Recently I was asked to speak to the staff of a well known missionary establishment on the theme of Temptation and the Christian Worker. At the time of the request, I had an especially heavy schedule. I simply could not see any possibility of being adequately prepared in the time available. But as I began to ponder the subject, I realized that, having been a Christian for over 55 years and a Christian worker for more than 40 years, I just might have some perspectives on this subject.

Like any believer, I have faced my share of temptation. Like any believer I have had my share of victories and my share of defeats. Hopefully I have learned some lessons along the way that just might be of help to some younger believers and especially Christian Workers.

My approach to the subject is two fold. Initially, I want to look at the issue of temptation from a Biblical perspective and set down a series of principles that I see rising from the Scriptures. Secondly, I want to draw on my own experience of walking with God and set forward some practical principles that I hope will be of blessing to all who read this article.

Temptation: A Biblical Perspective

Even the most basic survey of the theme of 'temptation' in the Word of God soon gives a series of foundational principles upon which to base our understanding.

What is Temptation?

In the Epistle of James we read: But each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.' James 1:14 (NIV)

I define temptation as the enticement to satisfy some lust or desire of my sinful human nature. Just as the fisherman seeks to entice the fish to take his bait and thus become caught on his hook, so the enemy of souls seeks to entice us to satisfy the lusts of our sinful human nature and give in to sin. It is an invitation to submit to the passions of my humanity rather than to live in righteousness before God.

It has often been said that temptation comes from three different sources: The WORLD, the FLESH and the DEVIL.
· The 'world' entices us to live a life without restraint; to live as everyone else is living and to fit in with the crowd. The 'world' is contrary to the purposes and plans of God and follows the broad way that leads to destruction.

· The 'flesh' speaks of that which rises of out of my unredeemed nature. It encompasses those desires and drives of my humanity that would lead me into rebellion against God and His perfect way if they were allowed to get out of control. (Romans 1: 18-32).

· The 'devil' is the arch deceiver, the father of lies and the prince of the power of the air. It is none less than satan himself who is bent on the destruction of every living soul, especially those who would stand for God and His truth.

In its end result, temptation is focuses on 'ME'. It seeks my desires, my passions, my satisfaction, my rights, my ways. Temptation urges me to follow the path of ultimate selfishness and please myself at the expense of all else.

Temptation is common to all

In 1 Corinthians 10:13 the Apostle Paul writes, 'No temptation has seized you except what is common to man ...' The message of this passage is that temptation is a reality for every living human being. It is not reserved for any single group of people. None is immune from the realities of temptation. To be tempted is to be human and to experience the reality of humanity. To be sure, each one of us has our areas of specific weakness and vulnerability. There can be no doubt that the enemy is only too well aware of our vulnerability and does all he can to exploit those areas. He will stop at nothing if he can bring down one of the Lord's own.

But satan has no new tricks. His ways are as old as the kingdom of darkness itself. He simply repackages the same old strategies in his attempts to pull down a new generation of God's people. We do well to take care-ful note of the strategies he has used to destroy the testimony of God's people who have lived before us.

Jesus has walked out journey

The Son of God does not sit in some ivory tower issuing declarations and decrees for a hapless humanity and then pour out His judgement on their failures. He became one of us. He entered our world clothed in a body of flesh and blood just like ours. In a precious and unique way, 'The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us...' (John1:10 ). Here on earth He was both fully God and fully man at the same time.

But more! In Hebrews 4: 15 we read, 'For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with us in our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet who was without sin.' I like those words, '... in every way...' There is no experience of temptation that He has not experienced before me. There is no point of my failure that He has not faced himself. He knows the depth of my experience. But more: He was victorious – which means that he faced it to a deeper degree than I can ever know.

We are inclined to look at the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness and see only three specific temptation events. As I read Matthew 4:1-11, I see the mere précis of what Jesus faced during those 40 days in the wilderness. During those dark days and nights, hell threw it's every resource at the Son of God. Satan knew that if he could derail Jesus' mission at that point, God's plan of salvation was finished and the human race forever damned. He came to Jesus himself and unleashed a tide of temptation such as no other mortal has ever faced. You can be sure he left no temptation untried. Jesus faced the full force of hell's fury and walked away sinless.

