Overcoming Temptation by Fireproofing Your Heart (Apr. 2012)

Please read Temptation in the Old Testament www.BibleQuery.org/Experience/Temptation/TemptationInTheOldTestament.htm and Temptation in the New Testament www.BibleQuery.org/Experience/Temptation/TemptationInTheNewTestament.html prior to this. Thanks to the Saturday Morning Men's Bible Study that I lead for their many significant contributions to this paper.

"Guard your heart with vigilance, for from it are the sources of life." Proverbs 4:23 (.NET Bible)

The last two lessons we primarily learned from the Bible by example: in this lesson we will learn what the Bible says by precept about overcoming temptation.

In the previous two lessons we discussed how temptation to sin, like a fire, has three causes:
Air: The world and situations around us
Fuel: The temptable, burnable parts of us
Spark: includes the sudden or chronic, overt or subtle, and surprising or more predictable "opportunities to sin" that arise.
Speaking as a chemical engineer, do you know that even in an oxygen-enriched atmosphere, if you put sawdust into a furnace it won't burn? That's right, as long as the sawdust is encased in an airtight quartz bubble, mixed with chemicals in a fire extinguisher (like baking soda), and left under a funnel of liquid nitrogen being poured all over it, it certainly won't burn. The furnace might go out, but the sawdust won't burn.

Likewise, even if you have to be in an "oxygen-enriched" sinful atmosphere, and even if your resistance to some temptation is as firm as sawdust, and even if the temptations are like a combination of heating coils and fiery darts, with God working through you, you can successfully not just resist, but overcome temptation.

Now while the Bible tells us to resist the devil, it says to flee temptation. So we should never seek to go into the furnace of temptation. But if we find ourselves there, God working in us can get us through the furnace and out of it. There are a number of tools God can use, but it is our responsibility to let those tools have their effect. If the sawdust is outside the container, separate from the fire extinguisher chemicals, and far from the liquid nitrogen funnel, then we will find the sawdust has no more resistance to fire than anything else. There are three categories of tools we need to let God use in our lives.

Overcoming Temptation Part 1: Air

Change your environment: One key weapon is changing the environment. For example, I met a Christian in Ireland who had been an alcoholic most of his life. Once he came to Christ, he wanted to stop drinking, which among other things he said would save him a substantial amount of money. But had trouble stopping because his friends would always insist he go to the pub with them after work for a pint, and he felt he couldn't turn down his friends. So he decided to stop carrying money with him. When they asked, he told them they'd have to pay because he didn't have any money with him. After a couple of times, they stopped asking him to go to the pub with them.

Avoid: As for an immoral woman, or by analogy an immoral place, Proverbs 5:8 says, "Keep yourself far from her, and do not go near the door of her house, lest you give your vigor to others and your years to a cruel person."

One Christian brother said that he was really involved in the heavy rock scene as a teenager, and for him, listening to hard rock was a tempting circumstance he needed to avoid.

Likewise Matthew 5:28 says don't look lustfully, and in Job 31:1 Job said he had made a covenant with his eyes not to look lustfully on a woman.

Flee temptation: We are to flee when tempted.
Flee idolatry (1 Cor 10:14)
Flee immorality, which is sinning against your own body. (1 Cor 6:18)
Flee youthful lusts and ... (2 Tim 2:22a)
Flee from the love of money and greed. (1 Tim 6:22)
Turn away from godless chatter and opposing ideas of false knowledge (1 Tim 6:20)
Avoid foolish and stupid arguments (1 Tim 2:23)
Don't gratify cravings of the sinful nature. (Eph 2:3)

Pursue: draw near to God with a sincere heart (Heb 10:22)
... and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, ... (2 Tim 2:22b)
Press on toward the goal (Php 3:12b-15a)
Others:
Do your words or actions ever tempt others with a weak conscience (Rom 14:15-16,20-23; 15:1)
What do you think God thinks of people who are tempting others? (Mt 189:6; Mk 9:42; Lk 17:2)
Meet with other believers
(Heb 10:25)
... along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart." (2 Tim 2:22c)
Encourage each other (Heb 3:13) and spur one another to love and good deeds (Heb 10:24).

If you are single, consider getting a Christian roommate (of the same sex). You can encourage each other in the Lord, and be accountable to each other. Even without the roommate, it is good to have an accountability partner, whom you know is going to ask you how you have been doing and expect an honest answer.

