“I can resist anything except temptation.” – Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan
“Satan gives Adam an apple, and takes away Paradise. Therefore in all temptations let us consider not what he offers, but what we shall lose.” – Richard Sibbes
“A celebrated decadent wrote, ‘The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it’. Yet that unhappy man himself was a complete contradiction of his own epigram; his life narrowed and darkened to a dungeon because he was unable to get rid of the hideous desires that he had satisfied. Yielding to a temptation is like yielding to a blackmailer; you pay to be free, and find yourself the more enslaved.” – G. K. Chesterton, Daily News, August 8, 1908.
“Temptations are like tramps. Treat them kindly, and they will return bringing others with them.” – Dwight L. Moody
“When you catch yourself overstepping the line in any sense, that’s where you have to physically say no. And you can do this. The Bible teaches very clearly that we can say yes or no — no matter what our desires. Ask God to shout at you when you need to say no, and to give you the power He promised.” – Jill Briscoe
“Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. … We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means—the only complete realist.” – C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
“The greatest temptations are not those that solicit our consent to obvious sin, but those that offer us great evils masking as the greatest goods.” – Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island
“If you will tell me when God permits a Christian to lay aside his armour, I will tell you when Satan has left off temptation. Like the old knights in war time, we must sleep with helmet and breastplate buckled on, for the arch-deceiver will seize our first unguarded hour to make us his prey. The Lord keep us watchful in all seasons, and give us a final escape from the jaw of the lion and the paw of the bear.” – Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Morning and Evening
“His Majesty [the Lord] . . . rewards great services with trials, and there can be no better reward, for out of trials springs love for God.” – Teresa of Avila
“Temptations, when we first meet them, are like a lion that roared at Samson; but if we overcome them, the next time we see them we shall find a nest of honey within them.” – John Bunyan
“We usually know what we can do, but temptation shows us who we are.” – Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ
“As the most dangerous winds may enter at little openings, so the devil never enters more dangerously than by little unobserved incidents, which seem to be nothing, yet insensibly open the heart to great temptations.” – John Wesley
“The last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the right deed for the wrong reason.” – T. S. Eliot
Here St. Augustine of Hippo comments on Psalm 61:1-2, reflecting on the reality that Christ was tempted in the wilderness to show us how to overcome temptation and trials.
1 Hear my cry, O God;
listen to my prayer.
2 From the ends of the earth I call to you,
I call as my heart grows faint;
lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
Hear, O God, my petition, listen to my prayer. Who is speaking? An individual, it seems. See if it is an individual: I cried out to you from the ends of the earth while my heart was in anguish. Now it is no longer one person; rather, it is one in the sense that Christ is one, and we are all his members. What single individual can cry from the ends of the earth? The one who cries from the ends of the earth is none other than the Son’s inheritance. It was said to him: Ask of me, and I shall give you the nations as your inheritance, and the ends of the earth as your possession. This possession of Christ, this inheritance of Christ, this body of Christ, this one Church of Christ, this unity that we are, cries from the ends of the earth. What does it cry? What I said before: Hear, O God, my petition, listen to my prayer; I cried out to you from the ends of the earth. That is, I made this cry to you from the ends of the earth; that is, on all sides.
Why did I make this cry? While my heart was in anguish. The speaker shows that he is present among all the nations of the earth in a condition, not of exalted glory but of severe trial.
Our pilgrimage on earth cannot be exempt from trial. We progress by means of trial. No one knows himself except through trial, or receives a crown except after victory, or strives except against an enemy or temptations.
The one who cries from the ends of the earth is in anguish, but is not left on his own. Christ chose to foreshadow us, who are his body, by means of his body, in which he has died, risen and ascended into heaven, so that the members of his body may hope to follow where their head has gone before.
He made us one with him when he chose to be tempted by Satan. We have heard in the gospel how the Lord Jesus Christ was tempted by the devil in the wilderness. Certainly Christ was tempted by the devil. In Christ you were tempted, for Christ received his flesh from your nature, but by his own power gained salvation for you; he suffered death in your nature, but by his own power gained glory for you; therefore, he suffered temptation in your nature, but by his own power gained victory for you.
If in Christ we have been tempted, in him we overcome the devil. Do you think only of Christ’s temptations and fail to think of his victory? See yourself as tempted in him, and see yourself as victorious in him. He could have kept the devil from himself; but if he were not tempted he could not teach you how to triumph over temptation.
[Source: Commentary on the Psalms Ps. 60, 2-3: CCL 39, 766]
This past weekend in my message “Caught” from our series on the life of Joseph, I spent quite a bit of time talking about temptation. I referenced a definition of temptation from the Puritan pastor and spiritual writer, John Owen, who defines temptation in this way in his book Of Temptation:
Temptation…is any thing, state, way, or condition that, upon any account whatever, hath a force or efficacy to seduce, to draw the mind and heart of a man from its obedience, which God requires of him, into any sin, in any degree of it whatever.
Let me briefly summarize that for us:
temptation is anything with power to draw us away from obedience to God in our actions, thoughts or hearts into sin of any type.
Notice in Genesis 39 the ways in which Joseph encounters temptation in two different manners:
- Situational temptation – Joseph finds himself in a situation that lends itself to temptation. Certainly, there is the ongoing situation of having Potiphar’s wife invite him into bed. However, more specifically, there is the time in which Joseph enters the house only to find a situation where all of the other household servants are gone and only Potiphar’s wife is there. This situation is one in which temptation is likely to arise. That is true for us as well. There are often situations we enter in which temptation is likely to arise. We must be watchful of this.
