“How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” These are the words of Psalm 119:9-11. They give us our defense against temptation and sin. The bottom line is, temptation gives way to sin when we wander away from the Scripture.
Think about Jesus in the wilderness? How did He handle the enemy? He defeated temptation by quoting Deuteronomy. It may sound simplistic, but the truth is a temptation only gets the upper hand when we’re not submitting to God and resisting the devil1.
James 1:14-15 ESV “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”
1 Corinthians 10:12-13 ESV “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
It may be discouraging for us to acknowledge, but the fault of our sin lies at our doorstep. We may try to explain it away or buy Christian books with keys to gain mastery over temptation, but if you’re not spending time in Scripture, no other book will help you gain dominion over temptation.
If I give into temptation, it’s because I’m not guarding that area of my life with the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. If I continue in the same sin, my repentance has not been genuine. I may be sorry for the sin, but the corruption hasn’t broken my heart enough to realize as David did, “against You and You only have I sinned.2.“
Psalm 119:9 KJV “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word.”
There is an especial necessity for this “take heed,” because of the proneness of a young man to thoughtlessness, carelessness, presumption, self-confidence. There is an especial necessity for “taking heed,” because of the difficulty of the way. “Look well to thy goings;” it is a narrow path. “Look well to thy goings,” it is a new path. “Look well to thy goings;” it is a slippery path. “Look well to thy goings;” it is an eventful path.James Harrington Evans3
The above comment from Mr. Evans brings to mind some weapons from the Scripture. We must remember the words of 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,” and the words of Ephesians 6:16-17 ESV “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,”
The shield of faith quenches the enemy’s darts, and the Word of God wounds our adversary and stops the attack, but remember, he always comes back at an opportune time. This is why we must always be ready and take heed lest we fall4.
We cannot defeat our enemy unless we understand his tactics and know how to use our weapons. Since the garden, the devil’s tactic has not changed; it will always be “hath God said?” Deconstructing the faith is the enemy getting someone to question what God has said in His Word. Our allowing little foxes to spoil the vine is a perversion of loving your neighbor. The enemy has many variations, but everything goes back to “hath God said?” The devil wants us to question God; we must know the Scripture and know it rightly to defeat him. The enemy tried twisting Scripture to the very Son of God; do we not think he will try and do the same with us?
Get in the Word, know it, read it continually, memorize it and apply it. Find books of old that help arm you for the battle by teaching you Scripture and how to use it to overcome temptation.
Lastly, yet firstly, understand the fear of God and His holiness. This is how we rightly submit to God and, in turn, are able to resist the devil. God is holy, and we are called to be holy as He is holy5. Temptation dulls our holiness, and sin hardens us against the fear of God. If you’re struggling with temptation and sin, I encourage you to read Psalms 51 and 119 daily until you overcome the allure of sin and then don’t stop. So many people go back to a sin they defeated because they became lax in submitting to God, didn’t use the armor, and let the study of the Word slide in their lives. Our enemy doesn’t let up, and we can’t afford to either.
In closing, I want to recommend a few books written by the Puritans that will help you in your fight against temptation and sin.
The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan is an excellent allegory of the Christian life that Charles Spurgeon read once a year. The book is instructive, corrective, encouraging, and full of practical nuggets on every page.
The Fear of God by John Bunyan is a book that explains the often discussed topic of the book of Proverbs. To fear God is to understand His holiness and the life we are called to as believers.
The Mortification of Sin by John Owen is a classic book on how to put to death the desires of our flesh. The Scripture is full of ways to keep our old nature down. Paul said I die daily and Romans six and seven are the quintessential chapters on our struggle with the old man. Allow Owen to teach and train you to have victory over sin.
The Christian in Complete Armour by William Gurnall is a classic three-volume set on spiritual warfare. I love these books because they do not become mystical but are thoroughly grounded in Scripture and teach us how to submit to God, engage the enemy and win. (This set is updated in modern English and Abridged.)
- James 4:7
- Psalm 51:4
- James Harrington Evans quoted by Charles Spurgeon in The Treasury of David Vol. III (Hendrickson Publishers) 63-64.
- 1 Corinthians 10:12
- 1 Peter 1:16