How do you deal with the temptation to sin? Do you know how to overcome it?
Temptation is simply part of life. Even Jesus dealt with it when he was on Earth. Temptation is actually part of the spiritual growth process, you just need to understand its pattern and know what specific actions you can take to overcome it.
Keep reading to learn how to deal with the temptation to sin.
Resisting the Temptation to Sin
You may think that temptation is an obstacle in your path to becoming Christlike, but it’s actually a valuable learning opportunity. God puts you in situations where you’ll want to act in direct opposition to the qualities Jesus possessed, such as love, patience, faithfulness, and self-control. When you make the choice to stick to Jesus-like qualities in these situations, you develop the strength of your character.
The most crucial aspect of these temptations that God creates is that there’s a choice to make. Your character is like a muscle—it needs resistance to develop and strengthen.
- For example, you don’t develop your integrity while taking an exam in a supervised setting, as there’s no opportunity for you to cheat. You do develop your integrity when you’re trusted to take an unsupervised exam and have the opportunity to check your answers against your textbook, but choose not to cheat.
The Pattern of Temptation
Before you can effectively resist the temptation to sin, it’s important to understand what it is. Fortunately, temptation is incredibly predictable—the Bible reveals that Satan always relies on the same four-part process to lead believers astray:
1) Satan identifies your desire and urges you to fulfill it. These desires might be evil, such as the desire to get revenge on someone, or they might be legitimate but only when exercised at the right time for the right reason, such as sexual pleasure.
- It’s important to realize here that temptation comes from your mind, not your environment. No situation has the power to tempt you if you keep hidden desires out of your mind.
2) Satan makes you doubt God’s Word. He plants questions in your mind such as, “Does God really say this is bad?” or “Wouldn’t God want me to do this and be happy?” Remember that God’s Word is never wrong and his guidelines will never fail you.
3) Satan lies to you about the consequences. This is dangerous because he sounds authoritative, but he’s always lying. He’ll tell you “Nothing bad will happen. No one will find out. This isn’t a big enough sin to follow me. It has to be fine because others are doing it.” But, everything you do has eternal consequences—giving into temptation and sinning shows up on God’s radar.
4) You act on the thought. Satan’s suggestions, coupled with your internal questions and doubts manifest in sin.
How to Defeat the Temptation to Sin
Knowing the mechanisms of temptation puts you on the offense against it, rather than defense—it’s always much easier to stay away from temptation than it is to get out of temptation. There are four key actions you can take to keep your mind alert to the risk of temptation and ready to overcome it.
Action #1: Rethink Your Vulnerability to Temptation
There are two crucial ideas to understand about the temptation to sin: It’s normal and it doesn’t go away with spiritual maturity.
1) It’s normal. Many Christians feel that temptation is a sign of failure or weakness on their part, and they can be discouraged from their efforts to develop their spiritual maturity—this thinking misses out on three key points about why temptation happens.
- Temptation is a signal of your faith, not weakness. It means that Satan’s recognized you as his enemy, and is trying his best to distract you from your belief and service to God.
- Feeling temptation is a good sign because it means Satan hasn’t won you over. If he had, you wouldn’t wrestle with temptation at all—you’d simply give in to it.
- Having temptation to sin isn’t sinful—giving in is. Your character strengthens every time you feel temptation, but choose not to act on it.
2) It doesn’t go away with spiritual maturity. You might hold the false belief that you’re spiritually mature enough not to be vulnerable to temptation anymore. Keep in mind that even Jesus dealt with temptation to sin throughout his life.
- Not only is this mindset prideful and arrogant, but it leaves you especially vulnerable to temptation—tempting thoughts can more easily catch you off-guard when you’re not on the lookout for them.
Action #2: Recognize Your Triggers
We know temptation is in the mind, not the environment itself. Think about what types of situations bring your inner desires to the surface. Keep in mind that Satan knows what these situations are, so you have to figure them out too if you want to stay a step ahead of him.
A good way to think about your triggers is going through basic questioning of who, what, where, when, and why:
- Who am I with when I’m most tempted?
- What sorts of things usually tempt me? For example, food, money, desire for revenge, physical attraction, and so on.
- Where do I frequently feel tempted? For example, at home, work, at your parents’ house, or on business trips.
- When do I usually feel tempted? This could refer to different days of the week or different times of the day.
- Why am I turning toward desires? Often, temptation stems from emotions such as loneliness, hurt, anger, embarrassment, success, elation, and so on.
Once you’ve figured out the situations that most frequently make you feel tempted, resolve to avoid them. For example, if you always feel tempted to gossip with a certain coworker on the train home on Fridays, either don’t commute with her anymore or keep your conversations away from gossipy topics.
Action #3: Change Your Focus
It doesn’t do you any good to fight against Satan’s focus on your desire—he’ll always win. Thoughts of temptation only become stronger the more you try to fight against them, much like someone telling you, “Don’t think about a white bear.” Suddenly, that’s all you can think about.
However, you can diminish the power of a thought simply by occupying your mind with other topics.
- Distract yourself with other thoughts: Recognize that you’re feeling tempted, and consciously redirect your thoughts to something else. For example, if you’re tempted to gossip about a friend, think of something that excites you and talk about that.
- Physically remove yourself: If the situation you’re in is stirring up a thought of temptation, leave the situation. This can look like changing the TV channel, getting off a phone call, or closing your Internet shopping tabs.
- Quote Scripture: Push tempting thoughts to the side by filling your mind with Scripture that you’ve memorized.
Action #4: Ask for Help
When faced with the temptation to sin, be humble and ask for help from others instead of fighting on your own. There are two places you can turn to for help in overcoming your temptations:
1) Turn to God. Ask him to help you and have faith that he’ll give you the tools you need. People often skip this step, afraid to ask God for help for various reasons.
- Some think God won’t understand their struggle. Remember that even Jesus knows what it means to face temptation.
- Some don’t really want help and would rather give in to the temptation. This reveals that they think they know better than God what’s good for them.
- Some feel embarrassed to ask for help, especially if the temptation is one they’ve faced before. Remember that God is always willing to help—he’ll never be annoyed or bored with you.
In a way, God likes it when you deal with temptation because it strengthens both your dependence on him and your character—you first lean into your faith to get the tools you need, and then you become more like Jesus when you overcome the temptation.
2) Turn to a friend or support group. Talk about your struggles with someone you can be honest with, like a good friend, your fellowship group, or your pastor. Their support—which includes their encouragement, their prayers, and their efforts to hold you accountable for your actions—vastly improves your chances of overcoming your temptation to sin.