✓ Recognize the Possibility of Temptation
Forewarned is forearmed. Never fall into the trap of false security. If I’ve heard this once, I’ve heard it a thousand times: “I can’t believe it happened to me!”
Oh, really? Why not you? If the Son of God could experience every single temptation known to man, that should be a clue that you’re not bigger than the system. People believe that their commitment to Christ, their spirituality, their knowledge of the Bible, or their church attendance will place them beyond temptation. It simply isn’t true. In battle, the enemy’s best weapon is surprise. Don’t let the devil sneak up on you.
Remember the first words of our passage? “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). In other words, as soon as you flex your muscles and begin to admire yourself in the mirror, that’s the best moment for someone to pull the rug out from under you! Remember the advance billing of the Titanic? “Even God couldn’t sink it.” The truth is that if you drift into arrogance, not even God can get through to you. So avoid those delusions of spiritual grandeur.
Dr. Howard Hendricks was my professor at Dallas Seminary, and he remains a close friend today. He used to carry a little notebook around in his pocket. It listed the names of ministers and students from his classes who had fallen into sexual temptation and out of the ministry. At one time, he said, there were more than a hundred names on that list. One day as he was looking through the list, he began to wonder what all those poor souls on the casualty list had in common. These were names he knew—friends, students. He pored over them again and concluded that all, with the exception of two, shared in common a spirit of pride and arrogance.
Proverbs 16:18 tells us that pride precedes destruction, and a haughty spirit leads to a fall.
✓ Request Help in Time of Temptation
Twice in the New Testament, Jesus tells us to pray about temptation. We’re well-advised to take those two admonitions seriously. First we have the Lord’s Prayer, which includes, “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13). Second we have Matthew 26:41, in which Jesus said to “watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.”
Watch and pray. The idea is to be alert. We need to begin every day asking God to sharpen our antennae toward the devil’s ploys. We want God to help us see through the devil’s bait-and-switch tactics, and to discern the spiritual reality and its consequences. We should also ask God to make us sensitive to that moment of awareness, the escape hatch that offers safety.
Otherwise, temptation springs upon us without warning. It will catch us at our very worst. If we knew that heavy anvils were falling out of buildings today, we’d walk down the city street with our neck craned, watching the windows. Every day carries hazards for the Christian. We need to pray constantly for awareness and strength.
✓ Resist the Devil and He Will Flee from You
The Bible tells us to stand firm and hold out. James 4:7 promises us that if we resist the devil, he will flee. There is a variety of ways to see that delightful sight of the enemy hightailing it away.
First, we can take into our hands the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. That’s what Jesus did, if you remember His wilderness temptation with the devil. As I study that passage, I smile because Jesus fired Scripture at the devil—but He only used ammunition from Deuteronomy. He defended Himself with only one book!
The result of it, as the Scriptures tell us, is that Satan departed from Him. That’s another word for fled. Resist the devil and you’ll be treated to the sight of his back as he runs away. Recognize, request help, resist.
✓ Retreat from Certain Kinds of Temptation
Wise believers recognize that there are degrees of difference in the perils we face. Good military leaders recognize this same principle: There is a time to resist and a time to retreat. Sometimes we need to see the devil flee; sometimes we need to do the fleeing. “There are several good protections against temptations,” Mark Twain said, “but the surest is cowardice.” There are times when cowardice is another word for wisdom. The Bible gives us three kinds of sins to flee.
Flee from idolatry. “Therefore my beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14). This is from the very passage we’re studying in this chapter.
An idol is anything that comes between you and God. Anything of value to you could be an idol. When you begin to realize that something is taking the place of God in your life, you don’t need to sit and ponder it. You don’t need to write a thesis or call a meeting about it. You need to flee! Every moment of personal idolatry is a moment of spiritual danger. It is wear and tear on your soul. Flee from idolatry.
