Wednesday, February 13, 2008

How to Respond to Temptation

This is the day that the Lord had made. I will REJOICE and be glad in it. It truly is my CHOICE whether to REJOICE or not. TODAY, I choose to REJOICE!

We have been looking at TEMPTATION. We all battle temptation daily, and have to make choices to do the right, Godly thing. Let's look a little deeper at this subject today.

Once we understand the purposes of temptation and the mechanism behind it, we now have the challenge and obligation of rejecting every temptation that comes our way.  This is much easier said than done!  Our mindset going in will make all the difference in our success in rejecting the temptation. 

Our mindset must be one as a son of God.  Regardless of our earthly gender, we are spiritual sons of God in Christ and are no longer slaves to sin.  Paul wrote, "So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir" (Galatians 4:7 NIV).   Jesus was the "firstborn" Son of God (Colossians 1:14-16) and we are the adopted sons who share in his inheritance (Romans 8:14-17).

Part of our inheritance in Christ is dominion over sin.  Temptation is an opportunity to forfeit this dominion and re-enslave ourselves to evil desires.  Just as God told Cain to resist sin, so we too have the opportunity to resist sin:   "If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it" (Genesis 4:7 NIV).  If we let it, sin will rule over us and enslave us to our own evil desires (Psalm 19:3; Romans 6:12-14).  

How should we respond to TEMPTATION: God has given us several immediate actions we can take whenever we are facing temptation. For clarity, I've organized the actions by spirit, body and mind, since temptations appeal to one or more of these areas.   If we're able to take at least some of these actions when tempted, we'll increase the likelihood of victory over the temptation. The goal is to initiate these RESPONSES during STAGE 1 of the temptation, so that evil desire (in STAGE 2) is not able to take root.

1. Spirit: The first thing we can do when faced with a temptation is to pray for help. Though we may not feel like turning to God, our prayers will open the door for God's power to strengthen us. Jesus told his disciples, "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak" (Matthew 26:41 NIV). Our bodies are weak because of the sin nature we inherited from Adam, but we have Jesus as a willing source of help for overcoming temptation. Hebrews 2:18 NIV states, "Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted." Jesus was tempted in every way, yet did not sin (Hebrews 4:15). He knows how to rescue us and help us overcome temptation (2 Peter 2:9). Our prayer for help need not be elaborate. It can be simple and to the point. For example, we can pray, "Jesus help me," or just "Help!"

2. Body: The bodily actions help us sever contact with the temptation source (if it is external).
The goal is to get ourselves out of the "hot zone" of the temptation.
The bodily actions are also ways of honoring God with our bodies (Romans 12:1).  Our bodies, as temples of God's Spirit, are to be used exclusively as instruments of righteousness (1 Corinthians 6:12-20). Paul wrote, "Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness" (Romans 6:13 NIV).

Flee: The best course of action will be to flee the temptation if we are able.  We don't want to hang around and see if we can withstand it if flight is an option. Consider how Joseph fled the house when he was cornered by Potiphar's wife in Genesis 39:6-13. He didn't hesitate to run the moment she propositioned him for sex. Paul instructed Timothy along similar lines concerning lust in general: "Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart" (2 Timothy 2:22).  We can also note here that our choices of the friends and the places we go can greatly help or hinder our ability to prevail over temptations.

Look for the way out:  If we are unable to flee the temptation outright, we can look for the way out of it. God promises that he will provide a way out of the temptation for us: "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it" (1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV).  

Control our body:  Finally, we can exercise our power to control our bodies. If we've been allowing sinful desires to rule us, we may have forgotten that we still retain the power to choose our actions. For example, we can turn our eyes away from the temptation, cover our eyes, cover our ears, shut off the temptation source, etc. Isaiah wrote, "He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly, He who despises the gain of oppressions, Who gestures with his hands, refusing bribes, Who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed, And shuts his eyes from seeing evil: He will dwell on high; His place of defense will be the fortress of rocks; Bread will be given him, His water will be sure." (Isaiah 33:15-16 NKJV).

3. Mind:  Perhaps the most important area of our temptation response is what we do with our thoughts.  The mind is our strategic command center in the battle against sin. We can be successful in the body and spirit actions, yet completely lose the battle in the mind.

If we've been habitually practicing sin, our minds may be completely overrun with the sinful thoughts associated with our habit. If we're in that situation, there is hope for recovering a sound mind.  The Holy Spirit will help us do this:  "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV).  Here are some simple steps to foster the return of a sound mind in Christ:

Pray: First we'll need to confess and repent of any habitual sin we've been practicing.  We can then ask for cleansing of our conscience from the dead works of sin (Hebrews 9:14), and for renewed sensitivity to sin.  Finally, we can ask the Lord to reunite our hearts to fear him and walk in authentic repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10-11).  Here is an example prayer to this end:

"Heavenly Father, I thank you for sending Jesus to die for my sins.  I believe in Jesus and place my faith in him today.  I confess that I've practiced sin in the following ways: ________________ (list as the Holy Spirit brings the sin to mind).  I turn away from those sins now and commit to living for you.  Please cleanse my conscience from that sin with the blood of Jesus and renew my sensitivity to the ugliness of sin.   Please unite my heart to fear you and to walk in true repentance.  I receive your Holy Spirit afresh.  Please restore in me a sound mind and a steadfast spirit.  Thank you, Lord!  In Jesus' name I pray, Amen."

Meet with God daily:  Practice meeting with God each day for a quiet time, taking time to worship, pray and study the word.  These actions help detoxify our minds from the evil things we've loaded into them. 

