Boom. Temptation lands.
Satan is enticing you to splurge through your new budget, or dial up that website you know should stay buried, or sabotage your efforts to show kindness at work by letting your temper fly towards a coworker, or whatever else has been convicting you lately. The temptation presses hard against your heart, like a gust of wind.
It isn’t actually the real problem.
There’s usually a “decision” phase in every temptation in which we’re still deciding whether to commit a sin. Sometimes it’s short or even near-instantaneous, a “cruise missile” moment (like the flare of a temper), but even then we have a split second to decide.
Do you notice an internal dialogue in those phases?
“You want to do this.”
“I don’t. But I kinda do, too.”
“Yes, you do.”
“But I shouldn’t.”
“It won’t matter. It’ll be okay. You’ll be forgiven. Go ahead.”
“But it’s not right.”
“God doesn’t understand. You deserve this. Go ahead.”
“I’m supposed to be getting holier here.”
“You can’t climb that mountain. I’ll always be here. Just get it over with and I’ll go away.”
“I can resist you.”
“No, you can’t.”
“I did it before.”
“OK, fine. You did. But do you really want to win again? You won’t get to feel good then. Holiness doesn’t feel as good as sin.”
Who is participating in this conversation?
In sin, temptation is the outside force. It’s no foregone conclusion that we fall to it. Paul teaches that God will “provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
But a conversation involves two sides. The temptation is only one of them.
Who’s the other?
“…but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (James 1:14-15)
I know from my own battles that there’s evil desire within me, in contact with the temptation. It’s the double agent in the organization, the wolf in the fold, the traitor in the castle that keeps lowering the drawbridge. It does want what the temptation is hawking.
And the temptation has a point. I’ve won enough battles to get familiar with what’s required (a huge benefit of just getting some victories under your belt – sometimes to start winning, you have to start winning). But then the temptation switches to three-dimensional chess: “Yeah, you could win, but do you really want to? You could pray and send the temptation packing right now, but do you really want to? You could annihilate and expunge this sin permanently from your life through the power of Christ and the weapons he’s given you. But do you really want to?”
That’s the tough part. Our evil desire, our flesh, does not want to.
I believe our battle lies there. If I’m relying on repelling individual temptations, I’m fighting a holding battle. The victory comes when I no longer desire the sin. Taking off the old man and putting on the new, keeping in step with the Spirit that now indwells us, having every room in our lives taken over by God’s goodness, until the temptation has nothing inside us to appeal to. Until our minds are renewed (Romans 12:2).
Back to the battlefield, friends. Don’t lose heart.