In a recent episode of the Apostolic Voice Podcast, we discussed the universal topic of temptation. I say, ‘universal’ because temptation is a reality in the daily lives of every single living human being. I say that often, and when I do someone inevitably gives me a defiant look as if to say, “Not me!” They’re not faking or lying, but they have fallen into a fallacious way of thinking about temptation.
People tend to think of temptation primarily in terms of things like sexual immorality, pornography, idolatry, addiction, or murder. You know, the ‘big time’ sins. Maybe those ‘big time’ sins aren’t your personalized, tailor-made, besetting temptations. Maybe you’re tempted by the more commonly accepted sins like envy, gossip, lying, greed, gluttony, or unforgiveness. In reality, sin is sin and the temptation to gossip can be just as strong as the temptation to commit adultery. We’re just conditioned to view our personal brand of temptation as more acceptable than someone else’s particular brand of temptation.
Honest, self-aware Christians know that we are prone to feeling the tug of all kinds of temptations. But that awareness is only helpful if we steady our resolve to resist sin’s siren song. It’s important to put on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18), to understand how The Tempter operates, and to maintain the mindset of an overcomer.
1. Putting on The Whole Armor of God
Every piece of God-given armor is vitally important (Ephesians 6:10-18). You need it all. Obviously, faith is the shield that will protect you from onslaughts. Faith will sustain you in times of attack. Doubt and unbelief will leave you vulnerable to all kinds of scary demonic activity. But for the sake of this discussion, we’ll take a closer look at the only offensive weapon listed by the apostle Paul: the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17). Paul is careful to clarify that the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God.
“Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Psalm 119:11).
It should go without saying, and yet so many people seem oblivious to the fact that you can’t resist sin if you don’t know what God considers to be sinful. It’s simply not possible to resist temptation if you don’t even know that you’re being tempted. Thankfully, God gave us the Bible so that we could hide it in our hearts and resist temptation. If you don’t know the Word even faith won’t save you from the enemy. You can’t resist an enemy that you don’t recognize and you can’t serve a God that you don’t know.
“Hiding (keeping) God’s Word in our hearts is a deterrent to sin. This alone should inspire us to memorize Scripture. But memorization alone will not keep us from sin; we must also put God’s Word to work in our lives, making it a vital guide for everything we do.” (Life Application Study Bible, Accordance electronic edition (Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 2004), paragraph 6899)
Jesus powerfully exampled the offensive use of the sword of the Spirit while being tempted of the Devil in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). To say that Jesus was hungry is probably a gross understatement because He had been fasting for forty days and forty nights (Matthew 4:2). This would be one of those rare instances where the word ‘starving’ is actually appropriate. The Tempter made his move at that exact moment and said, “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stone be made bread” (Matthew 4:3).
2. Understanding How The Tempter Works
We’ll circle back around to using the Word as a weapon against the Tempter and temptation in general, but first, let’s pause and consider when and where Satan strikes. Remember this little acronym H. I. T. Yes, it’s cheesy but it is helpful. Satan will HIT when you’re either 1) Hungry, 2) Isolated, 3) Tired or some combination of all three.
Hunger in the natural is simply a lack of food either by choice or deprivation. When we are deprived or weakened from hunger, whether it be lack of physical bread or spiritual nourishment, we are vulnerable to attack.
Eve was isolated when the serpent slithered into her consciousness. Furthermore, she was standing next to the very tree which was forbidden. Her isolation might have been unavoidable but her location was avoidable. She positioned herself in a prime location for defeat.
Most affairs don’t start in the heat of passion and lust, they develop when two people carelessly position themselves little by little into situations where their hearts and desires are allowed to fester into something forbidden.
I could go on and on preaching about the dangers of isolation. Business trips are especially dangerous when friends and family are far away. Loneliness, isolation, lack of accountability, and then comes the inevitable temptation. David saw Bathsheba when he was isolated and it resulted in terrible failure (2 Samuel 11:1-2). Joseph was enticed by Potiphar’s wife while he was isolated in a foreign land far from his father’s loving influence (Genesis 39:7-11). However, Joseph had the good sense to run away (Genesis 39:11-12).
