Summary: Our relationship with God is the foundation everything else is built upon. Many people try to live out Christianity and never understand the relationship we can have with God.
First Step - Relationship with God
The first step in living a lifestyle that overcomes temptation is a relationship with God. You were created by God to have a loving, intimate relationship with God. Out of that relationship we find our purpose in life and the power to live a fulfilled life. Many get this principle backwards. They try to find their purpose so that God will be pleased and accept them. However, God clearly says it is impossible to please God by our own efforts. Only by faith - trusting in God, can we please God. No man can please God by doing good deeds are living a religious lifestyle. Our goal is not to get to heaven and our goal is not to escape the flames of hell. Our goal is to have intimacy with God. After all, that is what heaven is. In heaven, we will have a face-to-face relationship with God. If loving God is not what we desire, then we really don’t desire heaven anyway. If submitting to God makes us unhappy, heaven would be a miserable place. My goal and hope is to paint a clearer image of God so that we understand that our real desire is to know and love Him, and to give a better understanding of what it means to follow Him. If the joy of heaven is to know God, then we should understand that knowing Him is our source of joy here on earth.
The Bible tells us that the joy of the Lord is our strength. Knowing God is the source of our joy and the joy produced from our relationship with Him is our strength. Many people who begin in the faith will fade along the way. Many who listen to or read these messages will get excited about the hope of change, but will turn back when their desires become their most important treasure. This is not new to the time in which we live. Those around him abandoned Paul when the ministry became a sacrifice. In one of his letters to Timothy, Paul said, "Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world". 1 John 2:19 addresses the same problem, "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us."
When someone’s focus is not on God and a relationship with Him, they will turn back when their fleshly desires are not fulfilled. Right up front I think is vitally important to realize that God does not promise instant gratification. God calls us to die to ourselves and trust Him for the promises He has given. Look at Psalm 36:
7 How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings.
8 They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house, And You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures.
9 For with You is the fountain of life; In Your light we see light.
10 Oh, continue Your lovingkindness to those who know You, And Your righteousness to the upright in heart.
Notice two things about this passage: trusting and knowing God is the key. All pleasure was created by God and is good as long as it is within His design. Those who know God are made upright in heart and they will trust and submit first and believe in the promise that God will be their fulfillment. After submission and trust the promises are fulfilled. God often tests our faith before He fulfills any promise. Therefore, if we can’t trust, we will never inherit what He has for us. God first calls for faith. Look now at Luke 9:23-24
23 Then He said to them all, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.
24 "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.
From the human perspective, dying to self is foolishness. That is because it is an act of faith. Like all acts of faith, I am trusting in God as my only hope of benefit. I am dying to myself because I am no use to God as long as I am walking in my own flesh and by my own strength. When I die, then God raises me up in His strength. I die; I deny myself - He gives me life; He gives me fulfillment in abundance. Those who can’t die to themselves and trust God will never fully experience God. They may become like Demas and countless others who began with a religious experience, but turned back when personal cost was at stake.