In addition to having a biblical understanding of the character and effects of temptation and sin, you need to have
Have a Biblical Approach to Temptation and Sin
First, you need to recognize the sources of sin and temptation. As a believer, especially if you’re a new believer, you may wonder “If Jesus saved me from the power and penalty of sin, why do I still sin? Why am I still tempted to sin?? Why do I still struggle with sin???” Good questions!
As a Christian, you still struggle with temptation and sin because:
You Still Have A Sinful Nature! As an unbeliever your life was oriented toward sin; your nature (what you were like, what you wanted) was oriented away from God. When you became a Christian, you received a new nature (a new character, set of desires) oriented toward God (see Rom 8:5-8; 2 Cor 5:17; 2 Pet 1:4). The good news is that your old, sinful nature does not dominate you anymore—it no longer has complete control of your life (Rom 6:6-14). The “bad” news is that the lusts of the flesh (sinful nature) continually “wage war against your soul” (1 Pet 2:11). Until you are glorified, you still have the capacity to sin; those desires and leanings to sin are still there. However, since Christ is in you, you now have the capacity to please God. Thus the lifelong struggle!
You Still Live In A World Dominated By Sin! Your “old” sinful desires seek fulfillment through the things of this sinful world (Gal 5:17; Eph 2:2). Your “new” Christ-like desires seek the things of the Lord (Rom 8:5-6). There is nothing in the world that pleases Christ, so your godly desires will never find anything that will please Him (Titus 2:11-14; 2 Pet 1:4). You live in a world that is entirely opposed to the things of God (Jas 4:4; 1 John 2:16), so it is a struggle to resist its temptations and allurements!
You Still Face The Sinful Schemes Of The Devil! As long as you are alive in this world, you are in Satan’s territory (2 Cor 4:4; Eph 2:2) and need to struggle, resist, and stand firm against him (Eph 6:11-17). Thankfully, because Christ dwells within you can successfully resist Satan because Christ is greater than he is (1 Pet 5:9; 1 John 4:4; cf. John 17:15)!
Recognizing the sources of temptation and sin is important so you will be aware of your own sinful desires and the sinful temptations Satan will assault you with while living in this world.
Recognizing where temptation comes from may be a bit discouraging though—you could be thinking, “Outside of me there’s an extremely powerful supernatural being who’s using everything in this ungodly world to get me to sin, and I still have a sinful desires and leanings that I have to struggle within myself. Ahhhh! I can’t do this by myself! Help!”
You are right—you can’t do it by yourself! Just as there was nothing you could do to save you from sin’s power and penalty, you can’t successfully live a holy life on your own.
There were false teachers in Galatia instructing believers that while Jesus saved them from sin, they needed to do their part to keep themselves saved by obeying the Mosaic Law. Paul emphatically says, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal 3:3) As they were saved by faith alone in Christ alone, so they must continue to live by faith in Christ, just as Abraham did (read Gal 3:6-5:15).
“But,” you may wonder, “I still have these sinful desires because of my sin nature. How can I not carry out those desires?” The answer: “walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law…if we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Gal 5:16-18, 25).
Second, you must live by the Spirit. What does it mean to walk, or live, by the Spirit? For a fuller discussion about this, see the lesson on Making Christ Preeminent by Spirit Led Living. Here’s a quick review of the important points:
- While there are activities that are essential for living a spiritual life, relying on your performance of those is not truly walking with the Spirit. Instead of being freed from sin’s power you enslave yourself all over again. Keeping the checklist doesn’t make you right with God: it is “faith working through love” (Gal 5:6).
- Walking—living—by the Spirit means that your life (actions, thoughts, feelings, etc.) is governed or controlled by Him. This is not some weird, mysterious impression you feel at certain times during life. The Spirit-controlled life is just normal Christian living. When the Spirit controls you, your sinful desires are not controlling you! That’s great news!
- How does the Holy Spirit govern and control your life? The tool the Spirit uses is the Word of God. A Spirit-led life that results in not carrying out the desires of your sinful nature is a life governed and controlled by the Spirit’s sword (Eph 6:17).
- Note the following passages for additional teaching: Rom 8:1-17; Gal 3:2-3; 5:16-26; 6:8; Eph 5:18
Third, be in the Word of God. When we look to Jesus’ temptations for instruction we focus on His use of the Word, but we neglect the fact that He was under the direction of the Spirit. Because of that He responded to temptation with the Word.
Through the Bible you receive instruction on how you should live (involving your actions, thoughts, feelings, etc.), including how to avoid and resist temptation and sin (Psa 37:31; 119:11; Prov 19:27; Matt 4:1-11)
Through the Word you will grow in your understanding of Who God is and how God wants you to live. This will help produce in you a holy, reverential awe (“fear”) that will help you avoid sin (Prov 2:10-12; 13:14; 14:27)
Growing less like this world and more like the Lord begins with the mind (Rom 12:2). The objective is to take “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5) and build your life on Him (Matt 7:24-27) by hearing and obeying the Word (Jas 1:22-25). Through God’s Word you receive instruction for every area of your life of Christ-like qualities (2 Pet 1:3-8).
