How To Deal With Temptation
It was Martin Luther who aptly I said: “You can’t help the birds flying over your head, but you can prevent them from building nests in your hair!” Luther’s classic remark reveals two pertinent facts about temptation: (1) temptation comes to everyone (Luke 17:1); and (2) such temptation can be resisted and overcome.
Remember, it is not a sin to be tempted, but to yield to temptation is sin. The Lord Jesus Christ was sorely tempted (cf. Matt. 4:1-11; 16:23; 22:18; Luke 22:28), but He never yielded to temptation (Heb. 4:15). He knows all about temptation, feeling it as no man ever felt it, and only in Him can the Christian effectively deal with it and overcome it (Heb. 2:18).
In the brief development of our subject we want to focus our attention on five main things, the first being
The Clarification Of Terms
In the Bible the words “tempt” and “temptation” are used in two distinctly different ways. They are often used simply to mean “test” or “testings” (cf. Gen. 22:1; Jas. 1:2), yet they are also used in the sense of enticement to sin or solicitation to do evil (cf. Jas. 1:13-15). God “tests” with a view to our good and His ultimate glory; Satan “tempts” in order that he might solicit us to do evil through enticement of our sin nature. God’s “testing” is from without; Satan’s “tempting” is from within.
It is this second meaning of the words “tempt” and “temptation” that concerns us in our present study, and how we may overcome temptation of this sort through God’s gracious provision.
This brings us to a consideration of —
The Causes of Temptation
The Primary Cause. Satan is the primary cause of all temptation. Solicitation to rebel against God, and thus sin, is the work of the Evil One (cf. 1 Thess. 3:5; 1 Pet. 5:8-9; Rev. 2:9). While Satan’s role in temptation is usually assumed rather than stated, there are many Scriptures where his role is definitely asserted (e.g., Matt. 4:1; 1 Cor. 7:5).
The Secondary Causes. In his fine little book, Learning and Living the Christian Life, G. R. Harding Wood has pointed out from the Word of God four such causes which Satan uses to tempt us.
1. Circumstances (Mark 4:17 with Luke 8:13). From the circumstances of affliction and persecution — perhaps sent by God — temptation may come. However, the subjective use of such trials wherein the Christian may be tempted to sin cannot be attributed to God (Jas. 1:13; cf. John 15:20; 1 Pet. 4:12-13).
2. Worry (Luke 8:14 with 1 Pet. 5:7). A believer given to worry is generally a defeated believer. From such worry one may be tempted to disbelieve God, as well as to distrust Him.
3. Money (Mark 10:23-24; Matt. 6:24; 1 Tim. 6:10). Never lose sight of the fact that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10, ASV). Many a Christian has made shipwreck of his life and testimony as a result of love for the “mammon of unrighteousness.”
4. Pride (Isa. 14:13-14; cf. Matt. 26: 33-34; 1 Cor. 10:12). How necessary at all times that we “be clothed with humility” (1 Pet. 5:5).
We come now to our third main point in the development of our subject
The Course of Sin in Temptation
The legend is told of an Arab camel driver alseep in his tent during a bitterly cold night in the desert. In the middle of the night he awoke to find his camel with its nose under the tent flap. Then in successive stages through the night the camel poked its head and hairy neck into the tent, then its front legs and hump, and finally, ALL of “Mr. Camel” was in and “Mr. Arab” was OUT.
As a rule, in temptation sin gets hold of us much as “Mr. Camel” worked his way into “Mr. Arab’s” tent — subtly, not suddenly; craftily, not quickly. There are four distinct phases of sin in temptation: a sinful thought, imagination, desire, and then the deed. James, in his highly practical letter, gives us the course, or genealogy, of sin (Jas. 1:13-15), and the classic Bible account which aptly illustrates the phases of sin in temptation is Eve’s deception by Satan (Gen. 3:4-6).
For the sake of brevity our next main point is presented in outline form only, each division virtually speaking for itself, so that little or no comment would be necessary anyway.
The Consequences of Yielding to Temptation
Yielding to temptation not only issues in sin, but brings:
2. Disgrace (Gen. 3:7).
3. Depression (Gen. 3:7-8).
4. Deprivation (Gen. 3:16ff.).
5. Degeneracy (e.g., Lot, Judas Iscariot, Demas).
6. Dishonor to Christ.
7. Death (Jas. 1:15).
Our fifth, and final, main consideration brings us to the very heart of our subject
The Conquest Over Temptation
Having sought to clarify the words involved, and having considered some of the causes and consequences of temptation, as well as the course of sin in temptation, the question naturally arises, “All well and good so far, but how can I trample Satan under foot and thus overcome temptation?”
Briefly, the summary secret is simply this: by saying “NO” to Satan, and by saying “Yes” to the Lord Jesus Christ. Now let us break this point down into some practical courses of thoughtful action, the use of which will enable us to deal victoriously with temptation. Basic to all else in the Christian life is that we:
1. Receive the Saviour (John 1:12; 1 John 5:4 with Matt. 12:43-45). Many go through periods of reformation, but they have never really experienced regeneration. As a result, such have no power whatsoever to resist the onslaughts of satanic forces.
2. Refuse Satan (Jas. 4:7). As believers, James tells us: “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” As indicated by the Greek tense of the verb “resist” (aorist), we must take a decisive, once-for-all stand against Satan.
3. Redirect Your Attention (Heb. 12:1-3). For instance, evil thoughts are bound to present themselves from time to time, especially in a culture like ours where sex is one of the chief gods and things are geared to appeal to the lustful appetite of man. That evil thoughts present themselves is not sinful, but entertaining them is, and if we are tempted to dwell on such, then the secret of victory over them is to immediately redirect our attention, specifically to the Lord Himself, remembering the words of Proverbs 18:10: “The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe.”
4. Resort Always to Watchfulness and Prayer (Matt. 6:13; 26:36ff.; Mark 14:38; 1 Thess. 5:6, 17; Col. 4:2).
5. Rely on a Victory Already Won (Rom. 6:1-13; cf. 1 Cor. 15:57; 2 Cor. 2:14; Col. 2:15). An Indian legend relates that there was once a massive Hindu warrior who in battle fought with such ferocity and vigor, killing masses of the enemy, that no one could overcome him. Eventually, however, he met with one stronger than himself and in the ensuing struggle his head was cut off. But so strenuously was he battling that even when his head was off his body went right on dealing out deadly blows. In this way he killed several more soldiers, until at last someone shouted, “Look, your head’s off!” At that he fell down dead.
At Calvary the Lord Jesus Christ cut the head off sin, but the monster goes right on injuring and slaying multitudes because they don’t tell him so. Martin Luther is reputed to have thrown his inkwell at the devil on one occasion (poor Mrs. Luther who probably had to clean up the mess!), but it takes more than that to triumph over the Wicked One. Every Christian needs to daily lay hold of, and completely rely on, the victory that Christ won for us on the cross. It has been rightly said that “Sin has no power, except to unbelief.” Emperor Constantine, referring to the cross of Christ, is reported to have said, “In this sign conquer.” And one who knew the power of our Saviour’s victory won for us at the cross, and what it was to truly rely on that victory, has written:
“Earthly cares can never vex me,
Neither trials lay me low;
For when Satan comes to tempt me,
To the secret place I go.”