(Click to listen to an audio recording of this article: What you need to know about temptation)
You experience temptation when a thought comes to your mind and you are aware that to act according to that impulse would be wrong. You come to a moment of decision: will I choose to sin here, or will I choose to overcome sin? Everyone is tempted when they are drawn away by their own desires and enticed. (James 1:14) A temptation is always conscious. You are aware that to give in to this thought would be to sin; to do what you know to be wrong. And it’s important to remember that you can’t be tempted without the thought first coming into your mind. That is the temptation, not sin you have committed!
How to respond to temptation
It has to do with your attitude: What do you want more? Eternal life with Jesus, or the passing pleasure of sin? That always has to be in your mind, then you will never agree with the thought that is coming into your mind. Go to God in humility and pray, “God, give me strength to stand here and to not give in. I am weak, but You are strong! Give me grace to overcome.” You can’t overcome without power from Him; without the power of the Holy Spirit. You need His grace to be victorious. And then of course He gives you that power. “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.” 2 Chronicles 16:9. You can’t stop a temptation from coming in to your thoughts, but you can disagree with it and stop it from coming in to and affecting your spirit.
Even when the temptation lasts for a long time. When there is something in you that fights for life, and wants the opposite of God’s will. That is your flesh trying to assert itself. It can feel like the temptation is going on and on and on, but it is important to understand that as long as you are fighting it, you are not sinning. If you are consciously saying, “No! I will not do this thing I am tempted to. I will not get angry, I will not be envious, I will not allow impure thoughts” then you are not sinning! No matter how long the temptation lasts.
Living in victory!
Then you are living in victory! It’s a very conscious fight. But then sin will die, and when it is dead, it is dead. If another temptation comes up, it’s something new you’re fighting against. You have to understand that. It’s not that old thing coming back from the dead. It’s a new enemy, it’s a new battle, and once again, you are able to resist it until it is dead.
You can never take a moment to think, “Well, should I do it or shouldn’t I? How far can I go? Is it really so wrong?” etc. Thoughts like that prove that you are not serious about overcoming, and sooner or later you will give in to sin. It’s allowing Satan to get your ear. Without delay you must say “Get behind me Satan!” And then he has to disappear. “For it is written …” And then you throw God’s Word at Him, just as Jesus showed us. Satan has no power against the Word of God. (Matthew 4:4-10)
You can live in this victory every day, in every situation, and live a completely pure life.
Interested in reading more about what it means to get victory over sin?
What if I only realize something was sin after I’ve done it?
You will always know when you are being tempted. You can’t be tempted without knowing that you are being tempted. However, some of your deeds, words and thoughts may be against God’s will. You can sin without being aware of it at the time; that’s what Paul calls “deeds of the body.” But then you can’t say that you have been tempted, because you weren’t aware that sin was going to come out. Then there is no condemnation for that; you don’t need to feel guilty or discouraged for those actions. (Romans 7:25; Romans 8:1) However, that doesn’t mean we don’t do anything about it.
In Romans 7:15-25 it is written about the two “I’s.” One “I” is my flesh and the other “I” is my spirit, or my decision to serve God. The “I” that is your flesh, that is the one that commits these unconscious sins. It can be something that you said, and afterwards you realize that you did it out of irritation, or because you were looking for some honor for yourself. But it wasn’t the real you who did it! It was your flesh. But when that realization comes, then it is vital that you hate the sin that came from your flesh, repent before God, and also others if you’ve hurt them by what you’ve done. Then you are consciously putting sin to death: you are putting to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit. (Romans 8:13) Then it’s also important to be prepared; resolve to be more awake next time you’re in a similar situation. You make it right, then you commit to doing it better next time.
You have to hate sin
It’s actually very simple. When you see sin, you hate it and overcome it. Whether it is in the moment of temptation, or whether it is after the fact. As long as you don’t agree with or accept it, then you aren’t accountable for it. Because as soon as you got to see it then you’ve been doing God’s will, which is to overcome it.
These situations teach you to be more awake. They help you to learn and to grow. It’s a pathway you are walking on – the path through the flesh – and all of these situations are there so that you become more and more free from sin in the flesh. In this way you become more and more in tune with God and with His will for your life.
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