Wednesday, 09 March 2011 10:37

A Strategy for Overcoming Temptation

Written by  Rick Ezell
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Imagine a battleship being attacked from the air by warplanes while the admiral orders, “Fire the anti-submarine homing torpedoes.” The battleship would probably suffer great damage and casualties—not by lack of power, but by failure in strategy. Anti-submarine homing torpedoes are designed to destroy submarines, not airplanes.

That may sound ridiculous, but when it comes to overcoming temptation, most of us act in a similar fashion. We fight when we should run, we run when we should stand, we debate when we should look away, and we wonder why we suffer defeat.

The three primary areas of temptation are the lust of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of possessions. Knowing these areas of temptation, what is the appropriate strategy for each?


Running from Temptation

When tempted, the best tactic is not to enter into a conversation with the enemy. The longer we debate the temptation, the more likely we will give in to it. Any lingering over the temptation will probably bring defeat and devastation.

Paul wrote, “Flee the evil desires of youth” (2 Timothy 2:22) and “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18). We are never told to stand and fight physical temptations; we are ordered to flee. Physical temptations can suck us in, making it nearly impossible to escape. When tempted physically, don’t sit around and ponder it. Run from it. “There are several good protections against temptation,” Mark Twain said, “but the surest is cowardice.”

There are different ways to run. Sometimes we run with our feet like Joseph did when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him. Other times we avoid situations where we know we are weak. I love books. But if I don’t have available cash, I have learned not to visit bookstores. Sometimes we run to friends who love God and can offer help and strength to us. “Run from anything that gives you the evil thoughts that young men often have, but stay close to anything that makes you want to do right. Have faith and love, and enjoy the companionship of those who love the Lord and have pure hearts” (2 Timothy 2:22, The Living Bible).

Avoiding temptation is easier than overcoming it. We have a better guarantee of winning the battle with physical temptation by walking away from the fire of passion before we are drawn in.


Refocusing on the Good

An overweight man was serious about maintaining a diet. He changed his route to work to avoid driving by the bakery. He succeeded for about a week. Even his coworkers commented on his progress. But one morning as they stood around the coffeepot, he came in carrying a dozen doughnuts. Everyone was aghast. They asked him what happened and he told them, “I forgot and drove my old route to work today.” He smiled. “And I decided that if God wanted me to stop at the bakery, he’d give me a parking space right in front of the main entrance. And he did—on my eighth trip around the block!”

The key to overcoming temptation that attacks our visual nature is not to fight the temptation but simply refocus our thoughts and our eyes. Proverbs 4:14, 15 states, “Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evil men. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way” (NIV).

On top of one family’s television set is a beautiful framed calligraphy print of Psalm 101:3 written for all to see—a constant reminder of the power of the visual nature of temptation and the warning to stay clear: “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes” (Psalm 101:3, King James Version).

When we are tempted visually the proper strategy is to change our attention. Literally we must focus on something else. That may mean we shift our thoughts or change our mind. Instead of looking at the temptation, we look at what is righteous. Why? Because the more we fight a feeling, the more it grabs us. Don’t focus on what you don’t want. Focus on what you do want.

For example, are you a chronic worrier? We worry because we doubt the goodness of God. At those moments we should take our eyes off the negative, looking at the goodness of God. Are you habitually depressed? Stop focusing on what is wrong; focus instead on the truth of God’s Word. Too often we look at situations rather than God’s strength, power, and love. Store God’s Word in your mind. Are you susceptible to visual stimuli? Don’t look at what will tempt you. We may need to change the TV channel, walk out of the movie, change jobs, or join a new car pool. Paul noted, “Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33).

Whatever gets our attention gets us. Therefore, stop fighting visual temptation. Instead refocus your attention. Turn your back on visual temptations. You may need to physically remove yourself from the situation. If you don’t want to get stung, get away from the bees.

We focus on what is good by saturating our minds with Scripture. In Scripture we discover God’s thoughts and God’s focus. Meeting daily with God orients our lives to his purpose and his plan. Surrounding ourselves with things that are good—the right music, the right people, the right television shows, the right literature—enables us to stay on the right path. While we don’t have to live in a bubble, we want God to be our major influence. Ask the right questions. Will this decision or action bring glory to God? Will it advance God’s kingdom? Will it help me become like Christ? Will it enhance my testimony to others?


Returning to God

The Scriptures say, “Come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:8).

We grow closer to God by reading the Bible, by going to church, by getting involved in a Bible study, by praying, and by engaging in other disciplines. I have found that the more time I spend alone with God, the better prepared I am to resist temptation. On the other hand, when I am prone to sinning it means I have not been spending time with the Lord.

Do you want to defeat Satan in the spiritual arena? Grow closer to God. Victory in the spiritual arena comes in direct proportion to the time we spend with God.


Rehearsing the Consequences

The enemy makes sin look inviting, but the consequences are devastating. For each of the three areas of temptation, think past the temporary pleasure, recognizing the long-term pain of disobedience.

A leader in a Christian organization fell into immorality. Asked, “What could have been done to prevent this?” he said with haunting pain and precision, “If only I had really known, really thought through, what it would cost me and my family and my Lord, I honestly believe I never would have done it.”

The next time you are tempted to cross the line, rehearse the possible consequences of your actions.


• Physically. You may bring harm to your body.

• Mentally. Those memories and flashbacks will haunt you for the rest of your life.

• Emotionally. You will venture down a path that may lead to addiction, as you fall prey to temptation, repeating the wrongful behavior over and over again.

• Personally. You may lose your self-respect and your reputation because of your sin.

• Professionally. With some sins, you may lose your job, forfeit your status, and waste years of training and experience.

• Relationally. You will destroy your example and credibility with your family.

• Spiritually. You will grieve the Lord who redeemed you.


Solomon once asked some pointed questions. While addressing sexual temptations, the questions apply to all temptations: “Can a man scoop fire in his lap without his clothes being burned? Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched?” (Proverbs 6:27, 28). The obvious answer to both questions is no.

The warning has been issued: When you cross the line into sin, the consequences are real.

In any war, two factors are essential to victory: power and strategy. In the spiritual war, you can’t win without power (God’s Spirit and Holy Scripture), but you must also employ the appropriate strategy. The next time you are in the battle, make sure you employ the right strategy and victory will be sure.


Rick Ezell is a freelance writer in Greer, South Carolina.

Last modified on Saturday, 19 November 2016 08:22
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