Truth That Matters

"What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" - Jesus Christ

Dealing with temptation

The word temptation has two meanings:
  1. To be tested. This is the sense in which God tempted Abraham (Genesis 22:1) and Jesus was tempted (Mark 1:13)
  2. To be allured or seduced with the pleasures of sin. It is in this sense that God does not tempt anyone nor is tempted himself (James/Jacob 1:13)
This page deals with the second meaning. Although we believers have been saved and forgiven, we still have our original, human, fleshly nature, and so we can be allured or attracted by sin. There are things that may appeal to us, that God forbids. Thus, any sincere believer will find himself or herself in the midst of a struggle:

"The good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do." - Romans 7:19

The purpose of this article is to deal with this struggle.

The theoretical basis for victory over temptation

The unregenerate man is sinful by birth (nature), and thus has an unavoidable propensity to sin. Thus, we can't really expect righteousness from unbelievers. This is confirmed in our everyday life, although everyone does not acknowledge it. As this is being written, the newspaper in front of me reports a murder case - the cops are wondering, "How could an educated girl kill her parents?" Well, education does not take away a person's sinfulness!

A lot of the "apparent righteousness" that we see around us is just a facade to avoid getting caught or to convince people that one is really good. Even atheists claim that they be good because being good and decent makes other people like/respect them, and so has good "survival value" (so we don't need your Bible and your God to tell us that murder and rape "ain't cool", they say). There's a word for that in the Bible: hypocrisy. On the outside, the unbeliever behaves decently because he's pragmatic - inside him, it's lust, hatred and so on.

What about believers?

We have the Holy Spirit indwelling in us - a new nature. We are made a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17). Among the qualities that make up the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22,23) are self-control, goodness and gentleness. The kingdom of God includes righteousness (Romans 14:17). Thus, we can expect the Holy Spirit to birth these qualities in us.

When we came to Christ, not only did we get His Holy Spirit, but our old nature died with Him (Romans 6:2). This means that we are not -bound- to sin:-

"And if Christ [be] in you, the body [is] dead because of sin; but the Spirit [is] life because of righteousness.Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh." - Romans 8:10,12

When Jesus said we should deny ourselves and take up our cross, the cross there is a symbol of death, like the gallows today. In those days, if one saw a person walking with a cross, one would assume that he's going to die that day - he has already said goodbye to his loved ones. The final result is a dead body. So we should reckon our old nature as dead, not just injured (Romans 6:11).

Just as dead people don't respond to the things that they once liked, we who are now dead to sin should not react to sin/temptations to sin.

Thus, the work of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit enable the incredible:-

"That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." - Romans 8:4

Thus, believers CAN have victory over temptation! We can have righteousness.

An analogy can be found in the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt.

When Christ died for us this mastery of sin was broken, just like the Egyptian army was destroyed at the Red Sea. The Israelites were no longer bound to serve the Egyptians, though Egypt still existed and continued to attract them later. The Red Sea crossing is a type of baptism. Thus sin has no irresistable power over us, but we can yield to it.

It was never God's plan for them to return to Eygpt. He'd rather have them be captives in Babylon. Similary God wants us to take chastisement and persecution in our stride, and not go back to the pleasures to sin.

How it works out in practical life

The above discussion centered on what God has done for us. He's given us the Holy Spirit; Christ is in us, a new nature, and the old nature is dead - thus we -CAN- be righteous. But what's our part? What do we have to do so that the potential for righteousness that God has made available for us is actually realized? Answer: We feed the spiritual man (our new nature) and starve the carnal man to progress in self control:-

"But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to [fulfil] the lusts [thereof]." - Rom 13:14

"[This] I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh." - Ga 5:16

How do we feed the spiritual nature?
By spending time with God - studying His word, in prayer, worship, with others, reading a good book, and so on.
  • "Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed [thereto] according to thy word." - Ps 119:9
  • "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things [are] honest, whatsoever things [are] just, whatsoever things [are] pure, whatsoever things [are] lovely, whatsoever things [are] of good report; if [there be] any virtue, and if [there be] any praise, think on these things." - Php 4:8
Some people spend all their time thinking about what's weird, funny and strange. That's not God's way!

How do we starve our flesh?
Desires are fueled and fed by fulfillment. If you give in a little to some desire, you start to feel a greater craving for it. Thus, we can starve our fleshly lusts by keeping away from any bit of fulfillment. Do you have a weakness for alcohol? Then avoid places where it's available. Do you have a weakness for luxury? Then don't keep magazines at home that are all about luxury products. Do you have a weakness for excessive shopping? Then decide what you need in advance and only then go to the store - and don't buy on impulse. Do you have a weakness for women? porn? Then don't watch movies that make you itch for the sight of more skin.

In general, every aspect of our lifestyle has to be checked: Does it take us away from God? If yes, it has to go away. If we fill ourselves with the things of God, the things of the world will be crowded out -that's the right approach. The wrong approach is to not feed your spirit nature, and then, when you feel the desire for sinful pleasure, to try and -muster- up all the self control in the world to defeat your desire. That's what some of the mystics in the middle ages used to attempt, and some of them got into mental problems. It's not possible to defeat the flesh with the flesh!!

Having said all this, there will certainly be times when you fall. What is a believer to do when he or she falls?

"My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." - 1 John 2:1,1:9

Confessing our sins restores our fellowship with our Father. Like: If a child misbehaves, he is still a child, but he can enjoy his relationship with his father only if he confesses his wrongdoing and is reconciled.

Confessing our sins also enables us to grow in our relationship with our Father. The Lord's Supper which the Lord Jesus instituted gives us an opportunity to check our hearts. Before taking part in it, we should make sure that any sin is confessed. It is a serious thing to take part unworthily in the Lord's Supper (1 Co 11:28-30) - of course, this does not mean that you -have- to wait a week before you confess your sin!!

Condemnation is a tool that Satan uses to keep Christians lying low. Never let him use it on you!!

"Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? [It is] God that justifieth. Who [is] he that condemneth? [It is] Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. [There is] therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." - Rom 8: 33,34,1

Conclusion

Whereas unbelievervs have only their innate tendency to sin (the flesh), believers in Jesus Christ also have the Holy Spirit in them - a spiritual nature, and thus can expect to be righteous.

Thus, our strategy is:
  • Spend time with God and fill your life with things that feed your spiritual nature.
  • Starve the flesh
  • In case you fall to sin, confess it, move on, and don't let the devil (or anyone else) condemn you!