4 Ways to Overcome Temptation

I heard a great sermon in church last Sunday. The topic was almost as hot as the near record setting temperatures outside. It was on temptation. The message was a real eye opener for me and deeply convicting. But it wasn’t anything the preacher said. It happened that I was an audience of one listening to what the congregation was saying to me as I stood behind the pulpit. Through feedback from six interactive questions I gained some incredible insight into the insidious power of temptation and most effective ways to combat it. When Paul said that “no temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man” he wasn’t just talking through his hat. (1 Corinthians 10:13) Nine out of ten people in the room told me that they are presently battling temptations in their lives. And eight out of ten admitted that it is a reoccurring temptation that they have not been able to resist. Seeing those polling results brought home the stark realization that at any given time, most godly people are locked in a spiritual battle against an enemy of their souls.

It really should not be a surprise when we consider that from the very beginning of time a colossal war been waged between the forces of good and evil, righteousness and sin, God and the devil. From Genesis chapter three onward the devil has been scheming up ways to tempt us to eat forbidden fruit and rob us of an intimate relationship with our creator.

But his insidious strategies are not limited only to the lure and captivity of sin. He also is a relentless “accuser of the brethren” who works with might and main to keep those who confess their sin imprisoned in guilt and shame. (Revelation 12:10)

Over half of our congregation this past Sunday said they were still battling guilt and shame for a sin they had confessed and been forgiven. That is a disquieting yet not surprising fact as well. All of us at one time or other has those same struggles and we are not alone. (For more on this see “Dealing with the Stain of Sin”)

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The biggest deterrent to sin

The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (NIV)

The biggest deterrent to sin in the life of the believer is the love of God. Everyone sins – that is a fact of life. (1 John 1:8 & Romans 3:10-12, 23) And everyone has access to the forgiving grace of God through Jesus Christ His Son. (1 John 1:9) Unfortunately however, at times some who receive God’s forgiveness find it difficult to break free from sin’s grip upon their lives. Forced to continually go to God for mercy because of a besetting sin has them trapped in a seemingly endless cycle of guilt and shame. Having been caught in that downward spiral myself I can testify with so many others that only the love of God, His love for me and my love for Him, was powerful enough to break me free from the vortex of sin and keep me free from being pulled back in.
God’s merciful love for us is imbued with a transforming power to elicit from us a liberating love in return. There is a spiritual principle that the greater the debt of sin for which a person is forgiven the greater the potential to love God in return. Those who have been forgiven much, which really includes all of us, are like the grateful woman who crashed a dinner party to wash the feet of Jesus with her tears. Such gratitude for God’s love unleashes a reciprocal love for Him that triumphs over sin. (Luke 7:36-50)
John, often referred to as the apostle of love, wrote: “This is love not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10 NIV) This verse reveals that it is the intention of God’s love to free us from sin. God is the creator and initiator of love. That is why John states emphatically that we can love God only because He first loved us. He goes on to say that our resultant love for Him is meant to naturally lead to us to saying no to sin because we want to please Him.
Obeying His commands and resisting sin is an indication that God’s love has truly found its place and been perfected within us. (1 John 2:3-5) That is why we are admonished elsewhere in the scriptures to “keep [ourselves] in the love of God.” (Jude 1:21) Doing so will also keep us from the deceitfulness of sin.
When an expert in Jewish law came to Jesus and asked Him “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” Jesus replied “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matthew 22:35-38 NIV) Jesus was quoting here a well known Old Testament Scripture spoken by Moses to Israel. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) And He was also underscoring the preeminence of the very first of the Ten Commandments: “I am the Lord your God . . . you shall have no other gods before Me.” (Deuteronomy 5:6-7)
True freedom from sin is ultimately rooted in wholeheartedly loving and worshipping the one true God. All sin and its bondage are ultimately rooted in forsaking the love and worship of the one true God in favor of loving and worshipping other gods. Those “other gods” typically are created things rather than the Creator. The other gods are essentially our self and our ideas, but also include other creatures and their ideas and every inanimate object on earth and in the heavens.
There are some very practical things we can do to unleash the love of God in our hearts that can enkindle our wholehearted love and worship of Him and break the bondages of sin in our lives. It begins by acknowledging that every sin we commit is idol worship and a breaking of the first and greatest commandment. Coming to grips with that reality, that every sin is an adulterous love affair with something or someone other than God, is both sobering and sorrowful. It is heartbreaking to realize that we have been spurning God’s gracious love by faithlessly lavishing our love on other gods. Asking God’s help in seeing it and then confessing our sin for what it really is, idol worship, enables us to cut off sin’s power over us at its root.
Here is a prayer you can use to transfer your affections from sinful idols to God.
Lord show me how I have put other things and people before you. . . how I have loved and worshiped creation rather than the creator. I confess that I have chosen sinful behavior and created things to worship rather than You. . . that I have bowed my heart, my eyes, my hands, my body, my mind and my very soul in worship of other gods. Please forgive me and turn my full attention and love toward the worship of You. Thank you for your amazing love and tender mercies. I choose to worship you as my Lord and have no other gods before me.”
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