Overcoming Temptation

by Tim Isbell

Even though we who follow Christ are still tempted, God offers the power or a way of escape so that we can be victorious over temptation - even if it is a sin of longstanding addiction.

Teaching on temptation

The good news: God gives us the freedom to choose to follow him or not. The bad news: this freedom leaves us open to temptation. To complicate matters, Satan, the leader of the evil spirits and powers in the world, tries to persuade us to follow any impure desire buried deep within us. At the same time, God’s Holy Spirit helps Christians choose holiness in the face of even great temptation. Fortunately, the Bible teaches that God will eventually destroy Satan.

Being tempted to sin is not at all the same as sinning. It is natural for all of us, even the most devout Christ-followers, to struggle with temptation. Sometimes it is precisely because we are devout and trying to help others follow God that Satan especially targets us. Even Jesus was tempted at the outset of his ministry, but he did not sin. In order to overcome temptation, we must trust God to satisfy our desires in his way and time. Satan relentlessly works to persuade us that we can satisfy our deepest fits of hunger without God. When we give in to this temptation, we invariably discover that the sin failed to satisfy our hunger anyway.

Many who come into the Christian faith bring along discouraging addictions such as credit card abuse, inability to turn off the TV, gossip, or laziness. For others, the addiction involves drugs, alcohol or food. Still others are addicted to suggestive sexual material of various levels, sometimes even sexual promiscuity. The list is extensive. Eventually, we realize that we are subject to these same temptations and our first instinct is to try to overcome them with self-discipline. After times of failure, Satan sometimes tries to convince us that the addiction isn’t so bad, or that it’s just the way we are and we’ll have to limp along hiding it the best we can, or that God doesn't really love us after all.

But that’s not true. God does love us and does want us to live free of continually succumbing to sinful behaviors and attitudes.  And he helps us do so. Overcoming addictions involves repentance and developing a strong private worship life. In addition, the Bible tells us that to overcome addiction we must first admit that we have it. We must admit it to ourselves and to God – and we also must admit it to at least one other Christian who we ask to pray for us and who we invite to hold us accountable. Many of us stop short of involving another person because of pride. Another reason is because of the shame of disclosing our daily struggle with such an ugly sin even as we claim to live as a Christian. Another reason some of us hold on to our private sin is that we enjoy it too much to give it up - even for the Lord who died to set us free. Another reason is that we don’t really believe that the God of all creation is able to willing to free us from habitual sin. These are simply excuses for failing to let the God of the Bible be the God of our life. When we are willing to give up all of ourselves and fully follow the leading of the Spirit of Jesus, we will find release from habitual sin.

A biblical example of dealing with temptation: Luke 4.1-13 

This is the account of Satan’s temptation of Jesus, and of Jesus’ victory over it. The temptation occurs right after a spiritual high point in Jesus’ life when he was baptized and the Holy Spirit came upon him. Many of us have the same experience: right after a spiritual high point, we experience our toughest temptations. Henri Nouwen provides a superb teaching on this passage in his book In The Name of Jesus. Here he teaches that the first temptation is to be relevant, the second is to be powerful, and the third is to be spectacular. Nouwen develops a healthy Christian response to each of these fundamental temptations.

Questions to help you in this area of temptation

The source of temptation:

1. In the account of the first sin, describe how the serpent tempted Eve? (Gen 3.1-5)

2. Who is the adversary who opposes our walking with God? (1 Peter 5.8-10)

3. What is the reward when we endure temptation without sinning? (James 1.12)

4. Does God ever tempt us? (James 1.13)

5. Reflection question: How often does temptation break into your world by coming to where you are, as opposed to you going to or hanging out at a place where you know temptation resides?

Progression of temptation to sin:

1. What is the process which moves us from temptation into sin? (James 1.14-15)

2. When did David’s temptation turn into sin? (2 Sam 11)

3. Temptation becomes sin when we decide in our ___________ to consider following through on a sinful path (Matthew 5.21-22, 27-28).

4. How do we overcome temptation? (Luke 22.40)

5. Reflection question: Materialism, pride, laziness, anger/bitterness, inappropriate sexuality, envy, gluttony, and lying are the eight most common areas of temptation in our society. Which are the most difficult three for you?

How God helps us:

1. With what does God bless us when we persevere under trial? (James 1.12)

2. Drawing near to God helps us to overcome temptation. When we resist temptation, what do we do, what does Satan do, and what does God do? (James 4.7-8).

3. In what two ways does God help us when we are tempted? (1 Cor 10:13)

4. Why doesn’t God turn his back on us when we fail to overcome temptation and do sin? (1John 2.1-2)

5. What attitude can we have when we face trials and temptations? (James 1.2)

6. Reflection question: What are the most effective things you have found so far to help you recognize temptation and be victorious over temptations?

Dealing with addictions.

1. What two laws are at war within us? Who can rescue us? (Romans 7.21-25)

2. When Satan uses our addictions against us he wants us to believe that indulging one more time will satisfy us, and then we can quit. What does the writer of Proverbs 27.20 think about that?

3. What are we to do with our old self? What is the nature of our new self? (Eph 4.22-24)

4. How can we stand against the forces of Satan? (Eph 6.10-20)

5. What is in us that overcomes the temptation of the world? (1 Jn 4.4)

6. How can others help us in our struggle with temptation? (James 5:16)

7. Reflection question: What is it that keeps you from sharing your areas of temptation with a trusted Christian friend?

Memory verse

1 Corinthians 10.13

Optional reading


Hart, Archibald D., Healing for Life's Hidden Addictions. Ann Arbor: Servant Pubs, 1990.
Nouwen, Henri, In the Name of Jesus. NY: Crossroad, 1991.

Peck, M. Scott, People of the Lie (especially pages 202-211). NY: Touchstone, Simon & Shuster, 1983.



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