Robert D. Pace
How to Overcome Temptation
Life is full of temptations and tests. Everyone is well acquainted with them. However, unlike an educational experience, life presents the test first and teaches the lesson last. Something doesn’t seem fair about that! For example, parents are first tested with the responsibility of raising children, but once they learn those lessons their children are grown, married, and have their own children with whom to make mistakes! Regardless, we need to learn how to confront and overcome life’s temptations and tests however they appear.
(Definition) Let’s first define temptation as the writers of Scripture employed it, because it has two meanings: When temptation comes from Satan it’s always designed to injure or lead into wrongdoing. Jesus said, “the thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy.” On the other hand, when God divinely permits or sovereignly sends trials they serve beneficial purposes. The best way to differentiate between the two is to call Satan’s trial a temptation and God’s trial a test. James 1:13 says: “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.”
Satan’s temptation of Adam and Eve brought death. But God’s test of Abraham to sacrifice Isaac extended the Messianic covenant (GEN 22:12)—two distinctly different temptations.
Satan flogged, tormented, and imprisoned the apostle Paul to discourage and hinder him, whereas, God used these trials to impress Christ’s image upon the apostle.
Satan’s temptation of Job was to cause him to curse God, however, God permitted this trial to refine and improve every area of Job’s life.
You see, God’s tests aren’t designed to destroy you, they’re designed to develop you. I like how Bill Hamon states it: “Everything God does is for a reason. He is either proving us, reproving us, approving us, or improving us.” God isn’t some angry out-of-control dictator seeking to punish anybody that offends Him. He’s our Savior and He always acts with redemptive purposes!
(Transition) Let’s first consider, How to face Satan’s temptations. As we investigate this let’s return to the Garden of Eden.
I. How to Face Satan’s Temptations
Here we have God presenting the whole world to Adam and Eve with only one tree being off-limits. But even in their sinless estate they wrestled with the same temptation that plagues people today—selfishness! James said: “each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed” (1:14).
Notice how Adam and Eve played the “Blame Game” when God confronted them with their failure. Adam blamed Eve for his disobedience when he said: “The woman you put here with me . . . gave me some fruit from the tree.” And Eve blamed the devil when she said: “The serpent deceived me.” People have continued this practice from the beginning of time. Today we call it being “victimized.”
(Example) In recent years, this victimization syndrome has been adopted by many. I understand, to some degree, everyone is influenced by their parents, environment, and culture; but in the end, God holds every man personally responsible for their behavior. This victimization business is ruining society!
Today’s victims aren’t the aborted baby; they are women forced to endure the pregnancy.
Victims aren’t the burglarized; they are the criminals.
Victims aren’t the brutalized; they are the miscreants perpetrating the violence.
If you search hard enough, you’ll find an excuse for your misdeeds. Again, when God confronted Eve for her disobedience she said, “The serpent made me do it.” When He confronted Adam, he said, “The woman made me do it.”
Ultimately, we must assume responsibility for our actions because a “rigged jury” or a slick attorney won’t get anyone acquitted in God’s Courtroom. The Bible says “Every man will give an account of himself before God.” Excuses and the “Blame Game” won’t prevail on Judgment Day. Everyone will assume responsibility for their wrongdoing. That’s why it’s important to repent. It enables you to stand before Christ’s Judgment Seat cleansed and free from sin. Repentance eliminates the need for excuses.
You see, everyone is tempted to sin. And God will never convict you of Satan’s temptations. The sin isn’t in the temptation; our sin is yielding to temptation. And the reason temptation snares us is because it’s initially enjoyable. Hebrews 11:25 says sin is pleasurable for a moment. It begins harmlessly and even fun. In most cases, you don’t initially feel its sting. But eventually its poison breaks down your spiritual chemistry and destroys your character.
(Transition) Since temptation is inevitable; that is, everyone confronts it; we need to learn how to overcome it. And I want to propose three ways you can master temptation:
A. First, Jesus said some trials could be completely avoided through prayer. Perhaps that sounds too good to be true, but notice how the Bible says this can be done. In Matthew 6:13 Jesus told His disciples to pray in this manner: “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” Imagine that! Prayer helps us circumvent temptation!
(Illustration) Let’s illustrate that with a bit of humor: Years ago I read the story of a youngster named Alexander that was struggling to save money for a baseball bat. One night his mother overheard him saying his prayers: “Lord, help me save my money for a baseball bat. And, God, please don’t let the ice cream man come down this street!”
That boy was wiser than most adults! He practiced what Jesus told His disciples to do and prayed away the temptation!
