But wherever we are in the journey, temptation does not leave us. If anything, temptations become more challenging and more painful as we become more sensitive to the nuances of choice available to us, and as we become capable of handling greater challenges... We don't need to seek temptation; indeed, it's usually wise for us to pray for God to keep us from it for as long as possible. But temptations will come, and when they do, we should ultimately be grateful for them. I know I am.