It’s one of the hottest topics in Christian circles. Preachers are always talking about temptation, desires, and sins. You get all types of teaching on the subject. On the conservative side, preachers and teachers are almost apocalyptic, telling you it’s the end of the world if you succumbed to anything.
But on the other side people tell you it’s okay because God has grace if you sin. So what are we expected to do? What does the Bible say about these three dangerous sidesteps in our walk with Jesus?
I want to clarify the issues surrounding desire, temptation, and sin. Each of us must know how to combat these things that will destroy our walk with God. But each one of them leads to the other. According to Scripture, desire comes first, and then temptation, and then sin.
James tells us that our own desires start the process toward sin (James 1:14). He begins talking about the trial of temptation but tells us in this verse that our own desires open the door toward temptation. This means the first trench we must make in the battle for holiness starts with our desires.
The Bible talks about desires in mostly negative terms. Only when our desire is for God, the things of God, and God’s will in our lives is the Bible positive about desire. Most of the time, it talks about “the flesh” and our passions.
These usually refer to our desire toward sinful habits and acts. At the moment of salvation, Jesus gives us a new heart with new desires toward God. But we live in a world that is constantly harping on the desires of our former life.
If we do not combat these openings for our desires to overtake us, we will fall prey to temptation. So it all starts with fortifying the areas of our lives where our old, sinful desires could be reactivated as we live in a sinful environment.
These desires are the weaknesses that bring temptation. James talks about trials and temptation a lot in his letter. But it’s hard for the English reader to see one of the words that makes a difference in context. The word for temptation, testing, and trial is the same word in the original language.
This changes the way we think of temptation. It is one of the various trials (James 1:2) that we experience as Christians. Every trial we face strengthens our faith and relationship with God when we turn to him.
Instead, most of us blame someone or something else for falling into sin through temptation. That’s why James tells us that we can’t blame God. He isn’t tempted by evil and doesn’t tempt anyone (James 1:13). That’s not how God operates.
He doesn’t tempt us to see what we will do. He doesn’t use evil to strengthen us. We encounter evil in the world and have the choice to allow temptation to lead us into sin or to turn away from temptations.
James describes the perfect storm where our desires open the door to temptation. Then temptation takes us from desires into sin. Temptation is not sin. Being tempted by our desires, the world, and the devil is not a sin.
But temptation is the vehicle that takes us to sin if we give into it. James completes his point by contrasting the fact that God doesn’t use evil and temptation against us with his good gifts that he always gives to us (James 1:16-17). We don’t receive evil from God. We only received good from him.
So it comes down to dealing with our desires and the temptations that follow these open doors and weaknesses we leave in our armor. Our mindset as believers must be to live dead to sin. We must not have any openings for temptation to enter. How do we sure up each of our weaknesses so that temptation will not entice us?
There are two ways temptation attacks the believer. The first is through systematic knocking on the door of our weaknesses. There is always the temptation toward alcoholism, adultery, lust, and the like. We live in a fallen world and sin is all around us.
We must have a plan in place to avoid these temptations. Don’t put yourself in a place where you can be tempted easily. Set your lifestyle to do the opposite of your old desires and passions. The Holy Spirit inside us strengthens us through his power (1 John 4:4).
The second way temptation attacks believers is through surprises. There are times when the game plan we have to avoid sin is ineffective. Temptation comes suddenly and we must quickly react. You’re in the checkout line at the store and you see a beautiful woman or handsome man on one of the magazine racks.
You must react quickly. You didn’t foresee running into this temptation because you’re just going to the store. But there it is. My mentor used to say that God gave us two great natural weapons against sudden temptation, our eyelids and our necks. When temptation sneaks up on you, close your eyes and turn your neck.
Here are some practical ways we can handle our desires and the temptations that follow:
- Understand your identity in Christ. Many Christians don’t realize their identity in Christ. They don’t have the mindset of being dead to sin and alive in Christ. They allow desire to linger from the old life. We must turn over every desire to Jesus. Our desire should be for God rather than sin. The things that we want to do should be godly now that we know Christ.
- Commit your mind and will to turning temptation down. Job made a covenant with his eyes to not look on a woman with lust (Job 31:1-4). He was intentional and fortified against the possibility of temptation in this area. He didn’t allow the weakness of lust to touch his integrity. He guarded it furiously. We must make the choice every day beforehand to guard ourselves in every area of our lives.
- Continue to bear your cross and live the “dead to sin” lifestyle. We must remember Jesus’ victory over sin at the cross. We must walk in that same victory. We are dead to sin and alive in Christ (Romans 6:1-4; Ephesians 2:1-3). He has freed us from the clutches of temptation and sin. We choose to walk in his freedom (Galatians 5:1).
- Have a game plan in place to face temptations. We must have a plan for all temptation scenarios. Temptation lays traps for our old desires. But if we are prepared for every trap and have a way out of it (1 Corinthians 10:13), it has no power over our desires. If you are weak in an area like alcoholism, stay away from bars. Don’t have alcohol in the house to tempt you.
- Have an accountability partner to monitor your fight. We don’t walk this path alone. As much as we’re surrounded by a sinful world, we are also surrounded by a cloud of witnesses of the victorious life. Find a saint who doesn’t struggle with the same weaknesses and hold regular meetings with him or her to evaluate your progress in living the victorious life. Choose a saint of the same gender as you. Through encouragement and wise godly counsel you can avoid the pitfalls of temptation and sin. Sin exposed is powerless to rule us.
- Think of how much sin and rebellion hurt God’s heart. Joseph had God’s heart on his mind when temptation knocked on his door (Genesis 39:9). Potiphar’s wife wanted him to commit fornication with her but he refused because he didn’t want to hurt God’s heart with his sin.
- Set your thoughts on the things of God. Philippians 4:8 instructs us to think about godly things instead of worldly things. When our minds are pure, our hearts are also pure. Even when a moment of temptation arrives, we are thinking of something completely different.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we can live the victorious life over desires, temptation, and the sin of this world. When we fix our eyes on Jesus, the world falls away into the background. When we are so in love with Jesus, we consider nothing else.
Focus on Jesus and the battle of temptation and sin will be won easily. Allow the changed desires of your heart to rule your life. Spend more time prioritizing your relationship with God, the things he has for you to do, and temptation will find no openings or weaknesses.
We can live the victorious life in Christ together. Instead of waking up every day worried about the open doors of sin in this wicked world, wake up glorifying God and seeking the Holy Spirit to give you your mission for the day.
What do you think about this battle many Christians are entrenched in with desire, temptation, and sin? Leave a comment and tell me how you deal with desires and temptations.