Temptation – Resistance is Futile…. or is it?

I was asked to do a talk at a gathering of Christians called Filling Station. It is a place for refreshing worship and teaching attended by Christians from various different churches. This was the first one I had attended since before the first lockdown and I had been told to speak for around half an hour. As this is considerably longer than the sermons I am used to delivering I thought I had better time myself. So I recorded it and although the camera is rubbish (must buy another one) and the microphone isn’t quite in sync, I offer it here for you. I usually use an app on my iphone (iCam) that works with my computer but the last week or so it has become unstable. It won’t connect. And, you’ve guessed, it wouldn’t connect on Thursday morning. There’s a video clip I used but has had to be trimmed out for YouTube. Wallace and Grommit’ Wrong Trousers.

and here’s the text for those who would prefer to read.

How to Resist Temptation

Temptation –  What comes to mind when you see the word TEMPTATION?  What tempts us?

Food – sex – money – power – pride – acquiring possessions – low self esteem/false humility

Resistance is futile…. Or is it?

We might think that we are doing OK in our walk with the Lord…. But…. as Paul wrote to the church in Corinth:.

1 Cor 10: 13

 12 So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. 13 No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

1 Cor 13 was the first verse that I ever attempted to commit to memory. The NIV I used the word temptation instead of testing.

  I was doing my best to do what Paul instructed Timothy:

13 Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us. (2 Timothy 1:13-14)

Hold on and guard. …  with the help of the Holy Spirit.  We are not expected to do this on our own or by our own efforts.  But of course, we do have to engage with the process.  It doesn’t just automatically happen.

When Peter asked me to do this talk on how to resist temptation earlier in the year, I had just made another concerted effort to lose weight, to resist the temptation of food and lack of exercise.  I was finding it difficult, and I actually succumbed to an advert on Facebook.  Yes… I was tempted, and gave in to it and clicked and watched a video advertising an app …. Oh my and then there was the tempting, try this for a couple of months – and you decide how much to pay.  So I thought, OK I’ll give them a couple of pounds to see if it works.  I have done Slimming World before – it worked – but then the pounds piled back on because I hadn’t addressed the reasons for eating and giving in to temptation.   The app claimed to help you re-train yourself.  I put in my details and away I went.  That was on 4th June and over a stone ago.  It works by applying psychology, science about weight loss and gain, and accountability. 

Now, you may be thinking, Liz has gone off on one…. What has going on a diet got to do with resisting temptation in our walk with the Lord?   We all know the bible isn’t talking about the giving up chocolate for lent type of temptation.  Bear with me. 

When I sat and thought about it, I made lots of connections between the theory behind the app and what the bible has to say that can be applied to resisting temptation.  So, let’s see if you agree, or at least find this helpful.

The app works by retraining the mind and habits, addressing the reasons we eat what we eat.  Habits are the things we do on auto pilot.  You know something is a habit when it becomes who you are, not just what you do.  Examples.

So if we are constantly tempted to do something, we need to be transformed.

Romans 12  Do not be conformed to this world,[c] but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.[d]

Our minds need to be renewed so we become more like Jesus.  How?  We are in a spiritual battle, and like any battle there are 3 things you need to know:

  • Know your enemy
  • Know yourself
  • Know your weapons/help

Let’s use this with the example of how Jesus resisted the temptation in the wilderness.  He was filled with the Holy Spirit after his baptism.  God had affirmed his sonship and the Spirit drove him away for 40 days and nights as the preparation for ministry.  It was the preparation for the final battle – that would come 3 years later when he won the victory on the cross.

The Enemy – prowling around the church looking to devour those who are seriously pursuing the Christian discipleship, looking for a way in.  – the tempter – the accuser.

The voice in your ear – sitting on your shoulder – “go on…. It won’t hurt…. Why not?  Everyone else does…  who do you think you are?  Call yourself a Christian and you have thoughts like that! “

Memories – dragging up the past to point the finger or to re-live the pains.

The magnifying glass – you slip up once = total failure.   Instead, let’s magnify the Lord.  Turn our eyes to Jesus who can help rather than beat ourselves up over a mistake or give up because we don’t succeed immediately at whatever we are aiming at.

“Elephant Taming” the app calls it. I’ve also come across this term in mindfulness, which has great similarities with meditation and some forms of prayer.  Tame your elephant – learn to recognise the inner impulses, the reactions that when you are upset or fearful or tired or angered you go on autopilot with a certain behaviour or thought and give in to temptation. 

I’m not suggesting we tame the devil, but we need to befriend our inner child where the impulses come from.

