How to Overcome Temptation
George Everard, 1885
"Then the devil left Him; and, behold, angels came and ministered unto Him." Matthew 4:11
The narrative of Christ's conflict with the tempter stands out in marvelous contrast with Adam's fall in Paradise. Adam was in a garden surrounded by all that was pleasant, with food enough and to spare. Christ was in a wilderness, fasting forty days and afterward an hungered. Adam was tempted but once — yet he fell. Christ was thrice assaulted — yet He stood firm.
Adam shows us that man's unaided strength is but weakness.
Christ shows us how the soul, leaning upon God, can triumph over the enemy.
"But how can I triumph?" you may ask. In one form or another few have more temptations than lads at school — yet by God's help, you may pass unscathed through all. Let me give you a few hints how you may do so.
1. You must recognize the reality of Satan's power to tempt. He is a real foe, and one whom you must be prepared to face. Have you ever noticed how often Christ spoke of his deadly work? He tells how, like a secret foe, he comes by night and sows tares among the wheat. He tells how He foresaw him coming to sift Simon and try him. He tells how, as the prince of the world, he came to Himself, but could find no foothold for his temptations.
O be watchful to mark his approach! As strong as a lion, as crafty as a serpent, invisible — yet ever hovering near, he is always on the look-out to beguile and enthrall the soul.
Never is he more successful than when men deny his very being. "My soul, be ever on your guard." If he thrice strove to overthrow the Master — will he let the servant alone? None will he more strive to injure, than yourself. If he can ruin the peace and destroy the usefulness of a young life — great will be his gain.
2. You must be swift to discern temptation in whatever form it may come to you. These thousands of years, he has been practicing his fatal arts in beguiling souls, so that he knows how best to reach those whom he would injure. Just as a thief would go round about a house to see by what window or door he best can enter — so the devil goes round about each soul to discover where he can find the easiest access.
Remember, no place is secure from danger. The wilderness, the mountain-top, the Holy City, the Temple — were scenes where he tempted Christ. So everywhere and anywhere he is on the watch for you. In solitude or in society, in your chamber or on the cricket-field, in the schoolroom or in the chapel — he may come to you.
And he has many wiles and devices to aid his work. If he can, he will draw you into sin, he will make you forget God, he will make you proud or careless, or perhaps try to make you despair of help.
See how variously he tempted Christ. He would have Him . . .
doubt His sonship,
distrust God's providential care, and
presume upon His protection though He should forsake the path marked out.
He tempted Him . . .
to grasp at the dominion over the world,
to commit the fearful sin of idolatry.
In these ways he tempted Christ — and in similar ways he will tempt you. He will tempt you to sins of the intellect, to . . .
parade of natural gifts,
thinking lightly of God's truth.
He will tempt you to sins of the appetite . . .
to caring too much for eating and drinking,
to impurity, and other sins.
He will tempt you to sins of the heart . . .
trusting in an arm of flesh,
love of the world,
craving too much human praise, and
letting some idol take the throne which Christ alone ought to occupy.
No one can tell the lanes and byways by which your enemy will come near. You need to be perpetually on the alert.
"Gird your heavenly armor on,
Wear it ever night and day,
Ambushed lies the evil one.
Watch and pray!"
3. You must learn from Christ, to be well skilled in using the Word of Truth. Five smooth stones did David take from the brook, and with one of them he overthrew Goliath. Three pebbles from the pure stream of God's Word, did the Son of David take, and with them overcame the adversary. "It is written!" was the unfailing answer of Christ to each assault of the tempter. If you would resist the evil one, you must take the same course. Search into the Word of God, and apply it to your own special needs. Gather up its precepts and promises, and then in the power of the Spirit direct them against every temptation, small or great.
Three great truths Christ used to repel temptation, and they are valuable and helpful for all time:
Man's true life is in God. It depends not on external things. It is maintained by Divine power, and fed by Divine truth (verse 4).
Man must not tempt God by forsaking the plain path of duty. If you would be safe, turn not one hair's-breadth from the way of God's commandments (verse 7).
Worship God, and Him alone. None else must claim your homage. Though the whole world were your reward, not for one moment let your heart turn away from Him (verse 10).
These thoughts may help you, but you need the teaching of the whole Scripture. Every part is profitable, and you must neglect none of it. Read its histories, and see how God honors those who honor Him. Prize the Psalms, and catch the rare spirit of devotion that breathes in them. Value the prophetic books, and hearken to the solemn appeals in which they abound. Dive deeper into the New Testament, and grasp with firmer faith its revelations of mercy, peace, grace, and holiness.
But with the Word, look for the Spirit to bring it home to you. It was when Christ was full of the Holy Spirit, that He so bravely withstood the prince of darkness.
He was full of the Holy Spirit when He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. It was in the power of the Spirit, that He returned into Galilee. All through the temptation it was by the Spirit that He foiled the tempter by the sword which He had forged. So must you overcome. Pray in the Spirit, walk in the Spirit, live in the Spirit.
"Mighty Spirit, dwell with me;
I myself would mighty be;
Mighty so as to prevail
Where unaided man must fail;
Ever by a mighty hope
Pressing on and bearing up!"