“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” – Matthew 26:41
To tempt is to entice, to lure, to seduce, to bait to do wrong by promise of pleasure or gain. When there is a temptation, there is an artful advertisement of something as pleasurable, the intent is to create or arouse in the person being tempted a desire for what is on offer. All these elements were present in the first temptation recorded in scripture:
“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.
“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” – Genesis 3:4-6
Satan told Eve the benefits she would derive from disobeying: “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Then she saw what she didn’t see before the advert by the Devil: “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” Every time you are tempted, you are shown something evil but told what benefits you stand to derive from it. The aim is to get you to see the rewards as more valuable than whatever consequences are normally obscured in the moment and to get you to take the bait. Every temptation to sin is an allurement to see something else as more precious, as more valuable, as more satisfying than Jesus. That is what Satan did to Eve and Adam.
Where Does Temptation Come From?
Broadly, temptation comes from two sources:
- The Devil
“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” – Luke 4:1-2a
“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” – Luke 22:31-32
Let’s face it, what else does Satan do? His mission is to lure people into sin and his strategy is to entice them by promising pleasures out of disobedience.
- Evil Human Desire
“When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death.” – James 1:13-15
When someone has desires that are evil, they have a resident saboteur within them. That becomes a hook by which they are dragged away and enticed into sin. Why is someone tempted to steal money, for instance? A desire for wealth or other things that money can buy exists in the heart and becomes a lever by which the person is pulled into sin. The desire provides a handle for Satan to grab the individual. The evil desire is the enemy within, which opens the door to the enemy without, the devil.
The dilemma here is that even if by God’s grace your mind has been renewed and you deal with the plague of evil desires, the devil still comes around to tempt. He tempted Jesus Christ the Son of God, who had no evil desires. Furthermore, even if you don’t fall for a particular moment of temptation, the devil won’t give up, he would look for other opportunities. Luke 4:13 says, “When the devil had finished all his tempting, he left him until an opportune time.” So long as we are in this world, we would be exposed to temptations, and we need to be on our watch against them.
How to Overcome Temptation
Jesus’ solution to the problem of temptation is so brief it could pass off as being simplistic. He says, “Keep alert and pray. Otherwise, temptation will overpower you. For the spirit is willing, but how weak the body is!”
The first thing that Jesus says is to watch. Be alert, be cautious. What are you to watch against? The devil and your flesh. The Bible says the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. There is no demilitarized zone in this war against sin. Even in a prayer meeting or a Bible study in Church, be alert, for the devil may make a move there. Resist him, standing firm in the faith (1 Peter 5:8-9). Watch your flesh. The Message says “But there’s another part (of you) that’s as lazy as an old dog sleeping by the fire.” Even when your spirit is willing to do the right thing, the flesh is weak. Be alert to the desires that spring up within you. Be alert to the things your flesh knows and loves. You can’t bait a dog with grass, that’s food for goats. When you want to catch a dog, you use what it knows and loves, like bones. The devil will study you and come with what will interest you. Watch! After Jesus had fasted for forty days, he was hungry. Is there any wonder why the first temptation that came his way was to turn stones into bread?
Watch the kinds of friends you keep for the Bible says “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character’ (1 Corinthians 15:33). When Amnon, David’s son, was consumed with lust for his sister Tamar, he alone didn’t know how to gratify that temptation. He had a friend called Jonadab who helped him yield to it. But it cost him his life (1 Samuel 13).
Watch the kinds of conversations you have for they influence your thoughts and actions. Paul told Timothy to “Avoid godless chatter because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly (1 Timothy 2:16). When you sit and listen to or indulge in godless chatter, you go back and that becomes your temptation. Avoid it. Watch the places you go to. Samson kept returning to Gaza until he met Delilah. You know how that ended. Watch the things you watch and hear.
In 1 Peter 5:8, the Bible says, “Be self-controlled and alert.” If you are watchful but you lack self-control, you are still in trouble. Your watchfulness must be accompanied by self-control. Solomon got into trouble because he lacked self-control, even though he was wise. He never held back himself from whatever his mind desired, and he had all the resources to get them fulfilled. Money and power were not the primary problem; their availability only empowered him to do what was in his heart and he had failed to control. It is no different today. Thankfully, we have been given the Holy Spirit and self-control is one of the fruit he bears in God’s children.
The second thing Jesus says is to pray. Pray against temptation. I once heard a brother cavalierly say he prays for temptations to come to him, for when he overcomes them he becomes stronger. High-sounding nonsense! Jesus said pray that you will not fall into temptation. In what we call The Lord’s Prayer, he told the disciples to pray, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13). That should be the content of your own prayers too, that you would not be led into temptation; that you would have the strength to not fail when tempted. In Jesus’ temptation following his 40-day fast, he countered whatever Satan brought to him by using the written word of God. He said all through, “It is written.” Fill your own heart too with the written word, let it dwell in you richly. It is not in the hour of temptation that you start scrambling for Scriptures; that is the time to put to use what you have already stored up. The Psalmist says, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word … I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:9,11). That’s how others have dealt with temptation, you can’t do it differently.
Above all, watch your heart, that it doesn’t see anything as more pleasurable, more beautiful, more rewarding, more satisfying than Jesus. If you see knowing Jesus as a priceless privilege and the supreme advantage of life, all of Satan’s temptations will appear to you as garbage.
“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10).