Overcoming Temptation

It all began in a garden. A lush paradise where every need was met and there was only one “don’t do this” rule. The rest, as they say, is history. Adam and Eve broke the “don’t do this” rule, played the blame game with God, and changed the course of humanity. That discord between going our own way or going God’s way has plagued us ever since. But that is not the end of story.

Last week we looked at An Overcoming Life and discovered that overcoming is different than we may have imagined. John wrote, “In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” (1 John 5:3–5, NIV) I don’t know about you but keeping God’s commands is not as easy as it sounds.

The problem is temptation. We’re all faced with it although my temptation may not be your temptation. To list all the various ways we’re tempted to go our own way (to sin) would be a very long list. Being tempted to do something is not a sin. The sin is when we give in to that temptation and go our way instead of God’s.

It has been said that there are three sources of temptation, the world, the devil, and ourselves. To fight temptation many folks have waged war with the sources. Some have sought a solitary life away from the world, others have attempted to drown out the voice of the devil with constant prayer and praise, and some have even beaten their flesh in a futile attempt to silence its desires. None of these worked because the problem is inside of us.

We must instead recognize and overcome the three receptors of temptation. These receptors are first exposed in the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. At the pivotal point we read, “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” (Genesis 3:6, NIV) Three things. The fruit looked like it would satisfy their hunger. The fruit was attractive to look at. Lastly, the fruit would somehow make them better.

John also wrote about the three receptors of temptation. “For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.” (1 John 2:16, NIV) These three, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life are the same things we saw in Adam and Eve. And parenthetically the same temptations Jesus experienced after 40 days in the wilderness (see Luke 4:1-13)

We all struggle with these receptors of temptation. Sin is pleasing, it feeds our hunger in some way. Sin is attractive, it looks like the right way to go. Sin makes us feel better about ourselves. All of these are true for a while. Eventually, just like Adam and Eve, we discover the trap we’re in and recoil at the aftertaste of guilt, shame, and fear. What was sweet, lovely, and desirable has turned bitter, ugly, and repulsive but we can’t get away from it. We’re hooked.

In Romans Paul succinctly observes, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23, NIV) We overcome temptation through Jesus, we can’t do it on our own. With Jesus in mind, the writer of Hebrews said, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15, NIV) Jesus faced the same temptations. He knows the struggle we face but He conquered them. And according to Romans 8:37 we can also defeat them through Him who loves us.

In the next three articles, we’ll look at practical ways to combat the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. We’ll consider how to recognize each one and how they are defeated in Christ.

Dale Heinold
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