David Jeremiah - How Can I Overcome Temptation?
10 Questions Christians Are Asking
01. How can I be sure of my salvation?
02. How can I overcome temptation?
03. How can I get victory over worry?
04. How can I find forgiveness?
05. Is there only one way to God?
06. Why do Christians have so many problems?
07. Why don't my prayers get answered?
08. Is there a sin God cannot forgive?
09. What is faith?
10. What is the greatest commandment?
How can I overcome temptation? That question reminds me of something the Irish playwright Oscar Wilde once said. He said out loud what a lot of people secretly think. He said, "I can resist anything but temptation". That's a humorous statement that reflects a serious challenge we all face, how to say no to temptation. Or to put it in the Bible's practical terms, what is the way of escape? Hello, I'm David Jeremiah. Resisting temptation is easier when we understand its source and how to defeat it. In my series "10 Questions Christians Are Asking," today's message will provide a biblical strategy for achieving the victory you desire. My message is called "How Can I Overcome Temptation"? And it's coming up on today's edition of Turning Point.
A pastor had parked his car at a no-parking zone in a large city because he was short of time and he couldn't find a space with a meter. So he put a note under the windshield wiper that read, "I have circled the block 100 times. If I don't park here, I'll miss my appointment. Forgive us our trespasses". When he returned to the car, he found a citation from a police officer, along with this note. "I have circled this block for 10 years. If I don't give you a ticket, I'll lose my job. Lead us not into temptation".
In the book of 1 Corinthians, we have a verse of Scripture that is so powerful when it comes to this issue that we all face. So, I'm going to put the verse up on the screen, and I'd like you to read it with me out loud. "No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it". Here for our benefit is Paul's answer to the question of temptation and how to deal with it. He begins in this verse with a reminder to us that temptation is the common experience of every believer, the common experience of temptation. He says there is no temptation that has overtaken you except one that is common to man.
In other words, everybody is tempted. There isn't such a thing as a Christian who's never tempted. You may have come to church today thinking because I'm preaching on temptation, I'm going to tell you how to get rid of it. I can't do that because it's not possible. Every single person who's ever walked the face of the earth has been tempted, and that even includes Jesus Christ. For these are the words of Hebrews 4:15, "For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin". So, to be like Christ in this world, we must more or less be tempted because he was tempted.
Rick Warren says in one of his sermons that since God intends to make you like Jesus, he will take you through the same experiences Jesus went through. That includes loneliness, temptation, stress, criticism, rejection, and a lot of other problems. So temptation will always be a part of our life. This is not a sermon about how to get rid of temptation. This is a sermon about how to deal with it, how to be overcomers when it comes to temptation. So, I'm going to read the verse again, this time through the paraphrase of Kenneth Taylor in The Living Bible. This is what he says as he deals with this verse, "But remember this, the wrong desires that come into your life aren't anything new and different. Many others have faced exactly the same problems before you". So, I don't know if you take comfort in the fact that you're not alone in this, but you should. We're all in this boat together. We're all humans. We all face temptation. Nobody is exempt, so I can be absolutely certain that this is not a sermon for you so you can share it with your friends. This is a sermon for you, for every one of you, and for me as well, the common experience of temptation.
Now, here's the second thing you need to know from 1 Corinthians 10:13, that while temptation is a common experience, it takes place in a controlled environment. Listen to what the Lord Jesus says through Paul. "But God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able". In other words, temptation itself is not evil, we've already discovered that. Jesus was tempted. And if temptation is evil, then we don't have a Savior because he was the sinless Son of God, and the sinless Son of God faced temptation. So to be tempted is not evil. To yield to temptation is evil.
Maybe you thought, "Well, if I get to a certain level of spiritual maturity, then I won't have to deal with temptation". Not. If you get to a level of spiritual maturity, your temptations will be more subtle, but they will not be any less fierce. Temptation will follow us all the way until we get to heaven, and we best learn how to deal with it if we're going to be victorious. It's also true, men and women, that we should never blame God for temptations. God does not tempt us. He may test us, but he never tempts us. Here is the Word of God from James chapter 1, "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he himself tempt anyone". You see, it's the devil who tempts us. In fact, twice in the Bible he's called by that name, the tempter, in Matthew 4 and 1 Thessalonians 3.
