How should we deal with our temptations to sin? Do we confront them or do we flee from them – flight or fight? Perhaps we should apply a little Christian behavior modification and systematically desensitize ourselves from our fears and temptations through confrontation with these unwanted feelings.
Jesus confronted temptation head-on. He went the desert for 40 days and nights where He was tempted by the Devil, and, of course, triumphed. Should this form of confrontation be a model for us? I think that it is it important to observe that Jesus didn’t pursue the temptation. Instead, He had been led into the desert by the Spirit (Mat. 4:1).
As with Jesus, we experience temptations to sin that are unavoidable. If our children tempt us to anger, we do not have the option of becoming an absentee father. We need to deal directly with the temptation and trust that our Lord will make a way of escape for us so that we might be able to endure without sinning (1 Cor. 10:13).
However, flight is an option that Scripture often commands (1 Cor. 6:18; 10:14; 1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:22). In fact, Jesus taught His disciples to pray that they wouldn’t be led into temptation:
- And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. (Mat. 6:13)
Note that Jesus didn’t instruct them to pray, “Lead us into temptation so that we might learn to overcome sin through systematic desensitization.” Such a strategy doesn’t seem to have been a biblical option. Jesus also instructed His disciples:
- “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mat. 26:41)
He did not instruct them to “Seek temptation so that you will learn to overcome it.” Instead, the message of Scripture seems to be all about the Lord and His willingness and ability to deliver us:
- Because he [Jesus] himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Heb. 2:18)
I used to think that if I didn’t confront my “demons,” I would never overcome them, and they would continue to plague me. However, He is our help and our strength, and without Him, we can do nothing:
- Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5)
But can’t we confront our temptations and disarm them as we trust in Jesus? Sometimes, we must. We have no other choice. However, if we seek out our temptations, we might be acting presumptuously and putting the Lord to the test – the very thing that Satan tempted Jesus to do:
- Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” [Psalm 91] Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” (Mat. 4:5-7)
When we foolishly put ourselves in danger depending on God to rescue us from our foolishness, we “put the Lord your God to the test.” Likewise, if we are recovering alcoholics and go to the bar with friends, determined to overcome our addiction in this manner, we act presumptuously and put God to the test, demanding that He rescue us RIGHT NOW! Instead, we need to realize that we are weak and dependent sheep and therefore must flee from sin.
While we do need to hold our ground against sin, we should not seek a confrontation with it. Instead our trust must be invested in our Savior:
- So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. 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 endure it. (1 Cor. 10:12-13)
We should not be so self-confident that we think that we can stand in any situation. Therefore, it might be hubris, not piety, leading us to confront our temptations. Instead, Paul warns that this kind of self-confidence will lead to a fall. Rather, we need to trust that the Lord will deliver us from temptation. However, if we seek out our temptations, we are presumptuous of God – that He will deliver us.
Our Lord can make the weakest stand:
- Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. (Rom. 14:4)
However, we mustn’t take these divine encouragements as an excuse to be passive. Instead, we are required to actively fulfill our Lord’s commands (Mat. 6:33), insofar as He is providing the grace.
I had suffered decades of depression followed by crippling panic attacks. During these times, many told me what I should be doing to overcome. However, I was just too far down to apply these oftentimes sound principles. Often, my feeble efforts were like fighting against quicksand. The harder I’d struggle, the quicker I’d sink. Finally, I just reconciled myself to the fact that I truly could do nothing without Him (John 15:4-5) If He didn’t lift me up, I would not be lifted up – end of story! However, He did lift my up in many ways – sometimes in ways that I couldn’t observe - and I have been teaching at the New York School of the Bible for more than 22 years.
He has taught me many truths in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. One of the most important is this one: it is the humble – those whose confidence is in Him alone (Psalm 62) - who He will make stand (James 4:6; Mat. 18:4; Luke 18:14).