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Defeating temptation before it becomes sin

We live in a culture that is permeated with sexual messaging. We are immersed in sexual temptation through TV shows, movies, advertisements, and online pornography.  So much of it is laced with underlying messages about “freedom” and “be yourself.” But, nothing could be further from truth. Sin enslaves and takes captive those who succumb.    

Let’s find ways to defeat temptation before it leads to sin and guilt. Jesus said that the devil is a “murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44) who “comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). He assaults God’s people physically. But he also attacks us spiritually.

Scripture tells us we are to expect temptation: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

You will never face a unique temptation. Human nature doesn’t change, so Satan’s strategies don’t change. What worked against our ancestors works against us. We should expect to be tempted, because this fact is common to the entire human race.

But while we should expect to face temptation, we should also expect to defeat temptation: “He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” Notice the definite article: “the way of escape.” There is always a way out, no matter what temptation we are facing.

“Endure it” means “bear up under it.” The temptation will not go away, but we will be able to withstand it. This was true even for Jesus: after he defeated the enemy’s temptations in the wilderness, the devil “departed from him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13).

Here we find one of Satan’s most subtle strategies: if we defeat temptation, he will bring it against us again. He wants us to think we did not or could not defeat this temptation if it recurs. But this is a lie. If you’re in a war and win a battle, the fact that you must keep fighting makes your victory no less real.

The bottom line: expect to be tempted. You’re not doing something wrong if Satan finds you and tries to lead you into sin. As Rick Warren notes, “It is not a sin to be tempted.” In fact, you’re doing something right. The more he sees you as a threat to his strategies, the more he will try to destroy your witness and ministry.

Satan hates our Father. He cannot attack the sovereign Lord directly, however, so he attacks his children. The closer you are to God, the more of a threat you are to him. The greater his temptations, therefore, the greater your ministry must be. And the greater your Father’s protections and power when you need them most.

Thomas Watson, a seventeenth-century Puritan, observed: “Satan doth not tempt God’s children because they have sin in them, but because they have grace in them. Had they no grace, the devil would not disturb them. Though to be tempted is a trouble, yet to think why you are tempted is a comfort.”

Expect to face temptation, but expect to defeat temptation in the power of your Lord.

What do we do when temptation finds us? “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape.” “Faithful” translates the Greek word for “trustworthy, dependable, reliable.” We can always count on our Father to be all he promises to be:

  • “The Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations” (Deuteronomy 7:9).
  • “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24).
  • “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).
  • “Jesus Christ, the faithful witness” (Revelation 1:5).

Because he is faithful to us, he will always give us what we need to obey his word and will. In this case, “he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability.” If there is a temptation you cannot defeat in his strength, you will not face it. This means that every temptation you face is one you can defeat in his strength.

However, you must ask for what you need. Jesus counseled his followers to “watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Matthew 26:41). He promised us, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find, knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). But we must ask, seek, and knock. God honors the freedom he gives us and will not force his help upon us.

We can ask for help from God and from God’s people: “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16). We are to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

If you ask, your Father may lead you to people who can help you defeat the temptations you face. There may be fellow believers who have been where you are and can offer wisdom born of experience. And they can pray for you and with you. As a member of the family of faith, you are never alone unless you choose to be.

When we expect to face and defeat temptation by seeking the help of God and his people, we position ourselves to receive all that we need for spiritual victory. But we’re not done. We must then take “the way of escape” our Father offers us. We must choose to “endure” the temptations we face.

In other words, we must choose to obey God as he works in and through our lives:

  • Scripture teaches us to “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18). But we must choose to flee.
  • We are told to “resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). But we must choose to resist.
  • We are warned that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Timothy 6:10). But we must choose not to love money.

Billy Sunday: “Temptation is the devil looking through the keyhole. Yielding is opening the door and inviting him in.” Rick Warren noted that “every temptation is an opportunity to do good.” But we must want to do good.

If you don’t have the strength to choose to obey God, you can ask for that strength. If you don’t have the faith to believe that his will is best, you can ask for such faith. Whatever you need, you can ask God to provide. But then you must choose to use his help.

As we work, God works. Your Father knows you far better than you can ever know yourself. And he will give you all that you need to defeat the temptations you face whenever you face them. If you will expect to face and defeat temptation by asking for the help of God and his people with an obedient heart, his victory can be yours.

How is this fact relevant to your soul today?