How Do We Defeat Temptation?

The last few posts have been about temptation. We’ve tried to see where it comes from and how it works. If we’ve understood these things, then it will be clear to us that sin is nothing to fool around with.  Even as those who profess Christ, by not fighting against sin, we may reveal that we are no believer at all.  Therefore, we must then ask: how do we defeat temptation?

A Finished War

On one level, sin has already been dealt with. Even amidst that first sin in Genesis 3, there is good news. For God promises that Satan and sin and death will one day be stopped as a Son of Eve comes into the world and crushes the head of the serpent (Gen 3:15). This Son comes into the world, without the stain of sin, giving the final, decisive victory in this spiritual war. This Son was Jesus Christ. And he won the war, defeating sin, death, and Satan through his own death and resurrection. Thus, Paul says, “as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (5:18-19).

By faith in Christ, God considers our sin punished and our death died. When we trust Christ to be our Savior, we need not fear an eternal penalty for sin. In Christ, the war is won against sin. But until his return, we still daily fight the battle against the presence of sin.

An Ongoing Battle

Here is sin’s ultimate deception—that it doesn’t matter anymore. Sins wants us to believe that we don’t have to worry about temptation and sin. After all, Christ has won, we’re going to heaven, so why worry about sin?  But Scripture is clear that though we are saved from sin’s power, it’s presence remains.  The war is won but there is still as a daily fight as our enemy doesn’t merely roll over after the cross.  Instead, he goes down swinging. In fact, Hebrews says that we are to “strive for . . . the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14). This is not Christ’s imputed holiness. This is our own holiness. Does this mean we are saved by our works? No, we are saved by faith in Christ alone, apart from anything we might do. However, if we’ve truly been saved, then it will be evident by the fruit of holiness in our life.

Forming a Battle Plan

God’s people, why would we even want to live contrary to his ways?  We should want to say no to temptation and live without sin as much as is possible in this life. So, how do we defeat temptation? How do we kill sin in our lives? We must have a plan. And given what we’ve seen about how temptation works, a basic plan should involve three

1. Guard your mind

If the mind is the watchman of the city, we want him to be well-armed. Think about Romans 12:1-2, which says the we transform our lives is by transforming the way we think. We do this by reading and meditating on God’s word. Specifically, guard your mind by thinking hard on six things:

  • Remember and believe the promises of God in the Scriptures. Read and believe his promises of help and blessing to those who fear him and love him. Store them up in your mind—memorize them—so that in the moment of temptation they are there. Can you imagine the firefighters rolling up to the blazing inferno only to find no water in the hydrants? How about the Holy Spirit seeing the oncoming temptation? He knows you’re about to get hit with something and throws open the armory of your soul to pull out some precious promise of God to put in your hand as a sword to strike down the temptation. What will he find? John 3:16? Genesis 1:1? That’s not going to cut it. Don’t just seek to master the Bible, let it master you. Store up God’s promises of joy, forgiveness, new life, and holiness in your heart that you might have a sure and ready defense against sin (Ps 119:11; John 15:1-11).
  • Remember and believe that we have a righteous standing in Christ. This is fighting with the power of the gospel. And it comes on the front end as well as the back end of temptation. On the front end, we remember that our eternal standing with God isn’t about what we do. It’s about what Christ has done. And on the back end, when we do fall into temptation, we need not despair that God will cast us aside and give us what we deserve. He’s already given Christ what we deserve (Rom 3:21-26).
  • Remember and believe that sin is no longer our master. Like a slave whose chains have been unshackled for the last time, like a prisoner whose life sentence has been revoked, like a dead man walking out of tomb with fresh air in his lungs and warm blood coursing through his vein, God has made us alive in Christ. And with that spiritual life comes freedom from sin (Rom 6:1-11). It has no power over us because we have the very Spirit of the living God residing with us. So, when you’re staring down temptation and sin is telling you, ‘You must have this; you cannot resist!’ You know it’s a lie. You can resist because you are alive in Christ (Gal 5:1, 16).
  • Remember and believe that we our life is hidden with God in Christ, and not in the things of this world. In Christ, we are part of the new creation that God is bringing about. The chaotic, rebellious, self-centered mindset that pervades this culture is not what we’re about anymore. So, as the apostle John can commands us to: “not love the world or the things in the world” (1 John 2:15-17). Remind yourself that there is a higher throne, a more glorious future, a more perfect King to whom you own an allegiance. Settle for nothing less.
  • Remember and meditate on the utter sinfulness of sin—the foolish repugnance of rebellion against God. The world will glamorize sin. Your friends will delight in sin. Your family will excuse sin. Don’t buy the lie. Don’t given into the deception. Remember what sin really is—something so heinous that God’s own Son had to shed his blood to bring to God for it (Rom 1:18-23; 3:10-36).
  • Remember to give and receive exhortations to godliness. Killing sin and growing in holiness is a community project. You’ve got to surround yourself with people who will love you enough to help you see your sin and—positively—speak God’s Word into your life as an encouragement to godliness. Obey passages like Hebrews 3:13-14).

2. Guard your heart

Robert Murray M’Cheyne used to famously tell people, ‘For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.” It’s easy to feel ashamed of the times we fail. But Christ is a superior Savior who died for all our sins. More than that, it is his glory—his captivating glory and soul-satisfying beauty—that will draw our affections away from sin.  Go again and again to Bible, gazing at the glory of Christ until it burns on your soul. Because it’s only in seeing and treasuring Christ that your love for him will grow more to greater heights than your love for sin. This is why Paul can say in 2 Corinthians 3, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18).

3. Flee from temptation

This, in part, means knowing your own weaknesses. Though every temptation is common to man, the things that tempt me most are probably not the things that most tempt you. Be aware of your weaknesses. And when we see the temptation coming, run. Far too often, we hang around a bit, wondering how bad it’s really going to be. We think to ourselves, “I can take it” or “it won’t affect me” or even, “I have freedom in Christ to do this!” But we’re wrong. Sin is like a poisonous snake found in the desert. You know what sin is; why play with it? Run. Follow the example of Joseph and run, even if it means leaving your coat behind.

Always Look to Christ and Have Hope

I end with another quote from John Owen. One that draws us back to the center of all war on sin. He says, “Set faith at work on Christ for the killing of your sin. His blood is the great sovereign remedy for sin-sick souls. Live in this, and you will die a conqueror; yes, you will, through the good providence of God, live to see your lust dead at your feet.”

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