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Temptation

by J. W. Jepson, D.Min.

Life In Christ Center, 3095 Cherry Heights Road, The Dalles, Oregon 97058

(541) 296-1136

copyright � 1998 by J. W. Jepson

All rights reserved, including the right to grant the following permission and to prohibit the misuse thereof:

The Author hereby grants permission to reproduce the text of this article, without changes or alterations*, as a ministry, but not for commercial or non-ministry purposes.

*Permission is given for publication of excerpts and condensed versions.

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(First published in The Pentecostal Evangel, October 23, 1977)

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For many years Margaret (not her real name) had been an alcoholic. Then one day, lonely and desperate, she accepted Jesus Christ as her Savior.

Immediately all who knew Margaret noticed the sudden change in her. Her love for the Lord was real, and she showed all the evidences of being a promising new Christian.

Still, temptations from Margaret's former life lingered to trouble her. Fortunately a group of women in the church took a special interest in her and continued to uphold her by prayer and encouragement.

After a service one evening several women were standing around Margaret, praying. All at once the Holy Spirit showed one of the ladies that Margaret still had a bottle of liquor at home.

When asked kindly if this were true, Margaret replied honestly, "Yes, but I try to keep away from it." Of course, all the women urged her to pour it down the sink.

Evidently it had never occurred to Margaret to remove the source of temptation.

Many believers make the same mistake. Temptation keeps bothering them because they keep bothering temptation. Temptation stays around because they keep it around.

Temptation is something we all have to deal with. None of us can avoid it completely, no matter how far removed we are from its sources. Even Jesus experienced the whole range of temptation.

For this reason we need to understand this problem so common to all of us. What is temptation? How does it work? Where does it come from? How is it overcome?

In the original Greek of the New Testament the word for "temptation" is peirasmos. Objectively, as God views it, it means "trial," "testing," "proof." Subjectively, as man views it, it signifies "enticement," "strong appeal or suggestion to do evil."

Man says, "I'm being tempted." God says, "You're being tested."

Temptation itself is not sin. It is only the invitation or suggestion to sin. It is the inner urge to give up and/or give in. Yet here is an encouraging fact: no matter how strong the urge might be, we are not forced to yield to it. Enticed, yes; forced, no.

What counts is what we do with the invitation, whether we submit to it or reject it. No, the devil can't make us do it. We do not have to follow our lusts unless we choose to follow them. With every temptation God has provided a way to escape (1 Corinthians 10:13).

James 1:14 tells us how temptation works. It says, "But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed."

So, in the final sense, there is really only one cause of temptation--the stimulation of our own desires. Temptation is the appeal of the emotions to control the will in opposition to the truth. It is the urge to do what we feel like doing in opposition to what we know we ought to do.

Titus 3:3 says that before Christ saved us we were "serving divers lusts and pleasures." We were "fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind" (Ephesians 2:3).

Although temptation has one cause, it has three main sources: the world, the flesh, and the devil. Our feelings are bombarded by stimuli from these sources or directions, sometimes singly and sometimes together.

Notice that God is not a source of temptation. "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man" (James 1:13).

But the world is certainly a source of temptation. And just what is "the world"? It is this present world-system that is in revolt against God.

What does that include? First John 2:16 tells us: "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world." These comprise the value-system of a materialistic, self-pleasing society. They form the prevailing pattern of self-gratification followed by the masses of the world. And like a strong wind or the current of a mighty river, the spiritual momentum of this world-system exerts strong social and emotional pressure on all of us to conform to its priorities. But we must not allow ourselves to be conformed to it (Romans 12:2).

Bodily appetites, even natural ones, demand control. So does the lust of the eyes. Certainly the eye is a gate through which this world addresses our desires (Joshua 7:21; 1 Timothy 6:9).

Then there is the pride of life. Usually this involves people (social status, peer pressure). It is the essence of egotism, of supreme self-regard.

Knowingly or unknowingly, people tempt us. Samson's wife wore him down and so did Delilah (Judges 14:17; 16:16). Solomon's wives "turned away his heart" (1 Kings 11:3,4). Jezebel incited Ahab to evil (1 Kings 21:7,25). Lot "pitched his tent toward Sodom," with tragic results (Genesis 13:12).

We must watch our associations. We must not allow ourselves to be controlled by the crowd. (Read 2 Peter 2; 3:17.)

