How to Triumph Over Temptations
How to Triumph Over Temptations
Somebody will lay out something and tell you, "Don't touch it." Every one of us at one time has been in that situation. A plate of cookies. They could see it in your eyes. You're looking at it. You're ready to go. And they say, "Don't touch that. That's for dessert."
Inevitably when my mother said, "Don't touch it," I tried to figure out how I could touch it without her knowing. If she said, "Don't get a cookie," I tried to figure out what cookie I could take and then rearrange them so she couldn't tell one was missing.
Whenever somebody tells us not to do something, that's when we're tempted the most to do it. Even though we've gotten older and the scenario has changed, we still act that way with God. God says don't touch it, don't bother it, don't get involved with it. Yet, we still try to find a way to do it without suffering the consequences.
I want to talk about how to triumph over your temptations, because every one of us faces temptations.
It doesn't matter how old you are or how young you are. It doesn't matter whether your temptation is a piece of candy you shouldn't have or a person you shouldn't have or anywhere in between. Every one of us battles with temptations. Since temptations are common and we're going to face them, let's look at what God says in his Word about how to overcome the temptations in life.
James 1 beginning at verse 13. Four things I want you to see concerning triumphing over your temptations.
Principle 1: God is not the source of our temptation.
If you're going to triumph over your temptations, you need to know the source of temptations. Look at verses 1314. "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed."
In verses 112, James deals with how to overcome external pressures that come from without that are designed to develop we've got to endure and go through those things in order to mature and become what God wants us to become.
But in verses 1318, James shifts his focus from how to handle trials to how to deal with temptations. While trials are designed to develop us, temptations are designed to destroy us. While trials are external pressures that are put upon us, temptations are internal desires that well up from inside of us.
James says that the first thing you need to understand is that God is not the source of temptations. Somebody could ask, why is that so important? It's important because a lot of us like to blame God either directly or indirectly for the mess we get ourselves into.
"Pastor, you don't understand. God made me like this. If God didn't want me to do it, he wouldn't have made me this way."
One of the biggest arguments homosexuals have is that they were born that way. There's still a lot of debate whether it's nature or nurture. But they say, "I was born this way, so I can't help myself. That's how God made me. You can't blame me for what I do if God made me that way."
Here's the fact of the matter. We were all born in sin and shaped in iniquity. None of us grew up doing right. We had to be taught the difference between right and wrong.
I don't care how cute they are when they're born. I don't care how wonderful they look in their blankets. You don't ever have to teach children how to do wrong. You bring them home, they're going to get into something. They're going to take something. They're going to hit something or somebody. They will always be bent to do wrong. You've got to teach them how to do right.
James says that God will not tempt. Neither is he tempted to do evil. In other words, it's not in God to try to bring you to fall because temptations are designed to destroy you. And God does not want to destroy you; he wants to develop you.
James says if you want to look for somebody to blame for the mess you're in, look in the mirror.
You are where you are because you have been drawn away by your own desires. The King James Version says, "by your own lusts." You have been enticed not from what goes on without but from what takes place within. The words drawn away and enticed refer to hunting or fishing, in which you take a substitute item that is not the real thing and make it look like the real thing so you can draw out the prey and get him.
For example, you go fishing. You don't buy bait and throw it in the water, because your goal is not to feed the fish. Your goal is to catch the fish. Instead, you put a hook in the bait. The idea is that when the fish sees the bait he's stupid enough not to know there's a hook in it. He bites the bait and finds the hook. Because he has been drawn out of where he was safe and has taken the bait with the hook in it, he gets captured. He has been drawn by his desire for bait.
Some of you fish with lures. A lure is designed to look like the real thing. You throw out the lure and you wiggle it, and you flip your wrist. You want it to move like it's the real thing.
Once the fish takes it, he will find that it is a substitute for the real thing, but it will be too late because he will find a hook. Temptation is the same way. It's a lure that Satan throws out. He jiggles it to see if he can get you to hit. He won't make it so obvious that you'll look and say that isn't anything. He knows you won't bother it if you know there's nothing to it. He'll make it look real.
James says it's your own desire. You are tempted because you look at something you want, that you have to have, that you are entitled to. You jump at it, and you end up getting hooked.
The source of temptation wells up from within us, not what's outside of us.
