How to Resist Temptation
How to Resist Temptation
The Sirens were three mysterious women who, according to Homer’s Odyssey, lived on an island. Whenever a ship passed by, they would stand on the cliffs and sing. Their beautiful song would tempt sailors closer and closer, until eventually they were shipwrecked on the rocks below.
Odysseus was curious to hear the Sirens’ song, but was well aware of the dangers. He ordered his men to tie him to the mast as they approached the island and then to plug their own ears with beeswax. When Odysseus heard the Siren call he demanded to be untied, but his shipmates bound him tighter, releasing him only when then the danger had passed.
The story explores the powerful pull we all feel at times to flirt with choices that we know are bad, and even destructive. No one can go through life without being tempted. Temptation is not sin; Jesus was ‘without sin’, yet even he was ‘tempted in every way, just as we are’ (Hebrews 4:15).
Tempted to cheatProverbs 7:21-27
This passage describes the power and the dangers of sexual temptation.
- Beware persuasive words
Be careful about what you listen to and what you read: ‘With persuasive words she led him astray; she seduced him with her smooth talk’ (v.21).
- Avoid foolish actions
Thoughts and words lead eventually to actions: ‘All at once he followed her... little knowing it will cost him his life’ (vv.22–23).
- Control straying thoughts
Temptation often starts in our hearts: ‘Do not let your heart turn to her ways [the adulteress]’ (v.25; see Matthew 5:28).
Heed this warning: ‘Listen... take these words of mine most seriously. Don’t fool around... don’t even stroll through her neighbourhood’ (Proverbs 7:24–25, MSG). Following this path is a ‘highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death’ (v.27).
Lord, lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from the evil one. Guard my heart, give me discernment and guide my feet.
Tempted over controlLuke 3:23-4:13
God allows temptation in your life. As you go through these tests your faith is strengthened.
Jesus knows all about temptation. Jesus was tempted for forty days (4:2). Although it was the devil doing the tempting (v.3), God allowed it (he ‘was led by the Spirit into the wilderness’, v.1).
This period of temptation followed Jesus’ powerful experience of the Holy Spirit at his baptism. This sequence of events is common, which is why we warn people on Alpha that they may experience increased temptation after the weekend away (where the focus is on the work and experience of the Holy Spirit).
Luke emphasises Jesus’ identity as the Son of God (3:23–38) but the temptations that Jesus faced are often similar to the ones we face.
All these temptations revolve around control – control of our appetites, control of our ambitions, and control of our lives. The devil wants to control your life. In contrast, God wants you to know the freedom that comes from being led by the Holy Spirit.
- Instant gratification
The devil appeals to Jesus’ physical appetite (v.3) and offers instant gratification. Jesus answers, ‘It is written: “People do not live on bread alone”’ (v.4).
In the long run instant gratification leads to disillusion, emptiness and despair. Listening to God and building a relationship with him leads to deep spiritual satisfaction, joy and purpose.
- Selfish ambition
The devil showed Jesus in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. ‘He said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendour... If you worship me, it will all be yours”’ (vv.6–7).
The temptation to accumulate things for ourselves is very powerful. Material prosperity may lead to ‘authority’ and ‘splendour’ (v.6) in this lifetime, but the danger is that financial security becomes our ambition and we put our trust in wealth and not in God.
Jesus responded to this temptation by saying, ‘It is written: “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only”’ (v.8). Ultimately, there is only one thing that can be totally secure and that is your relationship with God. This must be your primary ambition.
- Presumptuous power
The devil takes Jesus to the highest point in the temple and says, ‘If you are the Son of God… throw yourself down from here’ (v.9). He then quotes the Bible at him (out of context, of course). Jesus answered this scripture with scripture, ‘It is said: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test”’ (v.12).
You are called to a life of obedience and service to God. Jesus performed some dramatic miracles during his ministry. In doing so, however, he was obeying God and following the Holy Spirit’s leading. This is quite different from testing God and then asking him to back you up. Rather than coming up with your own plans and asking God to bless them, seek to find out God’s plans and obey his calling.
Jesus saw off the devil and his temptations with God’s word. He repeatedly said, ‘It is written...’ and then quoted scriptures that directly answered the devil’s lies and temptations.
The devil ‘left him’. But he only ‘retreated temporarily, lying in wait for another opportunity’ (v.13, MSG). It is a relief to have periods in life when temptations are not so strong – but you can be sure that the devil will try to lure you astray again.
Lord, I want to follow the leading of your Holy Spirit. Help me to stay close to you, to know your words and to resist temptation.
Tempted to compareNumbers 11:4-13:25
Just as Jesus was tempted in ‘the wilderness’ (Luke 4:1), the people of God were tempted during their wilderness years. The examples in this passage were written down as warnings for us (see 1 Corinthians 10:6).
God had supplied them with food but they craved ‘other food’ (Numbers 11:4). Rather than thanking God for his miraculous provision they said, ‘If only we had meat to eat!’ (v.4b). They kept ‘whining’ (vv.10,13, MSG) and complaining.
They were tempted to make comparisons with the old life back in Egypt and turn back to where they had come from. It is easy to fall into this trap. There is always something to complain about. Yet, if we have eyes to see it, we are constantly surrounded by God’s goodness, mercy, forgiveness, love and grace.
‘… be content with what you have, because God has said,
“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you”’ (Hebrews 13:5).
The antidote to discontent is thanksgiving. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude.
We see an example of jealousy with Miriam and Aaron asking, ‘Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Hasn’t he also spoken through us?’ (Numbers 12:2). When Joshua had been upset about others prophesying in the camp, Moses asked in response, ‘Are you jealous for my sake?’ (11:29). The context here is spiritual leadership and gifting.
Moses’ leadership structure involved a group of three at the centre (Aaron, Miriam and Joshua). Then, there were the twelve leaders of the tribes of Israel (13:4–15), then the seventy leaders and officials (11:16 onwards). This is very similar to Jesus’ inner circle of three, the twelve apostles, and then the seventy-two others (see Luke 10). When the Holy Spirit rested on the seventy of Moses, ‘they prophesied’ (Numbers 11:25).
Like Moses, try to avoid the temptation to compare and to be jealous when you see God using other people in a powerful way. Moses recognised that he needed all the help he could get. He replied, ‘I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!’ (v.29). He did not feel he had to be the only one God used. The Lord had said, ‘I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them. They will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it alone’ (v.17).
Jealousy comes from comparing ourselves with others and thinking that we are less well off. Pride comes from thinking too much of ourselves, comparing with others and thinking we are better.
Moses also resisted the temptation of pride. Pride is the biggest barrier between God and human beings. God loves the humble. As C.S. Lewis put it, ‘True humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.’
‘Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth’ (12:3). Perhaps that is why God used Moses in such a powerful way.
Moses was ‘humble’ (v.3), ‘faithful’ (v.7), compassionate and forgiving (v.13). All this stemmed from the very close relationship he had with God in which God spoke to him intimately in person (‘With him I speak face to face’, v.8).
Lord, help me to resist the temptations of discontent, jealously and pride. Help me to be trustworthy, faithful and humble.
I do have a little bit of sympathy for the Israelites. Manna every day for forty years does sound a little dull. I have a slightly delicate constitution so I am a little fussy about food. I am sure manna was delicious and very good for you. When you are hungry, most things taste good. Learning contentment and gratitude for what we have is very important.
Verse of the Day
‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only’ (Luke 4:8).
C.S. Lewis, ‘True humility is not thinking less of yourself. It is thinking of yourself less.’
C. S. Lewis may not have used these exact words but he did say something similar in Mere Christianity, which has inspired the evolution of this quote.
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.