How to handle temptation
At our baptism, we are all asked the same question "Do you renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways?" Most likely, our parents and godparents answered on our behalf with a firm "Yes, I do."
Many of us were asked that same question on the day of our confirmation and as we confessed our faith in front of the whole congregation, we once again said confidently, "Yes, I do reject the devil and everything he does, so that I will no longer be led by him." When God promised to be our constant companion through life, and when we responded with our own words of loyalty and trust in God, we promised that we would not fall victim to Satan’s tricks.
How successful have you been in carrying out what you promised?
Are you feeling as guilty, as I am, because you know that too easily and too often you have been led by Satan into all kinds of things that you know are not what God wants you to do?
Perhaps you are feeling that this is one promise you have even given up trying to keep because you fall for every low flying temptation that Satan sends your way.
This reminds me of an overweight businessman who decided it was time to shed some excess weight. He took his new diet seriously, even changing his route to work in order to avoid his favourite bakery. One morning, however, he showed up at work with a gigantic mud cake. Everyone in the office told him off for giving into the temptation, but he continued to smile. "This is a special mud cake," he explained. "I accidentally drove by the bakery this morning and there in the window was a host of goodies. I felt it was no accident, so I prayed, "Lord, if you want me to have one of those delicious mud cakes, let there be a parking spot right in front of the bakery." And sure enough, the eighth time around the block, there it was!"
We can all relate to giving in to this kind of temptation. In fact, temptation of one kind or the other forms a part of almost every day as we give in and do something that we know is not the right thing to do.
Luke 4:1-13 tells us that Jesus was not exempt from temptation either. When we picture Jesus in our minds we think of a man with long flowing hair, with smooth complexion, with every piece of hair in place, perhaps with a halo or a bright light shining around him. We forget he was a man, a human being, an historical person who walked this earth, who did the kinds of things human beings do. Jesus Christ was true man, and true God. As a man, as a human being he felt, he experienced, he encountered all the emotions, all the senses, all the circumstances that we feel in life. He ate, he drank, he slept, he got dirty, he needed a bath, he prayed, he cried, he gave thanks, he worshipped. Jesus did and experienced all the things you and I experience in this life. He even experienced temptation.
Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by the devil after he had fasted for forty days. Forty days without food or drink in the wilderness that was such a forsaken place that people would avoid it whenever possible. Jesus was tempted by the devil to take the easy way out. A lot of our temptations are just that – instead of taking the harder road we are tempted to take the path of least resistance - the easy way out.
The devil tries to tempt Jesus 3 times. "Jesus, Oh Jesus. You must be so hungry. Why don’t you turn these rocks into bread? You can do that? You are the Son of God, right?" The words of the devil are all true. He is hungry, after all he has been fasting for 40 days, and he does have the power to change the rocks, he is the Son of God.
When Jesus refuses to succumb to this temptation, the devil says smoothly, "Come with me." In an instant, the two of them are standing on top of a high mountain peak. Below them are spread all the nations of the world.
"They’re mine you know," says the devil, arms folded across his chest. "All of them. Jesus, I can give them to you or anyone I chose. I like you, Jesus. I could give them to you if you’ll worship me here on this mountain. Just fall on your knees - no one else has to know..." Again, Jesus resists the temptation for easy power, glory, and riches.
The devil leads him down the mountain into the city of Jerusalem and onto the roof of the temple. "Jesus, if you are the Son of God, if you really have divine power, then you could throw yourself off the edge here, because it’s written in those scriptures you keep quoting, "he will command his angels for you, to guard you carefully." When the people see you with a host of angels floating down into the temple courtyard, they will receive you and accept you as the Messiah."
In each case, Jesus refused to be tempted to take short cuts, to take the easy way out. God’s plan of salvation included hardship, suffering, pain, even death. There was not going to be any easy way at all. Satan was trying to side-track Jesus from his role as Saviour with easy options.
The Father of Lies, Satan, tempts us in exactly same way today. He is always putting in front of us the easy options, very attractive alternatives, the course that appears more logical, the path that seems to be the most natural thing to do, the direction that will satisfy our own cravings and impulses.
