I have made the decision that I want to be a disciple of Jesus, and I know that means I no longer have to sin. My mind is made up that I only want to do the good, and I will not give in when I am tempted to sin. But it isn’t so easy! Sin is always coming up, even though I want to do the good. Is it even possible to get victory, when my feelings are so strong?
I am sitting in my car in my friend’s driveway. I told her I’d pick her up at 7:45. It is now 7:50, and she still hasn’t come out of her house. We have to be where we are going at 8:00. I’ve already honked the horn two times, so I know that she knows I’m here. I feel so annoyed and impatient right now. She does this, time after time. I just want to give her a piece of my mind.
I feel so horrible. I so badly want to be patient and kind, yet here I am, feeling impatient and annoyed . . . again. I feel like I keep on sinning; I keep having these kinds of thoughts. Anger, envy, impure thoughts, to name just a few. I know that these things are wrong, God’s Word tells me that. What is going to take?
I am not my feelings
Then I remember something I read recently in some Christian literature:
“In James 1:14 we read, ‘But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires (lusts) and enticed.’ Most believers think that this is sin, and wish they could feel nothing of their own lusts. When they are conscious of theirs lusts, they think that something must be wrong with them. Yet we do not read that we shall not be tempted when we become believers, but that we shall be victorious and not sin. [1 Peter 4:1-2] This is our calling in Christ! Therefore, when you are tempted, you have not committed sin; sin only comes forth when you give in to your lusts.” (From the booklet “Glory – Apprehended of Christ,” by Sigurd Bratlie)
I suddenly realize something. I may feel like I’m irritated and annoyed right now, but that’s not me! The thoughts have definitely entered my mind, but I don’t have to agree with them. Right now the lusts in my flesh want to take control, but this is actually only a temptation.
The lusts in my flesh are that part of my human nature that wants to live according to my own will rather than do the will of God. It’s the part of me that wants to react in ways that are clearly spoken about in God’s word as being wrong. It is because I have lusts in my flesh that I am tempted in the first place. The lust to be impatient, for example. The lust to be offended when someone says something about me that I don’t like. Etc.
The moment of temptation
So when I feel these lusts coming up from my flesh, does that mean that I have sinned? Absolutely not! This is the moment of temptation. I only sin if I consciously agree to give in and allow those thoughts to live, even though I am well aware that it goes against God’s will. Even though I feel these things, I don’t have to react according to them. I do not commit sin unless I am consciously aware that I am being tempted and agree that, yes; I am going to do what I am being tempted to.
The important thing for me to remember is that there is a difference between me and what I am tempted to. I am the person who has made up my mind not to sin, no matter what my flesh comes up with. No matter what I feel, my feelings don’t mean a thing. I am my decision; the mindset that I hate sin and do not want to commit it. (Read Romans 7 & 8)
So now as I sit in my car and feel the lusts in my flesh rise up with these impatient, annoyed feelings, I know that this is just a temptation. Because I have a human nature, with lusts, I really feel like I am being impatient. But I am not my feelings! I am a disciple of Jesus, who will not sin! I do not agree to these thoughts. I say a strong and decided “no!” to the temptation. Even though my flesh feels this way, with my mind I do not allow it.
Even though my feelings may not immediately change, I refuse to give in and allow myself to think impatient thoughts. I pray to God that He will give me strength to resist the temptation, no matter how long it lasts, and He does so. I pray that instead of reacting impatiently, I can react with love.
Temptation = victory
When my friend gets into the car two minutes later, she doesn’t even need to sense that I have been tempted. Instead she can sense patience and kindness from me. For her own sake, maybe she does need to hear that she should be more considerate of others, but an exhortation needs to come out of love, because I know it is for her best. Not out of impatience, because I have been “inconvenienced.” Then we have it good together. No taste of sin can come between us. Then I have been victorious; I have overcome! I have not sinned; I have not agreed to be impatient and annoyed.
It’s such liberty to know that how I react when I am tempted is entirely up to me. I know that by the grace of God He will give me the strength to overcome every single time that I am tempted. It’s just one temptation at a time, and with each temptation I gain a little more divine nature. (2 Peter 1:4) Every temptation can be a victory, and I look forward to the day when my natural reactions are the fruits of the spirit. Love, kindness, longsuffering, etc. (Galatians 5) This is my faith!