In the midst of His sermon on the mount, Jesus included a lesson on how to pray. Jesus said, “Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hollowed be Your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Mat. 6:9-13 ESV). When we attend to these instructions, it should be obvious Jesus recognized the importance of man’s dealing with his temptations, and the necessity of having God’s help to do so. However, all too often we yield to our temptations, and we allow them to develop into sin. The Irish playwright and writer Oscar Wilde said, “I can resist anything except temptation…The best way to deal with temptation is to yield to it.” Unfortunately, often what Oscar Wilde expressed becomes the mantra for many. Of course, simply giving in to temptation is no way to address the matter, but the question to consider is: How can one resist temptation?
The first step in answering this question is to identify certain factors that may cause someone to submit to temptation. The account of the sins committed by King David which is recorded in 2 Samuel 11 provides a good case study. A careful review of the events that led to David committing adultery and murder give us insight into the reasons he succumbed to his temptations. Notice at least three reasons David failed to resist temptation:
He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. 2 Samuel 11:1 reads, “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him…but David remained at Jerusalem.” In the days of David, kings had the responsibility of leading their troops into battle. David was not exempt from this responsibility. However, he made the grave mistake of sending his assistant to do his job. David shirked his duty in order to do what he wanted to do, resulting in his being in the wrong place. Quite often we yield to temptation because we find ourselves in the wrong place, as did David. Typically, this is the case because we have not prepared ourselves spiritually. Our plan of resistance must be set in place before we find ourselves in a tempting circumstance. Our heart must be set on doing right, and that includes predetermining the right place to be.
He took a second glance. As the story continues, we find David walking on the roof of his house late one afternoon. The account says, “It happened…that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful” (2 Sam. 11:2). The wording indicates it was purely by accident that David saw Bathsheba. At the point when He first noticed her, David had done nothing wrong. The problem came when he dwelt upon what he had seen. He took a second glance, then he sent his messengers to bring Bathsheba to him. Instead of looking away and removing himself from view of the woman, he observed her beauty and began to lust. It is that second glance at something attractive which often leads us to lust. When lust is fully developed in our hearts, we sin. When David chose not to look away, he set in order a series of actions which eventually lead to his committing adultery with the woman.
He attempted a cover-up. The original sin of fornication resulted in Bathsheba becoming pregnant. When David discovered a child had been conceived as a result of his sin, he called Uriah (Bathsheba’s husband) back to Jerusalem from battle. Once Uriah returned, David tried to convince him to go to be with his wife, in hopes he could pass the child off as Uriah’s and not his own. After all, it would be scandalous and a disgrace if anyone found out the child was David’s. The plan backfired when Uriah refused to go to his wife. Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah dwell in booths, and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field. Shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do this thing” (2 Sam 11:11-12). This really put David in a bind. As the events unfold, David went further in his cover-up by sending Uriah back to battle, in the front of the hardest fighting where he was sure to be killed. Ultimately, Uriah did perish in battle. David tried to hide the original sin with a cover-up, which led to another sin and finally the death of Uriah. Often, when we choose to cover up a sin, we are tempted to commit additional sins.
In addition to understanding some factors which can cause us to yield to temptations, we must also identify things we can do to resist them. Consider these actions we can take to resist temptation and keep ourselves from falling into sinful behavior:
Depend on God’s Word. In Luke 4, we read of the temptation of Christ. Over the span of forty days, Jesus lived in the wilderness, eating nothing. Satan hurled three strong temptations at Jesus at a moment when he was most vulnerable. However, as the devil presented a tempting proposal to Jesus, He resisted by recalling and reciting the commandments of God. It is not insignificant that the Son of God reminded Himself of God’s words in a time of great temptation. It is believed that David wrote Psalm 51 in response to his sin with Bathsheba. In the midst of his confession, David says, “Behold, You delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart” (Psa. 51:6). David recognized God’s word as his guide and acknowledged that His commands would lead him to repentance. The apostle Paul said the gospel not only saves us, but it reveals righteousness to us (see Rom. 1:16-17). If we follow the gospel, we will be lead toward righteousness and away from temptation.
Surround yourself with godly influences. After committing the sins of adultery and murder, David’s spiritual condition would have been hopeless were it not for his good friend Nathan. In 2 Samuel 12 we read that God sent Nathan to confront David concerning his sins. Nathan told David a story about two men, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had many flocks, whereas the poor man had but one little ewe lamb. The man raised the lamb with his children, and it was like a daughter to him. One day the rich man had a visitor in his home, and he refused to take one of his own animals to prepare a meal for the guest. Instead, he took the poor man’s only lamb and prepared it for the guest. As David listened to the story come to this point, his anger was greatly kindled. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die.” Nathan responded, “You are the man!” Being therefore convicted of his wrongs, David admitted he had sinned against God. In response Nathan said, “The Lord also has put away your sin” (see 2 Sam. 12:1-14). David could have reacted negatively or defensively in response to Nathan’s rebuke. Instead, having a heart that was still soft, he responded by acknowledging his sins. It took a friend who was willing to risk losing a friendship, or even punishment, to confront David and save him from the consequence of his wrongdoing. The wise man once said, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17). It is a wise man who will surround himself with people he can trust to tell him what he needs to hear and not just what he wants to hear.
Lean on God’s help. Even though David acknowledged his sins, he was not able to get his life back on track without God’s help. He said to God, “Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (Psa. 51:10-12). You see, David knew he could not overcome temptation and sin without God’s help. It is a fact that we continue to succumb to temptation and we fall deeper and deeper into sin when we try to live without God’s guidance. In 1 Cor. 10:11-12, Paul tells us God is faithful, he knows what we can withstand and will provide a way of escaping our temptations if we accept His help. However, we must recognize our weaknesses and realize how much we need God’s assistance and guidance.
We must never resort to the belief that the best way to deal with temptation is to yield to it. Rather, we must tell ourselves, “I can resist anything including temptation, with God’s help.” In order to be able to resist, we must recognize temptation for what it is. It is imperative to understand why we may yield to temptations, to let God’s word guide us, to surround ourselves with godly influences and then accept God’s help to lead us away from them.
By Lance Bowman