“One is tempted by one's own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death.” (James 1:14-15)
Being a Christian doesn’t exempt us from temptation, nor does it say that fleeting thoughts of temptation by themselves make us evil or sinful. No. Temptation itself is part of the human experience (remember that Jesus himself was tempted - read Luke 4).
But as the scripture above points out, what can truly destroy us in the long run is our welcoming and nurturing of those thoughts that can lead us to act upon them in ways that are harmful to our relationship with God, others, and ourselves. As it’s sometimes been said, “it’s the not first glance [or first drink, or first bite) that’s bad, but the second, lingering one!”
So, while God does not cause temptation, He is the one that can help us overcome it. Here’s a few keys I’ve found helpful in standing firm against the power of temptation in life:
1) Be grounded in God (Ephesians 6:10-17). It’s often said that “the best defensive is a good offense.” Being ground in your relationship with God and in God’s word will provide you with the tools you’ll need to help stave off temptation when it comes your way. The scriptures by themselves are not a guarantee of safety, but they provide a safe place to go when we’re tempted, providing we know which ones to go to! So, tend to your prayer life, your devotional life, your Bible reading. Attend worship at church regularly and participate in a small group -- these will help you stay grounded in God.
2) Avoid and Flee temptation (Genesis 39:6-13). Whoever it was that tried to sell our culture on the idea that we can just “dabble” a bit with temptation and stop whenever we feel like it doesn’t really know very much about the subtle power of temptation. The best way to get yourself out of temptation is (if at all possible) not to go there in the first place! Don’t put yourself in compromising places, locations, websites, etc. -- don’t think of yourself as a “super Christian” by seeing how close to the edge you can go without falling over, because you’ll find it very difficult once you’re there to “just say no.” And if you do find yourself there through no fault of your own, try to mentally or even physically “flee” as quickly as possible -- do something else, turn the radio on, change the channel, close down the computer. Do what Joseph did in Genesis 39.
3) Focus on the power of God (not on the power of the temptation) (James 4:7-8). Someone once said “if you spend your time doing the do’s of life, you won’t have time to do the don’ts!” Don’t fixate on the temptation and how strong it is, or on what you plan to do to say “no” to it -- doing so only feeds it’s power and keeps you focused in the wrong direction. Instead, focus on the power of God in your life, and your focus there will by default means the temptation won’t have power over you. Don’t try to be a “big man” or “big woman” to overcome it in your own strength. Instead, throw yourself on the power and safety of God and let Him fight the battle for you! When the temptation enters your brain, don’t try to fight it off, but instead acknowledge it and give it to God by praying something like “God you know I want this. But I want you more! So, please take it”
4) Be accountable to others in honesty (James 5:16). As a wise friend of mine has said, “Secrecy kills, but honesty heals!” The best antidote to persistent sin in our life is having others we know and trust lovingly hold us accountable to these behaviors and thoughts. In my own experience, you can do the other three things and still fall prey to temptation fairly regularly UNLESS you do this fourth and final thing -- loving accountability with “safe” brothers and sisters is THE KEY to successfully using all the others.
May these keys be beneficial to you as your practice them. Remember, God loves you and so do I!