The Pathway of Temptation
Overcoming Temptation at Any Step
This teaching on overcoming temptation is just one lesson of our free eCourse for personal transformation, 'Matters of the Heart.' All 24 lessons will be helpful to the person seeking restoration and freedom.
All scripture citations are from the English Standard Version (ESV) unless otherwise noted.
Temptation Works by Deception
How is it that we so often fall into sin? Ever since the Fall sinning comes naturally to us. We don't have to work at being sinners! We can fall into sin without any effort at all because we already have a fallen nature ready to go in that direction. But there is someone who delights in tripping us up. Satan and his kingdom seek to make us fall by presenting us with deceptive temptations.
For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain. 1 Thessalonians 3:5
The heart of the issue for overcoming temptation is this: Will we use our wills to agree with the enemy or with God about what is right to believe and to do? Naturally, we want to agree with God, but the enemy is a deceiver and he has had a lot of practice at making the wrong thing seem right and the right thing seem wrong. If he simply came out in the open and said, 'My ways are guaranteed to kill you!' we would all turn away and run to God. Instead he twists the truth enough to make his perspective seem plausible and his paths seem desirable - all the while seeking to set his hook into our flesh.
Note this about the following seven steps: Before sin ever becomes a struggle in our flesh, it has to gain the agreement of our will. To sin or not to sin is essentially a truth encounter, not a will power contest.
The Seven Steps of the Sin Process
Let's learn to recognize and avoid these seven deadly stages of the sin process that James warns us about:
Let no man say when he is tempted, 'I am tempted by God,' for God can't be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each one is (1) tempted, when he is (2) drawn away (3) by his own lust, and (4) enticed. Then the lust, when it (5) has conceived, (6) bears sin; and the sin, when it is full grown, (7) brings forth death. Don't be deceived, my beloved brothers. James 1:13-16 WEB
Stage 1: Tested and Tempted
Temptation begins with the enemy, not you. Images, impulses or ideas that tempt us do not come from God or our flesh, but from Satan's kingdom. Some tempting impression is made upon the mind or heart by an evil spirit. At this point it is not sin, only a temptation to sin. Jesus was tempted in every way we are - so don't take on condemnation for being tempted.
You are being probed by an evil spirit to see if you will agree with it. Usually you will sense something in you shift as your attention is caught by the tempting thought. If the tempting impression is recognized for what it is and rejected out of hand, it ends there. But if the idea is entertained and in some way accepted, then the struggle begins. As Martin Luther once said of temptation, 'You can't help it if a bird flies over your head, but you can stop it from building a nest in your hair.' Be asking: Whose voice is it? Mine? Or the enemy's!
There is a very real difference between being tempted and actually sinning - temptation is not the same thing as sinning no matter how strong or wrong it feels. Resist the devil and you may suddenly have a whale of a fight on your hands, but you are still on the right side of the issue. Coming into agreement with the tempting thought and doing what it desires is where the sin lies. Being assailed by tempting thoughts, however strongly they may be tugging at you through your wrong desires, is not sin.
In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus sweated blood in His effort to resist the temptation to avoid the cross, and He remained without sin despite the awful power of the enemy working upon Him. So resist all self-condemnation! Getting us to condemn ourselves for being tempted by him is very much a part of the enemy's game plan and it only makes it harder to fight back. Stay encouraged in the Lord - He sees your efforts to resist the snare. He knows your heart and does not condemn you.
Stage 2: Disconnected and Drawn Away
Many think that the enemy's primary objective is to get us to sin, but the great issue of temptation is not what we are drawn into (sin), but what we are drawn away from (the Lord). Entertaining the evil thought draws us away from the peace and confidence that comes to us as we trust and obey our God.
The enemy ever seeks to disconnect us from our source of strength and new life - for it is only in Christ that we are a threat to his kingdom. Hence he wants to separate us from heart-peace and trust and then make it seem that such a life of surrender is undesirable or impossible. Even one small step away from being fully surrendered to the Lord is a step in the enemy's direction. The first task in overcoming temptation is to reconnect with God and His grace.
You know you have been 'drawn away' if someone asks you how you are doing and you hear yourself say, 'I'm just hanging in there.' Hanging in there means, 'I am still struggling and trying to be faithful, but it's killing me!' This beats giving up and going back, but it is a far cry from living in the grace that is offered us. On the other hand, if a person is fully surrendered, you usually don't have to ask how they are doing - it shines with a glow all over their face.
Stage 3: Snared by One's Own Lust
As temptation increases wrong desires begin to awaken out of the fallen nature. The old you comes back to life, sometimes with a vengeance.
When the temptation finds a hook into a wrong desire ('lust' means any strong, but wrong desire, not just a sexually immoral one), formerly crucified feelings can sometimes spring back to life in an instant. Don't panic! Before that moment of temptation those feelings had been lying in the grave with the old you, and they will do so again as soon as you get your focus back on Christ.
Jesus said the enemy had 'nothing' in Him. We should seek to be the same way by quickly reconnecting with God and His grace, then holding the wrong desire as a captive to His light until we see something in Him that makes it lose its emotional power.
Stage 4: Taking the Bait that Is Offered
Enticed means to catch by using bait. At this point in the process we have already begun buying into some lie that the temptation represents - that's the bait. Find the lie and break off the hook! Otherwise, our will becomes 'hooked' by agreeing with that deceptive thought, and negative emotions gain strength to overpower us. The evil spirit can only succeed if it breaks our agreement with God by getting us to agree instead with its own false and distorted belief system (see Kingdoms in Conflict).
Stage 5: Yielding the Will to Conceive
Enticement generates a desire to give up the struggle by yielding our will to the enemy. We now want to give in to the temptation more than to resist it. Once such an agreement with sin is made (conceived), the actual sin (of thought, word or deed) is sure to follow. Once we have embraced a tempting thought by giving our heart to it, the temptation has become our sin....
Fight the good fight of faith to get firmly reconnected with God's grace and His truth!
Father, the foremost temptation I will need to overcome is that of living by trusting and obeying myself, rather than You. Help me turn my life around! Make me willing to be made willing to surrender everything to You. According to Your love and wisdom, send whatever You desire to send of Your grace and blessings, allow whatever You have to allow of free will and its consequences, ask of me whatever You desire or require of inward and outward obedience, withhold me from and withhold from me whatever is necessary to fulfill Your plans. Help me to fully trust that You are working in and through all things for my good and Your glory. Then strengthen me to say in the midst of all temptations, 'Not my will, but Yours be done.'
Next Healing Lesson
Understanding the way of return
Interested in Going Deeper?
Don't just give these truths a 'head bob' - take our free eCourse for Healing. For further study and for help working these truths into your heart and life, see The Pathway of Temptation Part 2 (Head to Heart Guide 1. In all there are 24 Main Healing Lessons and 24 Head to Heart Guides to help you bring your heart to God and receive His Great Heart for you in return!