Paul revealed, "I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. . . . For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not" (Romans 7:15&18). Paul knew what it was like to have a fervent heart desire to please God and yet to fall frustratingly short. The battle between the flesh and the spirit can be intense.
The Bible wisely advises, "Watch over your heart with all diligence" (Proverbs 4:23). The heart is where the victory will be won or lost, and believers must very carefully guard their hearts. Because the Christians' enemy, the devil, "prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour," the believer must "be of sober spirit, be on the alert" (I Peter 5:8). This is serious business.
Christians should take steps to avoid temptation whenever possible. "How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers" (Psalm 1:1). When one is aware of particular areas of struggle, wisdom instructs him not to go to those places, not to watch or listen to those things, not to hang out with those people. While believers' actions or surroundings may be innocent in themselves, if they habitually introduce temptation, they are danger zones to be avoided.
Unfortunately, while believers can minimize sources of temptation, they cannot avoid them completely. This fallen world is a place of constant assault, and it is neither possible nor biblical to withdraw into total isolation. Sometimes even places or people that should be safe introduce instances of temptation. Every believer lives in a broken body in the midst of a broken world, where everyone else, including fellow Christians and even leaders, is also broken. This means that by design, by default, or by carelessness temptations will regularly present themselves.
Temptations can arise unexpectedly from unlikely sources that a believer thought were safe and trustworthy. If a family member, a close friend, a respected leader, a trusted church, or a favorite organization wavers or changes position, such a shift can introduce disappointment and perhaps disillusionment. Not only is there the temptation to follow along and do what one has always believed was wrong, but there can also be a sense of hopelessness and doubt. Whether it be dress, music, leisure activities, morality, associations, or any other number of issues, one can wonder: "I always thought that was important. If this issue doesn't matter, what other things that I hold as important don't matter either?" The discouragement thus adds another level of temptation to the scenario.
Regardless of the source of the unavoidable temptation, there are things that a Christian can do to pursue victory, both in the temptation itself and in any resulting discouragement.
1. Seek the path to victory. A Christian does not have to fall. A faithful God will "with the temptation . . . provide the way of escape also" (I Corinthians 10:13). Often prayer is the key, asking God for help. God has enough grace for every situation, and the Spirit can minister self-control.
2. Support spiritual strength. A strong body supports a strong mind, so physical health is important. Proper sleep is especially key, because an exhausted mind cannot think well and has the tendency to exaggerate problems disproportionately.
3. Keep peace. The Bible repeatedly calls for love, unity, and peace among believers. If the temptation introduced by another is uncharacteristic or unintentional, the situation must not be allowed to grow into conflict or division. Romans 14 teaches compassionate understanding of the differing brother; the one does not intentionally place obstacles in the other's way, while the other does not judge the one whose position is different. Depending on the nature of the relationship, a Christian who believes his position is biblical can humbly attempt to influence the situation by sharing his concerns with the right person.
4. Recover from temptation. When falling even partially to temptation, a believer must wash his mind and heart. Depending on the severity of the situation, a Christian may need much time in the Bible, in prayer, listening to godly music or sermons, and perhaps in counsel. He needs God's truth to renew and refresh him.
5. Keep eyes on God. Job faced intense temptation over things that were completely out of his control. After he poured out his heart of frustration and despair, God finally came to Job with an answer: look at me. God revealed His power and wisdom to Job, intending to stabilize Job in the struggle.
6. Focus on personal faithfulness. Each believer is responsible before God for himself. If he can influence others for good, he should, but if he cannot, he must remain personally committed to truth and faithfulness. He must stand in God's strength so that he can please God, regardless of what others do.
The only ultimate escape is heaven. "We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is" (I John 3:2). Until God delivers Christians from their "body of death," they must faithfully continue to walk and work in the path God has ordained.
"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer" (Psalm 19:14).