And now, children of the light
Fight back darkness with delight
Lift your eyes up to His face
Let joy take temptation’s place
-Tenth Avenue North, “Cathedrals”
There they were, sitting innocently on the edge of the kitchen counter.
I could hear them calling to me.
The warmth from the oven still radiated across the room.
The aroma was unmistakable. Three words exploded into my brain:
Chocolate. Chip. Cookies.
If you read my recent post Against The Tide, you know that I’m rather fond of chocolate chip cookies. Now, of course, as a
mature and responsible (cough) 18-year-old, I am quite capable of exercising self-control. But as a wee lad, the powerful allure of chocolatey, fresh-baked goodness was sometimes too much to resist.
I remember a time when I was around eight or nine years old that I walked into the kitchen and discovered a tray of chocolate chip cookies on the cooling rack, freshly pulled from the warm belly of the oven. My mom was down in her bedroom. She didn’t know I was in the kitchen. Surely she hadn’t counted the cookies? I was certain she wouldn’t miss just one little cookie…
I’m pretty sure I don’t have to tell you the end of that story. I stole a cookie. It was truly delicious. But any pleasure that could have come from the cookie itself was robbed by my guilty conscience. I knew the wrongfulness of my deed. In the mind of a nine-year-old, the deed was an unforgivable atrocity. I was so afraid of the consequences of my actions that I never told my mother.
As in, never. To this day.
If you’re reading this, mom… sorry about that. I’m pretty sure we’re past the statute of limitations by now, right?
In the case of those chocolate chip delicacies, I gave in to temptation. I really fouled it up. Though I regret to say it, that wasn’t the first time, nor was it the only time, that I defied my parents. Don’t even ask about my first-grade year. I was quite the wee rebel in my day.
Defeating temptation is easily one of the most preached-on issues in the Christian faith. How can we conquer the temptation to sin? How can we defeat the corrupt desires of the flesh? Many a sermon has been preached and many a book has been written on this topic. But what is really the antithesis of temptation? What really defeats the allure of sin?
In a previous post, I looked at the nature and role of desire. By taking a closer look at the nature of sinful desire, I think we can discover the most effective way to extinguish its power in our lives. In this post, I want to look briefly at sinful desire once again, and then take a look at how we can conquer it.
Let’s start off by taking a look at the definition of desire. The Dictionary of Bible Themes defines desire as follows:
“A sense of longing for or wanting something. It may be a positive or negative force in the human character, but sinful desire is characteristic of human nature and must be overcome by the believer. God also expresses desires in Scripture.”
So in a practical sense, desire is a pretty simple concept. It just means a force of want or longing. It’s a draw toward something that you… well, desire. It’s pretty straightforward. Notice that desire is not a bad thing in and of itself. Even God expresses desires. For more information on this concept, I strongly encourage you to check out my past post on the nature of desire. (See link earlier in this post). So then, having established the broader nature of desire, let’s take a closer look at sinful desire in particular.
The term “sinful desire” is nearly a synonym for our concept of temptation. The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary defines temptation very simply:
Broadly defined, temptation is the enticement to do evil.
“The enticement to do evil.” Sounds rather ominous, doesn’t it? At its heart, temptation is the alluring pull of wrongdoing. The Bible teaches that every one of us wrestles with sinful temptation. The writer of Hebrews points out the Jesus Christ was “tested in every way as we are.” (Hebrews 4:15) We are all tested in every way. We are all tempted by the desire to do wrong.
The unfortunate reality is, we’re all tempted; and worse, we all give in to temptation. The Bible doesn’t mince words about that. Romans 3:23 unequivocally declares, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Every human being who has ever walked this earth has been tempted to sin; and all, save the Son of Man, have given in to that temptation.
But the beautiful message of the Gospel is that the life and death of Jesus has saved us from our own failings. We have been redeemed and restored to a relationship with our Heavenly Father. We who place our faith in Christ need have no fear of sin and its tempting powers. We have been bought at a price.
So why, then, is it still so hard to conquer temptation every day?
God is no stranger to the struggle. Paul writes in Romans 7, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” Ain’t that the truth, folks? We do not want to remain prisoners to our sin! Our chains have been broken; we’ve been set free. So why do we keep running back to slavery?
