Practical ways to overcome sin and temptation
Temptation is a natural part of life. Whether that’s temptation to eat unhealthy food or the temptation to watch unsuitable adult material, or to engage in premarital sex or to tell a ‘white’ lie to your spouse, family, boss or friends, or to gossip about what someone said or did because it is simply too scintillating to resist gossiping about it, or to indulge in the pleasures, escapism, relaxation and the liberating feeling of drunkenness. The list is endless and the temptations can be configured into infinite possibilities.
Each person struggles with and reacts to temptation very differently. We cannot assume that what is easy for one person to resist will be easy for another person to resist. A great deal of empathy, sensitivity, understanding and support must be given to the person who is struggling with a particular issue. The last thing they will want is judgement and condemnation from others as this will only cause them to take solace in the object of temptation even more. Additionally, the last thing they need is for you to accept their sin(s) and to justify it due to fear of their reaction to your honest advice and counsel. Either way, we need the wisdom of God to help those around us who are going through this very difficult (but not impossible to overcome) issue of giving into temptation.
We will explore some themes to help those who are struggling with the temptation. Particularly, the seemingly inability to overcome it and the continuous surrender to it.
Firstly, the object of our temptation (the object that we desire) and are tempted by most likely did not come about overnight. It probably developed within us and took root over many years. There may be a chemical dependency on the feeling that the object of our temptation temporarily satisfies and most likely, there is the element of a habitual behaviour, trigger(s), dependency and response associated with the object of desire. All in all, the body wants what it wants when it wants it and it seems like there is absolutely nothing you or anyone else can do about it.
I will not dress it up, it will take a great deal of conscious and intentional commitment to change your habits and behaviour in order to overcome it. This article will explore some of those solutions.
Throughout scripture, God warns us of the consequences of sin - it is death! For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23). Yet, for some people, like a moth, they cannot resist the sin and are drawn to the light that will ultimately consume them.
The following bible passage captures the feeling of helplessness around the object of temptation that leads to sin.
Struggling with Sin (Romans 7:14-25)
14 So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. 15 I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. 17 So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. 20 But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart.23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.
It must be noted that if a righteous man of God, apostle Paul, felt like this, then we too must acknowledge that we feel exactly the same way. However, he notes in verse 25 that the answer to overcoming the sin is in Jesus Christ. I will go on to explain.
For the Christian who has sinned and regularly gives into temptation, the overwhelming feeling of guilt can overtake you. Condemnation creeps in and sometimes, it can result in isolation of oneself because of the sense of shame and self pity. One then keeps this sin in the dark and to the outside world you may appear stoic, strong and unshakeable - yet the truth is far from it. This is indeed a common Christian experience.
Friends, you do not have to feel like that any longer. Satan likes and wants you to keep your sins in the dark. Sin loves the darkness. It festers and grows in secret places where no one else can bear witness to it. All demonic and occult activities coincidently happens in the dark but, if you are to be liberated, you must bring the light of God into that situation. I will explain what I mean throughout this conversation.
Here are some practical solutions to overcome sin and temptation:
Acknowledgement and confession of the sin is the first step to overcoming it. Call out all of the sins (e.g. if it is sexually related, these would be things like - pornography, masturbation, lust, perversion, sexual immorality, adultery, wickedness, disobedience etc). Take it into prayer and sincerely tell God everything. Tell Him why you give in to the sin, how it makes you feel, why you believe you need it and the circumstances that triggers it. Once you have confessed it to God in prayer, it is no longer in the dark and God will forgive you of the sin(s). But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness (1 John 1:9). You should no longer feel condemned or weighted down by the sin.
Thereafter, admit the sin to your spouse, loved one or to a spiritual mentor. Someone that you can trust with this issue. Someone who has integrity, who loves you and will stand with you to provide support and encouragement and will also pray for you and with you for as long as it takes for you to overcome the sin and to be totally set free from it.
After acknowledgment and confession comes repentance. Repentance is the conscious decision to turn away from your sins. It requires active effort and action on your part to follow this through with a change of behaviour and habit. In some cases this will take some time as it will involve rewiring and retraining yourself to form new healthy habits as a response to when the temptation trigger is set off.
The steps from here onwards will determine how quickly you will be totally free from the sin. I must stress that you will be free from the sin as God love you and He will do everything within the boundaries of your free will to help you. He will not remove your free will. Instead, as God knows our weaknesses, in His great mercy and love, He always sees to it that we can choose to say no and therefore have a way out of the temptation. In addition, He will also ensure that whatever temptation besets us, it will not be more than we can bear or resist. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. (1 Corinthians 10:13). I have to stress that God does not tempt us. We are tempted by our own evil desires. And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. (James 1:13-14). It is important that we understand that God is not testing us through temptation. The devil wants to enslave us to sin and he will do and use any weaknesses that we have to do so. But, thank God that God is on our side and He helps us to overcome it within the boundaries of our free will.
The next steps requires putting in place preventative measures before the temptation finds you. Replace your free time with studying the bible, prayer, periodical fasting and Christian fellowship. You can also explore taking up other wholesome activities such as developing new healthy hobbies, take up dancing classes, swimming, exercise, cooking, career development course, reading wholesome books, participating in volunteering activities, making yourself available to support someone else with a different sinful habit that you can partner with them to pray about. At the core of this council is the formation of new wholesome habits and behaviours that over time will replace your existing habits that opens you up to temptation. It will make you feel good about yourself, draw you closer to God, family, friends and your Christian community. Additionally, if you become a support for someone else who is struggling, it will motivate you to be a good example to them. This will not give you an instantaneous result. However, if you are patient with yourself and are willing to draw nearer to God, He will strengthen you. But, you cannot pass on this responsibility to overcome your sin to God as He will not violate your free will unless He deems it absolutely necessary. In most cases, He will expect you to overcome the temptation and develop into a mature Christian. You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.” (Genesis 4:7)