Overcoming Temptation

Bible Book: Matthew  4 : 1-11
Subject: Temptation; Victory

Overcoming Temptation

Dr. J. Mike Minnix, Editor, www.pastorlife.com


Matthew 4:1-11

To live as we ought we must learn to stand against only one thing - Temptation! This struggle will reveal if we are true to the Lord. Jesus is our Savior, but He is also our example when it comes to the issue of temptation, as we see in our text today.

The late British writer Oscar Wilde once stated, "I can resist anything, except temptation." But temptation must be resisted in the Christian life or we will damage our testimony, harm the Lord's cause and become the influence of leading other believers astray.

A husband confessed in Readers Digest about a time when he and his wife were out shopping. A shapely young woman in a short skirt walked by and the husband's eyes followed. Without looking up from the item she was examining in the store the wife said, "Was it worth the trouble you're in?"

Yielding to temptation brings nothing but trouble, and it is never worth the price one must pay for allowing temptation to become normal behavior. No wonder Jesus taught us to pray in Matthew 6:13, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." Indeed, we need to learn how to handle temptation, or temptation will handle us.

Of course, overcoming temptation requires more than learning or training - it is also a matter of power. Jesus can show us the way and provide what is needed in the way of supremacy for us to gain the victory. Let's look at three important issues related to temptation.

I. The Certainty of Temptation

First of all, we know that temptation comes to every one of us. To live as a human being is to be tempted. A great preacher in another generation once held the belief that if he could live twenty years resisting temptation, he could eliminate temptation totally from his life. He was forced to admit later in his life that such was not the case. It was impossible for him to eliminate temptation. The best we can do is incapacitate it each time it shows its ugly head in our lives.

We read in James 1:13, "When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone." Note that James does not say, "If you are tempted," but rather he says, "WHEN you are tempted." James was certain that temptation will be a reality in every Christian life. Like us, James had dealt with temptation in his own life and knew this truth from experience.

No one listening to this sermon can say that you live above temptation. In fact, no one listening to this sermon can claim he or she has had total victory over temptation. But, I'm sure most of us admit that we ought to do better resisting temptation and we can do so.

Exactly what is temptation? It is a sense or desire to do something that is wrong or sinful. It involves a thing, a person or an internal compulsion to be disobedient to God’s moral Law and divine will. Temptation involves enticement or allurement to wrongful thoughts or actions in one’s life.

Jesus was tempted by the devil immediately following His baptism by John the Baptist. It is interesting, that as far as we know, this was the most important moment in the initiation of Jesus’ public ministry. Surely Satan would not choose to tempt Jesus at such a high and holy moment. To think that, however, shows one's ignorance regarding the tricks and schemes of the devil. You see, Satan loves to attack us when we are successful. At a moment such as this, we are often filled with self-aggrandizement and our guard is dropped, so Satan slips in to lure us away from our Lord. Also, times of great success use up a lot of energy and can leave us weak and unprepared for temptation.

Think about one of God's great servants and how he went from the mountain top of victory and power to the valley of loneliness and defeat. We read about Elijah in 1 Kings 18, and we see what happened to him. This can serve as a warning to those of us who feel we have a firm grasp on living the spiritual life and defeating the enemy. Just after Elijah had defeated the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel, which was a crowning moment in his ministry, he was driven by fear and defeat to the point of even considering suicide. How is it possible that a man of such great faith and courage can become so weak and fragile? Success and hard work drains the strength that one has physically and psychologically. It leaves the believer feeling weak spiritually as well. Satan loves to attack us when we are at a point of great victory, because this can be a time when we least expect Satan to be victorious over us.

Jesus, on the other hand, never dropped His guard in the matter of temptation. As He began His public ministry, and after hearing the Father's pleasing words, Jesus never assumed anything. He was ready for the devil at all times. You must be very careful in moments of success and at times when you are being applauded by the world. “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall,” we are told in 1 Corinthians 10:12.

Now, let’s consider some core elements in the certainty of temptation.

A. The Target of Temptation

Satan targets everyone with temptation, but he especially tempts the righteous person to sin - those who belong to God and are truly seeking to live for Him. We know this is true when we observe that he had the gall to tempt the Son of God. Since he was willing to tempt Jesus, you know you will not escape being tempted.

There are many of you who are committed to Christ with all your heart and you really, honestly do not wish to sin against God, but that does not mean you can avoid strong bouts with temptation. In fact, your dedication to God means you will likely be tempted when you least expect it. Every child of God in this room has a target on his or her back when it comes to temptation. Again, Jesus was tempted, so how can we escape a like treatment from Satan? We can't and we must be aware that we are a target.

