We all know the familiar cycle of temptation, stumbling, then seeking God for forgiveness, but how well do we know the cycle of temptation, asking God for strength, overcoming and living righteously–not nearly as much, but it is easier than we think!
Recently, God said something to me about fighting temptation that changed my life, as it was both a rebuke, and encouragement from a Father who loves us enough to say difficult things when we need to hear them
During a time of prayer a few days ago, God said:
“Whose name do I not hear?”
This took a few moments to sink in as I did not understand it at first, but then he spoke again to explain that when we are faced with temptation, and sincerely call on his name for help, instead of giving in and asking for forgiveness afterward, he is always there to help us overcome
(Sure, God forgives us when we truly repent and walk away from our sins, but why limit our relationship to be just about forgiveness after we sin, that means we are not growing or becoming like him in a way that actually changes our lives, we need to tap into the same awesome power that overcame all sin in the first place, taking hold of it in our own lives!)
God went on to say that he is not short on power to heal or help us in times of temptation, it is that we often just focus on the fact that he will forgive us after we choose to sin, but in doing so, we completely miss out on the power he has waiting for us that can change our lives–how can we be delivered from the enemy if we do not call out to the one who overcame him?
When God explained this, it made so much sense!
“When you call on my name, do I not hear it? Call on me first for power rather than call on me for forgiveness out of weakness”
Our motivation to seek God for strength should not be rooted in guilt after we give in to temptation, we should turn to God immediately when we are being tempted in order to receive his power in full
There is no excuse for not seeking God for help when we are being tempted, unless we prefer not to
A sobering thought!
Do We Serve A God Who Is Powerless To Help Us Overcome Sin
Jesus overcame all sin, and death when he gave his life on our behalf, and when faced with earthly temptation, we should all rejoice knowing Jesus already told us he has “overcome the world”
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world
Since this verse is quoted so often, I looked into the Greek meaning of the words “overcome”, and “world” to make sure I understood Jesus’ intent
Christ conquering, victorious over all his foes
Hollow and fleeting riches, advantages, pleasures, etc…, that stir desires which seduce people away from God, and are obstacles to the cause of Christ
Based on these meanings, we see Jesus is telling us to be encouraged when facing worldly temptations that can lead us away from God, because he led the way and overcame them already–no small reason to celebrate!
(Interestingly, James uses the same Greek word for “world” when he says that anyone who is a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God, as they are literally befriending the very thing Jesus died to overcome on our behalf!
You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God)
Paul also taught that God never allows us to be tempted beyond what we can resist, which means we will never face a temptation we are unable to walk away from
1 Corinthians 10:13
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it
That is amazing!
I mean think about it, Jesus won the victory over sin on our behalf, and God never allows us to be tempted with something we are unable to resist–talk about a completely unfair fight for the enemy, they do not even have a chance!
How Can We Expect To Have Victory Over Sin If We Keep Willingly Choosing It Instead Of Turning To God For Strength
This concept may seem incredibly simple, and it is, as the only way God’s victory over the enemy can be made ineffective in our lives is when we give in to temptation instead of seeking God for the strength to overcome it, especially in the moments when our will falters or is in danger of faltering
Break out the scientific calculators, I know!
If you thought that was mind boggling, put on your thinking caps, and be prepared to be blown away by this next nugget:
God’s ability to overcome sin through the power of his spirit far exceeds our human abilities, so when tempted, it is important to reach out to him when we need his help the most, ie: when the enemy openly attacks us
But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you
Okay, it is not like I exercised this simple, but totally obvious, process throughout my life, but I wish I had gotten in the habit of it much earlier, as so many Christians I have spoken with do not tap into God’s life-saving power during moments of temptation it is shocking
By not reaching out to God in the face of temptation, we are missing out on using God’s power to fight sin, and change our lives, as we often rely on our own will to overcome these things, which is not exactly a recipe for success
Even though this is not complicated, it is not easy to put into practice, and we have to acknowledge that temptations are just that, tempting!