B. Secondly, Scripture says some temptations can be overcome by avoiding them. I want to explain this carefully because it’s important to understand what the Bible is instructing us to do here. The Bible teaches us that some temptations are not meant to be confronted! We are to “flee” from them. In other words, we shouldn’t stand in the presence of that temptation and rebuke it or argue with it or debate it. We are to flee from it! Let me explain.
When Potiphar’s wife attempted to seduce Joseph, he didn’t linger and offer five reasons why he shouldn’t yield—he ran from her presence!
That’s what 2 Timothy 2:22 means when it says, “flee youthful lusts.”
That’s why God says in 1 Thessalonians 5:22: “Avoid every kind of evil.”
It’s why Ephesians 4:27 says: “do not give the devil a foothold.”
Do you see what the Bible tells us to do? It’s showing us there is a set of temptation that should be totally avoided. And if we are forced to deal with them we are to run; not wrestle!
Remember, some temptations can be conquered by praying them off your street; but others will be conquered by staying off the Street of Temptation! Every Christian needs to set predetermined boundaries that won’t be crossed.
(Illustration) The story is told of an executive sinking into the airline seat next to a beautiful woman. After the aircraft lifted, they were both mesmerized in conversation. Before long, the executive said: “I’m wealthy and I’ll give you $10,000 to spend the weekend with me.” The woman blushed, twisted slightly, and then sheepishly agreed. As they continued to converse, the man amended his proposition: “Look, you can feel the attraction, let’s forget the money and just spend the weekend together.” The woman responded: “What type woman do you think I am?” The man replied: “I thought that was determined when you agreed to take the money!”
(Transition) Let me mention one more way you can overcome temptation:
C. Some temptations must be resisted!
That word, resist, means “to set yourself against someone or something; to “resist” means one must forcefully oppose another.” Let’s apply that definition and see how temptations can be resisted:
You can renounce temptation when it appears. You can emulate Christ and say, “Satan, you have no hold on me.”
When Satan tempts you to doubt your salvation or a promise from God’s Word you can take the “Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God,” and declare: The Lord has said, “Lo, I am with you always. Even to the end of the world.”
When you’re tempted to doubt God’s direction for your life, reaffirm that the Holy Spirit will lead and guide you into all truth.”
When you’re tempted to injure others verbally or physically, remind yourself that God has provided the “fruit of the Spirit” to you exhibit the character of Christ.
These are ways you can overcome temptation.
(Transition) We’ve discussed how to face Satan’s temptations, now let’s discuss how to face God’s “testing.”
II. How to Face God’s Testing
James 1:2 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
I sincerely wish God hadn’t chosen the crucible of a test to develop our character, improve our worth, and determine our value. But that’s the way it works. Despite this process, you can be assured of one fact: “Whenever God tests, it’s always to bless”! The Lord never uses a test to wreck and ruin your welfare. They are filled with divine purpose and meaning. Let me show you:
A. First, the Purpose of God’s test is to prepare us for His work.
(Illustration) Henry Murray was a psychologist and Director of Assessment for the Office of Strategic Services, during World War II. The OSS was the forerunner of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency). Murray performed an intensive personality investigation for OSS candidates. His testing program was used to select spies and saboteurs for dangerous situations. Murray engaged the candidates in stressful real life situations to monitor their behavior. One test involved building a bridge across a stream within a fixed period of time but without blueprints. The candidates were provided workers to help with the project. “In this way, the man’s ingenuity, ability to improvise, and leadership skills could be assessed in a realistic setting.” What the candidates didn’t know was their ranks were infiltrated by “stooges” to determine their reaction to frustration. They were instructed to prevent the building of the bridge. The stooges raised objection after objection to dispirit the candidates. The construction never had a chance of succeeding. Murray’s program of personality assessment reduced grown men to tears and maddening frustration. But it was successful, because it identified the qualified candidates and helped them solve future problems as OSS agents.
(Quote) One nationally-known pastor said this: “The first church I pastored was a problem . . . [But] My ministry wouldn’t be what it is today if I hadn’t pastored that first Church . . . Some of the hardest tests I’ve gone through in fifty years of experience are because I was led by the Spirit of God. He knew the test was coming. It was God’s way of teaching me.”
B. Secondly, the purpose of God’s test reveals our character. You see, Christianity isn’t designed for Christians to avoid adversity. It’s designed to build character and a faith that conquers adversity! Remember Dr. Hamon’s words: Everything God brings our way is for “proving us, reproving us, approving us, or improving us.”