Principle 2: Falling prey to temptation involves a series of steps.
The second thing you need to know are the steps in falling prey to temptation. Verses 1516: "Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren."
James says it starts with a desire. I look. I see. I assess. I want. When I move from assessment to desire, I trigger the downward path in temptation.
I am a married man, but I am a man. I am not a blind man. Somebody could walk in here, and you could ask me, "What does that person look like?" I could say, "She is a beautiful woman." That doesn't affect my marriage because I'm still married. I have made an assessment of the endowment that God has placed on this woman's life. She is beautiful.
I could have a conversation with her. She's nice and beautiful. I could even find out that she's not married. So she is nice. She is beautiful. And she is available.
All of that is just an assessment of who she is. I get in trouble when I say I want her. The assessment can be legitimate. But when I move from assessing to assessing to I'm in trouble because my desires have taken root in an illegitimate place.
We get into trouble when we look at the legitimacy of our desires and allow the legitimacy of our desires to dictate our actions, even though our actions are illegitimate. We think because our desires are legitimate we have an excuse to act in an illegitimate fashion.
I get caught in sin, and I justify it. Let's say, for example, that you're a single lady fooling around with a married man. Here's how we justify it. "Well, if she was taking care of her business, I wouldn't have to take care of the business." Wrong answer. Whether she's taking care of her business or not is none of your business.
We say, "But we love each other, Rev. Don't you understand?" That has nothing to do with it.
James says sin is the product of desire. Your desires might be very legitimate. "We love each other." I didn't say you didn't love each other. I said that the Word says you don't have any business sleeping with each other. "But we love each other." What does love have to do with sleeping with each other? You can love each other all you want. Your feelings are legitimate. But to take the substitute Satan gives you is no different than taking a cubic zirconium ring and claiming that it's a diamond.
James says desire leads to sin. Sin leads to what? Death. "When desire has conceived" it takes "it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full grown, breaks forth death."
This death is not only a physical death but it is, metaphorically speaking, a death that occurs in your spirit when you continue in sin and don't make the changes you need to make. Some of you, for example, are physically alive but spiritually dead; and if you're not dead, you are on life support.
You can't remember the last time you felt the joy of the Lord. You can't remember the last time you prayed and got a prayer answered. You can't remember the last time God did anything in your life that could be attributed to God moving and God blessing.
One of the reasons I know you're dead is because you don't call it sin anymore. You've come up with alternative names to identify your ungodliness. It's an arrangement now. It used to be sin. The Word says it's still sin. But it's an arrangement. It's an alternative lifestyle. It used to be adultery. Now it's "I made a mistake. I exercised poor judgment."
Dead! You are justifying what you are doing. Stop. Call it sin. Face it and deal with it. If you don't, you will never move forward to be who God wants you to be.
Principle 3: Form a strategy for overcoming temptation, to the steps.
The third thing is to form a strategy for overcoming temptation. If we know the steps of temptation, then let's form a strategy to or circumvent the steps, so we don't have to go down the path.
Two things you need to do if you are going to overcome temptation.
1. Stay out of certain places. If you have a problem with alcohol, don't go to a bar to prove how strong you are.
I love butter pecan ice cream. I had to tell my wife, "Don't buy any more butter pecan ice cream, because if you bring it home I'm going to eat it." I'm not going to let butter pecan ice cream go bad in my freezer. I'm going to eat it. I know. So if I know that's my weakness, I don't buy it. You can buy Rocky Road. I won't eat that. But don't buy what I like, put it in the freezer, and expect me not to eat it.
If you make sin available and it's the sin you enjoy, you're going to be in trouble. We get into trouble because we go places we have no business going. The Holy Spirit warns us. He tries to keep us out of trouble, but we go anyway.
2. Flee immorality. First Corinthians 6:18 says you've got to flee immorality, lust. You've got to run the other way. In other words, I know the lure is here, I know the bait is here. If I don't want to get caught, I don't want to swim around the bait and play with the bait. I need to go the other way.
Talk to any group of teenagers, and they will inevitably ask: How close can you get before it's sin? If this is fire, I want to know how close I can get before I get burned. Is kissing a sin? Is French kissing a sin? Is petting a sin? Is heavy petting a sin? If I'm sitting there with half my clothes off, is that sin? We go right down the line. In other words, if I get close enough and I don't get burned but I smell like smoke, have I sinned?
