Today’s study is all about temptation… where it comes from, why we experience it, helpful things to do to overcome, and what to do if you have succumb to temptation. The study itself is quite simple, what is hard is putting what we learn here into practice.
Most of us have faced temptation to do things that we know are outside of His will. And after giving in to temptation, we can struggle with the guilt and avoid Him for a period of time. This roller coaster is familiar to me, and I spent years on it, riding all the highs and lows, before I figured out how to get off that roller coaster into a more stable and consistent walk of faith.
I remember feeling elated at positive spiritual growth for a few continuous months, followed by frustration at facing the same old temptations over and over again, the heartbreak of falling into sin, not wanting to “face the music”, feeling separated from God, and finally repentance, coming back to Him, and feeling elated again. We do not need to go through this!
In 1 John 2:2-3 we read about stages in our walk with Christ, from children, through to young men and finally fathers. The mark of a “young man” is that he has overcome the evil one. Being able to overcome temptation is part of growing in our faith. The bible doesn’t give us a guarantee that we can avoid being tempted, but it does give us many promises about being able to stand under it (1 Cor 10:13).
1Co 10:13 No temptation has taken you but what is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able, but with the temptation also will make a way to escape, so that you may be able to bear it.
God has faithfully provided a way for us to resist all temptation, but it doesn’t come without effort or cost on our behalf. However, we have a great motivation to endure temptation, as is written in James 1:12 Blessed is the man who endures temptation, because having been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
Before we go any further, lets have a look at what temptation is, and what it isn’t. First thing to notice is that God does not tempt us, but rather temptation comes from the world and our own lusts (James 1:12-14). However, God does send us trials which are different from temptation. These trials are not designed to weaken our faith or cause us to sin, but rather to strengthen our faith, and lead us into patience, perseverance and maturity (James 1:2-4, Heb 2:18, 1 Pe 1:5-7).
Temptation comes from the fact that we have the old flesh at war with the born again new creation within us. Paul speaks a lot about this in Romans 7 and 8. In particular, he says:
Rom 7:22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,
Rom 7:23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.
He also says:
Ro 7:19 (ESV) For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.
Rom 8:13 For if you live according to the flesh, you shall die. But if you through the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body, you shall live.
You see that living according to the Spirit, rather than the flesh, is about more than just temptation, but about life and death!
What is it that we are tempted to do? We are tempted to fulfil fleshly desires, defined in Gal 5:19b-21 as: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lustfulness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, fightings, jealousies, angers, rivalries, divisions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkennesses and revelings. These things are in direct opposition with the fruit of the Spirit, which are defined in Gal 5:22b-23a as: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness and self-control.
Gal 5:24 tells us that those who are in Christ have “have crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts.” The central idea to fighting temptation is to crucify the flesh and to instead live in the Spirit (Gal 2:20, 5:16-18). To crucify the flesh, means to consider it dead to you, and pay no attention to it. As we read again in Gal 5:16 I say, then, Walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.
And also in Gal 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ, and I live; yet no longer I, but Christ lives in me. And that life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith toward the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself on my behalf.
We have no life in the flesh, we consider it dead. Our life is in the Spirit, living according to the leading of the Holy Spirit. We live for Jesus, and He is our role model. The message is simple, but putting it into practice is costly and difficult. Jesus says this another way in Matthew 16:
Mat 16:24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.
All the hints and tips I will give you today are the same basic idea: resist the devil / the flesh / the world, and instead draw near to God through the Word, prayer, and fellowship with the saints. This is what we read in James 4:7-8: Therefore submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, sinners; and purify your hearts, double-minded ones.
One of the things that kept me on that roller coaster of elation – temptation – sin – withdrawal, was that I was looking for the easy way out. I wanted there to be some magic cure for temptation. Perhaps a quote, a story, a single bible verse, a thought, a vision, a dream, a book, a supernatural spiritual event… something to make the temptation instantly disappear and make walking the Christian walk easier for me. It never came.
There are no shortcuts, usually our growth comes from consistent and persistent effort, painfully denying our own flesh and walking every single day in obedience to the spirit. When I gave up looking for this shortcut and just concentrated on being obedient to the leading of the Holy Spirit, it was then that I saw progress and growth.