So, if you've been a Christian for very long, you know the tempter. He's visited you on occasion. The Bible says he roars like a lion, going to and fro, seeking whom he may devour. That means he probably passed you sometime this week, and me too. "But God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able". What does that mean? When God allows temptation to come into your life or into mine, he promises to limit the kind of test and the intensity of it. He knows what our limitations are. He never allows us to be tempted beyond what we can bear. Remember, temptation is not based upon what you think you could handle, but on what God knows you can handle. Paul says several times in his writings that in every situation that we find ourselves as followers of Christ, we are never without the delivering power of the Almighty.
Now, the third thing we learn from 1 Corinthians 10:13 is that not only is temptation the common experience of all of us, and it happens in a controlled environment, but if you read the Scripture carefully, it also teaches us that there is a promise of certain escape, the certain escape from temptation. Notice 1 Corinthians 10:13, "But with the temptation, God will make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it". Now, look up here for a moment. Whenever we are tempted, God sees the temptation from the beginning to the end. He doesn't enter temptation the way we do, wondering how it's going to turn out. He already knows where it's going. The moment the test begins, the way out is always already available. He doesn't wait to see how we're doing. He provides a means of escape from that temptation at the very beginning. The way out of temptation is always there. In the midst of the temptation that Satan has allowed to bring to our lives, God provides a way of escape.
Hebrews 2:18 says that since he has suffered, being tempted, he is able to aid us who are also tempted. Jesus has been where we are. He knows what this is all about. He's ahead of us in this game, and he will always be there to provide for us what we need. And the escape in the midst of testing is found in the person of Jesus Christ himself. He's already been down this road, he's experienced temptation, and he wants to help us in the midst of our temptation. What the Word of God says is that in every temptation, there will always be a way of escape. When you see it, when you sense it, you better take it. I've talked to hundreds of people about this subject. And almost every time, I hear this story, "Dr. Jeremiah, there was a moment when I really knew this was wrong, and I almost walked away from it, but I didn't". And now, look what's happened.
I read a story this week about the war that took place in Bosnia in the late 1990s that was made famous by the escape of Scott O'Grady. The downed American flyer evaded capture for days in enemy territory until rescue helicopters found him. And when the helicopters landed in the clearing near where O'Grady was hiding, he did not relax in the brush and wait for the pilot to come and get him. He shook off his fatigue, fought through the bushes, drew his weapon out, and with every ounce of energy he had, he ran to the escape that had been provided for him. His actions parallel the engagement God requires of us in spiritual warfare. We should not assume that, because God promises to provide a way out of temptation, that we have no role in our own rescue. God provides the way, but we have to take the way.
And so, when you're in the midst of temptation, and I'm not going to describe any particular temptation today because it runs the gamut of everything you and I face from one day to the next, there will always be a moment in that temptation where God has provided for you a way out. It is not that the way is not provided, it is the fact that we do not take that way when it is provided. So, in 1 Corinthians 10:13, we learn these three things. That you're not alone in your temptation, it's a common experience. Temptation will never be too much, God will never allow that to happen. And he will always provide a way for you to be victorious over it if you will look for it.
Now, having said those things, I want to kind of finish this up with some practical principles that come not only from 1 Corinthians, but from other places in the Bible. I want to give you as much ammunition to be victorious over temptation as I can pack into the few moments that I have in front of you today. So, here goes. Recognize the possibility of it. "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall". In other words, right before the verse on temptation, we are given a principle, and that principle is be careful of an arrogant attitude about your own invulnerability. The Bible says when you think you stand, then you're the most vulnerable. And, you know, the Bible also gives us some illustrations of people who are at a pinnacle of success, and in that moment, fell into temptation.
Proverbs 16:18 puts it this way, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before the fall". Pride is Satan's number one sin. Pride will get you in trouble about as much as anything that you allow into your life because as soon as you get up on that mountain, you're about to tumble. And that is the record of the Word of God, and that is the history of mankind. Number two, did you know that you should pray about temptation before it ever happens? Request help in advance of temptation. I found two Scriptures in the New Testament that tell us that you should pray about temptation before it ever happens. First one's in the Lord's Prayer, have you ever read that? "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one". We should pray every day about temptation in our devotional time. "Lord, today I'm going to face something that the enemy's going to throw in my way to try to get me off-course. Please help me to be sensitive to it, and to see it coming, and to be victorious over it". And then, in Matthew, we're told, "Watch and pray, that you," what? "Enter not into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak," and we can all say an amen to that.
