How to Defeat Temptation
by Kent Heaton
Whenever we think of something as a temptation we consider it as evil. The original Latin could suggest something good or bad but the evil sense has taken a predominate role in its definition. The idea of temptation is rooted in the challenge of character. Trials rightly faced are harmless, but wrongly met become temptations to evil. Overcoming temptations is the focus of a daily walk in a world given over to the indulgence of temptations.
James exhorts us to “count it all joy when you fall into different kinds of temptations” or “trials” (James 1:2). Barnes said, “Regard it as a thing to rejoice in; a matter which should afford you happiness. You are not to consider it as a punishment, a curse, or a calamity, but as a fit subject of felicitation (act of congratulating).” Paul reminds us that nothing will be put upon us that we cannot overcome with the power of the Lord. “No temptation has taken you but what is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able, but with the temptation also will make a way to escape, so that you may be able to bear it” (I Corinthians 10:13). Our prayers are to be laced with exhortations of faithfulness. Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil” (Matthew 6:13).
No matter our best efforts we stumble and give in to temptations. Often we succumb to temptations because we fail to know the way of defeating temptation. Jesus offers the answer to defeating temptation in the garden of Gethsemane as He exhorts the disciples. “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. Truly the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38). The two part answer to temptation is to be watchful and to be praying. The only way we can stand against temptation is to stand on the pillars of watch and pray.
Jesus did not say look and pray; He said watch and pray. The word “watch” carries with it the idea of vigilance and being alert. Often we see temptation and invite it in. Being watchful is being careful of what we are allowing to happen in our lives. Many things in life we cannot control but allowing that thing to remain and become a temptation is when sin happens. In defining sin, James said that temptation comes about when “each one is tempted by his lusts, being drawn away and seduced by them. Then when lust has conceived, it brings forth sin. And sin, when it is fully formed, brings forth death” (James 1:14-15).
Being watchful about temptation is to remove those things that would bring about temptation. We are to pray for the Lord not to lead us into temptation (Matthew 6:13) but we do not need to go running into it either. To the discerning mind sin is easily defined by watching out for it and being aware of the dangers of giving in to temptation. As Barney Fife would say, “Nip it in the bud.” Good advice.
The second pillar of strength to overcome temptation is vital: prayer. Watching for temptation helps us identify sin but prayer helps us defeat sin. Prayer is powerful (James 5:13-18). Prayer made the sun stand still (Joshua 10:12-14); the dead rise (II Kings 4:32-37); the rain stop for three years and six months (James 5:17). The knee bent in prayer will keep the feet from running to evil. A humble heart of prayer will melt the fiery desire of temptation. In our text Jesus is in the garden before His death earnestly praying to His Father for strength. The cross was the greatest temptation Jesus faced. He had the power to destroy all those who sought to kill Him but He chose to give His life a ransom. He overcame temptation through prayer.
The Lord will not allow you to be tempted beyond your ability to resist; provided we are watching and praying. “Pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17) is an admonition to help us overcome temptation “without ceasing.” Constant vigilance and watchful care for those things that will tempt us with harm and the continued spirit of prayer will defeat temptation. “Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).