No matter what enticement may be dangled before me by the world, the flesh or the devil, Jesus knows the reality of that temptation and '... he is able to help those who are being tempted.' Hebrews 2:18 (NIV)

There is always a choice

I believe we underestimate this matter of choices. Every one of us faces all manner of choices every day we live. I am convinced that with every enticement to sin, there comes a choice which offers to us the opportunity to walk away victoriously. Paul writes in the second part of 1 Corinthians 10:13, '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.' This implies that with every temptation God offers us an alternative which, if we have the courage and will power to choose it, will lead to a godly alternative.

King David was quietly minding his own business one evening, simply taking a stroll on his rooftop, looking out over his capital city (2 Samuel 11). Innocently looking around the sights before him he happened to see a beautiful woman taking her bath on the roof of her home some distance away. To that point King David had committed no sin. He faced a choice. Turn and walk away and continue to live in righteousness or look again and begin the slippery path to adultery and murder. Unfortunately he made the wrong choice and the rest of the story we know only too well.

The pathway of sin is never our only alternative. God sees to that. That is the promise of His Word. But ultimately the choice is with us. When we choose to follow the enticements of our sinful nature, we inevitably walk the pathway to sin. (James 1:14-15) However, if we will make the choice to take God's righteous alternative and choose to walk His 'way of escape', we will will continue to live in victory. The challenge is to want to see the alternative and even more, to want to choose that alternative.

Christian workers are satan's prime targets

I have often counselled young men and women who desire to enter the service of the Kingdom of God. One of the things I tell them is of the danger they face. Taking the analogy of the army sniper, the moment we step out for God, we step into satan's cross hairs (his sights). Although a specific verse of Scripture does not come to mind, there are many examples in the Bible of men and women who have faced specific assaults of the enemy as part of their service for God and His people.

The enemy is not a fool as many mistakenly suppose. He knows that when a leader falls, the effect on those whom they lead is devastating. Several times during my ministry I have been asked to step into situations where a leader has fallen into significant sin. Inevitably I find a tragic mix of disillusioned and hurting people. Too often there are those who walk away from the Lord as a result of their trust being betrayed. Many others never recover from the impact on their spiritual life. I have seen churches which have not fully recovered many years later.

Sin's pleasure is short

In Hebrews 11:25 we read of Moses who, '...chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time.' The final words of that verse are significant. 'Sin's pleasures' are no doubt most enjoyable. But they are inevitably short lived and the devastating consequences follow all too soon. I am sure David and Bathsheba enjoyed their torrid affair. But the enjoyment was short lived. News of her pregnancy led to a hurriedly conceived cover-up and ultimately to murder and the death of the child. (2 Samuel 11-12). The consequences of his actions haunted David until the day he died.

One of satan's lies is, 'No one will ever know!' But God knows and He is a very significant 'someone'. His principle of righteousness means that unrighteousness must ultimately be exposed. Sooner or later, concealed sin is uncovered. Time an again I have watched to see how evil which has been hidden for years comes to the surface. This is true both in the church and in the world.

And the pain the child of God goes through along the journey is in itself devastating. In Psalm 32 David writes, 'When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as in the heat of summer.'(Psalm 32:3-4 NIV) God loves us too much to allow us to wallow in our sin and let the ongoing consequences reap a harvest of devastation on our lives. His conviction is intended to lead us to repentance.

This has been a very basic survey of the issues of temptation and its consequences. I know there is much more that could be said. Perhaps another time! But these truths stand.

Things I have learned

I noted earlier that, just like any believer, I have walked my own journey with temptation. I have had my share of victories and my share of defeats. Along the way I have learned some very valuable lessons that continue to help me in my spiritual pilgrimage and my desire to live a godly and holy life. I share some of those lessons with you.

Know your areas of weakness

When a general prepares to lead his army into a military campaign, he looks to his intelligence agents to uncover the weaknesses in the lines of his enemy. Once exposed, exploiting those weaknesses brings him one step closer to victory. Let me assure you, satan knows your weaknesses. He will do all he can to exploit those weaknesses in order to bring about your downfall.

In Hebrews 11:1 the writer speaks about, '... the sin that so easily entangles ...'. I have heard this referred to as our 'besetting sin'. Yes, each one of us has such areas of vulnerability in our lives. Those vulnerabilities are slightly different for each person. Do you know your point of greatest vulnerability?

It is sometimes said that satan's favourite lines of attack are in the areas of money, sex and power. Through the years I have seen many Christian leaders and workers fall into sin. In every case it was one of these three areas of weakness that led to their down fall. All too often one led to the other and finally a combination of two or three areas destroyed their ministry and often their family as well.

