We all struggle with sin. It’s part of life in a world that is filled with it. Sometimes we are victorious over it, and sometimes…not so much. I think that many times when we succumb to sin it’s because we aren’t dealing with temptation properly.
James tells us that temptation comes from our own lusts (James 1:14). In other words, we are only tempted by the sins we want to commit. When I was growing up, I was offered drugs on numerous occasions in school. Never once did I accept them. Why? Because I had absolutely no desire to do drugs, never have, it’s simply not a temptation for me. For others, staying away from drugs is a regular battle. We all have areas in our life where we do that kind of battle against temptation.
The Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde said that the easiest way to get rid of temptation was to give in to it. As a consequence of his beliefs Wilde lived a life of hedonism that resulted in prison, destitution, alienation, bitterness, and an early death at the age of forty-six. Truthfully though, our methods for dealing with temptation are typically no more helpful than Wilde’s.
Often, when we are tempted, we begin to do something like pray against the temptation, which makes sense. Our prayer goes something like this:
Father God, please help me not to give into _____. I pray that you would help me not to be tempted by _____. I really don’t want to _____. I’m just feeling so tempted to do _____. And I pray that you would help me overcome the desire to _____.
The problem with this kind of prayer is that it is entirely focused on the sin! How in the world can we overcome a temptation to sin when that’s all we’re thinking about?
Perhaps then, we should simply ignore the sin? That makes sense but there’s a problem with that tactic too. Have you ever tried to ignore someone or something on purpose? All you end up doing is thinking about how you are trying to ignore that person or thing. Again, the sin becomes the center of our attention and the temptation is therefore going nowhere.
The battle with temptation is fought in the mind and we cannot empty our minds, we can only replace one thought with another. That is where our victory over temptation is found. We must direct our attention to something greater and more desirable than what we are being tempted with. Actually, we must direct our attention to SOMEONE greater and more desirable.
Victory over temptation comes when we recognize that God is infinitely more desirable than the sin we want to commit. Consider the following from His word:
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)
Who among the gods is like you, O LORD ? Who is like you— majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? (Exodus 15:11)
My heart is steadfast, O God;
I will sing and make music with all my soul.
Awake, harp and lyre!
I will awaken the dawn.
I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations;
I will sing of you among the peoples.
For great is your love, higher than the heavens;
your faithfulness reaches to the skies. (Psalm 108:1-4)
What sin can possibly compare to the surpassing delight of knowing the God of the universe?
The freedom from temptation doesn’t come from force of will. We are weak and wretched, and we fail again and again. The freedom from temptation comes when we desire God more than we desire sin!
The next time we are tempted, we should immediately turn our attention to God. We can praise Him for His greatness and for His love. We can recite Scriptures in our minds that exalt Him. We can sing songs of worship and praise. And as we do, we will find that the temptation is gone; banished by the glory of the One who is infinitely more desirable and satisfying.