Like death and taxes, temptation is one of the few things that is common to all people. Whether rich or poor, male or female, old or young, if you’ve lived longer than a few moments then you’ve experienced temptation. After all, even Jesus was tempted in the wilderness.
But temptation doesn’t always look the same. Some are tempted to steal. Others never feel that temptation, but struggle with lust instead. Still others fight against anger. The list could go on and on. Human beings are masters at coming up with ways to mess up. Times change, technology develops but human nature remains the same. We are tempted every day. And too often we give in.
This leads us to an important question: If temptation is such a universal experience, is there an effective way to fight it? Are we simply consigned to experiencing and succumbing to our temptations, day after day? Is there any hope for us?
Yes. According to Scripture, Jesus has come to break the power of sin, death, and the Devil. He has come to not only forgive us our sins but to purify us from all unrighteousness (see 1 John 1:9). He has come to empower us so that we can walk just as He walked (see 1 John 2:6). The question we must ask is, how did He walk?
Before Jesus began his ministry, He was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit and tempted by Satan. Satan came to Him three times, offering Him an easy way out. Three opportunities to give in to the flesh. But Jesus resisted all three. And He did so through the power of Scripture.
Satan told him, “If you are the son of God, command that these stones become bread” (Matthew 4:4). Keep in mind, Jesus had been fasting for forty days. In addition, He knew the power within him – the power to create and control. As God in the flesh, He knew that he could as easily create bread from stones as you or I could breathe. And yet, He didn’t give in to temptation. Instead, He responded with these words from Deuteronomy: “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:5).
In saying this, Jesus set a precedent for dealing with temptation. He showed us that our primary weapon against sin is the Word of God. It’s that same Word of God that the author of Hebrews called “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). It’s that same Word of God that the psalmist described as rooting the godly man and giving him the strength to produce good fruit (see Psalm 1). This Word of God gives us the power to overcome temptation. But to use it effectively we must consume it.
Like Ezekiel, God is calling us to “eat this scroll, and go” (Ezekiel 3:1). He is calling us to find his words as “sweet as honey” in our mouths – to savor it and enjoy it and make it a part of our lives. When we see the power of God’s word, reading and studying and memorizing it becomes a pleasure rather than a chore. And we will begin to cherish it as our best means of overcoming temptation.
Research has shown that one of the best indicators of spiritual growth is daily engagement with scripture. Though we don’t really need research to tell us this, Jesus’ life pointed to the same truth nearly two-thousand years ago. If you were not actively engaging with God’s Word on a daily basis, I would encourage you to start today. It is one of the best easiest ways to fight temptation.
But you may be wondering, is that it? Is overcoming temptation purely a matter of reading the Bible? Not exactly. Scripture itself teaches that there are a number of other ways that we can deal with temptation and overcome sin.
In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made several striking statements about the dangers of sin. He told his disciples, “if your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, then for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:23). The point of Jesus saying was not to leave us maimed and blinded. Instead, He was pointing us to a greater truth. We should recognize the severity of sin and do whatever it takes to avoid it.
For example, if someone struggles with pornography, they should place a limit on how and where they access the Internet or watch TV. Likewise, alcoholics should probably avoid bars. This isn’t a matter of being legalistic or prescriptive. It’s a matter of protecting yourself from the things that you know will bring you down. The Apostle Paul put it to his protégé, Timothy, this way: “flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). If at all possible, avoid putting yourself in places where you know you’ll be tempted.
Finally, it’s important for us to realize the temptations begin in our thought lives. As James wrote, “each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust” (James 1:14).
Perhaps this is why the Apostle Paul encouraged his readers to cultivate the “mind of Christ.” He told the Philippian believers, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things” (Philippians 4:8). If we allow that which is holy, good, and loving to occupy our minds, temptation will have less room to worm its way in.
So don’t be discouraged in your fight against temptation. God has given us His Word and His Spirit – and a promise that sin will no longer have dominion over us. Believe Him and press on.
This article was written for Timeless Publications by, Pastor Casey Fenn