Can you think of an area of your life where you’re losing an ongoing battle with temptation, returning to a particular sin again and again? If so, maybe you need to quit fighting.
When we talk about dealing with temptation, we often use words like struggle, fight, battle or war.
With good reason. We are in a spiritual war and have been since the beginning. This kind of imagery is all over the New Testament. Jesus said he came with “a sword” (Mt. 10:34), Paul writes of spiritual weapons and armor (Eph. 6:10-17), and Peter warns that fleshly lusts “wage war against the soul” (1 Pet. 2:11), to name a few.
But a battle mindset by itself can, ironically, keep you defeated by habitual sin.
While it’s true there is a tempter worth fighting (see Mt. 4:1-11, 1 Cor. 7:5, 1 Thes. 3:5), temptation itself isn’t an external force to battle.
Temptation works upon you internally—upon your good, God-given desires.
Experientially, it’s almost like temptation latches on to desire parasitically, twisting itself up with desire in such a way that it’s difficult to discern where your God-given desires end and where temptation to sin begins.
A battle mindset isn’t adequate here because you were never intended to fight your God-given desires, and that’s what you inadvertently do as the temptations you’re facing are feeding off those desires.
A battle mindset has led far too many well-meaning disciples to a life of rigidity, strictly adhering to a list of do’s and don’ts lest they be drawn away to sin.
You may need structure to help you along the way. But the goal is not a rigid, disciplined, passionless life, as though the anthem of Heaven is “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (see Colossians 2:20-22).
Jesus didn’t come to wage war on desire and he certainly didn’t come to kill it. He came to rescue it from temptation, and sin, and death.
If Christ came to do away with sin in your life, it wasn’t at your expense. He came to do away with sin for your sake.
So how do we gain freedom from habitual sin if not through battle? How do we participate with Jesus in the rescue of our desires?
I think this is where our greatest temptation comes: We want to do something, control something, or make something happen. We want to battle. But true freedom comes from participating in a movement of the Holy Spirit, as we open ourselves to Christ in our weakness, distress, and temptation. This is battle, but it’s a battle of a different kind.
“For thus the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has said, ‘In repentance and rest you will be saved, In quietness and trust is your strength’” (Isaiah 30:15).
There is no quick fix, no surgery, no pill. Battle offers the alleviation of an enemy. By all means, rebuke the tempter (Mt. 4:10, 11), but rescue—true rescue—involves restoration of the soul. I’ll share more about this next week. (Regeneration’s Rescue program is one place to learn how to “battle” in this way.)
I’d love to hear from you: What rises up in you as you read this? Where does this connect for you? Where is there disconnect? Click here to leave a comment.
Wow! What a powerful simlie…”Experientially, it’s almost like temptation latches on to desire parasitically, twisting itself up with desire in such a way that it’s difficult to discern where your God-given desires end and where temptation to sin begins.” This blog is a great reminder for me, especially since last week was a particularly difficult week. Thanks for your help and clarity, Josh.
Thanks for pressing on, Scott! Great to be in this with you!
Even just changing the word from “struggling” to “overcoming” is a help, being forward-looking rather than backward-looking.
Thanks, Gene! I think it’s helpful to pay attention to what certain words “do” to our levels of hope, motivation,, etc. Words have power not only to express our beliefs but also to shape them over time. I have a friend who recently stopped thinking about himself as “a guy who goes to the gym,” and started thinking of himself instead as “a bodybuilder.” To him, the first let him off the hook if he was tired or didn’t feel like pushing hard, while the second meant he pushed through whatever resistance came his way. This sounds similar to your sense of “struggling” vs. “overcoming.”
Yes! Yes! I am finding that as I study and believe Gods great love for me, as He becomes greater, as He is my passion, that my sinful desires begin to loose their power. In times of overwhelment, when I want to seek worldy comfort, I must start with turning to His truth about me and about who He is and He begins to change my passions. As He is closer in my field of vision, my sinful temptations move out to my perioheral vision. This blog has been a great help to me as God grows me in changing my passions.
I’m so glad to hear it! Thanks so much for sharing.
I’ve started to feel like I just don’t want God anymore. Not the one that some people talk about. I recently heard that God is not as interested in our happiness as we are. I understand the context in which this statement was made, as it related to the way people might excuse their sin with the pretext that the sin makes me happy and “God wants me to be happy.” So that statement was followed up by a comment that as a minister didn’t know if God wanted us to be happy. Well, that sounds like a spiritual thing to say, but is it accurate? Is it true? Is it Scriptural? Is this the kind of God any of us want to know or get close to? I think the answer is obvious.
Read Psalm 1
“Blessed” is sometimes translated “happy” from Hebrew. “Church” is even just two or three people gathering together where Jesus is in the midst of them.
Thanks for your honesty and your observation. I’m with you about the faultiness of the idea that “God is not as interested in our happiness as we are.” In stark contrast, Scripture seems to show that God is much more interested in our happiness than we are. Or as C.S. Lewis put it, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.”
Thanks, Josh. I have been unhappy for most of my life, so for someone (especially a minister) to get up and say God doesn’t care if we are happy, it doesn’t sit well with me. I actually got up and walked out of church after I heard that. (At least it was near the end of the sermon, so maybe people just thought I excused myself to the restroom.) And in the context of Regeneration ministries and the struggling individuals it helps, this is very much related to my lack of relationship with a significant other (girlfriend or wife). And when I go to church I help out and try to be friendly to others, but I rarely feel like my needs as a man are being met. All I see are other happy people with wives and kids. Yes they too have struggles with health and everything, but I just feel like a wart on the nose of the church. I have been used for music and childrens ministry and ushering, But now I feel inadequate for any of it. On top of that my professional life is kind of in the toilet and I never finished anything in college, although I attended four different ones. I’m not good at finishing. Then there is my relationship with God. It has always been a struggle, ever since I was a rebellious mischievous little boy to my present day quasi adult stage. 45 years old but I feel like a teenager with grey hair and a beard. I don’t know where i fit in in this world and feel empty of any career or purpose that God might have for me. Would this be a good time for me to take a permanent vacation and throw myself off the Wilson Bridge or into oncoming traffic? Of course that is not serious, but where does a person go to get away from his/her life? I was up late and having a hard time just trusting that I could be satisfied with God. At least he helped me to go to sleep instead of watching porn or something worse.
*what i meant was having a hard time resting in God or whatever. and maybe also being satisfied with him. i might lose my job soon, and i am living paycheck to paycheck. so this is a challenging time for me. but im probably one of millions in that position…
I just yesterday read a teacher who pointed out that Paul admonishes us to FLEE sexual sin specifically
but he says to resist (fight) the devil when facing temptation in general. I had never noticed that before. It’s certainly worth trying!
Thanks, Deb! I appreciate the distinction between when/what to flee and when/whom to fight.