We live our just teenagers, but how close we can get before we sin. I want to see if I can ... whooo, ! Didn't get me that time. Yeah, you thought I was going to touch it. I didn't touch it! Just watch this. Every time I play with it and I don't get burned I see if I can get a little closer and not get burned.
I almost sinned, but I didn't sin. And eventually you know what I do? I slip and fall in.
Then you know what I start saying? "Lord, renew the right spirit in me. Cleanse me, Lord. Make me whole. I'll start reading Psalm 51 every day." I'm feeling bad, guilty. Why? Because I had no business fooling around with it.
It's not how close you can get to sin. It's how far away you can get from sin. You have a choice in life. You can either live your life avoiding ungodliness or pursuing godliness. What's the difference?
Avoiding ungodliness puts me in a position where I can see how close I can get without falling into it. But if I pursue godliness, I go towards godliness. Ungodliness is automatically behind me.
For example, I can't be in the bar watching the game at twelve o'clock on Sunday. Why? Because I'm in the right place. I automatically can't be in the wrong place if I'm in the right place. You fill your life with those positive things that God might occupy you and God might use you and help you grow and develop to be who he wants you to be.
The temptations will come, but you've got to know how to respond to them in order to experience victory. That's why the song says, "Yield not to temptation, for yielding is sin. Each victory will help you some other to win." It's a victorious cycle that begins in your life when you learn how to say no to yourself.
I love to hear men say, "I don't know what you're talking about. Ain't nothing but a piece of paper. That's all it is. I love you; you love me. Ain't nothing but a piece of paper." Wait a minute. You can't function in this world without a piece of paper. You get pulled over by a police officer, and he asks you for your driver's license. Can you say, "Ain't nothing but a piece of paper. I know how to drive"?
Try to get a job. They say, "Do you have experience?" "Yeah, I have experience." They say, "Do you have a college degree?" Can you say, "Ain't nothing but a piece of paper. I don't need no college degree. I went to the school of hard knocks."
Go fishing and let the game warden walk up to you and say, "Excuse me. Let me see your fishing license." You say, "I don't have a fishing license. Ain't nothing but a piece of paper." Everywhere in life we have to submit ourselves and function in accordance with the law.
You've got to do it right, because if you don't, you are setting yourself up. When you get to the bottom, you can blame nobody but yourself. Listen to what James says: "Don't be deceived." Don't be fooled.
Principle 4: We must know the source of our triumph.
The fourth thing you need to know is the Source of our triumph.
Verse 1718: "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures."
James says that sin will deceive you, and it will make you think that it is the best. It is not the best. God has the best for you. Whenever God has a blessing for you up the road, Satan will attempt to intercept you before you get to the blessing, and will offer you a cheap substitute to pull you off the path that God wants you to be on.
For example, you've been praying, "Lord, send me the man you want me to have." God has given you assurance in your spirit, and you say, "Lord, you said if I delight myself in you, you will give me the desires of my heart. And, Lord, this is what I desire. I want him 6'2", and 200 pounds. I want him to have some sense. I want him to be able to conjugate verbs. I want him to have a job..." You have all these requirements.
So God prepares what you asked for. But here comes Satan with somebody 5'2", 400 pounds, no job. If you're not careful, in a desperate state you will accept the substitute and miss out on the real thing. You will qualify your sin and say, "It can't get any better than this."
God says, "No, every good and perfect gift comes from above." It comes from God. The only one who expects you to settle for less than God's best is the devil.
The gift will come in God's time. It will come according to God's Word. It will come in God's way. But it will come from God. The wonderful thing about God is when God blesses you there are no strings attached. There are no consequences to God's blessings.
Most of us don't even know what it feels like to get God's blessings. When God blesses us, when he opens up the windows of heaven, we don't know how to accept it. We say, "Something bad is going to happen." "Why?" "Because God has been blessing." Where do you get that? "I just know. What's the string? What's attached to it? What's it going to cost me?" Nothing. God just wants to bless you. You can't get it on your own. It only comes from God.
D. Z. Cofield is pastor of Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. He is president of the Texas Center for Biblical Studies.
(c) D.Z. Cofield
Preaching Today Tape #181
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