To resist temptation is to take the path that is more difficult and will involve hard work perhaps even pain to a degree. That is what happened to Jesus. Of course, he was hungry and the most natural thing to do would be to satisfy that hunger. To take the easy road to being powerful, rich, and famous is always a great temptation.
I might add that being tempted is not sinful in itself. Temptation is Satan’s way of leading us astray. Sin only comes in when we give in to Satan's temptation; when we fall for his easy way doing things hook, line and sinker follow the cravings and impulses that we should not follow.
I might further add that there is no one on this planet who is exempt from temptation. We might try to justify our action by saying that moral standards have changed, or by excusing ourselves or accusing others of leading us astray. We might even say that this little temptation will not affect anyone else. But let us call a spade a spade. Anything that leads us to go against God and his will for our lives is sin, and no explaining it away will help.
Why is it that we give into temptation so easily?
Firstly, we forget who we are. I began by talking about the words that are spoken at our baptism, at the time when God adopted us into his family and made us his sons and daughters. When we give into Satan and his tricks and sin, we forget to whom we belong. We belong to God and his kingdom. We forget about his commitment to us and act as if this were nothing. We act in loveless ways as if there was not such a thing as God’s love for us. The Bible emphasises again and again, "You are the people of God; he loved you and chose you for his own. So, then you must resist the temptation to do harm toward others. Clothe yourselves with qualities that demonstrate that you belong to God’s family" (Col 3:12-14). Resist temptation by remembering who you are – people dearly loved by God, people for whom Jesus gave his life.
Secondly, we forget that God wants to help us. Make no mistake, Satan is powerful, and he easily seduces us to go against God. Our own bodily desires are powerful, and we give in so easily. God is always ready to help us when we are tempted. At our baptism, he made a commitment to us that he would always be there to help and support us as our loving heavenly Father.
His Spirit helps us to determine what is right and wrong through the Bible. And so, it follows that reading our Bible is a good way to build up resistance to giving into temptation. Note that Jesus used his knowledge of the Bible to reject Satan’s temptations.
The Spirit of God guides us when we are faced with a temptation and so rather than shutting out his advice because it does not suit us or is the harder way to go, we need to listen to his prompting so that we make the right choices in the face of temptation.
We are encouraged to go to God in prayer and seek his help and strength to overcome temptation. If we do not ask, how can we receive? As James says, "You do not have what you want because you do not ask God for it" (4:2). Someone has said, "When a Christian prays, Satan trembles". Satan’s power to seduce is far greater than ours to resist. We need God’s help.
Thirdly, we forget that we are human. We underestimate the power of Satan. Given a certain set of circumstances, we fall into the same temptation again and again. We may try to stand up to Satan on our own, but we know from personal experience that he has a way of manipulating our desires, feelings and needs so that we follow his path.
A little boy was standing near a display of all kinds of lollies at a corner store. "Now then, my lad," said the grocer as he approached the lad. "What are you up to?" "Nothing," replied the boy. "Nothing?"
"Well it looks to me as if you were trying to take some of those lollies?" "You’re wrong, mister. I’m trying not to."
One of the best defences against our own desires leading us astray is to stay away from those places or people that would lead us into temptation. The person who plays with fire will get burnt sooner or later. Again, ask God to help you.
Fourthly, remember that while we are on this earth we will have to go to God and humbly admit that we have messed up. Jesus came so that we could have forgiveness for the many times that Satan and our own bodily desires get us into trouble. He went to the extreme of dying on a cross so that the guilt that comes from giving into temptation can be removed and we can be right again in the sight of God. In fact, even though we might feel terribly disappointed in ourselves and totally unworthy of God’s love, God’s love never changes.
Lent is a time of self-examination and renewal. During this time, we realise how weak we are when it comes to temptation and ask God to help us, to forgive us, renew us and make a new start. Lent is a time when we rejoice that God is a God of refreshment, of new life, of new beginnings. Our comfort and strength in every temptation is that Christ has already triumphed over temptation on the cross. Christ has won the victory for us.
The Last temptation of Christ - Nikos Kazantzakis
Vince Gerhardy Blog
Overcoming Temptation – Bruce Wilkinson
Overcoming Sin and Temptation - John Owen
Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ - Russell D. Moore