Even more mature Christians can be an unintentional source of temptation to weaker believers. Romans 14:13-15 and 1 Corinthians 8:9,10 instruct us about this. Remember, "He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him" (1 John 2:10).

Circumstances are another source of temptation in this world. Disappointments produce discouragement and tempt us to quit, give up, "faint."

The lust of the flesh is listed in 1 John 2:16 as one of the characteristics of the world, and the flesh is also a source of temptation in itself. Besides ordinary bodily appetites that try to gain control, the flesh can become a source of temptation through the effect of drugs, sickness, weariness, infirmity, and the unexpected temptations of old age.

When desires demand control, that is temptation. When they are voluntarily and knowingly given control, that is sin. It is lust that has conceived (James 1:15). Once that passion is given control, it feeds and develops itself, growing ever more demanding. Lusts gratified are not "released." Rather, they are reinforced.

In all of this, Satan is the chief tempter. He uses the world and the flesh as bait. He did so with Eve (Genesis 3:1-7), and he did so with Christ (Matthew 4:1-11). In both instances Satan appealed to the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.

Eve failed when tempted, but Jesus overcame. Jesus "was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). And because He came through temptation victoriously, He knows how to bring us through victoriously.

Satan provoked David to number Israel (1 Chronicles 21:1). He tries his trick on us too (1 Corinthians 7:5; 2 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Tessalonians 3:5), but we are not ignorant of his devices (2 Corinthians 2:11).

This brings us to the vital question: How is temptation overcome? How do we get and keep the victory over temptation?

First, we must be born of God. "For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world" (1 John 5:4). Without a change of heart, a person is doomed to perpetual failure, as the "wretched man" described in Romans 7, unable to save himself from the dominion of sin. Self-interest, not the love of Christ, motivates him; and self-interest never produces the power to overcome temptation. Self-interest can suppress temptation here or there, but it cannot overcome temptation. We need a new heart, a new direction of the will, not just more willpower.

With a new heart, we have a new motivation, a new purpose. Christ is in His proper place, seated on the throne of our hearts, at the very top of our personal priorities. We no longer follow the flesh, but the Spirit (Romans 6:13; 8:4,13). The dynamics of victory are now there. We have "root" in ourselves (Mark 4:17). We overcome the world. First John 5:4 says so!

And so, when tempted by Potiphar's cheating wife, Joseph could resolutely say, "How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" (Genesis 39:9). And to the appeals of new political opportunities that compromise with surrounding paganism would have brought to them, Daniel and his companions could say a firm, "No!" (Daniel 1:8; 3:18).

Now, to resist temptation we must resist Satan. We must recognize the ultimate source behind temptation is Satanic. It is easy to let careless, discouraging thoughts play around in our minds without recognizing them as suggestions of Satan. Often we wonder why we feel the way we do, overlooking the fact that we feel the way we think. By resisting Satan we find freedom from the problems caused by these thoughts.

And how do we resist Satan? By refusing to think his thoughts. Instead, keep your mind on Christ and on His word. Praise and worship Him. Think on things pure and positive (Philippines 4:8). Don't give place to the devil (Ephesians 4:27). Resist him, and he will flee from you (James 4:7).

Put on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:11-13). The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. Use it against temptation. Jesus did. He met the suggestions of the enemy with: "It is written."

And we must remain spiritually alert. The careless moment is the devil's opportunity (1 Peter 5:8,9; Galatians 6:1).

Be diligent in prayer. Jesus said, "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation" (Matthew 26:41; see also Luke 22:40). The song is true: a sweet hour of prayer has often helped us to escape the tempter's snare.

Above all, trust Jesus. First John 5:4 says: "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." Look carefully at Hebrews 2:18; 2 Peter 2:9; Revelation 3:10. The moment we put our trust in Christ, we are victorious.

Hebrews 12:2 says: "Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith." As long as our minds are on the source of the temptation, we are defeating ourselves. We might pray earnestly, "Lord, I don't want this. I don't want to yield to this temptation, this pressure!" But all the while we are looking at the problem.

Instead, we must turn around. Look up. Look to Jesus. Begin to confess, "Lord You are my Savior, my Victory right now." What happens? We have turned our backs on the temptation and it is behind us. We are looking to Jesus! That is faith. And, as James 1:2,3,12 promise us, faith is the victory that leads to the crown of life.

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