When Christ has set us free why would we ever want to stay locked in the prison of our sins? Every one of us has a sin nature we inherited from Adam. With this sin nature we will die without the reality of heaven. Even though our sin nature causes us problems, the biggest problem is that all of us are born on death row. Jesus Christ took our place on the cross. We should have been there. The modern version of the cross is the electric chair. Jesus took our place of execution, so we could go free. We no longer have to pay the penalty of death for our sins. Christ has done this for us.
I wish I could tell you that after you meet Christ your sin nature goes away forever. The problem is that you can still live in a prison if you don’t understand how to defeat temptation. Many people still live in bondage to sin even though they are alive in Christ. Today we will examine temptation and discuss how to overcome it.
First, we need to recognize the presence of temptation in our lives. Salvation gave us the pardon. We no longer have to go to the electric chair or the cross. We have been freed from this prison of death, but sin will keep knocking at our doors as a Christians until the day we die. The reality is that sin nature is still a part of our struggle. The presence of temptation is in us. Sin operates through temptation. If we were not temped, we would not sin. We are all tempted, and we are not free of the nagging influence of temptation until we go to heaven. You and I can defeat temptation. Even though it has a daily presence in our lives, temptation does not have to rule us.
Christianity is about living free from sinand livingfor God. It is about living outside of sin’s prison and bondage by overcoming temptation and therefore presenting our bodies and our minds as instruments of righteousness to God. This will lead to our spiritual maturity. Jesus did not die just to give us a free pass out of hell. Jesus died so we could live in freedom from sin while we live. He does not want us to live in a prison. Take a look at the story of Lazarus. He died in John 11. He was one of Jesus’ close friends. He was the brother of Mary and Martha. Jesus was out of town while Lazarus was on his death bed. Jesus didn’t come for four days, and Lazarus died. Mary and Martha thought that if Jesus would have come sooner, their brother would not have died. Jesus did eventually come, and He went to the tomb. He told Lazarus to come forth, and Lazarus came out with his hands and feet bound in linens and his face wrapped in cloth. Jesus instructed the people to unbind him and set him free. Lazarus was a man Jesus gave life to once again. He was not free when he came out the tomb–he was held captive. He was not free to move around. He couldn’t move. This is how it often is with the presence of sin. So many times Christians are wrapped in these strips of sin because of temptation, and they are unable to get free. The presence of and yielding to temptation has taken them captive.
Second, beyond the presence of temptation, we must understand the process of it. Temptation is an enticement or invitation to sin because of some perceived benefit. Sin is doing something outside the will of God or in violation of the Word of God. We think the sin will give us pleasure. We think God is trying to keep us from something good. The truth is that sin is always destructive and in its final form it leads to death. Let us be clear: Temptation is NOT sin. It is not a sin to be tempted. Even Jesus Christ was tempted! We can be tempted to do the worst thing imaginable in our minds and hearts, and if we don’t do it it is not sin. There is a lot of pressure to sin. Preacher Billy Graham once said, “You cannot prevent a bird from landing on your head, but you can prevent the bird from building a nest.” Eve was tempted in Genesis 3. James 1 talks about the process of temptation leading to death. We will look at Matthew 4:1-11:
“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’ Jesus answered, ‘It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘If you will bow down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’ Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.”
In Hebrews we learn that Christ was tempted in every respect as us. The only difference is that Jesus never yielded one time to the temptation to sin. The first temptation Jesus faced in this passage was to eat while He was supposed to be fasting. This would have been outside the will of God. The second temptation was for Jesus to jump off the pinnacle and see whether the angels would deliver him. The third temptation was for Jesus to worship Satan in exchange for being the ruler of the world right then and there. In His humanity, these were probably all real desires within Christ’s heart. The interesting thing is that two of the three temptations were not to do something evil. There is no sin in taking bread if you are hungry, is there? Except that it was not in God’s timing. There is no sin in asking God to apply a scripture to you if you are in jam, right? Except that the Bible says we should not put God to the test. These things weren’t bad things, but they were outside the will of God. It is the same way in our lives as it was in Christ’s life.
Here is how the process of temptation works:
First, it activates a desire within each of us to do something wrong. Temptation plays on some inner desire inside of us to have something or to do something we shouldn’t have or do. Without desire there is no temptation and without temptation there is no sin. Often temptation is not to cheat on your spouse or your taxes. It is often about wanting to do good things in a normal way except that they aren’t right for you. We must push the pause button and analyze our desires. If we cannot do this task, we are likely to let our desires overtake us.
