by Brian McMahon
An Amazing Fact:
When a hawk is attacked by crows or kingbirds, instead of waging a counterattack, it will circle higher and higher until it is soaring above the altitude range of its tormentors.
During the Gulf War, Iraqi soldiers were forced to make what was later called "the mother of all surrenders." However, it was not because the troops were poorly armed. In fact, the Iraqis had many highly sophisticated weapons that had been purchased from the former U.S.S.R. Their problem was that the soldiers had never been properly trained to use the weapons in battle, so they finally threw their hands in the air and surrendered.
In the same way, many Christians are frequently overcome by temptation because they have never been taught to use God's resources to fight the enemy. The Bible says, "Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee." Psalm 119:11. The Word of God is the most commonly neglected resource in resisting the clamouring of the lower nature. Discovering how to resist evil temptation through claiming the power of God in Scripture has been one of the most valuable things I have learned since becoming a Christian.
The first thing we need to realize is that temptation by itself is not wrong. All of us are tempted to do evil. Even Jesus our Saviour was tempted, yet He was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). The question is how do we achieve victory over the things by which we are so often tempted? How can we resist evil when constantly pressured by the devil to submit?
A most basic-yet often overlooked-fact is that no victory will come to us from God without our cooperation. The Lord is not going to reach down with a hand from heaven to remove the cigarette from our lips, nor will He physically take the whisky bottle out of our hands. He won't strike our television with lightning to keep us from watching violent programs or stir up a great wind and blow all of our pornographic material out of the house. These are things we choose to overcome, all the while believing in God's power to back up the choices we've made. Victories for the Christian are not achieved by "willpower" alone or by taking motivational courses. So how do they come? Let's go to the Bible for some answers.
The Three-Step Plan
The first step to victory is found in Joshua 24:15: "Choose you this day whom ye will serve."
For the sake of illustration, let's say that you're trying to quit smoking. (If you don't have a smoking habit, apply the principle to your own particular need.) If you say to yourself, "Well, I kind of want to quit smoking," or "I sort of want to overcome," or "I think it would be a good idea to quit," that's not making a choice! That is fooling around with sin. First, make a choice by saying, "I choose this day to serve Jesus Christ and not to do this sinful act anymore." You must make that choice.
This is exercising the will, which is the power to make deliberate decisions and determined actions. We make a choice first, and then God will give us the power to fulfil the choices we have made.
Once you have made a choice, the next step is to claim this promise in 1 Corinthians 15:57: "But thanks be to God which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." God gives us the victory we need. If we are sinning and realize that what we're doing is sin, we don't need to pray and ask if it's God's will for us to overcome that sin. We already know it is God's will that we stop sinning! There is no need to pray, "Lord, if it's Your will for me to stop smoking, then please help me to quit" or "Lord, if it's Your will for me to stop stealing, please help me quit." God has already told us in His Word that we are not to do these things. And when we know that something is against God's will, we can confidently claim this promise that He will give us the victory over it.
If I desire to have a million dollars and I pray, "Lord, please give me a million dollars," can I be absolutely certain that God is going to give me that million dollars? No, because it may not be God's will for me to have that million dollars. So I can't confidently claim an answer to that prayer. But when I read in the Bible that it is God's will for me not to do certain things, then I can with assurance claim God's assistance of power to achieve victory over that besetting habit (1 John 5:14; 1 Corinthians 10:13). We can be sure that God will always help us do whatever He is asking us to do!
In Mark 11:22 we read, "And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God." In order to withstand the devil's attacks, we must "have faith in God." Jesus promises, "Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." Verse 24.
Too often people repeat the words: "Lord, please give me the victory. Lord, please give me the victory." Five years later they're still praying, "Lord, please give me the victory," but they never claim the victory!
If I offer you a gift, when does it become yours? It is yours the moment you receive it. I could hold the gift out to you and say, "Please take this gift. I'm giving it to you. Please accept it!" But until you actually reach out and take it, the gift isn't yours.
Sometimes we tell God: "I know I need to forsake this sin. Please help me, Lord. Give me the victory I so badly need." We pray and ask over and over again, never realizing that all the while God is offering His power to us, saying, "Won't you please take the power to back up your request?"
After asking for God's help, we must get up off our knees and say, "Lord, I believe that You have given me the victory I have requested." This is how we claim Jesus' promise that "What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." Mark 11:24.
As we have learned, the first step in overcoming is to make the choice. "I choose not to do this sin." The second step is to say, "Thank you, God, for the victory! I believe it! I receive it." Apply this to your life right now. Take any sin you want to conquer and say, "Lord, because it is according to Your will for me to overcome, I confidently claim the victory." Then, as soon as you take the gift by faith, it becomes yours.