Being real about your greatest point of vulnerability and taking steps to ensure that you have adequate personal, spiritual and practical protection in these areas is not only good sense but essential for your ongoing spiritual journey.

I say again: Do you know your point of greatest vulnerability.

Set safety barriers in place

If you are honest about your place of greatest vulnerability, you are in a good place to begin to set some safety barriers around your life and your spirit. Often those safety barriers are some simple practical rules that you have set for your life.

Let me illustrate: For highly driven, high achiever males, the area of greatest vulnerability is usually in the area of sex and sexual addictions. A man who is passionate and driven in his work or ministry is very likely to be a man of strong sexual drives. Such a man needs to be real about his vulnerability to satan's attacks in that area of his life.

Acknowledging his potential weakness, such a man would need to exercise great wisdom in his relationships with women. Knowing my own vulnerability in such areas, I have made some life rules I will not violate: I will not be alone with a woman other than my wife for any reason. I would never travel with another woman either in my car or as a ministry partner. I will not counsel a woman unless my wife or another woman is present. I am careful to shield myself from any thing that would feed that aspect of my humanity.

If money is your vulnerability, stay away from areas of finance as much as possible. Do not volunteer as a treasurer or book keeper for your church or another Christian organization. Where you must handle financial matters for others, go the extra mile to ensure that your accountability is faultless. Keep every receipt or account. Keep your records spotlessly accurate. Be willing to answer any question asked of you by those to whom you must ultimately present your records and do not take offense when they question details.

Be willing to be accountable

Submission and accountability are vital principles in the Christian life. The Lord Jesus walked His life in submission to His father – God. In Ephesians 5:21 Paul writes, 'Submit yourselves to one another out of reverence for Christ.' Throughout my life and ministry I have frequently found that those who refuse to live in submission are those who ultimately fall into some area of destructive sin.

I am a great believer in this matter of accountability. In our own ministry, my wife and I have a three fold accountability structure in place. Administratively and financially we submit to the oversight of our committee of management. As Christians in the local church, we submit to the leadership and oversight of our pastor. As a couple who operate at senior levels of leadership in the wider church, we submit our lives to the oversight of an Apostle. He has the right to enquire into any aspect of our relationship, our spiritual lives and our ministry. He speaks into our lives at many levels and we deeply appreciate his input. We treat these accountability structures very seriously.

If you know you have a significant struggle in one area of temptation (your besetting sin), look for someone who will hold you accountable in that specific area and submit to their authority. I have one friend who has fought a long battle with addiction to pornography. He has asked me to be part of his accountability structure. He has committed himself to respond to any enquiry I might make with openness and honesty. He has linked his computer to mine via a special program that gives me regular reports on his 'online' activity.

There is something important here. If you are struggling with an area of powerful temptation, when you acknowledge that struggle to someone you trust, you rob the temptation of its power. My wife is a great blessing to me. We share great openness and honesty with each other. Many a time I have acknowledged to her that I am struggling in some area of temptation. Often, the mere acknowledgement of that struggle is sufficient to take away its power in my life. It seems that the burden shared is a burden released.

Remember: Sin's pleasures are brief

I often think about King David and his affair with Bathsheba. It stands before me as one of the most powerful warnings in Scripture. How soon the apparent thrill of an illicit relationship turned to the bitterness and pain of conviction and regret. David's sin impacted his own life, that of his family and also his nation in far reaching ways. How many died because of the King's wickedness we will never know. I have the sneaking suspicion that if we were to ask David to identify his greatest mistake in life, he would mention this time in his journey.

During my years of ministry I have had the privilege of speaking into the lives of many people. I have known the joy of leading many to Christ. I have walked the pathway of discipleship with young believers and seen them mature into fruitful servants of the Lord. Through our training programs in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe my wife and I have spoken into the lives of many who are in Christian ministry today. I frequently think of the devastation that may well be caused to many of those dear friends if they should ever get the news that I had given in to some major area of temptation. For me that is a very significant warning.

At times when I find myself facing a major attack of temptation, I look into the faces of those many people and remind myself the impact my sin may well have in their lives. I do not want to carry such a burden on my conscience.