Social media, texting, and the internet, in general, has created a framework of virtual isolation even when in a crowded room. You can live an isolated double life on the internet and via text messaging that others can’t see or hear. It might seem harmless, but it’s a primer for a dramatic failure. You don’t even have to be physically isolated anymore, virtual isolation is just as damaging.
Jesus was hungry, isolated, and tired while tempted in the wilderness. Physical exhaustion is difficult to separate from spiritual exhaustion because the human body and human spirit are so interconnected. We can’t completely avoid exhaustion but we should be wary of attack in those moments.
It should also be noted that Jesus went immediately from the triumphant waters of baptism into the wilderness of temptation (Matthew 3:13-17, Matthew 4:1). Experience teaches and Scripture confirms that great temptation follows inspirational spiritual manifestations. Juxtapose 1 Kings 18:37-39 with 1 Kings 19:1-4 and Joshua 6:20-27 with Joshua 7:1-7 for further evidence of this pattern. That’s why it is common to leave a powerful church service and step right into a wilderness of temptation. In fact, this is so predictable that I have come to expect and prepare for it.
Bottom line, some temptations are avoidable and some are not. Thankfully, temptation by itself is not a sin. Beyond that, all temptation can be resisted with the help of the Holy Ghost and a little old-fashioned common sense (1 Corinthians 10:12-14, Ephesians 6:17).
Understanding how, when, and where the Tempter strikes will give you the upper hand and insulate you from being taken off guard.
3. Maintaining the Mindset of an Overcomer
The mark of an apostolic believer is not a spirit of fearfulness. Rather, our apostolic identity is that of boldness, courage, power, love, and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7, Romans 8:15, Ephesians 1:18-20, Ephesians 3:20, Galatians 5:22). If we reverence the Lord we do not need to fear anything the Devil throws in our pathway.
If you’re struggling internally please take time to read my article entitled 15 Ways to Win the Battle Within. Remember, all temptation is successfully resisted internally before it can be resisted externally. Overcomers decide to reject temptation long before temptation strikes. They don’t fear temptation because their resolve has already been set in stone internally with the help of the Holy Ghost (Luke 10:19-20, Luke 24:49, Mark 16:17).
Sometimes that mindset must be renewed and the Holy Spirit needs to be stirred up within our hearts afresh (2 Timothy 1:6-7). The apostle Paul recognized that need in the life of young Timothy. Paul’s response was to take apostolic authority and lay hands on Timothy in prayer, then gently rebuke him, and finally lovingly encourage him. There is a spiritual recalibration that only comes from genuine submission to apostolic authority. You can’t benefit from apostolic anointing without walking in apostolic submission. It might sound simple, but every believer should covet the laying on of hands, the gentle rebuke, and the loving encouragement of their pastor. And yet, most people only welcome loving encouragement while rejecting or avoiding the rest.
An interesting contrast can be drawn between Timothy’s identity crisis and Jesus’ wilderness temptation. Before Satan presented Jesus with a temptation he questioned His identity by saying contemptuously, “…If thou be the Son of God…” (Matthew 4:3). Satan would love for you to question your identity in God, even if only for a moment, so you’ll feel unequipped to handle the forthcoming temptation.
Using the Word as a Weapon against Temptation
Even Jesus didn’t try to resist temptation without the Word. His response to every single temptation began with “It is written…” followed by a relevant biblical quotation (Matthew 4:4, Matthew 4:7, Matthew 4:10). Then and only then did the Devil leave (Matthew 4:11). There is no human substitute for the sword of the Spirit. Willpower is ultimately insufficient. The Devil will not flee if your sword isn’t sharp and ready.
After the temptation angels came and ministered to Jesus (Matthew 4:11). Following every great wilderness temptation, there will be a season of great comforting (John 14:26, John 15:26, John 14:16-18, John 16:13, Romans 8:1). Cling to that when the valley seems dark and the road seems long.