Overcoming Sin and Temptation – The Heart of the Issue
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. – James 1:2-4
A couple of years ago I was listening to a sermon about overcoming sin and temptation. The pastor began by quoting this verse. He went on to say that there is much misunderstandings about dealing with temptation and that most people think of it as a testing of their will power. He then made the point that James calls the various trials/temptations that we face a testing of our faith. I began to listen carefully. But the next thing he said was “so you have to believe in yourself” to overcome temptation. My head sunk down and I thought “No, no, no. People struggling with sin can’t believe in themselves. They’ve fallen too many times. They know their own weakness and failings.” Telling a man struggling with sin and temptation to believe in himself is like asking him to fly by flapping his arms. No doubt he wants to fly far above all of his sins and temptations, but he knows that he doesn’t have what it takes to do it.
But nonetheless the pastors words stuck with me. I knew that part of what he was saying was true. Temptations are a testing of our faith. But not of our faith in ourselves, but of our faith in Jesus Christ. Slowly I began to realise that faith in Jesus Christ sets a man free from all sin. I knew this was the key.
…she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. – Matt 9:21-22
From that point on I began to look at temptation through the eyes of faith. It was no longer about my resolution to say no, but it was about if God was true or not.
First lets look at what this means negatively.
Do you find it difficult to keep yourself from drinking poop-water? Probably not. I could mix it with the world’s greatest coffee, throw ice-cream on top, and you still wouldn’t drink it. Why not? Because you know it will make you sick and want to throw up.
Or, do you find it difficult to keep yourself from speeding in front of a police station? Probably not. The pain of your last ticket and the thought of another holds you back. The times that you do speed is when you believe you won’t get caught.
Now lets think about God.
Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die. – Ezekiel 18:4
Do you believe that the soul who sins will die? Do you believe this? When we give in to temptation we do it believing that it won’t matter, or that we won’t get caught. Simply put, we don’t believe God. But what would happen if you really did believe God and see that this very sin will bring you death?
Temptation is more a battle of faith than of will. It really comes down to is God’s word true or not. When we believe God, that His word is true, temptation looses its force.
Now lets look at what this means positively.
And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:19
What are the things that a man needs? Food to eat, clothing to wear, a wife and family to love, a place to work… etc. For those who are hungry the temptation to steal food is strong. But the hungry man is able to wait if he knows that food will be provided.
For the young man struggling with sexual temptation it is no different. He is able to wait if he knows that God will provide him a wife.
Martin Luther once wrote: “..If I, a Christian, still a strong youth, were to fall in love with a beautiful girl… the heart and the Spirit in the heart right away exclaim: “Get behind me Satan! Shut up! No, don’t rule flesh! Be completely silent! You shouldn’t thus persuade or incite me to fornication, adultery, passion or to do any other shameful acts against my God, but I will wait until God will give a woman to me whom I will love!..””
Temptation says ‘take now,’ Faith says ‘God will provide’. Once again temptation becomes a battle of faith. Is God’s word true or not. When we ‘take’ we are saying that God is a liar and that He won’t provide. But when we believe that His word is true, that He will provide, we are able to wait.
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. – 1 Peter 5:8-9
…if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. – Matthew 6:30~33
Often times when we look at ourselves, we see all that we lack, our own weakness, and give in to temptation. But temptation doesn’t have to be about your will. It is a battle of faith. And the only thing that matters is if God is true or not. What do you believe?
— see also a sermon on Matthew 4