In order for the Spirit to control you rather than your sinful desires, you need to trust and obey what He says in Scripture. The more you are in the Word, hearing and obeying the Lord, the greater control He will have in your life. You need to privately read, study, meditate, and memorize the Word, and you need to regularly listen to teaching and preaching of the Word in church services (see the lesson on Profitably Learning the Bible for more help in this regard).
Fourth, be constant in prayer. Trust God (1 Cor 10:13; Heb 2:18; 2 Pet 2:9) and pray (Matt 6:13; 26:41). How specifically should you pray? Pray specifically, asking for help, expressing faith in God’s promises (see previous passages). To be constant in prayer means to have a steadfast resolve—be faithfully praying; it’s a regular part of your life.
How does prayer help you resist temptation and sin?
- When you pray believing God will help you, He answers and will help you (Jas 1:2-8)
- While you are praying your mind is on the Lord
- By expressing faith in God’s promises you are strengthened to resist temptation and sin
- As a definite command from the Lord (Luke 18:1; Eph 6:18; 1 Thess 5:17; 1 Tim 2:1ff), when you gladly and willingly obey this you will be walking by the Spirit; He will be governing and controlling your life
Fifth, be separate unto God and from sin. Avoid anything that you know would provide the opportunity for temptation (Prov 4:14-15; Rom 13:14; 1 Cor 15:33; 2 Cor 11:1-3, 13-15; 1 Pet 2:11-12; 2 Pet 3:14-18)
Determine to dedicate every part of your life (actions, thoughts, feelings, etc.) to Christ and not to sin (Rom 12:1-2; 2 Cor 7:1; Heb 12:14). Set your mind on and seek Christ, not the things of this world (Col 3:1-4; 1 John 2:15-17). Make Christ the center of every aspect of your life (the “scent” in your car, home, etc) (1 Cor 15:33)
As a definite command from the Lord (see passages above), when you gladly and willingly obey this you will be walking by the Spirit; He will be governing and controlling your life
Sixth, regularly associate and fellowship with God’s people. By regularly associating and fellowshipping with God’s people, you will receive for instruction, help, encouragement, and see good examples on how to live a Christian life (Prov 12:26; Gal 6:1; Heb 3:13; 10:23-25). God’s plan is for you as a Christian to learn and grow with other believers and help them grow (Eph 4:11-16).
As a definite command from the Lord (note especially Acts 2:42; Heb 10:25), when you gladly and willingly obey this you will be walking by the Spirit; He will be governing and controlling your life
Seventh, recognize and reckon as true your position in Christ. Recognize that you are “dead to sin” (Rom 6:11), that “sin shall not be master over you” (6:14), and that you have “been freed from sin” (6:18). Because of these facts, you need to make those facts “real” in your life—reckon or consider them as true! (6:11-13).
This is especially helpful when you have feelings of hopelessness while struggling with temptation and sin. You can feel like sin is the master of your life and you’re powerless to fight against it. It isn’t, and you’re not! Read Paul’s own struggle with sin in Romans 7:17-24 and then his confident faith in verse 25!
Eighth, do right. Before you were a believer, you did not live for Christ. As a believer, you have been saved to “walk in good works which God prepared beforehand” (Eph 2:10), to be “zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:11-14). Thus, you must “be careful to engage in good deeds” (Titus 3:8) so that you will “meet pressing needs” and “not be unfruitful” (3:14). Just as you once lived to sin, now live to do what is right (Rom 6:19).
Be actively involved in obeying and serving God (Rom 12:21; Eph 4:27; 1 Tim 6:6-11). The old saying “idle hands are the devil’s tools” is true! Put your hands to work for Christ so they will not have opportunity to work for sin and Satan!
Ninth, don’t sin. This can sound too simplistic, but it really hits the nail on the head—a biblical approach to temptation and sin is to resist them (Rom 6:12-13; Jas 4:7; 1 Pet 5:7-9)!
Tenth, and last–look for Christ’s return. The “day of the Lord” refers to Christ coming in judgment and salvation (2 Pet 3:10). You will give an account for how you have lived your life as a believer, and you also look forward to Christ glorifying you so that you will be without any hint of sin (2 Pet 3:14-18; 1 John 2:28-3:3).
In light of that day, you need to “be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless” (2 Pet 3:14). Those who will see the Lord are those who are striving to be holy (Heb 12:14). It is a biblical fact that “everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:3).
If you are looking for Christ, that will affect what you think, want, and live for–seeing and being with Christ is what you will live for. Other passages to read about how Christ’s return is a help to holy living are Phil 1:9-10; 2 :14-16; 3:20-21; Col 3:1-4; 1 Thess 5:2-6; Titus 2:11-14; 1 Pet 1:7, 13.