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How to handle temptation
Query for the Month
Next up-date: July 1st 2004 (God willing).
Previous "Queries" are available. Click here to access.
Some perpetual questions ....
Do you know the difference
between the "love" that is of Christianity
Click on the link for a good book on the character of our God which you can download for free and share amongst your friends. It's called "Light on the Dark Side of God" and is one of the best on this subject that I have ever read!
But He gives more grace. Wherefore He says, "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." Submit yourselves therefore 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, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double minded.
How can we resist the devil and his temptations?
There are three ways to deal with temptation: Here they are in the order of our normal approach to them.
1. We struggle and fight against it and lose. (Even if we win
2. We give in to it, either reluctantly or willingly, but we give in
3. What we should do is give it to God and allow Him to deal with
We know that #1 is impossible because we have tried and tried again and found this out.
We also know that #2 is not satisfactory because of the way we feel AFTER it’s all over - guilty and ashamed.
So we are left with only #3 if we want success. However, if we remember that temptation is NOT sin but leads to it, we are halfway to overcoming it already.
Whenever a temptation approaches, the work of the Holy Spirit is to convict you of your danger and to offer the remedy for it to you. John 16:8. At this point the devil also tries to convince you that it is too late already and you should give up. Here is where you must be very careful, for the desire to respond to the temptation can only be resisted when you sincerely want the help. God will not interfere in the slightest way with your will in this very important matter.
The following words are written to all Christians: "Know you not, that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey, whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness?" Romans 6:16.
The union with Christ, called "born again", once formed, must be maintained. Christ said, "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can you, except you abide in Me." This is no casual touch, no off-and-on connection. The branch becomes a part of the living vine. The communication of life, strength, and fruitfulness from the root to the branches needs to be unobstructed and constant. Separated from the vine, the branch cannot live. No more, said Jesus, can you live apart from Me. The life you have received from Me can be preserved only by continual communion. Without Me you cannot overcome one sin, or resist one temptation.
"Abide in Me, and I in you." John 15:4. Abiding in Christ means a constant receiving of His Spirit, a life of unreserved surrender to His service. The channel of communication must be open continually between man and his God. As the vine branch constantly draws the sap from the living vine, so are we to cling to Jesus, and receive from Him by faith the strength and perfection of His own character.
The basic difference between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan is that our Father allows us a free choice every time, while Satan never allows his subjects such freedom. He rules with force, usually hidden with clever cunning.
The Bible's place in overcoming
We also need to realise that temptation is not really a temptation unless there is a possibility of yielding to it. Therefore a temptation only arises when you are powerfully influenced to do that which you know is a wrong action, or to wallow in a wrong thought, and you have the opportunity. It can even be based on a correct action, but in the wrong place or time. This is where the Ten Commandments lay the foundation of righteousness for us.
If then, knowing that you have the freedom to do it or not, you firmly resist through faith in Jesus Christ's saving power, then that temptation will relax inside you. You will feel the presence of Jesus as He steps between you and the desired thing or action. Your defence is, "It is written . . ." with you saying the rest of the verse. Or it may be, "LORD, you promised . . ." followed by that specific promise. Therefore you need to know the word of God for yourself.
This is the way the man Christ Jesus overcame temptation, and how we may too. Revelation 3:21. He was careful however, to quote the verses exactly and with the correct meaning while His opponent misquoted and misapplied them. Matthew 4:1-11.
Note that Satan dropped some words out from the Old Testament
That is, in God's ways, not our own!
If Jesus had obeyed the devil's suggestion He would have been choosing to die and God could not have interfered, because Jesus understood the principle that we are allowed the fearful "right of choice." However, He chose not to do anything other than that which His Father suggested as the safe course, so the devil's temptation failed.
Jesus then quoted Satan another Scripture, a second witness which expands the first, for out of the mouth of two or three witnesses should every truth be established in our minds. He said, "It is written again, You shall not tempt the LORD your God." (Matthew 4:7; Deuteronomy 6:16) which means we should not try to make God do what we want Him to do, but we should rather follow His advice believing it to be the ONLY safe way.
You should know that Satan can never compel you to do evil after you have become a Christian.
He cannot control your mind unless you yield it to him.
Your will must consent, your faith must let go your hold upon Christ, before Satan can exercise his power upon you. This is the strength you were given when you received a new heart and the imputed righteousness of Christ. "Let him take hold of My strength, that he may make peace with Me; and he shall make peace with Me," the Son of God promises. Isaiah 27:5. If you use the word of God, with living faith in its Author and His promises, you will find that you can also live by it just as Christ did while on earth. "He humbled you", Moses told the people, ". . . that He might make you know that man does not live by bread only, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD. . ." Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4.
Christ Jesus’ place in overcoming
Your ordeals must be the same as those which Jesus passed through or else He could not have been tempted on "all points like as we are." Hebrews 4:15. So He knows what you are going through.
That He could have fallen under those same temptations was a possibility shown by His use of the titles "the Son of man" and "Son of David." Matthew 8:20; 22:45.
