I still remember the day I surrendered my life to Christ. Somewhere along the journey, I had been led to believe that once a person became a Christian, all of life's troubles would vanish. Boy was I wrong! Little did I know that making the best decision of my life would also expose me to the knowledge of spiritual warfare. I would discover not only the external temptations presented by Satan and the fleeting pleasures of the world, but I would also be introduced to the law of sin in my own flesh, the internal struggle that exists in every new believer.
Of course, I am not alone in this. Many new Christians are often shocked to find themselves bombarded with severe temptations from within and from without. When this happens, some eventually grow tired of the constant battle and close their eyes in carnality, lukewarmness, or indifference. And some Christians make the fatal decision to give up their hope for restoration altogether and return to their former lifestyle.
Friends, this saddens me, since in both cases, falling away from Christ is completely preventable. Years of counseling others have convinced me that having the right expectations on our journey to Heaven makes all the difference. When we understand temptation--its definition, its origin, its purpose, and its stages--we are better prepared to overcome it.
A little boy preparing for a weekend camping trip at the lake with his boy scout group was told by his mother to refrain from swimming that weekend. The boy had recently recovered from a terrible case of pneumonia and his mother wanted to ensure his safety. After packing his bags, he hurried out to meet his friends, and off they went. Returning home a few days later, his mother noticed her son's wet swimming trunks hanging in the family laundry room. When the little boy was asked why he went swimming against her wishes, he exclaimed, "Mom, I got tempted!" His mother then asked, "Well why did you take your swimsuit since I told you not to go swimming?" The little boy replied, "Just in case I got tempted!"
Friends, this is certainly not the correct way to handle temptation. Thankfully, the Bible provides a step-by-step plan to help us overcome any temptation. But before I outline the steps, I'd like to provide a quick overview of what is meant by the word "temptation".
In James 1:14, we learn, "Every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed." Here we learn that temptation means to be drawn, or enticed by our own pre-existing lusts. These "lusts" are "improper desires" that we inherit at birth and develop through the practice of bad habits. But I have great news for you. What I'm about to share is one of Satan's biggest secrets. He has studied the human mind for 6,000 years. And he desperately wants to hide this information from you. So pay close attention.
Today, God wants you to know that, although you are often enticed by your own desires, these desires alone do not incur the guilt of sin. For instance, we might have a strong desire to think wrong thoughts, say bad words, express wrong feelings, or do wrong acts. But when we resist these desires and refuse to harbor the feelings attached to them, we confuse the devil. He loses his primary weapon to deceive and destroy our faith.
Many sincere Christians fall victim to Satan's lies when they are tricked into believing that their strong desire to sin is sin itself! And when constantly bombarded by the enemy from within and from without, they give up hope, feeling as though their conversion was not authentic. But nothing could be further from the truth. In James 1:15, it is clear that lust must produce the thing desired before we incur the guilt of sin: "Then when lust has conceived, it bringeth forth sin." Notice here that a believer's lust (or strong desire) must conceive before it is considered a sin to God. The word conceive means "to take part in". A person takes part in sin when they give in to temptation. They stop resisting it. Rather than resist, they cherish the wrong thought or feeling. The desire becomes an act. And unless confessed and repented of, it leads to death.
Now let's quickly take a look at the steps to overcome any temptation.
In James 4:7, we read, "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (James 4:7). When tempted to do evil, it's hard to think of anything more important than to immediately place the temptation in God's hands. Getting God involved at the onset is the key to getting the help needed for the next step.
What does this look like practically? It simply means entering into immediate dialogue with God about the present situation. Send up a quick prayer acknowledging that your desires are in conflict with His will. It's important to always be honest with God. I can't tell you how many times I've actually told God that I desired something that was forbidden. I've learned that being vulnerable with God is safe because He knows everything about me, yet still loves me unconditionally. Don't listen to Satan's lies when he tells you that you've gone too far or that you are too sinful for God to listen. Your need alone is the reason God is ready and willing to help you. He is not provoked by our selfish tendencies or inherited passions. So don't be afraid to share your inmost thoughts and feelings with Him. Acknowledging what you really are before God is the key to getting the help you need.
Once you have acknowledged your need, you'll then need to submit to His will for you. You do this by asking God for strength to do His will. Let your prayer be, "Lord, I submit to Your will for my life right now. Please grant me the desire to obey and the grace needed to obey, just as You said You would in Hebrews 4:16. Your desires for me are much better than my desires for me. I trust You and choose You now. In Your name, I pray, Amen.
After praying this prayer, you'll need to close the door to the temptation itself. This is a very important step. Sin starts in the mind. It is written, "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7). And because sin starts in the mind, you'll want to address its point of origin. Here is another secret that Satan wants to keep from you. Although it may sometimes feel like it, Satan can never force you to sin. But he is a master at suggesting sinful thoughts through the five senses. He seeks to control you through the things that you see, hear, taste, smell, and touch. Realizing this, you'll need to make the necessary precautions to heed the counsel given to us in Philippians 4:8, which says, “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.”
Set your thoughts on the things above. So, if it's a harmful substance then get it out of your presence. If it's a wrong feeling or emotion, replace that thought with something worthy of meditation. If it's bad company, find a new circle of influence. If it's bad entertainment, find healthy forms of leisure. These are just a few ways you can close the door to the temptation itself.
Precious friend, you are not alone in your temptations. The Lord has promised to weigh it before you even become aware of it. Rest assured that the blow that is aimed at you falls upon the Savior. And whatever touches you comes from Him who knows just what you can endure. He knows how to prepare you for your new home. And today, He is ready, willing, and able to keep you from falling if you would but submit to God and resist the devil.
Praying for you--Pastor DL