Before I became a Christian, temptation wasn't a problem-usually it was thrilling! But with salvation comes an awareness that temptation never leads us anywhere good. Suddenly, temptation becomes a battle. But what exactly do we battle against?
One of the traps Christians can fall into is the avoidance of understanding temptation. Not the avoidance of temptation (which is obviously important), but of understanding temptation. The reasoning goes something like this: "Why should I think about temptation and just make it worse?" But the biblical approach to temptation is to see it clearly as the serious threat to our growth that it is.
Throughout Scripture, the temptations of God's people are displayed in all their ugliness. Even Jesus is described as being tempted (Lk 4:2), which illustrates an important truth: temptation itself is not sin. But where there is temptation, the potential for sin is very near, so an awareness of the nature and remedy for temptation is vital.
Here are some other important realities about temptation. God never tempts us (Jas 1:13). We can, however, be tempted by our own desires (Jas 1:14); by the carnal world (1Jn 2:15-17); and by Satan (1Co 7:5). There are no temptations so extraordinary or captivating that we cannot resist with God's ready help (1Co 10:12-13).
Possibly the most important thing to know, however, is this: our struggle with temptation is actually evidence of God's grace in our lives. Back in my old memory passage, Romans 6, Paul explains that when we were slaves to sin we were free from righteousness; that is, we had no reason to respond to anything but temptation. Now we are slaves of righteousness, and temptation matters to us, because it doesn't fit into God's ownership plan for our lives.
So what do we do with temptation?
First, in facing temptation, don't be surprised at what you see. The doctrine of indwelling sin tells us that, although the dominion of sin over our lives has been broken, the activity of sin remains. We are by nature lustful, rebellious, and foolish creatures who operate 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week idol factories in our hearts. Nothing should surprise us. Yet the good news is that we have been rescued and are being changed into ever-greater likenesses of our Rescuer, Jesus Christ. We need not be carried away by temptation, but we must be watchful for its attempts to grab us. And the better we understand temptation, the more watchful we can be.
Second, recognize that the Bible has one principal defense against temptation: FLEE! (1Co 6:18, 10:14; 1Ti 6:11; 2Ti 2:22) What does it mean to flee? Consider...roaches. As soon as a roach knows trouble is near he starts running. Where he goes doesn't really matter, he just goes.
That's kind of what fleeing should be for us. Next time you chase a roach around the kitchen, stop a moment and take notes on his fleeing techniques. They could come in handy. (OK, I know there are some exceptionally arrogant and/or stupid roaches that flee less readily, but look what happens to them!)
And did you ever notice that God tells us to resist Satan but flee from temptation? This means that little old you and me will have a lot more success fighting against the prince of darkness than against our own sinful desires! In fact, James 4:7 says that if we resist (battle) the devil he will actually do the roach scamper from us.
Finally, remember that Jesus himself is ready to help us out of temptation. "Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted" (Heb 2:18). And if we do sin after being tempted, God provides a way back through confession, repentance, and faith (1Jn 1:9). God's ability to help us in time of need and restore us in time of fall is an essential part of our growth under his loving ownership.
God is for us, and will be our greatest friend through any temptation. We can place our hope in him and trust that he will supply a way out amidst every temptation. Next time, we'll look at living our lives in light of this eternal truth.
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