By Brian Mitchell
Is it possible to recognize temptation and overcome it before it overcomes us? The answer is yes, but there are some important principles we must understand. A man was on a diet and he was struggling. He had to go downtown and as he started out, he remembered that his route would take him by his favorite doughnut shop. As he got closer, he thought that a cup of coffee would hit the spot; what could that hurt right? Then he remembered his diet and that’s when he prayed; “Lord, if You want me to stop for a doughnut and coffee, let there be a parking place right in front of the shop.”
“Sure enough, I found a parking place right in front—on my seventh time around the block!” He didn’t really want the Lord’s help in overcoming temptation, he wanted permission. As Robert Orben once said, “Most people want to be delivered from temptation, but many would still like it to keep in touch” (Reader’s Digest [8/86], p. 35). If one really wants to overcome the temptation to sin the first place to start is to make sure that you are not part of the problem. You must make sure that you are not the one that is placing the enticement in your path.
As we consider the subject of temptation, especially as it relates to sin, we must second come to understand that temptation is inevitable. James says, “blessed is the man who endures temptation” and “let no one say when he is tempted” (Jm.1:12-13). James leaves no question that temptation’s assault will come for us all. Just as he does in dealing with trials in general, James here says, “When tempted…” not “If tempted.” Just like death and taxes, trials and temptations are inevitable in this life. We will never be without temptation in life even though the more we mature in our faith the less common they may be.
And thus the second key to overcoming temptation is the acknowledgment that we are all susceptible to it. Remember Peter—“Lord, even if I must die, I will never deny you.” What did he do—he denied Jesus 3 times. The Apostle Paul warns the Corinthians to “let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor.10:12). Peter thought he could stand up under any temptation to deny Jesus and thus because he did not think he could fall, he did. No one is above the powers of temptation and it is our acknowledgment of that fact that actually makes them easier to overcome.
The third key to overcoming temptation is to realize and acknowledge their true source. According to James, “each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed” (Jm.1:14). James teaches us that it is our own sinful desires that lay the groundwork for temptation. James does not here mention the role of the devil in man’s temptations. That is not to say that the enemy does not play a role in temptation but that James wants us to realize and acknowledge our role in them.
Temptation requires two essential parts—desire + temptation. While someone or something may place an enticement to sin in our path, if there is no desire there is no temptation. If you take someone who has never done drugs in their life and has no desire to do so and place a pound of cocaine in front of them there would be no temptation because there is no desire. And so the point is simple, the 3rd key to overcoming temptation is to rid ourselves of our sinful desires by bringing all of our desires into line with God’s will for our lives.
Temptations to sin affect us all but that does not excuse our sins. Why? Because the Bible says that with God’s help we can both recognize and overcome any temptation that comes our way (1 Cor.10:13).
- Brian Mitchell preaches for the Jackson Church of Christ in Jackson, MO. He may be contacted through the congregation's website: http://www.jacksonchurchofchrist.net