The third and final step is found in Romans 6:11, which says, "Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord." To claim this promise, we must tell ourselves that we have now become dead to the sinful habit that formerly enslaved us. Just as a corpse cannot be tempted because it can't respond to temptation, so also will Christians be unresponsive to temptation if they consider themselves dead to sin. Say to yourself: "I can no more respond to that sinful temptation than a dead person could. I consider myself to be dead to that sinful thing."
It seems that our minds are geared to remember things in "threes," so
when you are tempted by Satan on any point, remember this "one, two,
three" plan and say it out loud.
Don't Let Sin Surround You
The next thing we can do as overcomers is to make sure that temptation is held to a minimum. Romans 13:14 tells us how. "But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof." Notice the two parts of this verse. First, we are told to "put ... on the Lord Jesus Christ." In other words, begin and end every day with a thorough conversion. When you get up in the morning, "put ... on the Lord Jesus Christ" by asking God for the Holy Spirit so you can "walk in the Spirit and not after the flesh" (Romans 8:1, 4).
Have you noticed that when you've spent time with God early in the morning, you feel stronger spiritually to go out and meet the day? And conversely, when you don't spend that time with the Lord in the morning through prayer or Bible study, does it seem that you just don't experience the close walk you desire? If you don't spend time putting on the Lord Jesus Christ, then when the temptation comes, you won't have spiritual power to fight it. It's so much easier when you already feel that closeness!
We're told, "Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh." Galatians 5:16. You're either going to be in the spiritual mind-set or in the carnal mind-set. When you walk in the spirit, the fleshly things cannot have strength, and vice versa. When you have the fleshly mind, spiritual things do not appeal to you. The fleshly mind wants to overeat, drink alcohol, smoke, hold a grudge, lose its temper, etc. Paul is saying, "Put on the spiritual mind, and you will not fulfil the lusts of the flesh." When we are told, "Make not provision for the flesh" in Romans 13:14, that means "Don't put yourself in a situation to be tempted unnecessarily." For example, let's say I'm an alcoholic. Do you think it would be a good idea for me to go into a tavern or a bar and sit down where there are people drinking all around me, and then pray, "Lord, please help me not to drink while I'm here"? Do you think that is sensible? Is it logical to put temptation for the flesh all around you and pray for God to deliver you from it? No! The first thing the Lord would say is, "Well, if you really want to be delivered, leave the bar immediately!" Don't purposefully allow sin to surround you while asking to be delivered from it. If I want to quit smoking, yet I don't throw everything out-every cigarette, every ash tray, every little lighter that reminds me of the habit-am I serious about quitting? No! If I keep even a half a cigarette at home, I'm really telling myself, "I'm going to fail, and I'm keeping it there for when I fail." It's talking yourself right into defeat. The only way to victory is to get rid of everything that reminds you of that habit! If I want to quit listening to hard rock music because I realize it's ruining my Christian experience, but I have my stereo set up in the living room and I have all my rock tapes and CDs displayed there, do you think that I will actually quit? Is it likely that I'll be delivered from it when I'm being tempted every time I walk in the living room? No. I must throw them all away, because every time I see those tapes and CDs, the flesh (carnal nature) is going to crave that music.
Years ago I used to make my own homemade wine. I didn't really enjoy the taste of fermented wine, but I thought it was a neat thing to make. So I would brew many different kinds-raspberry wine, blueberry wine, blackberry wine, rhubarb wine-and then I was so proud of what I'd made that I would display it up on a shelf in my basement. Later I found out that it was not God's will that I should drink alcohol. I cleared out all of the beer and other alcohol, but when I looked at all of the wine I had made, I thought, "I'm going to just keep that there." I reasoned that I'd keep it just because people say it gets better with age, and besides, I could tell people, "Look what I made." However, every time I went in the basement, I looked up on the wine shelf and thought, "I should sample that-just to see if it has gotten better with age. I don't really want it, but, you know, they say it gets better with age." Months went by, and I kept looking at it. Finally I realized the foolishness of placing temptation in my path and decided that my homemade wine had to go. I threw it all out except one bottle. I don't know why I kept one, but I did. And pretty soon, it too began to tempt me. Finally I looked at that last bottle and thought, "If I really want to be delivered, I've got to get rid of it all." I took the remaining bottle and truly, without any tears, I just dumped it out. At that moment, God gave me a total victory! When I threw out the last bottle, I knew that I would never drink alcohol again. I knew it! I was totally giving it up.
Don't keep drugs in the house and ask to be delivered from drugs. Don't keep alcohol in your home or in your car or at your workplace while asking to be delivered from it. Don't keep pornographic material in the house and say, "Lord, I don't want to lust." If you really want to make the biblical claim "I'm dead to sin" (Romans 6:2, 11), get rid of the things that tempt you and then you will gain the victory!