I want to share something a bit personal here.  It isn’t directly linked to resisting temptation, but it is an example of the transformation of how you view yourself that can happen when you allow God to work within you with his healing Grace.  Jesus’ temptations came just after his identity was confirmed and affirmed.  I believe that was a big factor in his being able to withstand them.

Our identity is tied up with who we have been in the past, and the way circumstances have shaped us as well as how we face challenges, trials or temptations.

The Elephant Taming concept remined me of when I was going through some inner healing whilst on film and prayer retreat a good few years ago where on the Wednesday we watched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.   This film has themes of kill or be killed, freedom, and breaking taboos.  In my prayer and reflection during the day I wondered who I was and if I was worth fighting for.  The dragon I had to slay was fear of love.  Only I could do it.  I needed to find the dragon in its lair.  I needed to find the Superhero in me.  I concluded that in quietness and rest is my strength.

Thursday:  Man on Wire.    I considered the marriage that had died. I had separated the year before, but not yet divorced.   I had changed and there was no going back. I considered my identity and felt compassion for my inner child who was hurting and afraid.

In the art room I painted this – I was pinned under a great weight.  I also I had an image of 2 fields separated by a fence, but no gate.  And in a dream I was stuck in the mud in the field. 

Friday:  The Waterhorse.  The film has a great escape in it when the waterhorse, Crusoe, jumps the fence and is able to be free.  It enabled me to believe that I could be too.  As I sat outside, looking over the fields I saw a fence and I thought about the idea of befriending the thing that’s feared.

I was coming to terms with the end of the marriage, and I decided that instead of slaying the dragon ‘fear’ I would tame it and become its friend.  Riding on its back is much more adventurous than slaying it and staying where I was.  Sometimes we are tempted to maintain the status quo because changes can be scary.

We sometimes fear change.  Becoming a Christian can often mean changing things that are not good in our lives.  And that is scary. Better the devil you know, as they say.  Sometimes it is our inner child who is scared of change – we need to have compassion for ourselves.  The giving in to the temptation may be coming from a hurting and fearful inner child.

Back to Jesus.

Jesus sees through the Devil’s temptations to draw Jesus away from his mission. He sees through the mis-use of scripture.  We also need to learn scripture – not just parrot fashion, but correct use of it.

Jesus knows that he has the power as God’s son, and he is determined not to mis-use it. He resisted and the devil went away. 

Know Yourself

Laozi was a philosopher in 6th century BC.  Knowing others is intelligence, knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength, mastering yourself is true power.

Remember who you are NOW…. Not who you were before. You live by faith in the Son of God.  You are a new creation, the old has gone.

 If you are baptised you are adopted as God’s son or daughter.   The same power that was at work in Jesus that raised him from the dead is at work in you. ~ wow ~

If Jesus was tempted, then we shouldn’t be surprised if we are.  If we are Christians, then we have the same power that Jesus had to resist.  We just need to grow in it.

James’ letter to the various churches opens up with

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.  ( James 1:2-4)

and goes on with:

13 No one, when tempted, should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. 14 But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; 15 then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. .[e] (James1:13-15)

Before arriving at:

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:7-10)

The 3 verses we skipped are about letting God in, to cleanse and heal, to forgive and renew.

17 Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.

No excuses then.  We know what to do, so according to James it is as simple as ABC or 123.  Repent, be forgiven and healed and let God bring you to maturity through the various trials and tests that life throws at us.

Before we go on, what does St Paul have to say about this struggle.  He addresses it in Romans 7 – 8   We could have another half hour talk just on this – so forgive me if I do a simplification of it.

Romans 7 – 8 really needs to be read as a whole, because just taking one paragraph out on its own distorts what St Paul is trying to say, and in fact is often misunderstood as saying the opposite to the point he is making.  The dilemma of every preacher and teacher.

Romans 7:1-6   We are no longer under the old Law but have a new life in Christ.  His law is written on our hearts by the working of the Holy Spirit within us.

Romans 7:7-13  Complex passage pointing out that the Law enabled sin to be shown up as sin.  When we know we sin we are able to turn to God and be forgiven.

Romans 7:14-24  A description of the inner conflict of someone under the Law.  They know what is wrong (10 commandments plus) yet they are unable to keep them all.  Terry and I refer to this passage as The Wrong Trousers. Wallace & Grommit.  A good illustration and worth spending a couple of minutes watching this clip,

St Paul describes the impossibility of relying totally on will power. He uses the expression “In the flesh” to refer to the human condition without Christ, not this stuff that covers my skeleton.  When we are without Christ, we are wearing the wrong trousers.  Or as St Paul puts it:

15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17 But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 

He’s shouting out for help!!! Not Grommit, like Wallace did, but   “I’m a sinner get me out of here”

Is that Paul at the time of writing – or is he describing Saul?  The way he was before he had the answer and the rescue?

