By Steven Clark Goad
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you (James 4:7).
What does it mean to be tempted? It is being enticed to sin—an urging to behave in ways that pull us away from God, distract us from our purpose within his mission, causing us to abandon responsible behavior. It causes us to waste our time in pointless and self-destructive diversions. Temptations never enhance our lives. They always diminish us.
Satan tempts us using our own natural feelings and healthy desires. God gave us our senses and we enjoy them. We like to taste delicious flavors, touch or experience things that feel nice or give us physical pleasure, smell good fragrances, see beautiful things, and hear lovely sounds. These are the “desires of the eyes” and the “desires of the flesh.” Desire itself is not sinful.
God gave us our senses in part to give us pleasure. However, pleasure is not our driving objective. We were created by God not to please ourselves through our senses, but to do his will—although serving God is one of life’s greatest pleasures.
Another source of temptation is referred to in Scripture as “the pride of life.” This is the same arrogance that caused Satan and his angels to be expelled from Heaven. This prompts in our hearts conceit, smugness, and boasting, all of which are repugnant to God (Proverbs 27:1). We decide we are smarter, richer, more athletic, prettier, better in certain areas, or more privileged than others, and then discount God by behaving as if we were the creators of these situations (which are actually blessings from God and have nothing whatsoever to do with anything we do or could have done).
Avoiding Illicit Desires
The simple answer to temptation avoidance is self-control. We need to avoid the seductive lover. We have the choice to walk away from the immoral crowd, shun the drink, avoid that third piece of cake, refrain from shooting the man with whom we are angry, say no to drugs, throw that magazine in the trash, or block all porno sites from computer access. Yet doing this is easier said than done.
Jesus is the instructor of our course. His credentials are on file. When the subject of fasting is raised, people (even in the church) will often counter, “Fasting isn’t a normal part of our American culture.” That is true. We are far more into feasting than fasting. It’s often done on church property. We call it potluck.
Have you noticed the pitiful state of our culture and the weakness of the modern church? Prayer and fasting are spoken of by Jesus as if he expected his followers to be doing both. The infant church practiced fasting as a part of its normal
routine. We do not see it being terminated. Jesus said, “When you fast,” not “If you fast” (Matthew 6:16).
I didn’t understand spiritual fasting and its connection with prayer until I became convicted that I should begin fasting regularly for spiritual reasons. After my first couple of experiences, I began to understand. Eating is the most basic of needs. I am tempted right now to grab a candy bar and take a break from the keyboard. Pepperoni pizza may also be calling me shortly. If that hunger need is not being met, people universally will try to solve the hunger problem first, and then tackle higher level needs. Fasting acknowledges God’s leadership in our lives. It teaches self-control at the most basic human level and is thus transferable to every other area of life.
If I can control the desire (even temptation) to eat, I can get control over less pressing urges. Fasting is an essential training ground that enables the Christian to develop self-control, one aspect of the Spirit’s fruit (Galatians 5:22, 23) that is absolutely necessary for serving God and avoiding sin. Fasting is a magnificently powerful training ground for resisting temptation. We have missed this along the way.
Implementing the Strategy
First, we must admit to ourselves that we are not above being tempted. A serious-minded Christian woman once confided in me that on a business trip, after 10 years of marriage, she had an affair. She said that if someone had asked the day before the tryst if she would ever do such a thing she would have shouted, “Absolutely not!” Since she wasn’t on guard and wasn’t expecting it, sin overtook her.
No one is immune. “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall”
(1 Corinthians 10:12). To protect ourselves, we must first admit to ourselves that we have vulnerabilities. Satan, always hungry, works very hard to sabotage us, and can succeed if we aren’t vigilant, alert, determined, and awake to potential problems.
Second, we must recognize that “everyone” isn’t doing it. Many current movies, songs, books, magazines, and television programs imply that virtually everyone has sex before and outside of marriage, drinks alcohol, swears, takes illegal drugs, carries weapons, uses pornography, engages in fraud, lies, cheats, steals, and commits violent acts. If we expose ourselves to this fare we find we begin to think the behavior we see is what “normal” people do. This false image is not the world Christians want to be part of.
Third, never lower your resistance with alcohol or drugs. A soldier on guard duty caught drunk or doped would find himself summarily in the brig. No one can effectively protect against an enemy when his mental capacity is impaired. We are on guard against the most vicious of enemies. To think we will succeed in our efforts to defeat our spiritual enemy, Satan, with such lowered resistance is foolhardy. Illegal drug use and alcohol abuse have no place in a Christian’s life.
Fourth, decide beforehand how you will respond to challenging circumstances. An elder once explained that he would not counsel a woman alone without his wife present. Some people thought it was overkill, yet 50 years of marriage attest to his success in avoiding the sin of adultery. A woman whose uncle and father had problems with alcohol chose to be a teetotaler. She reasoned, “I can’t become an alcoholic if I never take a drink.” Decide ahead of time to avoid any and all situations you know from experience or logic could pose a problem. Practice what you want to say or do in certain situations, then apply what you’ve practiced when those temptations present themselves. And they will.
Fifth, maintain wholesome relationships by avoiding questionable companions. Paul’s observation still rings true: “Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33). Hang with the wrong crowd and you’ll soon become part of it. If we keep company with self-indulgent souls, we will become self-indulgent.
Sixth, keep the Word in your heart and close at hand. The psalmist wrote, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11). Jesus withstood a Scripture-quoting devil at one of his most vulnerable moments by quoting Scripture back to him. I have found it very hard to sin while praying or meditating on God’s Word. Experts who look for counterfeit currency don’t have to know how counterfeits are made. They simply need to become so familiar with the genuine article that a counterfeit bill leaps out at them.
Steven Clark Goad is a freelance writer and author in Blythe, California.
Verses for Times of Temptation
1 Peter 1:13, 14
1 Peter 5:7–9
1 Corinthians 10:12–14