Always remember that each test from God is filled with purpose! As the Bible illustrates, God wants to see how you will respond to: (1) Bitter waters, (2) Desert places, (3) Lion’s dens, or (4) Fiery furnaces. Will you complain . . . kick and scream . . . distrust God . . . or will you “rejoice in the Lord always”?
Weightlifters need the struggle of pushing against heavy loads to increase their strength.
Distance runners must run past fatigue and muscle cramps to increase their endurance.
Children have to cut teeth, mispronounce words, and fall down before they fully mature.
And Christians have to bear the cross and endure testing to claim spiritual maturity.
Why should we assume spiritual maturity occurs differently than natural maturity? It’s probably because we’re looking for a shortcut to mature. We want to eliminate the “No pain, No gain” principle. But God says, “No, you’ll have to bear your cross, endure the desert, and perhaps even “press through the eye of the needle” if you want to be “perfect and complete—lacking nothing.””
When God tests you, He doesn’t compare you to wood. To God, you are a chunk of silver or gold! You are invaluable to God! That’s why Solomon said: “The crucible for silver and furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the heart” (Proverbs 17:3). If you were nothing but “wood” the fire would consume you! You are precious in God’s sight.
C. Thirdly, God’s “tests” usher in His blessings. Listen to Psalm 66:10: “For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver. (11) You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. (12) You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.”
Are you getting a clearer picture of tests that come from God? The “stooges” in your life and setbacks you have encountered aren’t necessarily due to wrongdoing; God placed them there because He is preparing you for something unimaginable!
(Illustration) Sometime back an aspiring young man envisioned being a missionary to Africa. He and his wife trained and planned for months. Just before leaving they reported to New York for their physical examinations. The tests disclosed that his wife couldn’t adapt to the African climate. It was a crushing blow that brought dismay. But remember, God knew the frailties of this man’s wife in advance. This was a test. Despite their disappointment, the man determined to support world missions, so he returned home to run his dad’s small fruit business. It didn’t take long before the insignificant fruit business burgeoned into a huge industry. And because of its success he donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to missions. And his family is still the leading manufacturer of grape juice—Welch’s grape juice!
God often gives a test, just as a Professor does, to determine whether you are ready for a promotion.
When God told Abraham to leave his Chaldean homeland it tried his faith. But incredible blessings attended his obedience!
And what about the blessing that Abraham received after his willingness to sacrifice Isaac on the altar? In Genesis 22:16 God said: “Because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, (17) I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.”
When God tests a person by asking them to relocate, change occupations, or give a certain amount of money, He wants obedience. If it’s there, benefits will follow!
(Transition) Jacob’s life illustrates this well. His life was filled with conflict and combat. Turn to Genesis 30 and let’s read.
Genesis 30:32-36 says, “Let me pass through all your flock today, removing from it every speckled and spotted sheep and every black lamb, and the spotted and speckled among the goats, and they shall be my wages. 33 So my honesty will answer for me later, when you come to look into my wages with you. Every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats and black among the lambs, if found with me, shall be counted stolen.” 34 Laban said, “Good! Let it be as you have said.” 35 But that day Laban removed the male goats that were striped and spotted, and all the female goats that were speckled and spotted, every one that had white on it, and every lamb that was black, and put them in the charge of his sons. 36 And he set a distance of three days’ journey between himself and Jacob, and Jacob pastured the rest of Laban’s flock.”
Can you imagine having a father-in-law like Laban? And we thought the mother-in-law was the problem! Immediately after making an agreement with Jacob, Laban removed the spotted, speckled, and dark of the flock for himself. So when the flocks were separated by fifty miles the contract started with Jacob having no animal that he requested. What a test! But what did Jacob do? Give up? No, he believed God! He knew God could make that flock any color or configuration imaginable. Genesis 30:43 says Jacob “grew exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks, and maidservants and menservants, and camels and donkeys.” Sometimes all you can do is believe and trust God’s providential dealings.
He wants you to confess: “all things . . . work for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
He wants you proclaiming: “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8).
He wants you announcing God will “supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness” (9:10).
Remember, God’s tests are designed to wreck you; they are designed to improve and bless you. They aren’t meant to turn men into mice. They are meant to make ordinary men extraordinary! They are designed to make frail men fearless soldiers!
- Gideon’s test began with 22,000 fighting men gathered to fight the enemy. But God said 300 men were enough to conquer their foes.
- God tested Joshua by commanding him to march in silence around Jericho for 7 days. That hardly seems like military stratagem. But Joshua’s obedience flattened the walls.
- Shamgar, a farmer, had only an ox-goad to fight 600 Philistines. But again, God gave him the victory!
Everything you encounter is a test. And if you will trust God, He will always bring you through!