The struggle with temptation is very real. The Christian life is not all rainbows and lollipops. It’s a constant, internal war. “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” (Galatians 5:17)
Unfortunately, we will never escape this battle while we remain on this earth. Our sinful nature will ever war with our new identity in Christ. We place our hope in the peace that will come when we enter in to the presence of our Creator and Redeemer. But for now, we have a mission to fulfill and a war to fight. It is our calling to do battle with temptation and conquer it each and every day.
So then, the million-dollar question: how?
How do we defeat temptation? I wish that I could just give you a simple answer and send you on your merry way. But if it were that easy, we would not still be wrestling with it 2,000 years after Christ’s ascension. Slaying our sin is a grueling ordeal. But it is not impossible. The recipe for victory over temptation can be found in God’s Word to us.
The first and most important step in defeating temptation is to not attempt it on our own. It’s simply not possible for us to overcome temptation by our own strength of will. No matter how strong you think you are, you do not have the power in yourself to defeat your sin. If you really wish to be free from your sin, the first step is to be humble enough to admit that you can’t do it yourself. When Jesus taught us to pray, He taught us to come before the Father in humility and ask Him to “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6:13)
The second thing we must do in order to defeat temptation is to know that we can, through God’s strength. 1 Corinthians 10:13 provides huge encouragement: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” When we are tempted, we can know that God is there beside us, and he will provide us a way out, every time. We are not alone in our moments of weakness and trial, and we will never face something that God cannot help us through.
But I believe that there’s one fundamental component of conquering temptation that we often overlook. As the great xenocide Ender Wiggin (nerd moment) once noted, the key to defeating an enemy is understanding them. If we are to defeat temptation, we need to understand what it is.
At the heart of it, temptation is simply wanting. It’s wanting things that are wrong. It’s desiring that which will only do harm to your soul. Temptation is rooted in desire. That reality can help us uncover the key to defeating temptation. In order to conquer our temptation, we have to overcome the sinful desire it stems from.
What is the opposite of desire? According to Thesaurus.com (sounds super reliable, right?), it’s “satisfaction.” Another good word would be “contentment.” The opposite of desiring something is to be content with what you already have. The way to defuse desire is to have no need to want something; to find joy in what you already have.
And as Christians, we have so much to be joyful about!
We have been called out of darkness into marvelous light by the King of Kings, who washed us in His own sacrificial blood and adopted us as His sons and daughters forever. We have been raised from death to life despite doing nothing to deserve such grace. We are loved by the sovereign Creator and King of the universe. We have no need of anything! As the psalmist wrote so eloquently, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” (Psalm 23:1)
I believe that the key to overcoming temptation is joy. To rejoice in the Lord and His ways is the best way to guard yourself from sinful desire. Psalm 16:11 says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” When we recognize that we have no need of anything outside of our Savior, temptation loses all its power. Satan has no strength when we do not want anything he has to offer.
I love going to the fair and wandering through the commercial buildings and looking at all the merchant booths. It’s fun being surrounded by hundreds of people trying to persuade you to buy what they’re selling. But I’m almost never interested in any of the products for sale. Why would I need a fancy non-stick pan? I’m an 18-year-old guy. When I have absolutely no interest in the products for sale, I don’t need to worry at all about being persuaded to buy something I don’t need. There’s no temptation for me at all, because there’s no desire for temptation to take root in.
When we find our joy in the Lord, we cut off temptation from its power source: desire. If we don’t want what the devil is selling, he can just get off our porch!
I opened this post with the lyrics of a song called “Cathedrals” by Tenth Avenue North. I love the chorus of this song, because it proclaims the very idea that I’m trying to get across. “Fight back darkness with delight,” and “Let joy take temptation’s place.” Let that be your battle cry, each and every day. When you rise from your bed each morning, let your prayer be that you would delight in the Lord all day. We can slay the darkness within us by exposing it to the light. We can kill temptation by slaying desire. We can win this war by resting in the love of the Savior. What need have we of anything else? We have been won with amazing grace; temptation has no power over us.