B. The Tempter in Temptation

God does not tempt us. God may "try us" but he never "tempts" a believer to sin. Trials come from God in order to make us stronger in our daily walk with the Lord, but temptations come from the evil one and are designed to make us fail the Lord. It is never God’s desire to lead you in temptation.

Someone will say, "Well, if God didn't want me to do these things, why do I enjoy them so much?" My friend, God created life for enjoyment but He put boundaries around human pleasures. Think of driving a car. You can enjoy driving a car; however, if you take your car into the oncoming lane of traffic you will likely be injured or killed. Just because you enjoy driving it doesn't mean you can drive wherever or however you like. Satan wants you to believe that you can live your moral life anyway you wish and by doing so he leads you toward destructive habits - habits that are destructive to you and those around you.

In a former generation there was a mantra – a slogan – that was used by young people. They had it printed on t-shirts, buttons and used it often in conversation. They said, “If it feels good, do it.” Now, who do you suppose prompted that kind of thinking? Yes, the tempter! That is exactly how he desires that we think and act. Donuts taste good but you can't eat them in the place of foods that meet your nutritional needs. Likewise, some things may seem enjoyable and pleasing but when they are outside the will of God they are deadly - to you and to others.

All of life is established and operated with rules. Some rules and laws are very apparent and we learn them early. For example, there is the law of gravity. Once we fall a few times, you learn to avoid that as much as possible. However, there are periods in our lives when we test the law of gravity. Teenagers often do that. They will try stunts and tricks that endanger them, and only learn after the fact that the idea was lame and ridiculous. The sad thing is, when you learn that resisting natural laws is unwise, it may too late.

When I was about fourteen years old, I was dared by some friends to walk across a fallen tree trunk that spanned a gorge in the woods near our homes. The depth below the fallen tree trunk was about twenty to thirty feet or equivalent to a two or three story building. I accepted the challenge. I started across the large log and made it almost halfway to the other side, when suddenly the fallen trunk cracked and dropped me to the earth below. Fortunately for me, it was at one of the more shallow points along the way and the earth was soft from recent rains. I hit the ground with a hard thump, bounced once and landed again. The fall knocked the breath out of me and bruised me, but otherwise all my bones and parts were intact. I can assure you of one thing, I never tried that again. I learned to never again be tempted by the law of gravity.

Actually, if we walk where we aren't supposed to walk in our spiritual lives, we violate the Spiritual Laws of God. When we violate His Laws, we lose every time. The tempter is always around and he is daring you to take the step of defying God's laws - His moral and physical laws. We need to understand more clearly the way he works. So, let's consider another part of this issue... 

II. The Conflict in Temptation

Temptation is part of a war –  a spiritual war. We are told by Paul to put on the whole armor of God so we can stand against the devil and his wiles, tricks and schemes (Ephesians 6:10ff). You must never toy or play with temptation, for if you do you will lose that battle. If you try to walk up to the line of sin, thinking you can pull back whenever you wish, you will find that you are like a fly caught in a spider’s web. The more you struggle, the deeper you become ensnared. The way to win in the conflict with temptation is to flee from Satan and sin. We are to stay as far as we can from the edge of sinful behavior.

But, let’s get one thing perfectly clear, temptation is not sin. Someone may feel that thinking a thought is as bad as the deed. Actually that is far from the truth. Billy Graham once said, "I can't keep a bird from flying over my head, but I can keep him from building a nest in my hair!" We must realize that temptation creates a conflict and we have to put up a fight. Jesus did! We cannot allow ourselves to do otherwise.

Exactly how does this conflict take place?

A. The Avenues of Temptation

We are tempted in three areas:

1. The Lust of the Flesh

Jesus was tempted through physical desire, and that happened because Jesus was fasting and hungry. Satan knew that Jesus had a physical desire for food, so he tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread. Commentators have shared that many of the stones in the area where Jesus was fasting are shaped like rounded bread rolls. Satan used what was in front of Jesus to tempt Him in the area of physical desire. The temptation for Jesus was to use His spiritual power to please His physical desires. I will never be tempted to turn stones into bread, no matter how hungry I may be, for I don't have the power to do that; however, I can be tempted to use a position I occupy or a trust given to me to meet some physical need.

Think of a politician who serves in a place whereby he has power to grant certain contracts for government work. The CEO of a company meets with the politician and offers to kickback part of the contract price if the politician will simply give his company the contract. It isn't hard for the politician to conclude in his mind that the company in question is actually the best one to do the job and that he might as well gain some profit from the deal. That is exactly how Satan works. Jesus was tempted to use His power, not for those who came to serve and save, but for His own benefit.

