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The Inevitability of Temptation


My three-year old son has been learning a new verse in Tiny Trackers this week from Proverbs. Somewhere along the line, he has picked up a certain enthusiasm for saying his verses at home though he often is too shy to say them in church. This weeks verse was Proverbs 1:10. I can hear him saying it right now: "My son, if sinners entice thee..." and then with emphasis he says "CONSENT THOU NOT!" The battle against temptation sometimes is that easy; just say no. However, often times the battle is much more difficult because as James say temptations joins with our wants and desires and breeds sin. I know I have thought and prayed so often, "Lord, fill me with your Spirit so I won't have to struggle with sin anymore." It's a good prayer to prayer, but often it is misguided because of a failure to grasp one central concept: temptation is inevitable.

Won't being filled with the Spirit make the temptation less?

The simple answer to that is "No." Being filled with the Spirit does not make the temptation go away; it may in fact actually make the temptations more frequent. Galatians 5:17 says

For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit,

 and the Spirit  against the flesh: and

 these are contrary the one to the other:

so that ye  cannot do the things that ye would.

The principle that Paul was trying to teach here is that the flesh and the Spirit are in a constant war. This battle is going to be harder. As the Spirit gains more control in our lives, the flesh lusteth or covets that influence in our lives. The phrase "are contrary" is the idea of being in opposition or a fight against. When your enemy is attacking, you don't cut and run; you shore up your lines and press harder. The teaching here is not that the battle gets easier, but that as we walk in the Spirit, we will win that battle.

Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that if we are going through temptation, something must be wrong with us spiritually.This is not inherently the truth. You might not be walking in the Spirit and thus the failures are more prevalent, but the presence of temptation in itself is not an indication of your carnality. To illustrate this let's take a look at the life of Jesus.

To get the background to this story, we need to go back a few verses in the previous chapter. Matthew 3:13-17 tells us the story of Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist. Jesus had no need to be baptized from a legal standpoint but He chose to act in obedience to God's will. While He was being baptized, w e see something out of the ordinary. Now I don't know about you, but when I was baptized I didn't look up in the sky and see the Spirit flying down and landing on me like a dove, but we do see that at Jesus baptism. This scene is a sign of Jesus approval by the Father and a visible sign to the people that Jesus was filled with the Spirit. I won't delve into the theological question about whether Jesus had the Spirit before His baptism other than to say, "He did" because it is not the point of this article.

Matthew 4:1 begins the next step in this story. It is not some unrelated event in the life of Jesus. The word then acts as a marker to show the next step in time in this narrative. For the grammarians this is what we call a Narrative τοτε (tote) in discourse analysis. This is just the next development chronologically in this story. It is not a separate story; it is a continuation of what has just been said.

Then was Jesus led up of {by} the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.

The indication here is that the Holy Spirit directly put Jesus in a position where He would be tempted by Satan. The point here is this: Jesus was completely filled with the Holy Spirit and yet He was tempted. Satan tried to tempt Him with food, pride and power and each time Jesus was victorious in rejecting the temptation, but He still was tempted.

How do I Fight Temptation?

From the story of Jesus we see a glimpse into how these battles with temptation are won. This section is not intended to be an in-depth study of repeating and fighting temptation, but I don't want to finish this article on a gloomy note. Just because temptation is inevitable does not mean that you have to fail every time it comes. So here are a couple points to consider related to fighting temptation:

  1. You must be filled with the Spirit- Galatians 5:16 says if we walk in the Spirit, we will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.

  2. Scripture is key- Notice in the temptation of Jesus, his response was always to quote scripture to Satan.

  3. Vigilance and prayer are needed- Jesus before heading to the cross, told his disciples to "watch and pray" so that "ye enter not into temptation"

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