The only person to have lived a sinless life, perfectly resisting temptation, is Jesus Christ Himself. We can read about His temptation by the devil in Matthew 4. He Himself was tempted and this means two things: we can look to His example for how to fight temptation, and He understands what it is like to battle temptation and can sympathise with us. (Heb 4:15, Heb 2:18)
What I noticed first is that Jesus was tempted while He was vulnerable (hungry v2). Most often we are faced with temptation while we are vulnerable for some reason, for me it is when I am tired and busy, and have not had the time [or have been lazy] to feed myself daily on prayer and bible study. Keep this in mind and be most diligent at times when you know you are vulnerable.
So here we are looking at Jesus being tempted, and the weapon that He used was to quote the Word. Jesus said “It is written” each of the three times He was tempted (v4, 7, 10). This requires that we know the Word! We can’t hope to use the Word as a sword to break down those temptations and false promises if we do not know the Word.
Have a look at what David wrote in Ps 119:
Psa 119:9 With what shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your Word.
Psa 119:10 With all my heart I have sought You; do not let me wander from Your Commandments.
Psa 119:11 I have hidden Your Word in my heart, so that I might not sin against You.
I find that in the heat of temptation, what I need most is a safe place for my mind to go to. If I have scripture that I have been thinking of, or a bible study I am working on, or a verse I am trying to memorise, this instantly gives me a place I can run to in my mind, even if I can’t physically avoid the situation.
Similarly, another tool I use to resist temptation is to immediately change environment. Stand up and go for a walk, turn the TV off, do some chores, etc. The change of physical surrounds tends to reset me and distracts me from the temptation I was facing.
Going back to Jesus’ temptation, also notice that the devil misused the Word in v6, just as he did in the garden of Eden when he tempted Eve (Gen 3:1-6). The devil is a liar, and so is the world. The promises of the devil and of the world are empty and do not fulfil. He misquoted the Word, in an attempt to put before Jesus an alluring but false promise. Jesus was able to detect this twisting of the Word and resist the false promise that the devil was bringing, because Jesus knew the Word.
The second tool we have as a weapon against temptation is prayer. We are told to pray against temptation, at least twice. Once occurs in the Lords prayer (Matt 6:13) “lead us not into temptation”, and the other in Matthew 26:41: Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
Pray that we would not enter into temptation, and also pray for strength when you are tempted.
Jesus regularly retreated up the mountain to pray. Prayer requires us to confess our weakness before Him, ask Him for His strength, and submit to the spirit rather than the flesh.
I remember when I was deep in temptation, I often felt embarrassed about being open and honest with the Lord about these things. I was ashamed by the things that tempted me, and I resisted coming to Him in prayer. Please don’t do this. He is our High Priest, who was also tempted, and He sympathises with us when we are tempted. Run to Him in prayer, not from Him in shame! This is what I think is meant in Heb 4:16 when we are told to “come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
The third tool is to “come out of the world”. One way to do this is to surround yourself with people who are going to encourage you to walk in the spirit, and not the flesh. The bible is full of warnings about who you associate with, and examples of people who avoided this advice and fell. King Solomon is a prime example, whose wives (of a different faith) lead his heart away from the Lord. We read this plainly in 1Co 15:33 Do not be deceived; evil companionships corrupt good habits.
Most of us are familiar with the scripture in 2 Co 6:14 “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers; for what fellowship does righteousness have with lawlessness? And what partnership does light have with darkness?” But if we keep reading through to verse 17, we read this: 2Co 6:17 Therefore come out from among them and be separated, says the Lord, and do not touch the unclean thing. And I will receive you.
Coming out of the world, and choosing instead to fellowship with Christians who love the Lord, can be a powerful way to reduce the amount of temptation that you face. It also keeps us focussed on Him and not the flesh / the world. In fact, we are commanded in Hebrews 10:25 to not forsake the gathering together, but (v24) to provoke one another to love and good works.
To elaborate this point further, we read in 1 John 2 that:
1Jn 2:15 Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him,
1Jn 2:16 because all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
1Jn 2:17 And the world passes away, and the lust of it, but he who does the will of God abides forever.
What does it mean in practice to ‘come out of the world’? It is to no longer live according to the ways of this world but according the the Spirit. It is crucifying the flesh! It is not just friends who can influence us for good or bad, we can allow the things that we see, listen to and involve ourselves in that can also lead us astray. If something causes temptation or sin in you, cut it off. Better still, don’t even expose yourself to it in the first place.