You can be sure that in the arena of physical desire, you will be tempted. In fact, there are nights when I can hear the ice cream in my refrigerator calling my name. There are physical desires that will call your name and you must learn to say, "No!"

An area of tremendous physical pressure is sexual in nature. Never in history has there been so much sexual imagery available to men and women. Movies, television, printed ads, and especially internet pornography have made this issue front and center in the battle against temptation. You cannot win the battle in this area of your life unless you mean to do so. The enemy knows your weakness and he will use that to cause you to disobey God and destroy your testimony.

2. The Lust of the Eye

Satan showed Jesus the kingdoms of the world and promised to give them to Christ if He would simply bow down and worship him. “Look,” Satan said, “I can make all of this yours if you will worship me.” There is a thin line between the lust of the eye and the lust of the flesh, but in each case, Satan is simply looking for an area of weakness and seeking to get you to worship him. Satan’s desire is to gain the worship of men rather than seeing them worship Christ. There is much here that we need to examine, but time will not permit today. Perhaps in another sermon we can study exactly why the devil desires to take the place of our Lord, but for now our goal is to understand temptation and to know how to win in the conflict.

The Christian must be careful when it comes to his or her eyes. What we see leaves an imprint and can come back to tempt us long after we think the image is gone. Have you noticed that television commercials often play on this idea? A man drives up in his driveway in a new car while a neighbor is watching. The ad shows the neighbor without the new car being filled with envy and covetousness. The owner of the new car waves to his neighbor, turns and smiles as he realizes he has made his neighbor jealous. Car makers use this type of ad regularly in order to prompt a buyer to purchase a car. The use of an image to make a buyer seek to prove that he is better that his neighbor is a constant trick of commerce and hell. This idea is as old as the Tenth Commandment (Exodus 20:17). The lust of the eye can get you in debt, can get you in hot water and can get you in real trouble for a long time unless you know how to overcome it.

3. The Pride of Life

Satan also tempted Jesus by asking Him to display his power for the purpose of gaining the praise of men. Can you see how the three areas of temptation overlap? Note how each one tends to feed into the other. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life can be applied at times to any and every sin. Wanting a car to outdo your neighbor is related to the lust of the eye, but it is also a sin of pride! Satan knows exactly where your weakness is and he uses every trick possible to blur the lines and cause you to sin against God.

Pride is a terrible sin, for it is the sin that Eve committed in the Garden of Eden. The Serpent told Eve that she was going to be a 'god' if she ate the forbidden fruit. Adam ate from the tree for exactly the same reason. Pride had overcome their willingness to believe God and to obey Him.

Every Christian battles the issues of pride and selfishness. Someone said that he knew a preacher who was so arrogant that he could strut sitting down. Even preachers have to be careful when it comes to pride. Again, success can lead one to be haughty and arrogant.

Did you know that even failure can cause pride to erupt in our lives? How? When we are defeated, it can create anger toward the person who has been successful. Our pride is damaged, and Satan can tempt us to seek retribution toward the person or persons we think have received an honor or place we ought to have obtained.

Certainly all of us have a desire to be loved and appreciated, and there is nothing wrong with being praised for our successes, but we must always give the honor and glory to God for every good and perfert gift comes down from the Father above. Without God’s blessings in our lives, we are nothing but dust and ashes. To achieve success or the praise of others and to keep it all for ourselves makes us exactly like the devil. After all, Lucifer fell from heaven because he desired to gain the praise and adulation that belonged to the Godhead. If you don't want to act like the devil, you need to watch out for the temptation called the pride of life.

Knowing the avenues of temptation, let’s turn to something else important...

B. The Attractiveness of Temptation

The tempter comes as an angel of light and he presents sin in the best possible manner. He makes it look as attractive as possible, and does so by always showing sin as something that is fun and profitable. Satan never, ever reveals the devastation that follows sin.

Hardship, pain, sorrow and death follow sin as sure as day follows night, but the devil doesn't want you to see the results that will come in your life if you give in to temptation. When advertisers show beer commercials, for example, they always show attractive, happy, smiling faces in the bar or at the ballgame. They never show you the drunk driver that kills a family on the highway after they leave the bar. They don’t reveal the broken homes and empty bank accounts caused by alcoholism. They never follow those lives shown in the commercials to the end of the line. That is the way Satan always presents sin.

Temptation lies to you. Temptation deceives you. Only God tells you the truth about sin. We have God's truth on sin, we have Satan's lies regarding sin, and we are the ones who must ultimately decide whether we believe God or believe Satan. Temptation seeks to make one believe that Satan is telling the truth and that God is lying.

