For the past four weeks we’ve been dealing with this topic of overcoming the power of sin in our lives. We initially came to the conclusion that we are sinners and that we are in need of intervention from an outside source. We reviewed the fact that Christ came and died on our behalf so that we could claim victory over the power of sin and death. We also talked about ways whereby we can begin to claim victory over sin every single day by equipping ourselves with the armor that God has provided for us. Today as we wrap up this series I want us to leave here with practical tools to begin claiming the victory that was won for us on the cross every single day. This week I want you to have the tools you need to WIN!
(Using a cell-phone answer several incoming calls from “telemarketers” in which you are offered a free vacation, a new mortgage, a cheaper telephone service, a lower interest rate, or siding for my house. During each conversation, tell the caller that You’re busy and that You’re not interested in what he or she is selling. Then hang up. On the last call just pick up the phone and then hang it up and move on with the sermon.)
Sales calls. They’re annoying. I mean they always come at the most in convenient times. But many of us have become experts at getting rid of these annoyances. We don’t hesitate to abruptly interrupt their speech and hang up. You know, just as these sales calls kept me from delivering my sermon, so to temptation keeps us from living the lives that God wants us to live. I want to challenge you today to feel as justified in resisting temptation as you do in ignoring unwanted sales pitches. I want to send you away from here with five practical strategies to resist temptation.
Let us pray…
Our story today is again a familiar one. Jesus has been lead into the wilderness and is now being tempted by the Devil. At the end of forty days of fasting he’s very hungry and the devil appears to him and gives him some challenges. He tempts him to use his power to feed himself. He also tempts Jesus to worship him in order to gain power and fame in the world’s eyes, and finally Satan tempts Jesus to test God by putting himself in jeopardy, quoting the scripture that the angels will save him. In every instance Jesus stands firm. In every case Jesus resists the devil and does not succumb to the temptation at hand.
This story, while familiar, is difficult for us to understand. It seems unreal. The devil never appears to us and transports us from place to place. And when we are tempted the temptation isn’t always so clearly recognizable. The choice doesn’t always seem to be between good and bad but rather between bad and worse. It’s not always a matter of black and white but frequently of shades of gray. In the classic westerns the good guys wore white hats and the bad guys wore black hats and ultimately the clash between good and evil is settled on Main Street at high noon. But making the right decision isn’t that easy. It’s just not that simple.
As Christians we have been given victory over sin through Christ’s death on the cross, but we seldom live that victory. We have been given the power to resist temptation and to make the right choices, choices that glorify God, but seldom do we live empowered by Christ to resist temptation, instead we struggle along day after day, find ourselves falling into sin and then expect God to pick us back up, brush off the dirt and accept us again. Praise God, He does! He’s always there when we wonder back. But don’t you get sick of living like that? Are you sick of making those same mistakes over and over again, of never really having victory in your life? If so, then I’ve got good news for you. You don’t have to live like that any longer. The Bible teaches us a lot about resisting temptation. I’ve come up with five strategies which are certainly not inclusive of everything the Bible says on this topic, but which should give us a pretty good plan to resist temptation.
Step #1 in these strategies is to Draw Your Line in the Sand. In other words know your boundaries before you are faced with temptation. The backseat of a car on a dark, dirt road is not the place to fight off temptation. In order to be successful at fighting off temptation you must determine ahead of time where your boundaries will be. The problem the most of us encounter with temptation is we try to fight the battle when we’re in the heat of it. The outcome of the battle must be determined before we enter the battlefield. We must draw our lines in the sand, determine where our boundaries will be, set our standards ahead of time, and not allow ourselves to get near that line.
The story is told of a man who advertised for a coachman. Among those who came were two who seemed to him to be particularly bright. He took them aside and asked them how near they could drive to the edge of a cliff without falling over.
The first candidate answer that he could go within half an inch and had frequently done so, just shaving the edge and feeling perfectly safe. He then asked the other the same question. "Well, sir," replied the man modestly, "I really cannot tell, because I have never allowed myself to venture near the edge of the cliff. I have always made it a rule to keep as far as possible from danger, and I have had my reward in knowing that my master and his family were kept from danger and harm."
The master had no difficulty in deciding between the two candidates. "You are the man for me," he said, "the other may be brilliant, but you are safe."
How close will you come to temptation before you stop yourself? I want to encourage you to set your standards now. You’ll avoid a great deal of pain if you decide before hand that you will not risk danger.