Flee from immorality. Twice in the New Testament we are told to turn tail and run when confronted with immorality:
Flee sexual immorality. (1 Corinthians 6:18)
Flee … youthful lusts. (2 Timothy 2:22)
Sexual temptation is a demonic trump card; there’s something unique and terrible about its power. The devil uses it for those in ministry, those in marriage, those maturing. He uses it particularly for those perched in precarious positions—those in transition, whether through the storms of adolescence, the trials of marriage, or the temptations of business travel.
The story that immediately comes to mind, of course, is that of Joseph in Genesis 39. He was in a crucial transition between slavery and the respect that could be available through a better position in life. But he caught the eye of his master’s wife, and she dismissed all the other servants one day in order to set her web of seduction. When she approached Joseph with her offer, he did just what the Bible prescribes—he fled. He turned to run so quickly that the woman was left holding his coat in her hand. It’s a good thing that God made young feet swift; they need to be ready to flee from temptations to dishonor God through sexual immorality.
Flee from greed. Only in recent years have I discovered this third “flight advisory.” I knew that we should flee from idolatry and immorality, but I hadn’t noticed that the Bible also commands us to run from greed:
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But you, O man of God, flee these things. (1 Timothy 6:10–11)
This is really another form of idolatry, isn’t it? But I know you’ll agree that it’s a form that deserves its own special category, because it’s so pervasive in our society. I wonder how many people reading this book see materialism as an issue in their lives. The Bible spares no words about the seriousness of that—“a root of all kinds of evil.”
This is so pervasive in our society. All kinds of evils proceed from the mouth of materialism. Don’t let greed get its hooks into your life or the lives of your children.
Now let’s move on to our fifth checklist item for taming temptation.
✓ Remove Any Means of Sin Far from You
There is a story about a man who was overweight. He became very serious about maintaining a diet, and he worked out every detail, planning his life accordingly. He even changed his route for driving to work because he didn’t want to drive by the bakery.
For about a week, he did marvelously. Isn’t that always the way with diets? All his coworkers were proud of him. One morning, as they stood around the coffeepot talking about his progress, he came in carrying a dozen doughnuts and a cheesecake. Everyone was aghast. They asked him what happened, and he told them, “I forgot and drove my old route to work today.” He smiled. “And I decided that if God wanted me to stop at the bakery, He’d give me a parking space right in front of the main entrance. And you know, He did just that on the eighth trip around the block!”
It’s easy to find ways to force our faith into the cookie cutter of our desires, isn’t it? But the Bible tells us to take a different road entirely. The doughnut lover should read Proverbs 4:14–15: “Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of evil. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn away from it and pass on.”
A man told the doctor his arm was broken in two places, and the doctor said, “Well, stop going to those two places.” Good advice, but Paul put it even better: “Make no provision for the flesh” (Romans 13:14).
Go home by another way.
✓ Replace Bad Influences with Good Ones
Again we turn to the wise words of Solomon. Proverbs 13:20 says, “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed.”
This is a touchy point for some of us. Yes, we need to be salt and light in the world. We need to know nonbelievers in order to share Christ with them. But there are also times when we need to stand back, take a hard look, and decide who is influencing whom. Try standing on a stool, attempting to pull someone up alongside you. It’s much easier for the other person to pull you down. We must always be busy with the work of evangelism Christ set out for us, but let’s take care not to use evangelism as an excuse for unhealthy friendships. We don’t need to place ourselves under the influence of those who don’t know God.
“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14). Nobody would accuse Paul of lacking evangelistic zeal, but he was also wary of the power of unhealthy influences on Christians.
Let’s focus on the positive here. The answer is to replace poor models with strong ones. Find people who will point you to Christ, make you spiritu-ally stronger, and hold you accountable. Look for wise believers to pull you up alongside them.
✓ Resolve to Take the High Road
This seventh resolution is a key one. I believe that most people, whether they realize it or not, have looked at the map, thought about the journey, and decided on their route. They know whether they intend to take the high road, the low road, or the great, wild forest in between. I know many good people who have made a Christian commitment and manage to fill most of the expectations that come with it. They attend church, volunteer as workers, perhaps even read their Bibles regularly. But there’s something missing. They haven’t given God their all. They’re quite content to take the middle road and to serve God with halfhearted commitment. They see it as a kind of minimum requirement to acquire the free pass for heaven—without placing inconvenient demands on daily life.
