Do you remember the first temptation Satan used against Christ in the account of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness?
"Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, 'If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread' " (Matthew 4:3).
Here is a question. What is wrong with changing stones into bread?
Or to put it another way, would it have been a sin for Jesus to command the stones to become bread? Is there a commandment of God against changing stones into bread? If Jesus did it, what law would He be breaking? And if there is no law against it, how could it be a sin, and if not a sin, why would Satan want Jesus to do it?
Satan is very subtle. Changing stone into bread may seem innocent on the surface. There is certainly no direct command against it. But it would have given Satan an inroad. Jesus might be tempted to do this out of a motive of vanity. Moreover, the bread would be a temptation for Jesus to eat. If He ate, He would be breaking His fast. Breaking the fast would not itself be a sin necessarily - He had already fasted for 40 days and He was bound to end the fast soon anyway - but he would have lost the spiritual benefit of fasting at a time when He needed that benefit to face whatever other temptations Satan would throw at Him. There may be other reasons why it would be a bad idea, even a sin, for Jesus to do what Satan suggested.
But it is interesting that Satan did not start out with a tempation that would be a direct and obvious violation of one of God's major commandments. He started with something that Jesus could rationalize would not be wrong.
Isn't that how Satan tempts us sometimes?
Satan sometimes tempts us with a direct violation of God's commandments, but sometimes, if that direct, head-on approach is unlikely to work, he comes at us from the periphery. He tempts us, not to directly violate a commandment, but to do something unwise that puts us in spiritual jeopardy, something that can expose us to greater temptations. He gets at us little by little, slowly breaking our resistance. He can chip away at the edges of our obedience until we are spiritual weak enough to be attacked directly. He will attack us in something that may be a "grey area" for us.
Example: Maybe we are in the habit of praying a certain amount of time every day. Satan can tempt us to pray a little less on a particular day because we are so busy. Is that a sin? There is no commandment of God that says, "pray 45 minutes every day." So it is easy to rationalize, "I can make it up tomorrow." Then tomorrow is even more busy than today. We pray less, but with mixed thoughts about it. On the one hand we tell ourselves, "it is ok, I am still praying, I am not breaking any commandment," but on the other hand we feel guilty because it is beginning to sink in to our minds that we are not putting God first. We become spiritually weakened. Then Satan can tempt us with something else, something a little more serious. We begin making little compromises here and there, and as we do, we are drifting farther from God and Satan is setting us up for a big fall. He has a knock-out punch all prepared, but he is weakening us first with little things, things that don't seem so bad, to draw us away from God. Then, when we have been gradually put into a weakened state, he delivers his "good night" blow, and down we go. We wake up later and asked ourselves, "how did this happen?"
Maybe the little thing that starts it is going to a party with some people in the world. Maybe this particular party is not so bad, yet there will be temptations, temptations to over drink maybe, or something else. Is there a command against going to such a party? Not directly. So we can think, I can handle the temptations. But God says, "flee sexual immorality" (1 Corinthians 6:18). God mentions a specific temptation, but the principle applies to ANY temptation. Christ teaches us to pray to God, "do not lead us into temptation" (Matthew 6:13), but we have our part to do to avoid temptations.
The "little thing" that Satan may use to begin in a small way to increase our temptations and start to weaken us may be a TV program. It might not be a very bad program, and there might be a lot of good in it, but it has enough temptations and wrong influences in it that it can start, in a small way, to draw our minds away from the closeness we have with God.
But Jesus set the example. He did not do something that was even remotely close to sin. He stayed from the edge of the cliff. He refused even to turn stones into bread even though there was no direct command against it. He did not do something that was unwise. He did not expose Himself to something that could tempt Him into breaking His fast, a fast that was helping to give Him the spiritual strength to be close to God and resist Satan. And because He refused to compromise even the slightest bit with one hundred percent dedication to God's law and work, He was able to resist all of Satan's temptations.
Likewise we need to stay far from the edge of the cliff. Don't even come close to breaking God's law. Anticipate the little problems, the little things that can tempt us to sin, and avoid those situations.
Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:
The Days of Unleavened Bread - Repentance, Chapter 2
How to Obtain More of God's Help in Breaking Bad Habits, Chapter 7