Therefore in His humanity He suffered extremely during His struggles with the temptations (which were all based on lawful desires within Him), but He never gave in. Hebrews 5:7-11. While on earth He was on probation as you are, with the same liberty to yield to Satan's temptations and therefore to work at cross-purposes against God! But He chose to live by the word that came daily (or continually) from His Father. Isaiah 50:4-10.
Many Christians, unlike Jesus, pass long years in darkness and doubt because they do not feel as they think they should. But feeling does not always correspond with faith. That faith which "works by love" and purifies the soul, is not dependent upon feeling. Galatians 5:6. It ventures out on the promises of God only, firmly believing as Abraham did, that what He has said He is "able also to perform." Romans 4:20-25. Our minds may be trained to believe, and taught to rely upon, the word of God. That word declares that "The just shall live by faith" and not by anything else. Romans 1:17.
But remember, it is not the word that has the power, but the Person who said it.
Your place in overcoming
"Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted." Matthew 5:4. The mourning brought to view here is the true heart sorrow for sin which comes when you see that, while you have been loved with unspeakable tenderness, your life has been mainly one of ingratitude and rebellion. 2 Corinthians 7:10.
Such mourning can be welcomed because you now know that God has only revealed your guilt to you so that you may run to Jesus and give Him your burdens.
And never forget, we are the cause of most of our own temptations. Through the illustration of pregnancy God makes it very plain. It is written,
, and enticed. Then, when lust has conceived it brings forth sin. And sin, when it is finished, brings forth death. James 1:14-15.
An instance in the life of the apostle Peter as recorded in the Bible can be used as an example of how God deals with temptation.
That disciple was known to the high priest, and went in with Jesus into the palace of the high priest. But Peter stood at the door without. Then went out that other disciple, which was known to the high priest, and spoke to her that kept the door, and brought in Peter. John 18:15-16.
And in another place:
[sticks] to take Me? I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and you took Me not: but the Scriptures must be fulfilled." And they [His disciples] all forsook Him, and fled . . . And they led Jesus away to the high priest: and with him were assembled all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes. And Peter followed him afar off, even into the palace of the high priest: and he sat with the servants, and warmed himself at the fire . . .
And as Peter was beneath in the palace, there came one of the maids of the high priest: and when she saw Peter warming himself, she looked upon him, and said, "And you also were with Jesus of Nazareth." But he denied, saying, "I know not, neither understand I what you say." And he went out into the porch; and the cock crowed. And a maid saw him again, and began to say to them that stood by, "This is one of them." And he denied it again. And a little after, they that stood by said again to Peter, "Surely you are one of them: for you are a Galilean, and your speech agrees thereto[testifies to it]. But he began to curse and to swear, saying, "I know not this man of whom you speak."
[in repentance]. Mark 14:48-54; 66-77.
It was necessary for Peter to learn of his own faults of character and therefore his personal need of the power and grace of his Saviour. The LORD knew that He could not save Peter from the temptation, for he brought it upon himself by his behaviour, but Jesus wanted to save him from the sin. Mark 14:66-72.
Had Peter been willing to receive Christ's warning, he would have been watching "to prayer", listening to the Spirit, and could have escaped the test, for he would have been pleading with the Holy Spirit to lead and teach him in all things, especially this one. Ephesians 6:18. He would have been walking with "fear and trembling"; which means with a healthy respect for the advice of God in case he should stumble and fall. Philippians 2:12. He need not even have been exposed to the temptation if he had only behaved as his fellow disciple John did, for John did not attempt to hide his loyalty and was not questioned although he was there in the courtyard with Peter.
If Peter had believed God's word about his weakness, even at the point of temptation he could still have triumphed in the power of a Saviour who wished to keep him "from falling." Jude 1:24. However, he rejected the warning as not applying to him and tried to be his own problem solver when the test came. Mark 14:27-31.
It was in defiance of the word of God that Peter tried to live in his own strength. It was in this way that Satan fell, and it is in this way that he is still successful in tempting others to ruin, for God’s "sword" is His word and it is a "war of words" that they have between them. Hebrews 4:12 and see Revelation 12:7-9.
Peter eventually gained the victory (for "he went out and wept bitterly"), and later, after His resurrection, Jesus tested him three times on the same point of self-sureness. Matthew 26:74. Peter's answers then showed the depth of his love and remorse, the extent of his self-denial and his new-found reliance upon divine power to overcome. John 21:15-19.
The other person who denied Jesus that night, Judas, refused to be comforted or saved and went out and hanged himself. Matthew 27:3-8.
If you too can endure this trying process (which is not just the pull of temptation but the test of overcoming), and your "self" does not feel hurt and abused, then those probings will reveal to you that your heart is indeed "dead" to self and "alive to God." Romans 6:13. You may know that the axe has been laid at the root of the tree!
Temptation does not come from God, but the test of
Do not err,[or misunderstand this] my beloved brothers and sisters. James 1:12-16.
So you should see that Satan's attempts to use your temptation cannot meet with success unless you choose to respond to it. The decision is always yours and you must be willing to recognise this in all your prayers for forgiveness. Don't blame anyone or anything other than yourself.
