IntroductionThis is a statement of practical steps that Jesus, my Lord, has taught me to take in my stumbling efforts to resist the persistent direct temptations with which the devil confronts me on a regular schedule. They come from the gracious love and wise guidance of the indwelling influence of the Spirit that is the Father’s gift to me through my trusting relationship with him and Jesus. The practical value of these steps has been demonstrated over and over again in my life as I have had to suffer the consequences of numerous repeated selfish and foolish choices in my life, including those that have to do with my relationships with God and with the devil and subsequently with other human beings. I’ll try to state each step as clearly and as briefly as will be helpful, including some personal comments and passages of Scripture that could also help. I will be glad to answer any questions that anyone has about these steps, but I don’t intend to debate their value with anyone.
Practical steps for resisting temptation
- Recognize that every temptation that only comes from the devil and his servants is his direct effort to destroy you. The devil does not engage with you to enable you to experience a challenging and interesting contest of wits. The temptations with which he confronts you are not just temporary games, like a friendly game of chess, that have no serious and permanent consequences in your life. Temptations are battles in which loses and wounds are serious and in some cases even deadly. Pieces that are captured in a chess game by your friendly opponent can be used again by you in another game without any direct consequences that would impair their basic rules of engagement. That is not true in regard to the personal psychological and spiritual components that are present in your heart and mind that you used in making choices in your daily life. They can be seriously and permanently damaged or rendered useless in the battles of temptation with which the devil engages you. The apostle Peter in his first letter to his fellow Christians seeks to encourage them with words of hope and warning as they face experiences of personal suffering and persecution in their daily lives. He says “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him…” (1 Pet. 5:8-9). Battles of temptation with the devil can be deadly.
- Do not try to engage the devil in any temptation battles with your own assumed skills and strategies. The devil knows all of your personal weaknesses and how you habitually use or misuse all of your psychological and spiritual resources in any experience of conflict in your life. He knows very clearly how you intend to use these resources in the engagement to which he has invited you, how you plan to move your chess pieces on the game board for your relationship, so he is very confident of his ability to destroy you or at least to persuade you not to engage him in any battles of temptation on your own. You need to recognize that some of your human mental perceptions of yourself with any skills and resources and strategies that you ordinarily use in any contests in your daily life are probably faulty and dangerous factors that when used In these spiritual battles can only lead to your own destruction or severe psychological and spiritual injury. Paul, the great apostle to the non-Jewish residents of Rome and his Christian friends there, indicated that he recognized that he was unable “to do what is right” according to spiritual laws of Judaism, of which he was an expert, because, as he says, “but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate….For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:14-19). Do not depend upon your own personal psychological and spiritual resources and your own resolute fleshly will power to enable you to defeat the devil in any battles of temptation in your life. Your independent proud self is part of the devil’s powerful arsenal of weapons that he knows can lead to your destruction or serious spiritual injury.
- Enlist Jesus to be your primary warrior in your temptation battles with the devil. Jesus is the only person who has demonstrated in various ways his wisdom and personal ability to resist the devil’s direct temptations of him and the efforts of his servants to destroy his ministry to secure the release of individuals from their slavery to sinful influences of the devil for attitudes and actions of rebellion against God’s holy and loving will for humanity. As the only sinless human being to ever have lived, Jesus surrendered his will and body to the will of his Father, God, to become “the lamb of God” that would be physically sacrificed to pay the penalty for all human sin against God. And Jesus did this by humbly submitting his body to the violent physical and shameful abuse of public crucifixion through the false accusations of his critics and the legal judgment of their pagan Roman authority. And the power of his sacrifice and its blessing for all human beings was clearly demonstrated by the physical resurrection of Jesus from his tomb and his personal physical appearance to hundreds of his followers during the forty days of his special redemptive work among humans following his resurrection and before his physical ascension into heaven from where he had been initially sent by the Father. Paul in his letter to the Colossians refers to this victorious and redemptive and supreme work of Jesus in these words: “He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:18-20). In his letter to the Romans, Paul indicates that Jesus “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace…” (Romans 1:4-5). Jesus is the only person that because of his sinless life and the humble sacrifice of his will and body to the Father that God has given enough personal spiritual power to enable him to always be victorious in any battle with the devil or the devil’s servants. And your hope and mine for any experience of victory in every battle of temptation that we have with the devil is to enlist the special warrior powers of Jesus in the battle. For a fuller statement about this matter see Why Jesus?.
- When the devil confronts you with a temptation, set the attention of your mind on “the things of the Spirit” rather than on the fleshly tools of human psychology for the divine weapons that Jesus and you can utilize in your battle with the devil. Don’t get distracted from the dangers of this battle by the exciting challenge of the contest and the chance to use some of your personal tools of influence and defense over your common opponents in some of your ordinary daily confrontations. Paul in his inspired instructions to his fellow “called” servants and “saints” in Christ in Rome regarding this battle of wills between God’s laws for one’s willing choices and one’s laws of selfish fleshly need to remember that “those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds of the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:5-6). In Paul’s letter to the “saints” and his “brothers” in Philippi he identifies these “things” as “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable” saying, “if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). These qualities of Spirit empowered living and service are the weapons that Jesus and you can and should use for victory in your battles of tempting wills with the devil. Since this battle is an inward contest of wills in your mind and heart, I think that the focus of your mind and heart on the weapons that you choose to use in this battle is best focused on these “worthy” internal weapons rather than the external pieces of the “armor of God” that Paul urges the “saints” in Ephesus to wear in their battles with the “devil” (See Ephesus 6:10-17). For a practical guide for doing this, go to my statement regarding Meditation on this website. For example; when a temptation comes for “seeking love in all of the wrong places”, instead of thinking of some common fantasies that you commonly enjoy about love, begin to meditate on the special qualities of God’s personal and daily love for you that are manifested over and over again in his forgiving grace and providential care. Or when a temptation comes to present God with a “wish list” for what you immediately want from your daily prayer, which will probably only generate a battle between you and the devil regarding who can best provide you with what you want, instead meditate on all of the blessings, “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22), which includes such qualities of experience as “joy” and “peace” and “patience” and “faithfulness” and “self-control”, thanking God in your prayer for such undeserved spiritual gifts. Such meditation at the beginning of your temptation battles with the devil can have a major effect on their outcome, a difference between a glorious victory and another shameful defeat.
SummaryThese are practical steps that you can take when you are engaged with the devil in a battle of resisting temptation: recognize that every temptation that comes from the devil is his direct effort to destroy you, do not try to engage the devil in this battle with you own assumed skills and strategies, enlist Jesus to be your primary warrior in this battle, and set the attention of your mind on “the things of the Spirit”. Your immediate response to the devil’s threat should be to begin to mediate upon the presence of the Spirit and Jesus in your life and the worthy weapons of spiritual power that he and you can use in this battle, and then to pray for God to implement the use of these weapons in your battle that he will be glorified and that you may experience the victorious “fruit” of the Spirit in your life.
Scripture quotations are from the ESV Study Bible English Standard Version (ESV®), copyright © 2009 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.