2 Ways to Face Temptation

Chrys Jones

Temptation often meets us in our weakest moments. Maybe you're exhausted from a rough night of sleep, and your spouse says something that triggers a volcanic eruption of anger in your heart. Perhaps you both caught COVID while caring for your newborn child, and there's a civil war brewing in your home. Maybe you're on your phone past midnight and pornographic images begin flooding your thoughts and screen as you scroll. Perhaps you've been wronged by a close friend and feel the need to air your grievances about the situation. The combinations are endless, but you get the point. If we ask the Spirit to open our eyes, we'll see more temptation than we've ever realized.

What do you do in moments of temptation? Many times we are too oblivious to see Satan's snares as we dive headlong into sin. Other times we notice the temptation but simply lack the energy or the desire to fight against it. Still other times we grapple with the tempter seeking to win the upper hand before tapping the mat because his chokehold seems just too fierce. As we grow in our faith, though, we increasingly recognize the temptation, remember our armor, and put sin to death. How is it that we should fight temptation to sin?

No Confidence in Ourselves
Until we are saved, we don't have the new life required to put sin to death "by the Spirit" (Romans 8:13). God may have graciously restrained our sin or given us the natural temperament to abstain from certain sins when we were unbelievers, but we didn't have the power within us to truly fight sin to the glory of God. In fact, we were slaves to sin (Romans 6:17-18). Once we are saved we still sometimes still succumb to sin, but we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to actually put it to death. We are given the full armor of God by which we fight the spiritual enemies in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:10-20).

We all have two choices when we face temptation. We can face it in our own strength using our own resources, or we can be imitators of Christ and fight temptation by the Spirit using the Word of God and prayer. The choice is obvious, but it's not always easy. When you think of fighting temptation, do you think of white-knuckled willpower or prayer-saturated warfare? Thomas Manton reminds us that we fight sin by faith which "[shows] us the truth and worth of heavenly things, and taking God's word for its security, masters our desires and carnal affections."¹

Let's look at two very different scenarios of temptation in the Bible. 

Cain Relied on Himself
Cain was a lot like his mother, Eve. He knew the rules but didn't have the heart to follow through. He heard the truth loud and clear, but the lie held more sway over him. When he and Abel had been making offerings to God, his offering was met without regard. Some speculate that his offering didn't have blood and therefore wasn't acceptable. That may be true. But it's also possible that instead of giving from the first fruits of his crop, he gave God leftovers whereas Abel gave the "firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions" (Genesis 4:4). Regardless of our speculations, one thing is certain: "by faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks" (Hebrews 11:4). Cain lacked such faith in God. Perhaps this is why he gave a lesser gift, and it's certainly why his gift was not regarded.

Cain's face fell, and he was exceedingly angry. At this crucial turning point, he had a choice to make: trust God and do well or flee from God and do evil. We can either run to God and heed His voice or run from Him. God gave Cain a solemn warning: "sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it" (Genesis 4:7). At this point, Cain could have repented of his anger and sought the grace to love Cain. Instead, he chose to harbor sin in his heart. Matthew Henry, commenting on this passage in Genesis 4, said, "If sin be harboured in the house, the curse waits at the door, like a bailiff, ready to arrest the sinner whenever he looks out"². In other words, carrying sin in our hearts is like hiding a wanted fugitive in our homes with the S.W.A.T. perched outside waiting to break the door down. God urged Cain to put the sin out of his heart through repentance and faith. He urged him not to listen to his sinful desires and the serpent's crafty lies like Eve did. But he refused to put his anger to death and killed his brother instead.

Jesus Relied on the Word of God
Any casual reader of Scripture will notice that Jesus's encounter with temptation went much differently than Eve's and Cain's (See Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12,13, and Luke 4:1-13). It would be easy to throw our hands up and exclaim, "He's Jesus for crying out loud! Of course the Son of God would do better than Eve and Cain!". However, it's still wise for us to look to Jesus' example as we face temptation of our own. He was alone and hungry after 40 days and nights of fasting—that ought to catch our attention!

Let's look at how Jesus responded to the tempter. Twice Satan questions Jesus' identity, and finally Satan offers him the world if Jesus will bow down and worship him. We aren't given many details, but I am confident that Jesus didn't ponder whether he was really the Son of God. He was sure of His identity and had many Scripture to verify it. I don't envision Jesus pondering whether he would actually bow down to Satan in order to gain something that was already His (John 1:1, Hebrews 1:10-12). He did everything to glorify His Father. Rather than ponder the words of the tempter, Jesus pulled from the storehouse of Scripture in his heart and replied three times with "it is written…". His delight was in the law of the Lord and on God's law He meditated day and night. His confidence was in the Word and worship of His Father. His food was the will of God as revealed by the Word of God. He beat Satan because He wielded the greatest weapon.

How Do You Fight?
If you don't have a weapon how will you fight? As we face temptation day in and day out, we have the Spirit of God at work in us (Romans 8:11). We have the living and active word of God as our sword (Ephesians 6:17). We have the "wartime walkie-talkie" of prayer at every moment (Ephesians 6:18). You can be confident in your victory over sin because God has warned you through examples like Cain (1 Corinthians 10:6). He has placed His Holy Spirit within you to will and to work for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). As you fight sin, you can cling to these promises. Cling to the gospel hope that He who has begun a good work in you will bring it to completion. Proclaim boldly that God has a way of escape for you when you're tempted to sin!

Are you feeling defeated by sin today? Are you in a season of fierce and unrelenting temptation? Remember the Word of God. Remember the power of prayer. Live by the Word. Eat the Word. Drink the Word. Hide the Word in your heart. Strike the enemy with the Word. Pray at all times in the Spirit. Devote yourself to prayer. Keep fighting and don't give up! Do it all for His glory by His grace! God is with every one of His people in their time of need! 

¹ The Works of Thomas Manton Vol. 2, p. 149; text slightly modified into modern English
² Henry, M., & Church, L. F. (1961). Matthew Henry's commentary: Genesis to Revelation. Zondervan Pub. House.

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

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