How to Overcome Temptation

Reading Time: 9 Minutes

James 1.12-15Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. 13 No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. 14 But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; 15 then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death.

Temptation

I read the Bible on an Amazon Kindle, because I can adjust the size of the print to my liking. My Kindle tells me how much time it will take me to read a book. Supposedly, it will take me 52 hours and 41 minutes to read the Bible from the first chapter of Genesis to the end of Revelation.

According to my Kindle, the first temptation takes place 9 minutes into the book, leaving 52 hours and 32 minutes more to read. No doubt, the seduction to turn away from God’s plan for our lives is an important theme in the Bible, given how soon and how often it appears in the book.

I have used the word “seduction,” because temptation is just that. We are seduced to turn away from God by three entities: the devil, the world’s system and our own self.

The Devil’s Seduction

The devil is prominent in the first temptation story in the Bible. Genesis writes that the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3.1).

The first seduction is at the root of every temptation, to question God’s word to us. Implied in every temptation is the notion that God is holding something back from us. If we will only give in to the temptation, we will experience something better than what God has for us.

Every temptation is a “faith” issue. Do I trust God to be telling the truth about the good life? If so, I will follow his direction. If I don’t trust him, I will seek life apart from his direction.

Several years ago, our church hosted dinners for people who were interested in God, but who were not necessarily following him. I remember asking this group of about 50 people a question. I said, “Do you think God can throw a good party?”

There was an awkward silence. Nobody wanted to say out loud what was on everyone’s mind, especially in church. What do you think? Can God throw a good party? Or, do we have to go to the “dark side” for fun?

The foundation of every temptation is a belief that God is holding something back from us. If we follow God, will we miss out on something that we really want?

The Seduction of the World’s System

The world’s system magnifies Satan’s seduction. James has this to say to people who have been tempted by the world, “Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (James 4.4).

When we get to James 4, we will consider temptation that comes from the world’s system in detail.

Temptation from Our Own Desires

James makes it clear that God cannot be tempted and that he tempts no one. He identifies the source of temptation with these words, “But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it” (James 1.14).

Jeremiah points out that our inside condition is terribly unreliable. If we rely on our own best thinking, we will deceive ourselves and turn away from God’s guidance.

Jeremiah 17:9
“The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?”

Paul agrees with Jeremiah about our inner self, when it is operating apart from God. In Romans, he describes the inner conflict that we know altogether too well. “For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me” (Romans 7.18-20).

Let’s be clear about our inside condition, if we live apart from God.

James – It will lure and entice us away from God’s plan for our lives.

Jeremiah – It in completely unreliable, because self-deception is the nature of our inner self.

Paul – It will fight against our good intentions, so that we don’t do the good we want to do.

The wisdom of Proverbs and James reveal the end product of our own best thinking apart from God’s direction.

Proverbs 14:12
There is a way that seems right to a person,
but its end is the way to death.

James completely agrees with Proverbs. He says, “Then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death” (James 1.15).

** Free from Sin, Not free from Temptation

When James writes, “blessed is anyone who endures temptation,” (verse 12), he is making clear that temptation will always be an issue for us. However, God does not leave us to flounder in failure-after-failure concerning temptation. Jesus did not come to earth to give us a ticket to heaven, but leave us in the frustration of temptation, sin and misery. He came to set us free from the enslaving power of sin.

Jesus said this about his ability to set us free: “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8.31-32).

Jesus made it very clear that the freedom he was describing was freedom from sin: “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8.34 and 36).

A VIM Program for Victory

If we are going to live in Jesus freedom versus the frustration of cycles of temptation and sin, we need a way to appropriate Jesus’ teaching into our lives. Dallas Willard has written about a plan that find to be very helpful.

He uses the acronym, VIM, to help us remember the plan. The old expression, “vim and vigor,” may help you keep the process in mind.

VIM stands for: Vision, Intention, and Means.

Vision

If we are going to join Jesus in his plan of freedom from sin, we need a VISION of why this is a value for our lives. James makes the VISION very clear. The issue is about life and death.

Life – “Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” (verse 12).

Death – “When that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death” (verse 15).

Rufus Moseley sums up the vision quite well. He writes, “In Him, there is so much heaven on the way to heaven that one wonders how heaven itself can be much better than the going to heaven. It is also true that there is so much hell going to hell that even the most stupid and perverse should have enough of it before getting there and like the Prodigal Son repent and turn homeward.”

Intention

Social distancing and my wife’s good cooking has me resembling some of the memes on Facebook that show a man on the scales with a read-out, “One at a time, please!” I have a vision of being thinner and leaner, but so far my behavior demonstrates a lack of INTENTION. If I intended do do something about it, then I would be taking action.

The prophet, Jeremiah, provides a snap-shot of people who may have a VISION, but no INTENTION of following God. He writes, “But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you will be My people; and you will walk in all the way which I command you, that it may be well with you.’ Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and in the stubbornness of their evil heart, and went backward and not forward” (Jeremiah 7.23-24).

I want to emphasize Jeremiah’s message about INTENTION.

— People with intention, obey God’s voice and walk (take action) on his direction. The result is it will go well with them.

— People without intention, do not obey or listen to God’s direction, but walk (take action) in a stubborn manner according to their own best thinking. Their result is to go backward in their life with God and others.

Means

God has given us some “tools” or the MEANS to assist our INTENTION of cooperating with Jesus to overcome temptation and sin.

All of Romans 8 details the MEANS God has given us to overcome temptation and to live in God’s abundant life. Verse 2 is a quick summary. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (Romans 8.2).

Entire books have been written on the MEANS we can employ to obtain victory over sin, self, the world and the devil. Two very meaningful books for me have been: “Celebration of Discipline” by Richard Foster and “The Spirit of the Disciplines” by Dallas Willard.

Short of reading those two books, please consider including these three items in your daily prayer.

— Dear Holy Spirit. I depend on you today to give me the power to open my mind to the words of God, as I read my Bible.

— Dear Spirit, please help me to have a vision of the abundant life Jesus came to give me.

— Dear Spirit, please give me the power to take action on what I have read. Please give me the grace to live, not out of my stubbornness, but out of your life-giving will.

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