I find it rather interesting that after being a Christian for over 27 years, and reading my bible for just as long, I would not be any wiser in my battle against daily temptations. How quickly and easily I fall, repeatedly in the same sin, only to feel the same shame and regret once again. I should know better, right? After all, I have read over and over those concerning words of Jesus to His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Keep alert and pray. Otherwise temptation will overpower you. For though the spirit is willing enough, the body is weak” (Matthew 26:41). Herein lies my dilemma. But in those words of Jesus, I am reminded of my need, my weakness, and how I can overcome temptation in my daily walk of faith!
My battle with temptation and how easily I am deceived by it came to light one day while celebrating my thirtieth wedding anniversary with my wife. We were away for the weekend in the mountains of Pennsylvania without any of the modern conveniences around, except for one small general store. I went to the store to locate a particular item we needed and found myself wandering around the section of the store that showcased the cookies, cakes, pies, and everything else that is sweet goodness in our world. I am not supposed to have any of these wonderful things because I deal with Gout, and I have decided to remove them from my diet for better health and because I have a problem: I am an addict. I love sweets more than anything! That is no small thing, “For you are a slave to whatever controls you,” Peter wrote in his second epistle (2 Peter 2:19b). But I am to be controlled by God’s Spirit, motivated by Christ’s redeeming love in all things, and that includes what I feed my stomach.
In case you are wondering, I did not give in to the temptation this time. Instead, I saw an illustration in my circumstances that genuinely helped me see the utter danger in playing with temptation. If you had been watching me, you would have had many laughs, I suppose. Up and down the aisles I went, looking, touching, desiring to take just one with me. Which one would it be? Then I began feeling a bit guilty about what I was doing. After all, I know I shouldn’t have any, not even a piece, and yet, there I was, putting myself in the exact position I should have been fleeing. This went on a few minutes, several strolls up and down the aisle until I “came to myself” and asked the Lord for strength to resist and forgiveness for my foolishness in entertaining temptation. That’s my point, temptation! It is not the particular avenue of approach it manifests itself in, but its purpose and result.
I left that store stronger and wiser with those words of Jesus still echoing in my mind. I am a needy person; we all are. My spirit is willing to obey God’s will for me, which in this case is to resist temptation, but my body is weak. The words of James are true and proven true each time we play around with those temptations that lead us into sin: “Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it” (James 4:17).
Rather than being alert and prayerful, I was going through the motions, much like the disciples. They heard what Jesus said but didn’t hear what Jesus meant. Jesus, upon entering the garden, after leaving some of the disciples behind, took Peter, James, and John along with Him further into the garden. He expresses how “crushed with grief” He was even to the point of death and instructs them to remain there and keep watch with Him while He went beyond them further. The hour of His passion has come! He returns to find them sleeping and admonishes them to keep watch and pray so that they would not give in to temptation. He wanted them to stay awake so they would be prepared for whatever might come. Sure, they were physically and emotionally exhausted. Still, even so, they were not prayerfully watching, and as a result, they would not be ready for the tragedy that was about to happen.
Peter, in his first epistle, directs believers to “stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him and be strong in your faith” (5:8-9). Peter, much like Jesus, is telling those folks that they need to be alert, so they can recognize when the enemy is trying to trip them up. My first error was not “keeping watch,” or staying alert in my spiritual walk. Something so simple, so ordinary, was the avenue in which the enemy sought to trip me up, and I almost fell.
My second error was that I did not realize that even though I had good intentions, I still needed to exercise self-control to gain victory (Romans 12:1). Even though I felt spiritually strong that day because I hadn’t given in to the temptation to eat “junk food” the past few weeks, it didn’t mean that I was beyond having an issue with it at some point in my daily walk of faith. Greater men than I have fallen into temptation. Men like David (2 Samuel 11), Samson (Judges 16), Achan, who gave in to the temptation that someone else’s money brought him (Joshua 7). Galatians 5:16 reminds us that we need to “live according to your new life in the Holy Spirit. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.” The moment I started playing with the fires of temptation which began within my heart; my desires, not the items on that store shelf, they began leading me into sinful actions, actions that will inevitably only bring shame, guilt, and remorse.
As a result of this situation and the imminent danger it posed regarding my personal holiness, I was reminded to take nothing for granted in my walk as a Christian. I have been prodded by the Holy Spirit to keep my head in the game and to be ever watchful of my enemies: my own corrupt heart and Satan, the enemy of my soul (Jeremiah 17:9; 1 peter 5:8). I am reminded that if I am diligent at pursuing a more intimate, personal relationship with my Savior, I will be better able to resist my enemy, and he will flee from me (James 4:7).
Reminders are essential; Peter and Paul thought so as well as our Heavenly Father (2 Peter 1:12; 2 Timothy 1:6; Hebrews 10:3-4). I need reminders of things, even things I should be pretty stable with by now. I tend to get very comfortable in my daily life and begin taking things for granted. When that happens, I am at risk again to fall into temptation.