Things I’m Asked: How can I overcome temptation?

OPINION

Let’s face it, everyone battles with this… and it is a continuous battle. The human landscape is littered with the wreckage of what was once integrity, humility and truth. I do hope some of that wreckage was not yours. Not for nothing did God say to Cain, ‘sin is crouching at the door; it desires to have you, but you must master it’ (Genesis 4:7).

It is somewhat mollifying to know that Jesus understands the pressures of temptation (Hebrews 2:18). He was tempted himself (Luke 4:1-13), and because he understands, he’s able to help us when we are tempted (Hebrews 4:15-16). From this, an important truth follows:

It is not a sin to be tempted. It is what we do with temptation that matters.

Temptation on its own is harmless – it is just an invitation.

As the English 19th century literary critic, Churton Collins, wrote: “We are no more responsible for the evil thoughts that pass through our minds than a scarecrow for the birds which fly over the seed-plot he has to guard. The sole responsibility in each case is to prevent them from settling.”

Temptation on its own is harmless – it is just an invitation. It must be allowed to mix with our own evil desires before any sin is committed (James 1:14-15). Therefore, Satan can’t make us sin by tempting us. Satan needs our “yes” first.

God is not against us for our sin, but for us against our sin.

But here’s the conundrum: The Bible teaches that Christians no longer have to do what their old nature wants them to do. We are told that the old nature can be ‘crucified’ when we make Christ the leader of our lives (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 2:20). And yet, no Christian has ever managed to be entirely good. Even the apostle Paul battled with temptation (Romans 7:18-19). The apostle Peter was dead right when he said there was a war going on between our old nature and the Spirit of God (1 Peter 2:11).

What I’m saying next is pretty obvious, but I’ll say it anyway because it’s important: God does not want to spoil our fun. God is not against us for our sin, but for us against our sin. As Benjamin Franklin said: “Sin is not hurtful because it is forbidden; sin is forbidden because it is hurtful.” Jesus tells us that Christians are meant to live ‘life in all its fullness’ (John 10:10). And the apostle Paul reminds us: ‘God … richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment’ (1 Timothy 6:17).

Because God loves us and wants to be in a relationship with us, he doesn’t want us to dampen his Holy Spirit’s presence within us by continuing to sin. God calls us to be free of sin, rather than enslaved by sin (John 8:34; 2 Peter 2:18-19).

The trick is to put an end to temptation early before it takes hold.

Remember: Satan loves to kill, steal and destroy, which is why he’s made sin so addictive. The trick is to put an end to temptation early before it takes hold. Once we let ourselves savour the idea, wilful sin follows (James 1:14-15). So, don’t savour it. Distract yourself. Fill your mind with something else that is positive (Philippians 4:8).

Here are some more tips from the Bible:

  • Hate the thought of being “controlled” by bad habits (1 Corinthians 6:12
  • Don’t do or think things that are unhelpful (1 Corinthians 10:23). It’s worth pondering what films, books, social settings and situations are unhelpful, so you can avoid them.
  • Avoid immature, self-indulgent excesses and aim at righteousness (2 Timothy 2:22).
  • Bring your thinking under God’s control (2 Corinthians 10:5; Colossians 3:1-3)
  • We are to train our body, i.e. our habits (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).
  • We are also told to train our thinking, i.e. renew our minds (Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 10:5; Ephesians 4:22-24). This requires re-recording what our subconscious inclines our minds to think about by continually restating to yourself what is true and what is good (Philippians 4:8).

Are we condemned to rely only on our own resources?

It can be disheartening looking at a list like this, can’t it? Sometimes it is not very helpful to be told to be strong and try harder. Are we condemned to rely only on our own resources, or can God really give us tangible help? What more can we say?

Overcoming temptation is not just drawing away from something, it is drawing near to someone. Overcoming temptation is not just having the willpower to stop doing something, but having the love to start you coming closer to God. The promise is that if we live as friends of God, our old nature will be transformed (2 Corinthians 3:18; 2 Peter 1:3-4). God has also promised that we will never be tempted beyond that which we can endure. He will always give us the ability to overcome temptation – if we want it (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Your other great resource is the Bible. Jesus quoted Scripture in order to counter temptation (Luke 4:1-12). Scripture will teach what is right and what is wrong (Psalm 119:9-11,105; Proverbs 6:23-24), and it will teach you the promises of God (2 Peter 1:3-4). It will train you and build you up (2 Timothy 3:15-17).

So, read it every day.

Dr Nick Hawkes is a scientist, pastor, apologist, writer and broadcaster. He also describes himself as an absent-minded, slightly obsessive man who is pathetically weak due to cancer and chemo, who has experienced, and needs to experience, the grace of God each day.

Nick has written a book Soar above the Storm in which he draws on his experience of cancer to encourage anyone walking through a storm in life to find rest and hope in God. It offers a 40-day retreat to be refreshed and strengthened and find deep peace in God. Order it at Koorong.

He blogs and records podcasts at nickhawkes.net.

Nick told his life story to Eternity in Deadly storms, heroin addicts, cancer and my faith.