Soon after my conversion [see The Return of the Prodigal] I looked for role models and guides that I could follow, but was unable to find any that I found satisfactory. I have never been the sort to compromise on standards and I discovered that most leaders - even highly "anointed" ones - fell far short of my expectations. I was to later decide my high expectations of leaders was rather unchristian because it involved passing judgment on them, but at that point in time it is perhaps just as well that I was looking for somebody perfect, because it made me turn my eyes toward Jesus - who, as I discovered, was right within me. In Jesus I found everything that I wanted in a man whom I could follow - and be like. As it was a decision both prompted and ratified by the Holy Spirit, I ignored all caustic remarks about my blasphemous desire to be like Jesus, knowing that I didn't want to be like Jesus, the God, but Jesus, the man.
It wasn't surprising then, that when it came to conquering sin I looked to Jesus to see what he did. There are those who say that Jesus couldn't sin because he was God, which is a lot of rubbish because if he couldn't sin, the devil wouldn't have bothered tempting him. He didn't sin, of course, and it was how he resisted temptation to live a sinless life that interested me. And so I turned to a story in the Gospel of Matthew that describes it. These events take place immediately after Jesus's baptism.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’"
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and on their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is 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; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him. (Matthew 4:1-11)
Three times Jesus was tempted. Three times Jesus conquered temptation - by quoting Scripture! The first reply was from Deuteronomy 8:3, the second from Deuteronomy 6:16, and the third from Deuteronomy 6:13. Jesus must really have liked that book!
I decided to see if this strategy would work for me, and wasn't too surprised that it did. And it will work for you as well. A very common temptation will illustrate how you can make it so. The devil, let's say, tempts you with a night of sensual pleasure with a woman who is more than a little attractive - and willing. You answer, "It is written: "Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself." (1 Corinthians 6:18) If you believe, as it says in the verse that follows, that "your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God", you will have even more reason not to give in to temptation, because you would not want to defile God's temple. There are equally powerful verses right through the Bible about avoiding sexual immorality, but this serves the purpose for now.
The power, of course, does not come from merely quoting the words, but by applying them in our life with the full knowledge and understanding that Scripture is the Word of God himself, and obedience is unconditional. A thorough knowledge of Scripture is, therefore, quite essential if we wish to use it as a weapon against temptation.
Be prepared for the devil's knowledge of Scripture though. He often uses it to manipulate us, and should our own knowledge of Scripture be limited, he will use the Word of God itself to cause us to sin, as he tried doing with Jesus in the desert. A very common instance of him doing this is when he uses the miracle Jesus performed at the wedding at Cana to tempt people into drinking. "Drink," he says, "For it is written: 'Jesus revealed his glory by changing water into wine.'" But if you know your Scripture well you will say, "It is also written: 'Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit" (Ephesians 5:18)
You will find in Scripture all you need to defend yourself against the attacks of the evil one and the more you absorb Scripture, the easier your task will become in fighting temptation. For those occasions when I don't have a relevant Scripture passage that I can call immediately to mind, there are three verses I always hold close to me.
Little children, you are from God....for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)
If you ever doubt you have the power to defeat the devil, let this verse remove it. The one in you is the Holy Spirit, the force that created the world and breathed life into everything. The one of the world is the devil, and powerful though he might seem, he is no match against the power of God whose child you are and who dwells in you! This knowledge itself should give you the courage you need to send him back again to hell every time he comes out of his slime pit to tempt you.
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)
The devil doesn't have patience; it is his one major weakness and one that you can exploit. True, there are times when he will come at you from all sides for days (and, to make it worse, these are times when it will seem like God has deserted you), but for the most part he will give up and go away if he sees that you aren't going to give in. Just like he gave up with Jesus in that desert. Three attempts is about his limit, unless he sees you weakening, in which case he'll hang onto you with the ferocity of a pit bull. Get down on your knees and start praying!
No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
Understand this, absorb this, and let it give you the confidence you need to overcome temptation. Temptation doesn't come from God, but he permits it for reasons that we won't go into here. He will not, however, permit you to be tempted more than you can bear. If you feel that you are being tempted beyond your ability to resist, realize that you are probably underestimating the power of God within you. You can overcome the temptation facing you. God promises it is so. If, however, you find yourself succumbing, look for the way out that God has placed. There always is one!
A thorough experiential knowledge of Scripture is the way to resist temptation. But an intimate fellowship with God in prayer also results in enormous spiritual strength, as does a total surrender of yourself to him. Guarding your thought life is also very important in resisting temptation. If you do not think about doing anything sinful, you will not do it. We will talk about these - and other ways of resisting temptation - another time, but for now open your Bible and start studying.
May the Spirit be with you.