With those steps in mind we can execute the RESPONSES for the mind, which are based on 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 KJV:

"(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ"

God has given us the authority and power to take evil thoughts captive and destroy them.  A simple battle plan for doing this is:

1. Recognize the lies behind the temptation

2. Take control of the thought and cast it aside

3. Redirect our mind to a pure topic

Recognition: Our daily quiet time will help sharpen our "lie-recognition skills." This special time of learning God's word and meditating on it will help us better recognize the devil's counterfeits and the lies behind them. We do this in partnership with the Holy Spirit who will remind us of the truth and counsel us on what to do (John 14:16,26).

Recognition of the lies can come in a variety of ways.  The goal is to simply know what is a lie the instant we hear or see it.   That ability comes with time after we've been faithfully feeding our minds on the word and spending time with God.   The Holy Spirit will often step in and help us discern the nature of a thought.  I've heard the Holy Spirit compared to a baseball umpire.  Just as the umpire declares a ball a "strike" or a "ball," so the Holy Spirit may declare the nature of a thought as it comes into our mind.  The Spirit may say something like "That's a lie!," or "Danger, steer clear!, or "That's true."  Another possibility is that the Spirit may simply remind us of a scripture that bears application to the thought at hand. 

Taking control of the thought: Once we recognize the temptation, we then have the opportunity take control of the thought by not allowing our minds to dwell on it or construct fantasies around it. Since our minds can generate evil thoughts in response to a temptation in less than a second, our thought-control actions need to be immediate. Here are some ways to do this:

  • Treat the tempting thought as an enemy and give it no mercy. Do not shelter it, protect it or toy with it. This often will go directly against what our flesh wants to do with the thought.  The prospect of entertaining an evil thought may "feel" good to us, and that is precisely when we must force ourselves to say "No!" to our flesh. 
  • Correct the lies with the truth: The truth of God's word destroys the power of temptations and the lies behind them. We can take the same truth that helped us recognize the temptation and apply it as the correction to the tempting thoughts. This is one of the ways of using the "Sword of the Spirit", and is how Jesus defeated the devil in the wilderness temptations (Luke 4).
  • Jettison the thought from our minds, just like we would with a rattlesnake we found in our car.  The idea is to get the thought out our minds so that we prevent our own evil desires from engaging the thought, dragging us away and enticing us to sin (James 1:15).

The dangers of not taking control of evil thoughts are that sin will be conceived (stage 2) and that our evil desires will take control of our thoughts.

Redirect thoughts: Redirecting our thoughts to pure topics
helps ensure that we keep moving past the temptation and minimize the possibility of letting it back into our minds. The Bible gives us a variety of things we can shift our thoughts to:

  • Things above:  Colossians 3:1-2 instructs us to focus our minds on "things above." This is a broad category that gives us flexibility to do whatever works best for us.  Examples include:  thinking about Jesus being crucified on the cross; picturing God sitting on the throne in heaven in all his glory; mentally reciting scriptures that pertain to the temptation at hand. 
  • Jesus: Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 3:1-2; Colossians 3:1-2).  He set the example for us to follow in resisting temptation even to the point of death (Hebrews 2:17-18; Hebrews 4:15-16). We can look to him for "online help" during temptation at any moment (Hebrews 7:25).  Some example ways to do this include picturing Jesus in our mind, praying to Jesus, and recalling scenes from Jesus' life when he defeated temptation (ex. Luke 4, Matthew 16:22-24, John 6:15, Luke 9:53-55). 
  • Pure topics:  Philippians 4:8 gives us some ideas about pure topics:  "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things" (KJV).  Paul allowed room for creativity here, so feel free to choose something in those categories that works for you.   For example, the topic that I've found very effective is the blood of Jesus.  What could be more pure than that?  Whenever I am tempted with an evil thought, I imagine a scene with Jesus on the cross with his blood being shed for me.  At the same time, I repeat "the blood of Jesus cleanses and protects my thoughts" either audibly or in my mind.  This is POWERFUL and quite appropriate since Jesus was the sacrifice that atoned for my sins. 

Like any warfare skill, these "thought control" actions take time and practice to master. The Holy Spirit is always with us to train us and teach us how to bring our thoughts into obedience to Christ. I've found that temptations tend to follow a wave-like pattern.  Initially they seem very strong, yet weaken as we resist and reject them. If a temptation seems unbearable, we can take courage that in time it will subside and cease if we stand our ground in faith.  If we stumble in sin at any time, we should make a quick return to the Lord and not give up in our walk with him.  Practice leads to perfection.

Summary:  It may be helpful to jot the summary actions down on a 3 x 5 note card and keep it handy for periodic review:

Temptation Response Actions

  1. Pray for God to help us
  2. Flee the temptation
  3. Look for the way out of the temptation
  4. Control our bodies (especially eyes) and honor God
  5. Recognize the lies behind the temptation
  6. Take control of the thought and apply the truth
  7. Redirect our thoughts to pure topics

Personal application and review questions:

  • Considering Proverbs 23:7 AMP ("For as he thinks in his heart, so is he."), how does our mindset affect our ability to fight temptations?
  • In what ways have you allowed sin to gain control over you? 
  • What are two bodily actions you can take when you are tempted?
  • What is one spiritual action you can take when you are tempted?
  • What should you do if you fail and fall to a temptation?  (Luke 18:1, Philippians 3:12-15, Revelation 3:19-20)

I truly hope that you take these tools and use them DAILY to help in the battle against TEMPTATION. I pray that you have a WORD-filled day. Blessings!

Pastor Rusty

Today's "Through the Bible in a Year" reading: February 13, 2008 (Wednesday): Joshua 1:1-Joshua 5:12

This week's MEMORY VERSE: James 1:12

"Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him."  James 1:12

TOMORROW'S BLOG: Examples of Fighting Temptation