Prescriptions from Proverbs
Pay close attention to God's words (Pr 4:1,20; 7:24).
Keep them within your heart (not just your lips) (Prov 4:21-22).
Guard your heart; it is a wellspring of life (Prov 4:23)
Don't say perverse or devious things (Prov 4:24).
Don't be trapped by your words (Prov 6:2).
Keep your eyes looking straight ahead (Prov 4:25).
Keep your feet on straight paths: (Is this the most direct way to get where you want to go, that does not pass by a tempting place) (Prov 4:26).
And don't wander to the right or the left (Prov 4:27).
Don't spurn correction (Prov 5:12).
"Train a child in the way,..." Prov 22:6).
Drive out the mocker, and out goes strife (Prov 22:10a).

Others: What kind of environment (good or bad) are you leaving for others? "When the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? " (Ps 11:3 NIV) (See also Prov 14:26.)

In summary, various circumstances that can tempt some to sin are: having money, being around certain people, watching some kinds of TV, movies, internet, or even radio or certain music, certain magazines or books, or being around certain spiritual influences.

You can do this. If you have a frequent or besetting sin, you can conquer this. If you are a believer, with God working through you, God expects you to conquer it. Even if it is hard for you, be up to the challenge: He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. But whether it is hard or not, why not make it easier on yourself. Change your environment, so there is not so much "air" for the fire of sin to grow in.

Short of leaving the world, what can you do to remove yourself from tempting environments? Who can you get to help you with this?

Overcoming Temptation Part 2: Fuel

Unfortunately, the root problem with sin is not the external environment we are in; the real problem is in us. Some people might not want to leave a tempting environment. So before you are in a tempting situation, how can you fireproof your heart? Scripture shows us before we are tempted, we should be preparing for the battle. Specifically we are to forget/remember, undergo training, examine ourselves, and learn God's Word.

A Forget and Seven Remembers

Forget your sinful past

Don't remember "Egypt" anymore (Ezek 20:43)
You don't want God to remember your past sins, so you don't dwell on them either (See Ps 25:7)
Don't think about how to gratify the sinful nature (Rom 13:14).
Live by the spirit, and you will not gratify the sinful nature (Gal 5:16-18).
Before you went astray, but now you can obey (Ps 119:67).
We have no less need to remember the things of God, than a doctor, lawyer, or scientist needs to remember the things of their profession.

Remember who you are (Dt 5:15; 6:6,12; Ecc 12:1; Isa 44:21; 46:8-9; 2 Tim 2:8)
We have fallen in this area before, and it is familiar and "comfortable" to fall in this area again.
Believers made a book of remembrance (Mal 3:16).

Remember Who is in us
Our body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19)
The Holy Spirit dwells in us (Jn 14:17,20).
We live in God, and God lives in us (1 Jn 4:9,13-16).

Remember where you have been
Remember your first love (Rev 2:5).
The prodigal son remembered where he used to be (Lk 15:17-20).

Remember where you came from. Without God's mercy, a man reaps what he sows (Gal 6:7).

Remember where you are going
"...No eye has seen, no ear had heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" (2 Cor 2:9 NIV)
When you find yourself thinking about the short-term pleasure of a temptation, and forgetting any long-term pain, remember that God has something better. For example, Psalm 4:7 says that God had filled David with greater joy, than when others grain and new wine abound.

Remember whose you are (Ps 71:17-18)
Our bodies now below to Christ (1 Cor 6:15-18).
We were bought with a price (1 Cor 6:20).
Don't forget God (Ps 50:22); thank goodness He doesn't forget you!
God's way is the best way. Do you really believe that?

Remember Who is watching you
God is watching you. You will have to give an account before Jesus for what you do.

Remember where you are (Heb 11:13; 13:13-14)
We are out of this world! (John 15:19)
We are citizens of heaven (Php 3:14,20)
and aliens of this world (1 Pet 1:7; 2:11)
"Show me, O LORD, my life's end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life." (Psalm 39:2 NIV)

Undergo Training

We have no less a responsibility to train than an athlete does

Be in strict training for self-discipline: 1 Cor 9:24-27 compare our struggle to runners and athletes
We are in training. 1 Tim 4:7-8; Eph 6:4; 2 Tim 3:16; Tt 2:4; Heb 12:11b
Run the good race. Gal 2:2; 5:7; 2 Tim 4:7; Heb 12:1

However, some have thought that a practice of self-discipline alone will give us more victory over sin. It can have benefits, but athletes and soldiers are very self-disciplined, and many of them are not paragons of virtue. The way to cool the desires for sin in us is for us to draw close to God.

