1. HYMNS COME ALIVE!
Church attendance was not optional in our family. We always went. As a result, I learned wonderful hymns that, I confess, I only grew to appreciate fully after I received Jesus as Lord of my life. Then, a verse of "What a Friend we Have in Jesus" became especially meaningful to me:
In seasons of distress and grief
My soul has often found relief,
And oft escape the tempter's snare,
By thy return, sweet hour of prayer.
2. READING THE WORD OF GOD AND PRAYER HELP US ESCAPE TEMPTATION
These words taught me that prayer is a vital power by which I can escape temptation. Jesus taught us to pray, "Lead us not into temptation" and said, "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation."
I also learned to depend upon Holy Scripture, the Word of God, and the two-edged sword of the Spirit that exposes lies and repels the attacks of Satan. When Jesus was tempted for forty days in the wilderness, He did not rely upon His own wisdom to overcome temptation; He countered all three of Satan's attacks with the words, "It is written!" I learned to do the same.
As I read the Word of God and communed with God in prayer, He provided me with weapons: His living Word, the Holy Spirit, and the powerful name of Jesus. By allowing His word to clarify and renew my mind and by speaking it out in faith … By cultivating a Spirit-filled life … By commanding Satan's defeat in Jesus' name … I found victory over temptations that otherwise might have defeated me.
3. WE WILL BE TEMPTED!
We can count on the tempter's coming our way, but we should always remember that temptation is not synonymous with sin. It does not make sin inevitable. We can be victorious.
4. OLD MAN VERSUS THE TEMPTED MAN
An important distinction to make in learning to face temptation is the difference between what Scripture calls "the old man" and what we might call "the tempted man." They are not the same.
When the Bible speaks of "the old man" it refers to someone who lives in the practice of sin. It speaks, for instance, of "your former way of life … your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires …" (Eph. 4:22). It is the man who lives for himself, falling into the pattern so aptly described in Isaiah 53:5-6: "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way …"-a defiled person.
"The tempted man" is different. He is tempted, but isn't necessarily defeated. The Word of God tells him that he will be tempted, warns him that he must be careful, but then assures Him that God has provided a way to overcome temptation: "So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. 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 stand up under it" (I Cor. 10:12,13).
This passage bears repeating every day of or lives. It assures us that even in the heat of temptation there is no fate hanging over us determining our failure. Even though we are a fearful bundle of desires, lusts, and affections … Even though we are a fearful bundle of desires, lusts, and affections … Even though none of us is immune to the lure of temptation … Even though we all have a propensity for sin … Even though we have all experienced temptation and sin in the past … As believers in Christ we have also experienced the power of His forgiveness and the reality of His freedom. We need not yield. We can be victorious!
5. HOW ARE WE TEMPTED?
We all have desires, some of which are strong enough to be called lusts. We desire food and drink, fun and fellowship, sexual intimacy. We like possessions, freedom, security, acceptance, honor, and reward. We want satisfaction for our curiosity, recognition for our achievements. We would like to love fully and to be fully loved.
The apostle John reduces that long list of desires to three:
the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life." He writes, "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world-the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does-comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who dies the will of God lives forever (I John 2:15-17 NIV).
The categorizing of these desires helps us to see how temptation comes. The lust of the flesh is the desire to enjoy things. The lust of the eyes is the desire to acquire things. The pride of life is the desire to be something.
Are these legitimate desires? Yes, but they are also the avenues by which temptations come. Any or all of these desires can be dominated and distorted by self or the Holy Spirit can control them. The desires can be pursued in inordinate ways that are outside the parameters set by God, thus breaking not only His commandments, but also His heart; or they can find fulfillment in ways that God has ordained.
For these human desires to find healthy fulfillment in our lives, we must live by the greatest of all commandments:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength and Love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30-31).
To love God and neighbor supremely we must submit our desires to the control and discipline of the Holy Spirit. He can provide the dynamics necessary for us to fulfill these commandments from the heart. The love of God working in us can unify and orchestrate the desires of our hearts. "For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose" (Phil. 2:13).
6. WHAT IS GOD'S PURPOSE FOR US?
The great purpose of the gospel is laid out in a clear statement: "The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (I Tim. 1:5 NIV). Satan's temptations are designed to prevent us from reaching these goals. However, since it is God who wants to give us a heart of love, a sincere faith and a clear conscience, we can be assured that He can do it despite the enemy's interference.
However, a question arises: When we experience the gift of a love-filled heart, will we never have evil or negative thoughts again? Will no impure, critical, angry, thought, feeling, or deeds ever tempt us?
That question has been answered. Jesus was tempted. The apostles were tempted. We will be tempted. A more important question is . . .
7. HOW SHALL I DEAL WITH TEMPTATION?
Think of your mind as a warehouse. What happens if something is shipped into the warehouse that has not been ordered by the manager? He notices it and asks, "Where did this come from?"
He looks at the return address and shipping label. "It looks like a crate of whiskey. Let's look inside." Opening the crate he discovers plastic bags of white powder and realizes it is cocaine. He digs deeper and finds pornographic magazines and videos.
Immediately the manager says, "I didn't order this. I don't want it. I won't permit it on my shelves. Get this stuff out of here immediately."
Our heart and mind is like that warehouse. No matter what thoughts, desires, and feelings come into our mind, we have the right to say, "I reject these thoughts, these reactions, and these temptation to sin." We can acknowledge that they have appeared in our mind, but then report them to the Lord and Master of our heart. He is in charge and He can get rid of all the unwanted garbage that finds its way in.
In His name we can evict the evil suggestions and give them no place in our mind. We can replace them with thoughts that are "true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy." The Word of God says, "Think about such things" (Phil. 4:8).
8. THE CORE OF OUR DEFENSE
All of these issues regarding temptation take us back to the need for prayer. When our prayers dwindle, temptations kindle. Our fleshly resources cannot cope with the devil's wiles. When we face temptation we can see the significance and the power of Jesus' warning, "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation."
Yes, by frequent reading of God's Word, and by time invested in prayer, we can escape the Tempter's Snare.