Every one of us faces temptation. Even Jesus was not immune, “tempted in every way, just as we are” (Hebrews 4:15). Anyone who has read the Gospels knows that Jesus was tempted during his 40 days in the desert and then again in the garden just before his trial and suffering. But the writer of Hebrews seems to tell us that in the very same ways we are tempted, so was Jesus, yet Jesus didn’t sin.
The Attraction of Temptation
In his production of The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson intentionally portrayed Satan as relatively attractive, because sin is attractive. If it were not, it would be so much easier to resist. Temptation is . . . tempting! It presents something to us that is pleasurable and attractive—physically or perhaps psychologically or emotionally. Our nature creates in us a yearning to give in, because whatever is tempting us tugs on our own “evil desires” and presents something that seems, at least momentarily, good and pleasing (James 1:14-16).
First Corinthians 10:13 tells us clearly, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful, he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” In the original Greek the words used are important keys to understanding this passage. God does not tempt, but he allows us to be tempted. Different tenses of the same word are used for “what you can bear” and “so that you can endure”—that word is dunasthe, meaning strength, ability, to have the power.
In other words, God won’t allow the temptation unless he also provides the dunasthe to overcome it. He instills in us the strength to resist.
Playing Defense/Avoiding Temptation
An old adage says, “The best defense is a good offense.” In general, the idea is that being proactive can often hinder the enemy’s ability to mount an attack. The same is true with temptation in our lives. Jesus taught that we are to avoid sin at all costs—even at the cost of a hand or eye (Matthew 5:29, 30; Mark 9:43). If certain things cause us to sin, we ought to cut them out of our lives! We must know our weaknesses, and the areas where we are vulnerable, without letting our guard down where we believe ourselves to be strong. If you know your weaknesses, then you know what and whom to avoid. Prepare ahead of time for the unavoidable situation, planning how you will resist if and when temptation comes.
Just as an alcoholic avoids bars, so should we avoid the things that tempt us. Job made a “covenant” with his eyes not to “look lustfully at a young woman” (Job 31:1), the very thing Jesus taught is adultery.
Pay attention to the company you keep. Stay away from people whose conduct and values may put you in situations where you know you will face temptations.
If you are married or in a relationship headed for marriage, do not allow yourself to be alone with a member of the opposite sex. (A good practice whether or not this is an area of weakness.) That may mean no lunches or dinners with that cute girl at work or the great guy who flirts with you and tells you how great you look.
If you are inclined toward pornography, avoid using the Internet at a time or place you might be tempted to “sneak a peek.” Be careful what you watch and listen to.
Avoid media that breaks down your resistance and fuels temptation. Movies, TV, books, and even music often carry images and messages that permeate our thinking and serve to weaken our convictions. The marketing messages we hear and see tell us not to be content with who and what we are. Materialism and sex are the norm.
In Colossians 3:2 Paul wrote, “Set your minds on things above, not earthly things.” We may be in the world, but we’re not of the world.
When Temptation Comes
Temptation will inevitably come upon us, sometimes when we least expect it. When that time comes, we need to tap into the strength God promises.
Think of temptation as the precursor to sin, an inner warning that we are about to do something that we know in our hearts is not right. It’s the Holy Spirit’s yellow traffic light, warning us to stop, to resist.
But what does resistance look like? Whether the temptation is toward words or deeds, before you take a step, take a moment. We would do well to follow the examples given us by Joseph, and by Jesus.
Genesis 39:3-10 tells us that Potiphar’s wife was attracted to Joseph, who was “well built and handsome,” and invited him to “come to bed with me.” Joseph refused, telling her that her husband trusted him with his entire household. He added, “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” Before there were the Ten Commandments, Joseph followed the two commandments that, centuries later, Jesus would affirm—love the Lord and love your neighbor.
What did Jesus do? In the desert, he quoted Scripture, throwing back in the face of Satan the evil one’s misuse of the Word. In the garden, Jesus prayed to the Father. Prayer and the Word of God—two tools available to us all. Paul refers to the Word as the “sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17) and we can use it to battle our own temptations, putting on the full armor of God.
Here are a few guidelines to help you in times of temptation.
- Pray for the Lord to plant in your heart the strength, ability and power—the dunasthe—to resist.
- “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
- We belong to Christ—it is no longer a matter of who we are, but rather whosewe are (1 Corinthians 3:23).
- The Spirit of Christ dwells in us. Our hearts are not ours, they are his and he can and will provide a way out (Romans 8:9-11; 1 Corinthians 10:13).
- Love of God, love of Christ, love of others. Whatever your temptation—ask yourself what love would require of you.
Consider the consequences. We are forgiven of our sins, but the earthly consequences remain ours to bear. Think about the impact:
- on your family.
- on your peace in Christ.
- on your testimony and your witness for the Lord.
- Remember that sin steals joy (Psalm 51:12).
- Recall that sin grieves the heart of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30).
Temptation is inevitable. But God has promised us that he will be there with us to help us through the storm.
Greg Grandchamp spent 40 plus years in corporate management in the financial services industry. Greg is author of In Pursuit of Truth, to be released in May 2019, and is a certified Ramsey Solutions Financial Coach.