Starve the Fire
Mortify the flesh (Col 3:5; Gal 5:24; Eph 4:22).

Fasting
A fast without obedience is not more useful than a diet.
Fasting is not commanded but encouraged (Mt 6:16; Acts 13:2; 14:23).
We fast not for tradition (Zech 7:5), and not for show (Mt 6:16-18), but it is an act of worship (Acts 13:2-3).
Fast to pray for help (Isa 58:3-9; Acts 14:23; Ps 35:13; Neh 1:4; Esth 4:3,16; 1 Ki 21:27; Ezr 8:23)
We fast for2Sm12:16,22 individual and corporate repentance (Neh 9:1; Dan 9:3; Joel 1:14; 2:12-5; Jonah 3:5).

Meditate on God
Mediate on His word, laws, promises, ways, and wonders (Ps 104:34; 1:2; 119:15,23,27,48,78,97,99,103,140,148;39:3; 2 Cor 7:1; 2 Pet 1:4), and works (Ps 77:12; 143:5)
Meditate morning and night (Ps 5:3; 16:7; 63:6; 119:55,148; 92:2; 42:8; 77:6; Is26:9;Job 35:10; Gen 24:63)
Meditating on God pleases Him (Ps19:14; 5:1; 104:34) and enriches us (Jms1:8; Ps1:2-3).
Think on what is pure (Php 4:8). Do not crave violence or horror (Ps 11:5; Prov 2:14; 3:31).

Pursue Holiness
The holy life is a command (2 Tim 1:9; 2:21; 3:2; 1Tim 1:8; 1 Pet 1:15,16; Lev 20:7; 22:32)
The process of holiness is not easy, we struggle to achieve it (Rom7:14-25; Heb 12:4,11).
Holiness is a gift, position, and reward. It is a goal. (Rom 6:22; 1 Cor 9:24-27; 1 Th 4:1-7)
Holiness is required; without holiness none will see the Lord (Heb 12:14; ~Mt 5:8; 1 Cor 6:9-11)
Be pure (Isa 52:11; Gal 5:16-21; Eph 4:19; 5:3-5; Col 3:5-6; 1 Th 4:3-5; Rev 9:21;21:8). Have pure and holy hearts (2 Tim 1:9; 2:22; 1 Tim 2:8; 5:22; 1 Pet 1:22; 1 Th 3:13) and self-discipline (Pr 5:12,23; 6:23; 9:13; 23:23; 25:28; Job 31:1; 1 Th 5:6; 2 Tim 1:7,10; Tt 1:8;2:6; 1 Pet 4:7; 2 Pet 1:6).
Just say no to worldly passions and pleasures (Tt 2:11; 3:3; 1 Tim 5:6; 2 Pet 2:13; Jms 4:3; Heb 11:25).
Guard heart, have pure thoughts (Pr 4:23;6:14,25;11:20;12:8;15:26;Jr 4:14;Ps141:4)
Avoid even the appearance of evil (2 Cor 8:21; 1 Th 5:22; Eph 5:3; ~Php2:15;Php 3:17; Rom 12:17-8; 1 Tim 4:12).
Actually the immoral, impure, and greedy are idolaters (Eph 5:3,5; Col 3:5; 1 Cor 6:10; Lk 12:15-21).

Work together to help each other
"Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other's burdens," (Gal 6:1-2a NIV)

Examing Yourself

Examining ourself is our responsibility (2 Cor 13:5).
Don't be tripped up because you are unprepared and surprised by temptation (2 Cor 2:11).
Look at examples given in the Bible (1 Cor 11-12).
Watch that your sincere and pure devotion is to Christ (2 Cor 11:3).
Consider your ways (Ps 119:59).
It is easy to fall into a sin without even thinking about it. Whatever is not from faith is sin (Rom 14:23).
Ask God to search your heart and show you anything in you that is offensive to God (Ps 139;24).
Are you trying to please God (Ps 19:14; Rom 14:18; Heb 11:6)?

Listen to God's Word

Gold from Galatians

Galatians 5 is densely packed with guidance to fight temptation.
Have the fruit of the spirit (Gal 5:22-23).
Crucify the sinful nature (Gal 5:24).
Live by the Spirit (Gal 5:25a).
Keep in step with the Spirit (Gal 5:25b).
Stop provoking others (Gal 5:26a; Gal 5:15).
Stop envying others (Gal 5:26b).
Sow to please the Spirit (Gal 6:8).