So, pray about this in your devotional time. The reason many of us fail in battle is because we wait for the crisis to get spiritually involved. And let me just say one other thing about this, and I've told young people this ever since I was a youth pastor back in my first days out of seminary. This might sound a little bit crude to you, but it gets the point across. The place to decide what you believe about premarital sex is not in the steamy backseat of a car. You better have that conviction in your heart long before you get yourself into any situation where compromise is a possibility. Decide what you believe about the important things of life before the crisis comes. Pray about temptation before it ever happens. Ask God to give you victory over the temptation you don't even know what it is yet. And that's what the Scripture says. Recognize the possibility of it, request help in advance of it.
And here's one I love, "Resist the devil and he'll flee from you". James 4:7 says, "Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you". Do you remember how Jesus resisted the devil? He quoted Scripture to him. And the Bible says when he got done, Satan left him. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. But notice, submit to God, and resist the devil and he will flee from you. The Bible doesn't say that this is a passive thing we're dealing with. We're to be actively involved in dealing with temptation. And then notice number four, retreat from certain kinds of temptation. What does that mean? That means that the Lord Jesus has, through the Holy Spirit, given us some instruction in his book about certain kinds of temptation.
There are three things in the Bible that we are told to run away from. One of them is immorality, the other is greed, and the other one is idolatry. Never try to fight idolatry, immorality, or greed. Get as far away from it as you can. You say, "Why is that"? Because those sins particularly seem to have an incredible power over humans. And when you try, especially if you do it in your own strength to stand up against it, if you don't run from it, you will be victimized by it. Don't say, "Well, that's cowardly, I'm going to stand and fight". Well, I'm telling you what the word of God says. Don't mess with those three sins. Get as far away from.
I told young people years ago the best way to fight immorality is the finest pair of Adidas you can buy. And then the Bible tells us you should remove any means of sin far from you. Proverbs 4:14 says, "Do not enter the path of the wicked, do not walk in the way of evil. Avoid it, don't travel on it; turn away from it and pass on". Romans 13:14 says, "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts". Men and women, instead of setting ourselves up for failure, we should get rid of the things in our lives that cause us to be defeated.
One of my favorite stories that I've told you I think once before is about a young man who was trying to get rid of his addiction to donuts. He was overweight, and he knew that he needed to lose weight, and he could just scarf down donuts like crazy, five, six, seven at a time. So he finally got away from the donut shop, got away from donuts, and he lost some weight, and he was doing really great. One day, he showed up at work and he had a donut. And his buddy said to him, "What's going on, man? I thought you gave that up". He said, "Well, I woke up this morning, and I had a real temptation for a donut. So I prayed to the Lord, and I said to the Lord, 'If the parking place right in front of the donut shop is open when I drive by, I'll know it's all right for me to have a donut.'" And he said, "Sure enough, the 11th time around the block, there it was".
Now, you see what I'm saying? I mean, we all get that, don't we? You say, "Well, why was he tempted"? Well, first of all, don't drive by the donut shop, or don't drive by the porn shop, or don't go where temptation will find you. Use a little common sense, and protect yourself against the things that you find yourself vulnerable to. Let me just cut right to the end of all of this and tell you that you need to refocus your life. What I've learned is this, is that a temptation must be overcome by a passion greater than the temptation itself.
Someone has said it's the dog principle. If you've ever trained a dog to obey, you will know this scene. A bit of meat or bread is placed on the floor near the dog, and the master says, "No," which the dog knows means that he must not touch it. The dog will usually take his eyes off of the food because the temptation to disobey would be too great, and instead he will fix his eyes on the master's face. That's the lesson of the dog. Always look to the master's face. And may I say to you, especially the man I know who perhaps faced this kind of temptation that's been in the background of this message, not only should you keep the face of your heavenly master in front of you, keep the face of your bride in front of you. Keep the pictures of your children and your grandchildren in front of you, and ask yourself really, "Is it worth ruining everything in my life for a moment of pleasure when, in doing it, I will deny the master who I love, my friends and my family who look to me for an example"?
The Bible says we don't have to be victimized by temptation. Almighty God in this book, and I've just given you the highlights of it, he's given us so much truth to help us be victorious. And the Bible says we have not because we ask not. Perhaps it's better said we have not because we do not. God wants us to be victorious. And I know in your heart, you want to be victorious. And maybe today, I've said something that will help you deal with some particular issue in your life. I pray to God that I have.
Here's the final bottom-line truth. Be not hearers of the Word, but doers of the Word. Don't just come and say, "Yeah, Dr. Jeremiah made sense, he said some good stuff". But I said something that was particularly for you, and you don't do it? I can't make you do anything. I can just tell you this is God's holy book, given to us for holiness and righteousness. And if we follow it, we will find joy in obedience. If we disregard it, we're headed back into the cavern of temptation and sin.