Such people don’t realize they’re choosing the most treacherous road of all. They’ll find that out when the tests begin to come. The path of lukewarm faith is not a road at all, but a jungle between the two paths. And it’s filled with the briers and brambles of a life lacking consistency. When the big decisions come, there’s just enough faith to provide conviction, but not enough to sustain courage. The result is a miserable soul.
They could, of course, take the high road. They could say, “What other choice is there but to take the hand of Christ Himself and press on the upward way? I’m going to realign my whole life in consistency with that walk. I’m going to clean out every hindrance that would keep me from hearing His voice. I’m going to wipe away every obstruction that would keep me from seeing His face. And I know that when the temptations come, as they will, I’ll be prepared.”
In his book Unhappy Secrets of the Christian Life, Tim Stafford tells how the nuclear submarine Thresher went too deep into the sea and collapsed under the weight of the water. The sub was crushed into such tiny bits in the ensuing implosion that almost nothing could be later identified. You see, a sub needs thick steel bulkheads to withstand the pressure of the water as it dives. But there are few walls we can build to withstand the pressure of the deepest oceans; even steel gives way, as the crew of the Thresher tragically discovered.
And yet isn’t it fascinating that, in those same deep waters where that steel submarine had been crushed, little fish swim without a care in the world? What is their secret? Why aren’t they crushed? Are they made of some new indestructible iron?
No, they possess only the thinnest layer of skin, measured in micro-meters. The little fish, it seems, have an internal pressure that perfectly corresponds to the pressure from the outside. God gave them what they need to swim in the deep places.
You and I can spend our lives building walls to block out the temptation. We can make walls of steel, but they’ll never be enough—the pressure comes from inside anyway. So what happens when we have a power inside us that corresponds to the pressure from outside? The inner man, Paul tells us, is being renewed every day. When we give ourselves wholly to God, we have the inner answer to the outer pressure.
So build the inner man, the inner woman. Let Christ renew your heart and your mind. Cultivate the ministry of the Holy Spirit daily. Read the Word of God. Be strong in the Lord so that the pressure within you can withstand the pressure outside you. Then you’ll encounter temptation and brush it away. You’ll be able to move into the deep places of life with a lightness of being. God has given you what you need.
I like the way The Amplified Bible renders Philippians 4:13: “I have strength for all things in Christ Who empowers me—I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him Who infuses inner strength into me.” That’s Christ in you—a power for the deepest places and the most intense pressure; your strength when the world presses in.
Tom, the college Sunday school teacher, learned something about pressure in the depths. He found himself physically attracted to a young girl, but he committed to avoid the road that would surely lead to the destruction of his marriage, his ministry, and his life of honor.
Tom did the right things. He went to a trusted friend who worked in the college ministry with him, and he confided his temptation. Surprisingly, the friend responded that he, too, was struggling with the same feelings about the same girl. Obviously God had led these two men together. They prayed and committed to hold each other accountable. Tom even had the courage to confide in his wife. She affirmed him for his honesty and prayed with him. It strengthened their marriage.
In the days that followed, Tom sensed that he had come through the storm. He could feel the devil fleeing; the temptation lost its power over him. While he didn’t drop his guard, he gave thanks to God for his deliverance.
Later, he began to comprehend something of the bigger picture—the spiritual perspective. At an evening meeting, the young woman began to weep after a Bible study. She accepted Christ on the spot and confessed that she was under deep conviction; she was being led by God’s Spirit to adopt a lifestyle of greater purity. No one had even realized that she wasn’t a believer. This had been about more than Tom’s personal passions; this was a struggle for a young lady’s soul, fought across the battlefields of other men’s weaknesses.
It was a battle the devil lost.
Praise God for that. Praise Him that He will always be faithful if we’ll only turn to Him in our trials. Praise Him that He makes all things new, in the darkest regions of the soul, in the deepest waters in which we swim.
David Jeremiah, Slaying the Giants in Your Life (Nashville, TN: W Pub., 2001), 12–14.
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