Be diligent not to look at things that you know will cause you temptation and arouse the desires of the flesh. Perhaps it is magazines, fashion articles, television soaps, the gym, the pool. Be ruthless and cut off all things from your life that are drawing you into the flesh rather than the spirit. This is no joke, and it is part of the “cost” of being a Christian. This concept is found in Matt 5 and 6 as below:
Mat 5:29 And if your right eye offends you, pluck it out and throw it from you. For it is profitable for you that one of your members should perish, and not that your whole body should be thrown into hell.
Mat 6:22 The light of the body is the eye. Therefore if your eye is sound, your whole body shall be full of light.
Mat 6:23 But if your eye is evil, your whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
From experience, it is much much easier to resist the temptation to look, than it is to turn away once you have started looking. It is easier to nip temptation in the bud, than it is when you have let the temptation take root and fester into something large. Be wise, don’t make this harder for yourself than it need be, and remove all sources of temptation from you life.
I wish I had more time to go into this today, but cannot. I have provided a link here to a study I have posted on the boards that I found fantastic dealing with “amputation issue”, and those of you who feel led can read it. It might also be beneficial for those who feel that they have tried and tried and tried, but are still falling to the same sins over again.
A fourth tool is again related to “coming out of the world”, and that is accountability. Accountability is not a worldly concept, it involves confessing your sins and weaknesses to another person, that they might hold you to a godly standard, pray for you when you fall and when you are tempted, and support you in your walk with Christ. It requires humility and honesty or it doesn’t work.
We read of the concept here in James 5:16: Confess faults to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous one avails much.
Accountability has to be one of the most frightening things I have done as a Christian, but it has had fantastic results. Choose this person wisely and prayerfully, and God can do wonderful things through it. There is nothing like having to stare someone in the eye after confessing a sin, to give you the incentive never to do it again!
The fifth and final thing I want to mention today is to guard ourselves against the “slide”. Psalm 1 describes the slide into sin… first we look upon sin, then we get near it, and finally, we commit it. This gradual fall can be so subtle we barely notice it, but it should warn us that little compromises can add up to disaster, making us gradually more and more comfortable with sin until we are ensnared in it.
Here are the first two verses of Ps 1, note the “walk stand sit” slide into sin described in verse 1, and the fact that the blessed man delights in the Law of Jehovah (v2).
Psa 1:1 Blessed is the man who has not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, and has not stood in the way of sinners, and has not sat in the seat of the scornful.
Psa 1:2 But his delight is only in the Law of Jehovah; and in His Law he meditates day and night.
Perhaps the most common and relevant, example to youth today is the fall into sexual sin. At first, it starts with not expressing disapproval of pre-marital activities. Then, we see a gradual chipping away at convictions… I can hug, I can kiss, I can touch… it’s OK to do this if we love each other.. . until sin is rampant. Guard yourself against this gradual slide into sin by standing firm in your convictions and not compromising even on those small (seemingly insignificant) things.
I don’t want to dwell on this particular temptation too much, other than to give those of you who are struggling with it this encouragement. It is God’s will that you succeed in this battle, He is for you and not against you, and this battle is win-able.
1Th 4:3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification, for you to abstain from fornication,
1Th 4:4 each one of you to know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor
1Th 4:5 (not in the passion of lust, even as the nations who do not know God),
I don’t want to end the bible study today without reminding you that despite the fact that we should not give in to temptation, we do, and forgiveness is available in Christ. If you have faced temptation and fallen into sin, I encourage you to truly repent (turn from your sin) and ask the Lord for forgiveness.
As is written in 1 John
1Jn 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, and 1 Jn 2:1-2 My little children, I write these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He is the propitiation concerning our sins, and not concerning ours only, but also concerning the sins of all the world.
Sin doesn’t affect our eternal relationship with God, our sin is forgiven and the penalty for it was paid at the cross. But it does affect our fellowship with God, the way we interact with Him. If you have fallen into sin, repent and ask for forgiveness, and repair that fellowship with Him.
Recall from Romans:
Rom 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Rom 8:2 But the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.
We are not condemned for our sin if we are in Christ Jesus. Forgiveness of sins is there for those who are in Christ Jesus, those who believe in Him. The question is, are you in Christ Jesus? Folks, if you are not a Christian, now is the time to repent and to have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.