Human beings all face temptations to sin, many of us on a daily basis. It may be a temptation to commit just a “small” sin or it may be the temptation to do something much more egregious. But why is this, where do these temptations come from?
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. James 1:13-14.
In addition to our own sinful nature, temptation can come from Satan who would like nothing more than to pull us away from God. See 1 Corinthians 7:5. Even Jesus was tempted by Satan, so we should not be surprised if we are, too. See Luke 4:1-13.
More importantly, how do we resist temptation? The temptation itself is not sin and is something everyone must face. It is only when we give into the temptation that we sin. So how do we not give in?
A common tool that people use, including many Christians, is good old willpower. “If I just try hard enough,” we say to ourselves, “I can resist the temptation to . . .” But this tool is a bit like trying to cut a log with a butter knife. Some have grown quite skilled at this method and have managed to “be very good” but the effort is exhausting and does not result in a fruitful life. All energy is funneled into simply resisting temptation. As Paul said in Galatians 3:3, “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?”
God has given us better tools to resist temptation, tools that are more along the lines of a huge chain saw for cutting a log. They are tools that are available to anyone who chooses to pick them up and use them.
The first tool is the Word of God. This is what Jesus used to resist Satan when He was tempted in the desert for 40 days. Three times Satan tempted Jesus, and each time He replied with a scriptural response:
- Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone.'” Luke 4:4, quoting Deut. 8:3.
- Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'” Luke 4:8, quoting Deut. 6:13.
- Jesus answered, “It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” Luke 4:12, quoting Deut. 6:16.
There are wonderful passages of scripture that, if memorized, can help in the face of temptation. When I am tempted to worry, I remember the words of Paul: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Philippians 4:6. When I become angry with someone, I remember what James wrote: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” James 1:19-20. There is a verse to help with any temptation, and if you can’t find one to help you with your specific temptation, you can always turn to 1 Corinthians 10:13:
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
The second tool that God provides is prayer. This is another tool modeled by Jesus and one He recommended highly to His disciples. When He knew that His arrest and crucifixion was at hand, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. He knew He would be tempted to give up on the plan He and the Father had set in motion, and He knew the disciples would face temptations also. The tool He chose to resist that temptation was prayer.
Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” Luke 22:39-46.
The third tool that God has provided is, as suggested by Galatians 3:3 (above), the power of the Holy Spirit. In Galatians 5:22, Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit. If we take hold of the power of the Holy Spirit and turn control of our lives over to Him, then we will exhibit this fruit. Each characteristic of the fruit of the Spirit is the antithesis of sin. If we exhibit patience through the Spirit, then we will overcome the temptation to be rude, impolite, and impatient, or to steal something because we cannot wait until we can afford to buy it. If we exhibit love through the Spirit, then we will overcome the temptation to say hateful things to others or commit violent acts. If we exhibit self-control through the Spirit, then we will overcome a myriad of sins including gluttony, adultery, jealousy, drunkenness, and more.
Finally, the fourth tool that God has provided is each other. Accountability to a fellow believer or a Bible study group can provide that extra boost we need to resist temptations that come our way. The author of Hebrews wrote: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:25. One Christian alone can withstand temptation by relying on the first three tools that God has provided. But together we can resist with even less effort because we can encourage one another and remind one another of what is right. We can pray for each other and help each other better use the first three tools. “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:12.
So the next time your are tempted (it might be later today), put down that butter knife. Pick up the chain saw God has provided. Turn to the Word of God; seek the Lord in prayer; call on the power of the Holy Spirit living in you; and pick up the phone to share your struggle with a trusted Christian friend. Then you will be able to resist the temptation and still have the energy to live a fruitful life for the Kingdom of God.