When We Knowingly Choose Sin Over God’s Righteousness, We Are Denying The Very Thing That Makes Us Christians: God’s Direct Influence On Our Hearts
One of the most commonly misunderstood concepts in the Bible, is how people view Paul’s teaching about the “righteousness that comes by faith”, as people often view these statements as Paul saying Christians are automatically declared righteous in the eyes of God, regardless of how we live–this is completely untrue, as living righteously requires active effort, and choices to obey God, even after we put our faith in Jesus, receiving his forgiveness
Let us look at one of the verses that discusses the righteousness God made available under the new covenant
But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe
To make sure I understood Paul’s message, I looked up the word “righteousness” in Greek, and it means something completely different than what people think, as it is not an automatic condition we receive
1) The doctrine concerning the way in which man may attain a state approved of God
2) Integrity, virtue, purity of life, rightness, correctness of thinking feeling, and acting
If we analyze these meanings, we see this word does not say there is an automatic achievement of righteousness given as the result of being a Christian, as it describes righteousness as:
1) A “doctrine” that shows how Christians “may attain a state approved of God”, is important to understand, as just because we know the way, it does not mean we follow that doctrine, or receive its benefits, automatically. Think of it like this, putting our faith in Jesus as being the Son of God is a doctrine, but it does not mean we have truly, and sincerely put our faith in Jesus just because we know about him or have heard he exists, becoming a Christian requires an active choice to believe in him through sincere faith, just like pursuing righteousness requires ongoing choices on our part
2) The statement that righteousness represents “correctness of thinking, feeling, and acting” is particularly important, as no Christian attained this level of righteousness the moment they believed. No, becoming a Christian is only the beginning of the fight to overcome sin, and is the first step in being re-made into God’s image through the influence of his spirit on our hearts
Based on this, coupled with the definition of “grace” as being “through favor, receiving God’s influence on the heart” as it is written in the Greek, we see Paul was not telling people that they instantly become righteous in God’s eyes, but that the doctrine of a righteousness that comes through faith was about receiving God’s influence on our hearts after accepting Jesus, and then living righteously according to its guidance, as he even said himself that he had to work in order for “grace” to have an impact on his life
1 Corinthians 15:10
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me
Paul even went so far as to say that it is possible to receive God’s influence in vain if we do not follow it!
2 Corinthians 6:1
As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain
This verse is particularly interesting, as Paul is telling us we should not receive the first-hand knowledge of God’s righteousness in vain, as even though we may know what is good or what God’s will is, it does not mean we automatically do it–following it requires active choice
I will paraphrase both of these verses with the Greek meaning of the word “grace”, ie: God’s influence on our hearts
1 Corinthians 15:10
But by the [favor and influence] of God I am what I am, and his [influence on] me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the [influence] of God that was with me
2 Corinthians 6:1
As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s [influence] in vain
It is this very influence that separates us from the rest of the world, as God’s new covenant made this spiritual connection available, and if we deny it, we are denying one of the greatest gifts we were given, as only God’s influence can guide us towards his standards of righteousness, which gives us not only the awareness of what is bad, but the strength to overcome it as well–we just have to turn to God instead of playing with fire by listening to temptation!
Becoming Righteous And Overcoming Sin Is Not An Overnight Process, It Takes Effort And Time, Just Do Not Give Up Or Get Lazy
As someone who took decades to let some things go, I understand what it is like to have areas of life that are difficult to overcome, but I know that it was through my active choices to sin that I did not conform into God’s likeness, not because God was not influencing me or that he was powerless to help me when I turned to him
For me, one of the biggest barriers for my healing, was that I was afraid to let go of the crutches of drugs, bad relationships, porn, money, etc…, I was using to escape from my childhood wounds, as I was not choosing to trust God’s will, and sought gratification, reassurance, happiness, and validation wherever I could get it
However, when I started to trust God, and let go of those fears, honoring and respecting his will urging me from within, I came to a place where I now look back on those things with disdain, as I realized the crutches I was leaning on were causing more pain than the hurts I was using them to run from, and I was more caught up with the symptoms of my issues than the actual root issues themselves
For example, after being hurt as a child, I became afraid of being emotionally vulnerable, so I surrounded myself with emotionally unavailable relationships, methods of escape like drugs, alcohol, etc…, and even ran from a loving, trusting relationship with God since I was too afraid of trusting someone deeply, which was the enemy’s entire intention, to separate me from God by wounding me in a way that would prevent me from allowing intimacy of any kind
As a further way of seeking security, I started turning to money, which then became another snare, but the core issue never changed–I was wounded as a child, and was too scared to be emotionally vulnerable, even with God–what is there to not trust about God, it is funny, but sad, when I look back on it
2 Timothy 1:7
For God did not give us a spirit of [fear], but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline
Over time, the truth I learned to accept is that, regardless of the enemy’s work to dangle things in front of us, we must acknowledge they are tempting us with things we enjoy or find beneficial, otherwise they would not be interesting to us at all, which is why overcoming sin requires self-discipline, prayer, and a change of heart through the influence of God’s spirit–the enemy is not going to tempt us with things that are of no interest, that would be a waste of time
…each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death
Just remember, the next time something sinful starts dancing through your mind, stop listening to those things, immediately rebuke those thoughts in the name of Jesus, ask God for help to resist, and also ask why those things are tempting in the first place, as the enemy wants to fill our lives with temptations that keep us from righteousness and drag us out of God’s presence, but also serve to keep our real issues buried underneath whatever they can distract us with
1 Peter 5:8
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you