Summary: World-class athletes see winning in their mind’s eye. They win the event before it even begins. They see themselves crossing the finish line, overcoming obstacles, fighting the good fight. Likewise, you are in a race, too (1 Cor. 9:24). Here’s how you can
“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” (Matthew 4:1)
World-class athletes see winning in their mind’s eye. They win the event before it even begins. They see themselves crossing the finish line, overcoming obstacles, fighting the good fight. Likewise, you are in a race, too (1 Cor. 9:24). Prepare in advance. Your enemy knows your weaknesses and your strengths. He has had plenty of time, thousands of years, to prepare. He knows what buttons to push to elicit his desired effect.
Temptation is a very real part of discipleship. You are either in a storm, coming out of a storm or there are storm clouds on your horizon. And we should be alert and prepared for it. The time to think about and prepare for battle is not in the battle, but beforehand. Being forewarned is to be forearmed. This is a necessary step in learning to be proactive instead of reactive in times of temptation.
A disciple has not demonstrated true obedience unless they have first been given an opportunity to disobey. God wants us to obey, but God gives us the freedom to choose. Without choice, we would be prisoners, and our obedience would be shallow. Temptation provides an exercise in choice, with rewards for choosing to obey and sad consequences for choosing to disobey.
As believers, we are tempted by what is already within - our predispositions, our sinful lust. We must remember that our enemy is aware of our tendencies, where we have fallen before and makes powerful suggestions to entice us to sin against God. Many say, “The devil made me do it.” Not so. Every person is tempted when he or she is drawn away by his or her own lust. Another word for lust is desire. We see something, we want something, we do something to get the object of our desire.
Having an intense desire is not bad. For instance, when Jesus was tempted by the devil, what was being offered was not illegal, i.e., having a natural desire for food is not illegal. However, using His divine power on Satan’s terms would have been illegal so He did not change the stones to bread. Similarly, Satan tempts us to satisfy a normal desire in a wrong way or at the wrong time. To illustrate, sex is legitimate, but only in the covenant bond of marriage. Food is legitimate unless we steal to get it. We yield to temptation and sin when we try to satisfy God-given desires in wrong ways or at wrong times. To be Spirit-led, God wants you to satisfy your desires in the right way and at the right time.
We can learn to resist the devil’s temptations if we know and obey God’s Word. The Bible tells us that God’s Word is a sword to use in spiritual combat (Ephesians 6:17). Knowing God’s Word is an important step in resisting the devil’s attacks, but we must also obey God’s Word. We must remember that Satan knows God’s Word, too, but he failed to obey it.
We must realize temptation is not sin - we sin when we give in to temptation and disobey God. Jesus was tempted in every way, but never sinned (Heb. 4:15). We must also know that the devil is a fallen angel. He is real, not symbolic, and is constantly warring against those who follow and obey God. Satan’s temptations are real, and he is always trying to get us to live his way or our way rather than God’s way.
Temptation often comes when we are tired, alone, hungry, and as a result, at our most vulnerable. Satan many times tempts us when we are physically, emotionally, or spiritually stressed. For example, we can be tempted when we are isolated, worn out, burned up, facing big decisions, or filled with anxiety. We can be tempted when we have just experienced a spiritual breakthrough. Many times, waves of temptation come within days after a prayer has been answered, a life transformed, an addiction broken, or when we make right, godly choices. Temptation takes place outside the desert, too. Often we can have the most horribly tempting thoughts while involved in ministry, counseling, or listening to a sermon. Temptation can also come when we are at our best, in our strong moments, when we are susceptible to pride. When temptations seem especially strong, or when you think you can rationalize giving in, consider whether Satan may be trying to block God’s purposes for your life or for someone else’s life. We must guard at all times against his attacks.
Temptation can come when we are wrestling with uncertainty, when we struggle with doubt. These are especially dangerous times. We must stand on the unshakable foundation of God’s Word.