Coping with temptation
Temptation is something that each of us face. The shape of our temptations may differ; but in the end they all lead us away from a deeper relationship with God and away from one another,
Every churchgoer has heard sermons on Jesus’ temptations occurring after His baptism Scripture records that He was tempted 40 days by the devil. However, the Gospels only tell us of those at the very end of His wilderness sojourn; at this point the devil seems to be really at his wits end. He tempts Jesus with food because He has fasted during His stay in the desert, power over all the kingdoms of the world and challenges His authenticity as the Son of God in hopes that His pride would overtake Him. In response to each of the temptations Jesus replies with Scripture and in the end the devil goes away until a more opportune time. The typical theme stressed by sermons is that if we were only scriptural literate, we would be able to overcome the wiles of the Satan. While this may be true, several important factors are often neglected: 1. Jesus did not spend time reflecting on the temptation; He dealt with it immediately. His strategy provides an excellent example for each of even without quoting scripture; too often we “talk “ourselves into surrendering to the lure. 2. His temptations did not end with just those three cited. Hebrews 4:15 tells us “Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are—yet He was without sin”. The important point that should be extracted from this verse and ones that are cited frequently in other scripture references is that temptation itself is not sin and does not necessarily lead to sin. Temptation is simply an invitation to sin. We only sin when we decide to accept the invitation.
The frequent cartoon image of the little angel on one shoulder and the little devil on the other suggests that each of us is engaged in constant battle to do the “right” thing. I must confess that I grew up with the idea of the devil trying to “get me”, so I had to be constantly vigilant against the temptations of Satan. Later in life I came to believe that basic temptations rest both inside and outside of each of us.
The account of David and Bathsheba as recorded in II Samuel 11: 1-16 provides an example of the coming together of the inside and outside forces. You probably recall David did not join his army while it was engaged in a battle against a neighboring country so he had time on his hands. As he wandered around the roof of the castle, he saw Bathsheba bathing and probably said to himself, “Wow! What a great looking chick!” I would aver most present-day males might make a similar response. It is important to note that so far no sin has occurred. However, David’s inner urges led him to inquire as to her identity and subsequently summon her to the palace. At this point the combination of the inner and outer forces occurred and they proved to be too strong for David to resist. Whenever these forces combine, the chances that sin will occur are greatly increased unless we have resolved ahead of time not to be led into situations where they are likely to coalesce.
A first step to deal with these forces is learning to recognize our “triggers”. Therefore, we need to become aware of what is going on around us and within us when we are tempted. Every action begins with a thought. When we surrender to a temptation, we first surrender to it in our mind. When we are confronted with financial difficulties, we may be tempted to use dishonest means to solve our problem. When our relationship with others is threatened, we may be tempted to strike out in negative ways. When our life seems filled with failures, we may be tempted to engage in numerous falsehoods to make ourselves look and seem better to others. When we are depressed, we are more easily tempted to abuse alcohol or drugs to ease our pain. Our first line of defense is to recognize our “triggers”.
However, if you entertain the idea that you are able to destroy any temptation by your own strength, nothing will permanently change and any seemingly progress will be short-lived. Most of us have tried to change solely by our own willpower and found that it didn’t work in the long run (Note: The typical high rate of New Year Resolutions). Furthermore, as long as we continue to try to operate on our willpower alone, we will not experience God’s power. It takes humility to acknowledge defeat, and then turn over the problem to God. But unless we do so we will get nowhere as our Lord said, “… No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (John 15: 4-5 NIV). We must come to the place where we make a decision each day, sometimes each hour, to turn our struggles over to God and pray, “Lord, I don’t have the ability by myself to overcome this, but I do not want to surrender to its grip. May the Holy Spirit strengthen me in this endeavor?” This is a prayer God will always answer. Further we have His promise in 1 Corinthians 10:13 (TLB) “ But remember this—the wrong desires that come into your life aren’t anything new and different. Many others have faced exactly the same problems before you. And no temptation is irresistible. You can trust God to keep the temptation from becoming so strong that you can’t stand up against it, for He has promised this and will do what he says. He will show you how to escape temptation’s power so that you can bear up patiently against it.”
Although we have His promises, our greatest danger is to think we have arrived at a place where we are beyond being tempted. As Proverbs 16:18 states, “When our pride tells us we cannot fail, we are headed for disaster.” When the right circumstances arise, we are all capable of surrendering to temptation so we should never be overconfident. In order to effectively cope with temptation we must do two things: 1. Be constantly aware of our ‘triggers’ and 2. Learn not to rely entirely on our own strength and keep in mind that His help is available.