By Erin Bird,
This past week, I was talking on the phone with a friend who is struggling with a pornography addiction. He’s battled this addiction for years, and is frankly tired of losing, so he is fighting with a renewed vigor.
His boldness and sacrifice is inspiring to me (he’s taking some radical steps to fight his addiction), so I left the conversation encouraged. But at the same time, I’ve known people like my friend who have fought an addiction (whether it be pornography, alcohol, overeating, over spending, or whatever you can think of) only to give in again.
This got me wondering – how does a Jesus-follower successfully fight temptation?
Fight Like Jesus
The writer of the book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus was tempted just like any other human. And like us, those temptations caused Him suffering.
We vividly see this suffering-from-temptation in Matthew 4, when Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness. After the 40 days, Satan showed up, trying to destroy the Trinity by attacking the Son. Because He was fully human, Jesus was fully tempted. And yet, he was able to walk victoriously away from this spiritual battle. How Jesus accomplished this feat gives Jesus-followers some insight on what to do in the face of temptation.
Take a moment to go read Matthew 4:1-11, then join me back here for four things you can do in your fight with temptation.
The first thing I want to point out in Jesus’ battle is the realization that temptation is not a sin.
Peter tells us in his first letter that Jesus never sinned. And yet, we clearly see in Matthew 4, the Son of Man was strongly tempted. Which means being tempted is not a sin in and of itself.
This should encourage you! Think about it: when you are tempted to:
- have yet another drink…
- grab yet another dessert…
- spend yet more money you don’t have…
- look at yet more illicit images on your phone…
- tell yet another lie…
it doesn’t mean you’ve already lost the battle. It merely means you’re human. The temptation is not the sin. Giving into the temptation is.
The next thing that jumps out at me in Matthew 4 is how every time Satan tempts Jesus, Jesus responds with Scripture.
Ephesians 6:17 describes the Scriptures as “the sword of the Spirit.” So to slay your temptations, wield the Word.
For example, you could memorize 1 Corinthians 10:13. Then when you feel an urge to give in to temptation, you can say aloud:
“No temptation has overtaken me that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let me be tempted beyond my ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that I may be able to endure it.”
There are so many other verses you could memorize:
- 1 Corinthians 6:19-20,
- 1 Corinthians 10:31,
- Galatians 2:20,
- or even the section in Ephesians 6 about the armor of God (which Paul talks about right after explaining how we are in a spiritual battle).
Be like Jesus. Use Scripture to fight temptation!
Next, I want you to see from Matthew 4 that each temptation from Satan was actually an attack on Jesus’ identity. He didn’t just say to the Christ, “If you’re hungry…” or “If you want power…” Satan actually said, “If you are the Son of God…”
Likewise, when you are tempted to sin, it is actually an attack on your spiritual identity. Just as he did to Eve in the Garden of Eden, Satan is trying to get you to believe that God is not enough, and that you need the porn or the beer or the new gadget or the nightly ice cream in order to be fulfilled. But if your life is centered on Christ, then Jesus truly is enough. Your identity is fulfilled in the Gospel, and you don’t need to give in to temptation in order to be “more.”
This fourth and final thought isn’t overtly in the text, so realize I am inferring this last point. But it would seem to me that Jesus was praying all 40 days of fasting before the temptations came, he prayed during the time of temptation, and he prayed after he was tempted. The Son of God was so connected to the Father, prayer would have been as natural to Jesus as breathing.
Through Christ, you also have access to the Father. Hebrews 4:16 tells us to approach God’s throne with confidence. So when you are feeling overwhelmed by temptation, talk to God about it. Come with faith that the Father will hear you and help you in the midst of your suffering. After all, the same power that raised Christ from the dead now dwells in you. So pray and allow God to fight the battle for you.
I know personally fighting temptation is hard. So I’m well aware that even if you try to apply the four points above, you might find yourself failing far more often than you want.
But if you do fail, know there is grace. “If you confess your sin, God is able and just to forgive you of that sin and cleanse you from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) Just because you screwed up yesterday doesn’t mean you have to give in today. So begin afresh. Seek the Father. Keep your eyes on Christ. Wield the Word, pray through the Spirit, and know who you are in Christ. And over time, you will find the temptations weakening in light of the glory of Jesus!