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Resisting Temptation

Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil so that I take part in wicked deeds

Psalm 141:4a

How do you cope with stress? Personally, I stress eat. Carbs, cheese, and especially chocolate. And this year has been a bad one for stress eating. So much so that it is time to take action and make some changes. One of the first changes I’m making: cutting refined sugar, such as chocolate, out of my daily diet. There is just one small problem with that plan: I still have chocolate in my apartment. And I don’t want to be wasteful and just throw it away so I guess I’ll have to eat it, right?

We all have temptations we are particularly prone to. Part of growing up both in the physical and the spiritual realm is learning to resist temptation. We learn to be more aware of the words we say so when we are angry the temptation to use hurtful words is less likely to overcome us. We learn to stay away from the dancing flames of the campfire or fireplace so we don’t get burned. We learn to resist the urge to poke our little brother or sister in the eye to get their attention and choose more appropriate, loving ways of getting their attention.

The temptation to do wrong is always with us. As we learn to turn away from one temptation, another one awaits us. Teens typically face strong temptations to experiment with drugs and alcohol, to cross healthy boundaries with boyfriends/girlfriends, and defy parents. Young adults face temptations to take short cuts to make money, cheating to get good grades in college, and still face many of the same temptations of the their teen years. Once we get married, we face the temptation to cheat or walk away when the going gets tough. In the work place we face the temptation to take more credit for a success than we are due so the boss with promote us over a co-worker.

Temptations are all around us. Some are easy to walk away from. Some are not. And what is easy for you to walk away from is nearly impossible for another to walk away from and vice versa. For example, it’s easy for me to walk away from the temptations of drugs and alcohol abuse, the temptation to gamble in a casino for hours on end, or the temptation to plagiarize another student’s work in my studies. It’s much harder for to walk away from the temptation to eat stuff I know isn’t good for my health, or the temptation to let myself get swept up in the moment with my boyfriend, or the temptation to poke my younger brother and sister in the eye. (Maybe that’s why they now live in different states?! Just kidding…I only poke them on the shoulder these days!)

In the Lord’s Prayer we pray, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” It’s a plea that God would help us to overcome temptation. It is a reminder that, while God does not tempt us to sin, he does have authority over Satan who does constantly tempt us to sin because sin is what separates us from the Father. And while God never authors temptation, he does allow Satan to tempt us at times. It has been that way since the very beginning with Adam and Eve. It wasn’t God who tempted them to eat the forbidden fruit, but he did allow Satan to tempt them.

So why does God allow temptation? It can seem rather contrary to His desire that we would be holy as he is holy. After all, if we never are tempted to sin, then its rather likely we would never choose to sin. But if we are never given the chance to choose sin, then we are also never given the chance to choose obedience. For us to choose to follow God’s will, there has to be something which isn’t his will from which to choose.

Take, for example, a child who has not yet learned to walk. If their parent would boast, “My child has never run away from me at the store,” we would find it rather odd. Of course they have not run away from you at the store, they do not have the ability to run away! It would be an empty praise. It wouldn’t say anything about the child’s willingness to obey their parent because they are unable to make the choice to run away.

So it is with God. If we had no choice but to obey God, then what meaning does our obedience have?

However, the reality is that we do have a choice. And we need God’s help at times to make the right choice. This plea reflects our desire to make the right choice and our willingness to accept God’s help to follow through on that desire. And it implies our willingness to do what we can to flee from situations which would tempt us to choose to sin rather than choose to follow God’s will.

Additionally, the word temptation here can also refer to trials or hardships. Again, trials are not something God authors but allows and redeems in our lives. Praying for these to be minimized in our lives is not a bad thing. While I can look back and see how God has worked mightily during times of trial in my life, and how I have grown deeper in my relationship with God as a result, I wouldn’t necessarily choose to go through that trial again. Nor would I choose to submit another person that hardship, but would hope they could learn the same lesson in a gentler fashion.

As we have seen before, the plural of this prayer Jesus prayed matters. He didn’t pray, “Lead ME not into temptation,” but, “Lead US not into temptation.” We are praying that not only we would be spared from sin, from trials, and from hardships but that all would spared. Not only would ourselves be delivered from Satan’s schemes, but that all would be delivered. So while you can walk away from chocolate, don’t expect that everyone can. While you can stop at small glass of wine at dinner, don’t expect that everyone can. While you may not have ever crossed a line with a boyfriend/girlfriend, others have. But no matter our weak spots where temptation is hard to resist, God is always there to help us make the right choice and to forgive us when we stumble.

Follow Up:

  • What are you most tempted by at this stage in your life? What changes can you make in your life to help you flee from that temptation?

  • It’s easy to look down on others for giving into a temptation we have not given into ourselves. Or to judge others who are struggling to deal with a temptation we have overcome in our lives. In what ways have you done this? How can you better understand their struggle and show empathy?

  • To get help to resist temptation, we have to first admit we are being tempted in a particular way. How hard is it for you admit you are facing temptation in different areas of your life? To God? To others? How willing are you to accept help to resist temptation? From God? From other people?

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