You must realise that it is ALWAYS your own fault for not choosing to use "the way out." Don’t try the old excuses, "It was too quick," or, "I didn’t see it coming" for the Spirit of God knows what is happening and warns us long beforehand. It is persistent rejection of His warnings that lead to a "fall" (it’s really a choice!) That’s why it’s so important to repent correctly, which is a way of overcoming.
Some believe that if a Christian stumbles and falls badly after rebirth, then such a person can never regain his or her former position, but Peter's case contradicts this idea. Afterwards, he was not only restored as a member of the flock, but he was also to feed the sheep and the lambs, a broader and more important work than he had ever had before! His very experience in repentance (not his falling), had made him fitter than ever for the work to which he had been called. John 21:15-16.
However, it is a great mistake to think that it is necessary to experience sin in order to be able to sympathise with those who have fallen. Jesus can do this and He has never sinned! It IS necessary for us to know how to overcome and be able to tell others how it is done, but it is far better to have the experience BEFORE falling!
Peter's example also demonstrates that great and good Christians, those with whom God has worked, will make grievous mistakes when they cease to watch and pray, and to fully trust in God. In his letter to the church Peter tells you that there is a precious experience, more valuable than fine gold, to be gained when you walk by faith. He wrote:
"Wherein you greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, you are in heaviness through manifold temptations: that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perishes, though it be tried with fire, might be found to praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: whom having not seen, you love; in whom, though now you see Him not, yet believing, you rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls." 1 Peter 1:3-9.
If we resist the devil with the word of God, fact and promise, then we can learn to overcome before sinning. If we "fall" (choose to give in) then we can come to our Saviour and ask Him to "save" us from the guilt and shame of it. He is willing to do both because He loves us. "He gives more grace."
Why does He do this? Here’s a quote from my library which deals with that point.
After the hymn[at the last supper], they went out. Through the crowded streets they made their way, passing out of the city gate toward the Mount of Olives. Slowly they proceeded, each busy with his own thoughts. As they began to descend toward the mount, Jesus said, in a tone of deepest sadness, "All ye shall be offended because of Me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad." Matt. 26:31.
The disciples listened in sorrow and amazement. They remembered how in the synagogue at Capernaum, when Christ spoke of Himself as the bread of life, many had been offended, and had turned away from Him. But the twelve had not shown themselves unfaithful. Peter, speaking for his brethren, had then declared his loyalty to Christ. Then the Saviour had said, "Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?" John 6:70. In the upper chamber Jesus said that one of the twelve would betray Him, and that Peter would deny Him.
But now His words include them all.
Now Peter's voice is heard vehemently protesting, "Although all shall be offended, yet will not I." In the upper chamber he had declared, "I will lay down my life for Thy sake." Jesus had warned him that he would that very night deny his Saviour. Now Christ repeats the warning: "Verily I say unto thee, That this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny Me thrice." But Peter only "spake the more vehemently, If I should die with Thee, I will not deny Thee in anywise. Likewise also said they all." Mark 14:29, 30, 31.
In their self-confidence they denied the repeated statement of Him who knew. They were unprepared for the test; when temptation should overtake them, they would understand their own weakness.
When Peter said he would follow his Lord to prison and to death, he meant it, every word of it; but he did not know himself. Hidden in his heart were elements of evil that circumstances would fan into life. Unless he was made conscious of his danger, these would prove his eternal ruin.
The Saviour saw in him a self-love and assurance that would overbear even his love for Christ. Much of infirmity, of unmortified [still-living]sin, carelessness of spirit, unsanctified temper, heedlessness in entering into temptation, had been revealed in his experience.
Christ's solemn warning was a call to heart searching. Peter needed to distrust himself, and to have a deeper faith in Christ. Had he in humility received the warning, he would have appealed to the Shepherd of the flock to keep His sheep. When on the Sea of Galilee he was about to sink, he cried, "Lord, save me." Matt. 14:30. Then the hand of Christ was outstretched to grasp his hand. So now if he had cried to Jesus, Save me from myself, he would have been kept. But Peter felt that he was distrusted, and he thought it cruel. He was already offended, and he became more persistent in his self-confidence.
Jesus looks with compassion on His disciples. He cannot save them from the trial, but He does not leave them comfortless. He assures them that He is to break the fetters of the tomb, and that His love for them will not fail. "After I am risen again," He says, "I will go before you into Galilee." Matt. 26:32.
Before the denial, they have the assurance of forgiveness. After His death and resurrection, they knew that they were forgiven, and were dear to the heart of Christ.
Overcoming can occur both BEFORE and AFTER an experience in sin. However, what God wants for us is that we should always overcome BEFOREHAND. That’s why He says, "Go, and sin no more." John 8:11.
Temptation, then, can be a source of joy because it can show us what we want to respond to, and give us an experience in the power of our LORD which we might not have had apart from it.
Who wants to add (or subtract!) from these thoughts? I won't argue as I have stated, but I will publish your Scriptures so that we may review all the words of God on the subject.
Some of the comments on this page are adapted from books in my library. No recognition is given because they are not intended as authorities, but are used because they express my understanding clearly.
Next query. To be discussed from July 1st 2004.
What is Babylon, and how did she fall?
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