Second, temptation always speaks through deceptive voices. When temptation comes to you, it always comes to you through a voice in your head. It is not an audible voice, but it is still an actual voice. It speaks to you and says something to you in your thought processes. It promises something juicy when God says it is going to hurt you. The first thing this voice does is to raise doubt. We respond saying, “Eh, it’s not so bad.” Or, “Did God really just say that?” Maybe we even say, “Well, God is trying to keep something good from me.” As soon as the doubt is established in our minds by that voice, the voice will then tell us it will give us something good if we just listen to it. It will try to present an advantage to us. The whole thing is lie! In the end, the act of yielding to temptation will cause a lot of problems. This voice is always there crying out in our minds. We actually have three voices inside of us. The first voice is the flesh. It is our bodies. Bodies love to get things that perhaps they shouldn’t. The body calls out saying it wants this or that. The other voice is the devil. He is the ultimate tempter. He cries out for us to elevate ourselves. He wants us to take control of our lives. He tells us we can do a better job of controlling our lives than God ever could. He tempts us to become masters of our own lives. These voices are so loud and powerful. We all have them. The third voice is that of the Holy Spirit. The voice of God. The tempter says, “That won’t hurt you. Go ahead and do it.” The Holy Spirit says, “If you do that thing, in the end you will get hurt. And our flesh may say, “Everybody is doing it. Go ahead and do it too.” The tempter says, “Just one more time. You can quit anytime you want to do so.” The Holy Spirit says, “If you could have quit, you would have done so by now.” These voices scream at our desires to do the very things we should not do. Christ refused to listen to the voices, and he won the victory. We have the ability to do the same.
Third, temptation forces us to make a decision to either indulge or to decline. We have a choice: Will we allow our inner voices to take over our desires and yield or will we wage war against the very thing that is threatening our well being? Every one of us will make a decision. Our decision will be to move away from sin or to move right into it. What we decide is a strong indicator of where we spiritually stand. If you become practiced at resisting temptation, the Word of God says you will become a maturing Christian. Hebrews 5:14 says, “But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” To indulge in temptation as a general response means that you have moved into a prison. You are enslaved by something that has come to you through temptation. In 2 Peter 2:19 it says, “They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity–for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.” Making wrong decision after wrong decision after wrong decision leads to addictions and unholy lifestyles. A continual track record of bad decisions leads right back into prison.
As Christians, we must learn to prevail over temptation.
First, we must identify our illicit desires. It helps to verbalize them and to be honest. The flesh and the devil already know what they are and have been coming to you over and over and over again. The avenues of temptation were no surprise to Christ. He knew he had the same problems we do–the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. If you want victory over temptation, you need to be honest with the areas of your impulses and your urges. You must admit your desires are problems for you. Maybe it is the desire to overspend, overeat, tell a lie, or to gossip to someone. There is a whole laundry list of these things. You must verbalize them. Tell them to a trusted friend and admit your areas of weakness.
Second, we must match scriptures to those illicit desires. Once you know your weaknesses and admit them, then find one or two scriptures that speak directly to those desires. If you get into the Word of God and listen to scriptures about the desires of your life that are not good for you, it shows you are serious and you will be able to have victory over temptation. If you are not willing to arm yourselves with the powerful Word of God in those very areas that will bring you down, you should hold out very little hope that you will be successful in getting out of temptation’s prison. Christ knew his areas of temptation. When those temptations came, He was prepared with scripture. Jesus knew the power of the Word of God.
Third, when we are tempted we should speak quickly the appropriate scripture for the specific temptation. When you feel that desire or you hear that voice, that is your cue to speak the appropriate scripture aloud. Jesus said out loud, “It is written…” Jesus took the sword of the Spirit, and He jabbed it into the face of the temptation and He was able to prevail. Jesus didn’t sit around and think about it for awhile or say He would pray about it. Jesus immediately spoke the scriptures. You have a small window of time to have victory with the scriptures. If you take your time you will lose.
Fourth and finally, if you do not seem to get the victory, command the devil to leave you if the temptation persists. With the third temptation of Christ, Jesus said, “Away from me, Satan!” And the devil did leave Him. All of this is part of spiritual warfare. The number one thing the devil is trying to do is to keep you in prison by having you yield to your urges and fall into sin and to become neutralized in your Christian life. There are times when you will feel so assailed by Satan and temptation that you just need to verbally command Satan to leave you. The devil won’t take no for an answer. He will come back at a more opportune time. Call your trusted friends and tell them you need help, and they should support you. Temptation will not take a vacation. It will lay back for awhile and wait to come when you are not expecting it. You need reinforcements. If you command the devil to leave, be sure you are not on his territory. If you find yourselves in the place of temptation and your desires are activated, you will not be successful. Why? You are already in his territory where he is working. Don’t stand right where you should not be. This may require getting rid of some things in your house because you keep on falling.
We are all tempted. Some of us reading this message are experiencing victory, and I praise for God you. Others of you are feeling trapped, locked up in prison, and losing the battle. Temptation doesn’t automatically go away when we become Christians. The question is: How will we respond when we are tempted? Jesus took our place on the cross. He also gives us power to get out of prison. Be free from the stronghold of temptation today!