Who is it that rescues us from sin and death?  25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!   And I think if we take off the wrong trousers we need to put on the right ones! Clothe yourself w. Jesus.

Romans 8 continues his argument The Spirit has set us free from the propensity to sin.  We don’t have to summon up our will power to be good and resist temptation.

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit  (Romans 8:3-4)

you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you (Romans 8:9)

Those who have given their life over to Jesus and accepted the Holy Spirit into their lives has God’s help them live as God desires. Or as Paul puts it:

14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness[n] with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:14-17)

The Holy Spirit also helps us to pray when we don’t know what to pray and indeed is praying FOR us.  And even if we are going through times of testing and temptation, we need to remember that

all things work together for good[u] for those who love God
(Romans 8:28)

and   If God is for us, who is against us (romans 8:31)

Whatever you are going through, remember

in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.   (Romans 8:37-39)

 Know your weapons

It’s a spiritual battle, and so we need the Holy Spirit’s help. He is our weapon in the fight against Temptation.  We need to daily put on the full armour of God.

Various pieces of armour relate to truth, righteousness, faith and salvation

Daily remind yourself of the truth of who you are – chosen by God and adopted as his son or daughter.  You are forgiven ALL sins of your past – don’t let the devil – that little voice – whisper in your ear anything to the contrary.  Know the truth and be truthful in all that you do.

Salvation is the word used to describe being forgiven and healed of sin.   You are enough – you don’t have to be good enough to have God’s love.  Jesus died and rose again so that you can be forgiven and can be reconciled with God – through pure Grace, not merit.

GRACE = heavenly helper in your heart …. Grace is there to help us in our temptations

 Your righteousness comes from Jesus, not your own efforts.  And it is freely poured out for you.   

Faith is described as a shield, and it is used with other people.  The Roman soldiers’ large rectangular wooden shield was about 4ft high, covered with leather on the outside.  Before a battle in which flaming arrows might be shot at them, the soldiers wet the leather covering with water to extinguish the arrows.  The soldiers would close ranks with these shields, the first row holding theirs edge to edge in front, and the rows behind holding the shields above their heads.  In this formation they were practically invulnerable to arrows, rocks and even spears. 

We need each other.  We are not alone.  That is why worshipping together plus fellowship and bible study groups are so important.  We build each other up.  

The Methodist Church knew this when they first started and had the Class system of being accountable to each other.  Small groups in church can and perhaps should be more than simply fellowship.  When they work well, they can be places where we are able to ask others to pray for us, to support us, and to help us in our temptations.

Our faith is our trust in Jesus.  Faith isn’t just the agreeing with the words of the creed.  It is putting our hands in Jesus’ hands and asking him to walk with us day by day, trusting that he will guide us and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.  And we do this together.
The only weapon in our armoury is a sword. The sword is God’s word, ie the bible.  We need to know it, we need to understand it and we need to use it.   

The sword of the spirit is linked to praying in the spirit.   The bible contains many prayers and can aid us in our prayers. And they will help us overcome temptation.

If you are tempted – take it to God in prayer.  I’m always saddened a bit when people say they have been taught not to pray for themselves. 

And prayer is the way that we put this armour on.  I don’t mean that in some sort of ritualistic, say this and say that way.  I mean that our prayers will grow our faith, they will help us draw close to God, to know his love, the assurance of sins forgiven and help us to take on board his words “you are my beloved daughter or son”

To pray in the spirit can be interpreted in various ways, but the bottom line is that it means having your prayers enabled by the holy spirit.

I want to end by saying something about our wills.
Will power = being stubborn, I WILL do this….  Very tiring and not sustainable.
Will fulness = a bit of stubbornness, plus trying to bend reality to your will.
I don’t think either of these are the answer to how to resist temptation.  But I think this is:

Willingness = accepting where you are, having compassion and kindness towards yourself and your weaknesses, accepting what its going to take to change and that it will take time, not happen over-night and that success is often 2 steps forward and 1 step back – but that is still moving forward. Being an active participant in pursuing your gaols.  Whether that is losing weight, getting fit, or having a well established prayer and bible reading routine.  Pray + keep on praying…..   So let us pray now…..

Loving God, I pray for everyone who has read this blog post, that you will draw close to them and help them with any temptations they are facing now. Amen.

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