C. The Attack in Temptation

Temptation comes to all. Be sure of this, temptation is an attack and it is not easy to overcome.

Temptation comes to us often after great victories – at a time when we feel invincible.

Temptation also comes when we are weak, tired and depressed.

Temptation came to Jesus in both circumstances. He had just been baptized and was inaugurating his public ministry, but He was also very weak after forty days of fasting. In other words, whether we feel strong or weak, you must always stay on guard in the matter of temptation.

The attack of temptation will never stop until Jesus calls us home. Each of us ought to desire to hear Jesus say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” when at last the battle with temptation is over.

So, how can we be successful in the issue of temptation? Let’s look at exactly what Jesus did in overcoming temptation...

III. The Conquest of Temptation

Hebrews 2:18 states, "Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted."

We can have victory over temptation. Jesus conquered temptation and offers to assist us when we are tempted. He will not allow us to be tempted above that which we are able to resist. Anytime we give in to temptation, it is the result of our own lust and weakness.

Think of some ways that our Lord seeks to help us overcome temptation.

A. Separation

We must separate ourselves from temptation as much as possible. In other words, we need to stay away from temptation as far as we can. We need to flee from the evil one and never place ourselves in the path where temptation is most likely to occur.

There is a story from long ago that gives us a idea of what separation means. A lady needed a driver to take her to her mountaintop home at the end of each day, and she decided to try three different applicants for the job. The first driver went the mountainside very close to the edge and when she complained he said, "I am just showing you that I can drive to the very edge without ever losing control." The second driver seemed to pay little attention to the edge of the cliff, sometimes driving close to the edge and at others times he stayed away from it. The third driver never ventured anywhere near the edge. She asked the third driver, "I notice that you stay as far away from the edge of the mountainside as possible when you drive, are you afraid of heights?" The driver replied, "No, ma'am, I'm not afraid of heights, but I don't see any advantage to get anywhere near the edge. I figure it is far safer to stay away from it." The lady wisely hired the third driver.

When it comes to sin, we must stay as far away from temptation as possible. Temptation will find us wherever we are, but we have a duty of remaining at the greatest distance possible from it. We are to separate ourselves from the places, people and activities that make it easier for us to be tempted. We don't this because we are better than others; on the contrary, we do this because we are capable of any sin that mankind can commit. We don't avoid the world because we are better than the world, but because we desire to serve better the God who made the world and sent His Son into it to save us from our sins.

B. Scripture

Surely you noticed that Jesus quoted scripture to the devil each time He was tempted. We need to know our Bible so that we might be able to give God's answer to the question of temptation. Someone wisely said, "The Bible will keep us from sin, or sin will keep us from the Bible." Hide the Word of God in your heart that you might not sin against God (Psalm 119:11). When temptation knocks, we need to let God's Word answer the door!

C. Submission

We must fully submit to Christ. Note that Jesus pointed out to the devil who is in charge of this world. He quoted God because He was in full submission to the Father. If you and I are to overcome in the matter of temptation, we must be in submission to the Lord in every area of our lives. This requires daily submitting to God's rule in our hearts and minds. If you don't make up your mind as to who is in charge before temptation arrives, you will likely follow the wrong one at the moment of attack.

D. Spirit

Indeed, unless we have God's Spirit to assist us, we will succumb to temptation. He is able! We are told in scripture to always be filled with the Spirit of God (Ephesians 5:18). The text actually says that we are to "always be being filled" with the Spirit. I know that sentence sounds semantically incorrect, but it reveals the way the passage is written in the Greek. It means that we must be filled this moment, be filled the next moment, be filled the next moment, be filled the next moment ... well, you get the idea. Let us yield to the indwelling Christ at all times. He is, after all, Christ in you, the hope of glory! The Holy Spirit is God’s presence in you, seeking to teach you, guide you and empower you to overcome the evil one!


Today is good day to come to the Lord and renew our commitment to Him, asking Him to forgive us of those things that have disappointed Him and discouraged us. We can devote ourselves to His will and make a commitment to know and follow His Word. We can focus on Christ, fix the Word of God in our Hearts, and be filled with the Holy Spirit. We we do these things, we can fight the fight of faith.

Now there is someone here today who needs to experience new life in Jesus. You know you are a sinner, and you know that Jesus died for you and that He rose from the dead as Lord. For some reason, you have never called out to Him for salvation. Today is the day! You can turn from you sin, receive His forgiveness and have a new heart starting this very day.

Now let us sing, as a we sing the invitation hymn, let each of us respond to the Lord as the Spirit prompts us to come to Him.