Article by Paul Stiver
I hate sin. I’m so sick of dealing with it. It’s exasperating. Sin is always there, waiting for me, hoping I’ll slip up. If you’re like me, you’re sick and tired of struggling with sin. It’s downright annoying. The good news is, God has grace for us, and it comes through Jesus Christ. We have hope in the fight. How can we better equip ourselves to resist the temptation to sin? We have to follow Christ’s example. We have to fight lies with truth.
In Matthew 4, we get an intimate account of how Jesus applied God’s truth to keep him from giving in to sin. First, Jesus resisted the temptation to use his divine power to make his suffering easier. Matthew tells us that Jesus has not eaten for 40 days and was hungry. The tempter tells him to turn the stones into bread, that is, if he really is the Son of God. Jesus resists the temptation to use his power to ease his suffering by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). He knows that God’s way is better than the false reality the tempter wants him to believe.
Secondly, Jesus refuses to act out of line with the Father’s plan. He walks by faith, not by sight. The tempter continues to press Jesus, taking him to the holy city and setting him atop the temple. The tempter even quotes scripture to Jesus, telling him to jump down, saying, “He will command his angels concerning you” (Mt. 4:6). The devil wants him to jump as if to say, “This will quickly and surely prove to everyone that you are the Messiah. God’s plan will be revealed.” But Jesus refuses to take the easy way out because he knows he would not be acting in line with the Father’s plan. Jesus again resists temptation by citing God’s word, saying, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Deut. 6:16). Jesus knows that in order to do what God wants him to do as Messiah, he has to faithfully follow the Father’s plan, so he refuses to compromise and take the easy way out.
Lastly, Jesus is taken up to a high mountain where the devil shows him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. Jesus knows already that he is to inherit all these kingdoms, but only after the suffering, death, and resurrection that awaits him. The tempter says, “You can have it all right now, if you’ll just fall down and worship me.” Jesus resists because he knows that God’s plan, God’s reality, is better than the temptation in front of him. He resists the temptation to fall down in idolatry before the devil and instead, he says, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” Then he tells the devil to scram!
Jesus refused to trade the truth for a lie each time he was tempted. First, Jesus refused to value instant gratification over lasting joy. Then, Jesus refused to test God, and instead faithfully entrusted himself to God’s plan. Lastly, Jesus refused to turn to idolatry and held out for the fullness of satisfaction that comes from worshiping and serving God above all else. We see Jesus fully yield his will to God’s in the garden of Gethsemane, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). By resisting temptation, Jesus did what we could not, perfectly obeying the Father. He then goes to the cross as the perfect, sinless sacrifice, paying the penalty for our sin. Then Jesus is raised from the dead so that we can have newness of life in him.
In this newness of life, we start to become more and more like Jesus. As a part of that transformation, we are called to this same pattern of resisting temptation in our fight against sin. I want to focus on resisting the sexual temptation of pornography and masturbation. As we see in Jesus’ temptation, it isn’t sinful to be tempted. We can be tempted and not sin, as Jesus was. However, when we give in to temptation, it is sin. How can we follow Christ’s pattern of resisting temptation to see growth in our lives?
First, we can follow Christ’s pattern of priorities. Jesus chose to resist the temptation to believe that instant gratification is more pleasurable than lasting joy. The temptation to watch pornography and masturbate is a temptation to choose instant gratification. We are tempted to choose relief over resistance. When an image pops onto our screen and entices us, it is saying, “Come on, experience this relief right now, only a couple clicks away. Nobody will be hurt, and no one has to know.” However, we know that this is simply not true. We also know that sin never satisfies, and temptation always under delivers on its promises. Temptation lies to us and says that instant gratification will be better than lasting joy, but it never is. We can follow in the pattern of Christ when we call out lies when we hear them. When we are tempted to fall into sin in pursuit of instant gratification, we can speak the truth that lasting joy comes from obedience to God and the life that is found in walking in his ways.
Secondly, we can follow in Christ’s pattern of faithful obedience. In Matthew 4 Jesus shows us how to live in faith. Jesus’ faith shows that he trusts God. His obedience reveals that he trusts that God knows what is true and good. Temptation always wants us to get to the point where we think we know better than God. The desires of our flesh are opposed to the desires of the Spirit (Galatians 5:17), and temptation wants us to lean on our own understanding instead of trusting God’s wisdom. Temptation wants us to shirk obedience. However, we know that living in obedience requires faith, and obedience shows that we are trusting that God knows better. We can call out the lies temptation tells us by remembering that walking in God’s ways means walking in light. Sin brings about death and destruction, but God’s ways bring about life and goodness. When we obey, we are following in Christ’s pattern of trust.
Lastly, we can follow Christ’s pattern of knowing the truth. In each of these temptation scenarios, Jesus applied the truth of God’s word to help him resist the temptation to sin. When we store up God’s word in our hearts, we go on the defensive against sin. We start to see that God’s ways are better, and it helps us to resist idolatry. When we are armed with the truth of God’s word in our lives, the temptation to sin is unable to gain its desired traction. For example, when tempted to watch pornography and masturbate, we can tell that temptation, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live. This life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20 NIV). We are declaring that we worship and serve God and not sin.
We all struggle with sin and temptation. Sin is daily crouching at our door, seeking to rule our lives. This is why it’s so important that we remember that our sin is nailed to the cross. We died to sin with Christ and we have been raised with him. Sin is no longer our master, rather we serve the King of kings. God has also not left us alone, but has given us what we need for victory, his word and the Holy Spirit. When we fight sin and temptation with the Spirit’s power, we have the upper hand. Paul says, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live (Romans 8:13). Walking with the Spirit brings new life. As we walk by the Spirit our lives are transformed. As our lives are transformed through God’s word and the power of the Holy Spirit, we become more equipped to resist temptation. We can experience real victory and real change because God himself is at work within us! Praise God for his glorious grace!