Silver from Psalms
"The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold." (Psalms 119:72 NIV)
Psalm 119 is full of suggestions for withstanding temptation. Many people think the main focus this, the longest Psalm, is God's Law. But it is not; there is little that describes or enumerates God's Law or other parts of the Bible. Rather, the main focus of Psalm 119 is using God's law to resist temptation and stand firm against evil. It is not God's Word that is the key, but rather your choosing to use, meditate on, apply, and obey it that is the key. Here is an brief listing of some of the points in this wisdom-packed psalm.
Psalm 119:2b,10 Seek God with all your heart.
Psalm 119:7b,27,73 Both learn and understand God's commands.
Psalm 119:9 says, "How can a young person maintain a pure life? By guarding it according to your instruction!" (.NET)
Psalm 119:11 Hide God's word in your heart.
Psalm 119:12 Praise God for teaching you.
Psalm 119:13 Recite God's laws on your lips.
Psalm 119:14,47 Rejoice and delight in following God's laws.
Psalm 119:15,27 Meditate on God's laws and wonders.
Psalm 119:28 Let God's commands strengthen you (It is not a given that it does, it also depends on your attitude towards it).
Psalm 119:57 Promise to obey God's commands.
Psalm 119:60 hasten to obey God. Do it today (Heb 4:7)
Psalm 119:61 Even when the wicked bind you, do not forget God's Law.
Psalm 119:62 if you are not sleeping at midnight, give God thanks for his laws.

When Jesus was tempted by Satan, He responded by quoting scripture. Of course you need to believe it as well as quote it.

Summary: In your home, you don't want to store fuel around where there will be an open flame. In our heart, Christ's home, we don't want to keep fuel for sin where it can be ignited either. We need to
F
orget our sinful past and remember who we are
U
ndergo training in holiness
E
xamine yourselves,
L
isten and obey God's word.
We cannot always keep from external environments that encourage sin. God has given us the responsibility to purify ourselves on the inside. But we cannot do it without Him; daily ask Him to continue cleansing you. In your life, what can be done to walk close with Jesus and make temptations to sin grow dim for you?

Overcoming Temptation Part 3: Spark

Who are We?
We are co-seated with Christ. Eph 2:6; Rev 3:21
We are co-heirs with Christ. Rom 8:17
Inherit the kingdom. Rev 21:7; Eph 1:18; 5:5; 1 Cor 6:9
We are a royal priesthood. 1 Peter 2:9
We are a kingdom and priests. Ex 19:6; Rev 1:6; 5:10
We will reign with Christ. 2 Tim 2:12; Rev 2:26,27; Rev 20:4,6 (Implied) Rev 22:5

Yet sometimes Christians forget this. Paul writes, "So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!" (1 Cor 10:12 NIV)

Remember Spark, Sudden Perils Await Retired Kings. We already looked at how to prepare your heart in advance for temptation, but now we will look at what to do when temptation suddenly arises, and you are in the heat of battle.

God has something for you to do now. It might be the same as you have been doing before; or it might be something new. But as "kings" we don't retire; God always has a way He wants us to minister.

Are there certain people who consistently tempt you to go to bad parties or places? If the police show up and there were drugs, even if you were not taking any drugs, you would still have some explaining to do. I have noticed a few people who are not only into sin, but they also seem to delight in tempting others to sin. Unless they show a desire to know the truth, avoid them, and any others who would want to bring you down.

Are there certain times of day where you are more tempted to do something? If so, change you routine, perhaps get involved in a Bible study at the time when that particular TV show is on. Often, just be with other good Christian friends and temptations will go down. But avoid friends, whether they call themselves Christians or not, who encourage you to sin.

Metaphors of Temptation

One thing that can be helpful is to look outside of yourself, by asking what does God see when he looks at me. Or, what will I think about myself years from now, in heaven? Sometimes some metaphors can help.

Proverbs 7:21-23,26 has some analogies of temptation. "With persuasive words she led him astray; she seduced him with her smooth talk. All at once he followed her like an ox going to the slaughter, like a deer stepping into a noose till an arrow pierces his liver, like a bird darting into a snare, little knowing that it will cost him his life." ... (26) Many are the victims she has brought down; her slain are a mighty throng" (NIV)

Chuck Swindoll once explained how they kill wolves in the Arctic. They take some raw meat and bury knives in it. Then the freeze the meat, and leave it out. Later the wolves come and since they cannot bite off the frozen meat, they start licking it. They get excited when they taste blood, little realizing that the blood is their own, from the knives in the meat. Eventually they bleed to death. Is that so different from what Satan wants to do to us?