Strategy #2 is to Watch & Pray. On the night of Jesus’ arrest he took Peter, James and John with him to the garden of Gethsemane. He instructed them to stay put while he went and prayed. When he returned he found them asleep and awoke them and said to them, “Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak.” Jesus knew that Peter and the other disciples had good intentions but he recognized something that they did not: they were weak and unless they were to stay alert and pray that God would deliver them from the coming trial they would succumb. And you probably know the story. They failed. Where were they when Jesus was crucified? Where were these twelve disciples who had called him Master and Lord? They were hiding! Peter even denied him. When push came to shove they gave in to the enemy. Why? Because they weren’t ready.
Here’s one certainty in life: you will be attacked by Satan. You will be tempted! There’s no question about it! What’s imperative is that we recognize that and constantly be on the alert. The only way to be prepared for an attack is to expect it.
Let me also remind you of something that God has just reminded me of this week: Do you remember the prayer that we pray every week? Tucked away in the middle of this prayer is a powerful phrase where Jesus taught us to say “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil…” We are taught to pray that God would deliver us from the temptation that we face. You know that temptation that you continuously face? I know what mine are. I was just reminded this week that we are to ask God to deliver us from that. Have you done that?
Be prepared, be alert, the Devil will attack, you will face temptation. Pray that God would deliver you from it.
The third strategy is to Comprehend the Consequences. When we are tempted the Evil One has a way of disguising what is evil as good. You know what I’m talking about. What you want to do, what your flesh is telling you to do looks so good. It feels so right. How could it be wrong?
The next time you’re standing on that cliff ready to give into that temptation I want to challenge you to just stop and think about the consequences. The Devil would rather you not think about those consequences. He would rather you dive in and be forced to face those consequences later on. But if we will take the time to stop and think about the consequences of what we are about to do, to unmask the lie that Satan is telling us, to listen to that still small voice that’s telling us why this will be the wrong decision and to really think about where this action will lead us we may decide to turn around and go the other direction. Stop and comprehend the consequences.
The fourth strategy is to Run Like the Wind! Do you remember the stories of David and Joseph? Did you know that both were faced with the same temptation but one succumbed and the other did not?
Joseph was a servant of, Potipher, a chief official of Egypt and Potipher’s wife took a liking to him. The text tells us that Joseph was handsome and good-looking. She had her eye on him and one day when she had him alone she asked him to go to bed with her. There Joseph was in the heat of the moment. And do you know what Joseph did, he stopped comprehended the consequences and refused her proposal. But she kept pushing. And one day she grabbed a hold of him by his garment and said to him “Sleep with me!” But he pulled away from her leaving his garment in her hand and he ran from the house. You know the rest of the story: the wife sets him up and he is imprisoned later to be exalted to the highest place of honor in Egypt below the Pharaoh himself.
Then there’s David. David’s on his roof one day and he looks down and he sees a beautiful woman bathing. So he sends someone to find out who she is. They report to him that she is the wife of another man. Here’s the key: rather than comprehending the consequences and running from the situation David sends for her and sleeps with her. It’s later discovered that she’s pregnant and David brings her husband home from the war in an effort to try and get him to sleep with his wife so that he would not know that it was not his baby. But his plan backfired because her husband refused to go home when his fellow countrymen were at war, so David sent this man to the frontline of the battlefield to be killed.
David and Joseph handled temptation in completely different manners. Both were tempted with beautiful women who were the wives of other men, but Joseph ran like the wind to get away from the situation and David dove in head first.
At the first sign of temptation we need to get out. We can’t flirt with it. We can’t get just a little bit closer, because once we’ve taken the bight of that fruit there’s no turning back. In David’s case, one sin led to another which eventually led to murder. When we give into temptation we get ourselves caught in a web. The next time you’re being tempted run like the wind!
The final strategy that I would offer you in resisting temptation is to Find an Accountability Partner. Who do you have that you can share your darkest secrets with? Do you have someone who can say to you, “How are you doing with that sin?” “How’d you do this week with your thoughts?” “How’d you do today at controlling your temper?” Without an accountability partner, without someone who can make you stick to your commitments it’s very difficult to have victory over sin. We need to find someone who we can trust, who won’t look down on us because of our sin, but who will hold us responsible for our actions and who will make us be honest. Who’s your accountability partner? If you don’t have one I’d encourage you to find one soon.
While our story today of Jesus resisting temptation almost seems unreal there is encouragement to be found because not only was Jesus completely God, but Jesus was completely human. Jesus, while not born into sin, as you and I are, had the ability to sin. He was tempted in every way that you and I are tempted, and yet he did not sin. In setting that example we are given a challenge. It is not impossible for us to resist sin. It can be done. We can with the help of the Holy Spirit live free from sin’s power. We can resist temptation. We need not live as sin’s captive any longer.
Break the stronghold of sin in your life right now! Don’t allow it to control you for even another day. Determine here and now that you will embody the freedom that Christ won for you on the cross.