Be careful of the things you feed into your mind

Ultimately our lives are driven by our hearts and minds. The things we feed into our minds are the things that take root in our hearts. Those become the driving forces of our lives. I know all too well that my human heart is '... deceitful above all things and desperately wicked...' Jeremiah 17:9. My human heart needs no encouragement to submit to the enticements of temptation and turn to the ways of wickedness. Rather it needs every encouragement to seek that which is true, noble, right and pure. (Philippians 4:8)

For this reason we need to be careful about the things with which we feed our minds. To guard carefully the kinds of books we read, the television programs we watch, the internet sites we visit, the company we keep. These things will inevitably have an impact on our ability to fight temptation and resist sin.

In Romans 13:14 Paul writes, 'Rather clothe yourselves with they Lord Jesus Christ and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.' What brilliant advice! The more we fill our hearts and minds with the things of Christ and His Word, the less vulnerable we will be to the enticements of sin.

In my own journey I have found that a regular diet of the Word of God is one of my strongest defences against the enticements of evil. I have lived long enough to look back and see a pattern. In those seasons when I have allowed the pressures of life and ministry to divert me from my regular disciplines of time alone with God and His Word, I have found my resistance to the enticements of evil to be at its lowest. But when I maintain my regular feeding upon His Word and my fellowship with Him, those are the times I stand strongest and experience victory against the enemy and his many schemes aimed at my destruction.

Memorize Scripture

In Psalm 119:11 the Psalmist writes, 'I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.' We only have to read of the temptation of Jesus to know that His responses to the enemy's attack were expressed in words from Scripture. Clearly memorized Scripture is a powerful weapon against the enticements of sin and the schemes of the devil.

In recent years I have memorized a great deal of the Word of God. I wish I had been more intentional about it much earlier in my life. Those verses and passages from the Scripture that I have 'hidden in my heart' are my greatest weapon in times of the enemy's attack. It is not without reason that Paul described the Word and the 'sword of the spirit'.

At times when I wake in the night and lie awake, my mind is frequently enticed to walk pathways that are anything but pure and holy. That is when I begin to recall the many verses that are stored in my spirit. One by one I go over them in my mind, pondering the precious truth contained. At other times I have followed Jesus' example and used one of those memorized verses as a direct assault at the enemy. In times of prayer and intercession, the Word locked in my heart comes to mind and adds to the power and impact of my prayers.

I commend Scripture memory to every servant of God. Hide God's Word in your heart and mind. It will have a far more powerful effect than you can ever imagine.

If you fall into temptation and sin

Because of our humanity and our weakness, there will be times when the enticements of sin will overcome us. The Apostle John says, 'If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.' 1 John 1:8 (NIV). Every believer knows the sense of guilt when we have given into one of the enticements of sin. But God has even made a way out of this predicament. 'But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us of all unrighteousness.' 1 John 1:9 (NIV).

Since God has provided such a means of forgiveness and restoration, let us keep short accounts with God. As soon as the convicting work of the Spirit begins to make itself felt in our spirit, don't resist. Take a moment to bow your heart before Him, agree with him about the reality of your situation and seek forgiveness. Why carry the sense of guilt and shame when He is ever ready to restore and forgive.

But there are some aspects of sin that are of such significance in our own lives and in the context of the wider Christian community that they require a greater level of accountability. Sexual sin, financial wrong doing and abuses of power are things that not only affect us but have significant consequences in the lives of those who follow our leadership. When a leader falls in these areas, a deeper level of accountability and even discipline need to be applied.

If you should find yourself in such a situation, do not seek to conceal your sin. Remember, it will be exposed sooner or later. Rather submit yourself to those who are over you in the Lord, confess your sin and be obedient to their discipline and guidance. There will inevitably be consequences to your actions but you are far more likely to be restored if you are 'up front' about your sin than if it is exposed at some later time.

In Conclusion

The issue of temptation and sin will be with us as long as we live in this mortal body. No matter what our age, the enemy has strategies to disturb our peace and destroy our testimony. You are not alone in this. Every child of God experiences the enticements to sin.

In order to stand firm: keep close to Jesus; be faithful in your time alone with Him; regularly feed your spirit with the Word of God; be accountable and submitted to those who are over you in the Lord and keep short accounts with God. If you know you have a significant problem in some area of your life (such as a sexual addiction) seek professional help from a godly counsellor. And if you fail, remember that God has already made a way back into the walk of righteousness through the sacrifice of Jesus.

Prepared by Dr Gavin D Williams