- Intentional temptation – Second of all, Joseph finds himself not only in a situation prone to temptation, but also in the crosshairs of someone who intends to lead Joseph into temptation. This is also true for us as well. There are often people who intend to trip us up and lead us into temptation. Sometimes those people are nearby us, and at other times that person is actually us. There are times when, in a dark corner of our souls, the person most aiming to lead us into temptation is ourselves. We have to be honest and aware of this fact.
As we continue looking at the topic of temptation, I want to draw our attention to five principles on temptation. These five principles are seen within two separate passages in Scripture, one of which comes from Jesus’ lips and the other which comes from the Apostle Paul’s pen.
The first arises in Jesus’ experience under pressure with his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane immediately before heading to the cross. There, Jesus says:
Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. (Matthew 26:41)
This statement from Jesus offers us the three clear aspects of dealing with temptation.
1. Watch for temptation. The moment that we stop paying attention to the possibility of temptation is the moment it will look for us. Sin and evil, although not hiding under every stone, is definitely lurking in the background of our lives. This should not make us afraid, but should make us watchful. Shortly after Jesus said these words to the disciples, they fell asleep. The disciples always help me feel a bit better about myself. Their lapses mirror my own. And this falling asleep is a good metaphor for often happens with us in light of the surrounding evil. Let’s not fall asleep but let us watch for temptation.
2. Pray immediately when temptation comes. Second, Jesus tells His disciples to pray. Prayer is that ongoing conversation of God in which we are invited to express to God both our love for Him and our deep need for Him. When temptation arises – and you can be assured that it will – the right action when we see it is to call out to God. Now, you may not be in a position where you can fall to your knees and call out to God, but it is never out of place to lift up the simple prayer, “Help, Lord!”, no matter where you find yourselves. We read in Scripture that “The LORD is near to all who call on him” (Psalm 145:18). Pray immediately in the face of temptation.
3. Understand your limitations. Sometime, when we see the failure of another person, we may say, “I am so sad to hear of something so bad happening to that person. I would never do that!” When we head in that direction in our mouths or our hearts I can guarantee you that is the moment we are opening ourselves to the potential for temptation. When I was a freshman in college I attended the Urbana missions conference. I didn’t know anyone and so I was connected with a random roommate, who ended up being a 50-year-old pastor from Jamaica. He taught me so much in those few days, as we began each day in Scripture and in prayer. When we read stories in the Bible about failure, he would say: “There, but for the grace of God go I.” That is the truth about our humanity. As Jesus says, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” We must be aware of our human weakness and limitations. Temptation does not come very often to the areas where we are strong. Instead, the temptation arises in the areas where we are weak. It is better to know those weaknesses before the temptation comes.
Now let’s look at another verse that is so important on the topic of temptation. It comes in the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians:
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. 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 endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Let me add two additional principles to those I have discussed above.
4. God is faithful. Paul tells us that in the midst of temptation, God is still faithful. He will not give us something that is beyond us. It may feel like something that is beyond us. When we exercise, we often go to the outer limits of what we can do so that we can build muscle or endurance into what we cannot yet do. Often, as with exercise, God will push us to what feels like the outer limits of what we can do so that He can build something new and more divinely powerful into our lives. When temptation arises, remember that God is still faithfully with you and working in and through you in that moment.
5. God will provide a way out of temptation. Lastly, remember that God will always provide a way out. First of all we should watch for temptation and last of all we should watch for the way out of the temptation. It may not always be clear. Sometimes we will need the help of someone else to identify and deal with temptation, including helping us find the way out. If you are dealing with an area of temptation in your life right now, I would encourage you to reach out to a trusted friend or family member today to talk about it. Simply naming that temptation with another releases some of its power over you. Not only that, but that trusted person may have the perspective to help you see the way out of the situation. Hopefully our way out will not look like Joseph running out of the house without his cloak, but it is better to be vulnerable in the moment than to have our failure send uncontainable ripples, like a stone thrown into a still pond, into the lives of family, friends, and the broader community.
Now, some people say we fall into temptation because we love ourselves too much. I believe that is wrong and, in fact, that the opposite is true. I believe we fall into temptation because we love ourselves too little.
What happens in temptation is that we often settle for a weaker picture of who we are that pales in comparison to God’s best for our lives. When we latch onto that weaker picture of who we are, we love ourselves too little and aim too low. We aim for something less than God’s best for us. And from this incorrect aim, our love for ourselves is not strong enough to lead us into God’s best. When we love ourselves too little and aim for a pitiful picture of who we are, we often will fall into temptation.
Instead, we most love God with all of who we are and see who we are meant to be in Him and through His Word. When we have that powerful picture of our greatest potential in Jesus Christ, we begin to aim for it. Then, with appropriate self-love overflowing from God’s love for us, we have a greater aim and find greater strength in God to resist the pitiful offerings of the world, the flesh, and the devil.
I continued our series “The Life of Joseph: God’s Sovereignty in Our Suffering“this past weekend at Eastbrook Church by looking at Joseph’s temptation in Genesis 39. Here, Joseph finds God’s present with him and even blessing him in suffering. Then, when things seem to be heading in a positive direction, he is caught in the webs of manipulation by Potiphar’s wife, ending up in prison.
You can view the message and sermon outline below. You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast. Also, join in with our daily devotional that accompanies this series during Lent.
I often refer to fasting as an important spiritual growth tool in our lives. Some time ago, I wrote a number of posts on the subject of fasting and I am gathering all of those together here as a resource for understanding fasting in general. These posts also address a number of specific aspects of fasting, biblical background on fasting, and some practical helps for how we approach fasting. I hope this is helpful as you step forward by fasting in order to say ‘no’ to yourself and ‘yes’ to God for growth into the abundant life by the power of the Holy Spirit.