If we keep wrong things around us, it's a sign that we don't really believe that we can be delivered from them. By our actions, we're saying that we're planning at some point to pick up right where we left off.
Slam the Door
Now the next point is very important in God's plan for victory over bad habits. James 1:12-15 declares: "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him. Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin."
Flip Wilson, a popular TV comedian in the '70s, would often use the famous line "The devil made me do it." The biblical truth, however, is quite opposite. The devil cannot make you do anything. The devil can pressure you. The devil can persecute you. The devil can sorely tempt you, but God has not allowed the devil the ability or power to make you or me sin. For sin to occur, we must first allow the temptation into our minds. The Bible says, "When lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin." James 1:15. It can be a lust for alcohol, a lust for smoking, a lust for honour, a lust for overeating, a lust to be impatient or angry or to use profanities or some other carnal thing. When the lustful thought comes to your mind, a door appears. You can allow the wrong thought in, or you can slam the door shut. Remember that to be tempted by a sinful thought is not sin. To allow the thought to conceive and grow until you cherish it, however, is sinful.
Let's say that I want to quit smoking and the thought "Smoke a cigarette" comes to my mind. If I sit and think: "Hmmm. Will I smoke that cigarette or not? My, that smoke would taste really good right now," what am I doing? I'm allowing the thought to conceive. I'm inviting it into my mind and cherishing it until the thought builds so big that finally in desperation I exclaim, "Oh, I've just got to smoke!" Then, before I know it, that's exactly what I'll do.
Unplug the Power
Many smokers fail to quit because they continually say to themselves: "I'm trying to quit smoking. Look at me; aren't I in a terrible strait? I feel so sorry for myself."
Is it any wonder that they go back to smoking when they're constantly thinking about it? Their failure is in thinking and thinking about the cigarette instead of immediately claiming power from the One who has all power and say, "No! Thank You, Lord, for the victory! I'm dead to it!"
Sinful thoughts that are immediately rejected have no power. Practice it and see! Habits are formed in the mind whenever the same thought pattern travels over and over again through the brain. You build up a "superhighway" that says "yes" to the sinful habit. What we're now attempting to do is say "highway closed" and then build another superhighway that says "no" to the habit. The wonderful thing about this process is that every time the mind is told: "No! Thank You, Lord, for the victory! I'm dead to that habit!" it will accept the new thought pattern more easily the next time, and still more easily the next and the next, until it becomes very easy to resist temptation and the evil habit has no strength. Learning to retrain my bad habits has been one of the most powerful things I have learned since becoming a Christian.
When tempted with an unChristlike thought, reject it immediately. Don't wait five seconds. Don't even wait two seconds. When the thought comes, say, "No! Thank You, Lord, for the victory! I'm dead to it!" and then focus your thoughts on something else. To do this, you must first place something positive in your mind, and the best thing to fill it with is Scripture! When Satan assailed Jesus three times with strong temptations, three times Jesus immediately replied, "It is written." When tempted to do wrong, you and I should also answer from the Word of God: "It is written... ." Focus on God's power; not on your problem. Remember the promise: "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." Philippians 4:13.
The call of God to a world lost in sin is found in Isaiah 45:22: "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth." We so often fail when temptations attack because we concentrate on the evil thought to the point of cherishing it, rather than training our minds to instantly look to the One whose power enables us to shun the thought immediately.
Let us praise God for making a way for Christians to successfully resist the devil's attacks! The preaching of the cross is the power of God to us who are saved (1 Corinthians 1:18). (The original Greek more accurately translates the last part of this verse as "those who are in the process of being saved.")
If we don't have enough power to deal with the temptations we're meeting, then we are not focusing our minds on the cross. The cross was God's remedy for sin. It demonstrated to us just how awful sin really is in God's sight. If we can just look at the cross-the symbol of God's incredible love to us in giving His Son as a sacrifice for our sins-and see what our sins did to Jesus there, we will long to be free from them.
One reason so many of us have such a hard time with our personal sins is that we measure them against what we consider to be larger, more hideous crimes. By comparison, we don't think of them as very bad. We don't use the same measuring stick God uses, so they don't appear in our sight to be sins that we need to flee from as fast as possible.
The ultimate way to quit sinning is to sense what sin costs, and the
best way to sense what it costs is to realize what it costs God. We must
come face to face with the fact that any sin we have labelled "small" is
in reality terrible enough in the sight of God to merit the death of His
Son. Only when we finally comprehend the price that was paid in order for
that sin to be forgiven will it become loathsome in our sight. We will
shun it entirely and find the victory we long for so deeply.