Temptation can be compared to a bug light that bugs fly in circles around. They do not know they are getting closer and closer until "Zap!" they are fried by the heat. If only a bug knew to close its eyes and stop flying until the real sun came out, then it would survive.

You Always Have a Choice

When a person is about to commit a crime, or commit some other sin, they often falsely think at that point that it is unavoidable; they have no other choice. But God can always give you a choice. However, if you put your head far enough into a lion's mouth, it can seem like there is no way out. But God, who works miracles, can always find a way out for you.

"No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." (1 Cor 10:13 NIV)

As a believer, when you might be about to sin, remember you always have a choice: you can choose not to. Even though Satan might want you to think sinning is inevitable, that is just his lie. You can always choose to just say no to Satan's temptations.

If a temptation looks enticing, do you have faith that God has something even more pleasurable for you, though it might be in heaven. A speculation is that for every temptation on earth that you resisted, God has something better (and longer-lasting) for you in heaven, though it may not be the same kind of thing.

Call Upon the Lord in Prayer
"But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you. Save me from all my transgressions; do not make me the scorn of fools." (Psalm 38:7-8 NIV)
Seek the Lord and he will deliver you from all your fears. (Ps 34:4)
Seek God's face (Ps 27:8-9) not just His hand.
As a believer, do you pant and thirst for God's presence? (Ps 42:1-2)

Ask the Holy Spirit to satisfy the cravings you have. He delights to do so, especially in unexpected ways.

Watch for arrows
Shield of faith puts out Satan's fiery darts (Eph 6:16)
Watch for arrows from others too (Ps 11:2)

Sudden temptation can be fearsome
When tempted to sin out of fear, meditate on Ps 27.

Sudden Temptations can be sneaky too
People can fall not even recognizing they are going towards sin, especially for sins like pride.
Sometimes just doing nothing is a sin. James 4:17 says, "Anyone, then, who know the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins." (NIV)

Watch for chinks in your armor
Don't be ashamed of your body, which God wonderfully made. Ps 139:14; Song of Songs 4
Do not harden your hearts (Heb 3:7)
We should be dead to sin (Col 3:1; Rom 7:6).

Take warning
Between the time that God rejected Cain's offering, and Cain slew Able, what event happened?

In Genesis 4:6-7 God came to Cain, specifically to warn him that sin was crouching at Cain's door, but Cain must master it. Many times when we are knowingly going down a path of sin, God will graciously warn us to correct us. Other times we already can know we are going down a path of sin, and God in His grace warns us to rebuke us. In Cain's case, God's warning was of no effect because Cain chose not to heed it. But God is active and brings warnings to us; but we should not take that for granted but rather heed God's warnings.

Likewise when Balaam wanted the money to curse God's people, but did not want to directly disobey God, God warned him with the angel with the sword, seen by Balaam's donkey, who God supernaturally temporarily allowed to talk. Balaam tried to walk the fine line between not being too far out of God's will and yet getting a profit. We should not be that way. Rather than trying to not be too far out of God's will, we should try to be at the center of God's will.

Elisha would not accept anything at all as a present from Naaman the Syrian in 2 Kings 5:16. No reason was given. But when Elisha's servant Gehazi took it upon himself to go after Naaman and ask and receive presents (for either Elisha or himself) in 2 Kings 5:19-27 Gehazi was punished with leprosy. Sometimes God warns us without giving us a reason; we should not need a reason from God to obey what we know God wants.

Have patience
"Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him;" (Psalm 37:7a NIV). See also Ps 40:1-3 When you feel you just can't take it any more, and you have to sin (whether it is with that chocolate cake you can hear laughing at your diet, or something more ominous), it helps to remember that the temptation will pass. (It might help to eat an apple too!)

When Storm-tossed, Get in the boat
When the disciples were in the storm-tossed boat in Matthew 14:22-33, and Jesus walked on the water, the waves became calm when Jesus got in the boat. If you feel your life is a small boat, storm-tossed by the temptations and circumstances around you; ask Jesus to get into the boat of your life. He will keep you from shipwrecking your faith, and even though storms may still come, you will make it to the other side.

As an aside, the earliest Christian who mentioned this analogy was Origen (225-254 A.D.) in his Commentary on Matthew ch.11.6 p.435

Summary: What happens when you run into temptation can be the result of how you have prepared your heart up to then. But when you are in temptation, remember to draw close to Jesus by calling out to Him, and live for eternity and not the moment.

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