How can I stop wanting to sin? How do I resist temptation?
All Christians struggle to control their sinful impulses at times, and it's definitely nobody's favorite. We want to do the right thing, but sometimes the lure of sin is so strong (James 1:14).
Even the apostle Paul struggled with this issue! Romans 7:14-25 says, "We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do and if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it."
Besides Paul, there are many, many examples of people in the Bible who loved the Lord, but who also had trouble controlling their desires at times. Adam and Eve are the first obvious examples because they gave in to the impulse to go against God and believe the serpent's lie that the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge would not kill them (Genesis 3:4).
Even though we probably don't listen to serpents anymore in the literal sense (I hope), we are still falling into the same old binding schemes of Satan. He may have changed his methods to get us to sin, but he's still at it with the same determination he's had since the beginning (2 Thessalonians 2:9).
Why we keep wanting to sin
Because we are flesh and blood, we are very prone to giving in to the desire to sin—whether it be lying to our parents, cheating on a test, over spending, or lusting after those we find attractive. Matthew 26:41says, "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak." You have power in Christ and can overcome anything—as long as you decide you want to fight it (Philippians 4:13).
Even though we are sinful creatures by nature that does not mean Christians have an excuse to sin. Rather, we have a responsibility to control our sinfulness by asking God's help during those times when we feel like we just can't take it (Romans 6:1-7). Think your sin is too hard to conquer? Don't worry, sinful impulses always feel bigger and tougher than they actually are.
Because God is so awesome (for a million and one reasons!), He has provided a way out from all temptations for us (1 Corinthians 10:13)! The key is that we have to choose to take that option of resisting when impulse strikes. Except in extreme circumstances, God is probably not going to pry your teeth off of that sinful bone you've been chewing. He's going to wait until you hand it over and ask Him to get rid of it.
One tricky thing about impulses is their fast-paced nature. See, Satan uses time to his advantage in some situations because, let's face it, if you're in a hurry while you feel a temptation coming on, your reaction will come automatically, and the likelihood of you standing firm against that temptation is pretty low. But, with God's training and help from the Holy Spirit, you can actually change your automatic response.
Changing your automatic response
Being a Christian means that we must yield our "automatic" responses to sin to God's sovereignty. That means that the second you feel an impulse to sin, you give that desire in God's hands and ask Him to take it away. Easier said than done, right? Here's what that looks like in day to day life...
The Situation: You're trying to study for a hard test you know is tomorrow, and your little brother is playing his noisy video game and shouting at the TV. You ask him to turn it down, but he doesn't. Before you know it, you're fightin' mad because he won't listen to you.
The Impulse: Now you want to yell at him, call him a few mean names, make him cry hysterically, and if necessary unplug the video game and bang it against the wall several times until it dies. What do you do now?
The Reaction: SLOW DOWN. Take a deep breath and think. Would any of those things be the right response? What would happen to you if you started mistreating your brother? Would YOU get in trouble next? What would be a better response here?
Taking a few minutes or even a few seconds to consider the consequences of a wrong choice you are about to make can help you change our mind about doing it. Sometimes we feel like we don't have time to fight sin. But actually, we do!
Satan is the father of deception so of course he loves to make us believe we can't control our reactions and our choices. Remember that God always provides a way out, so in order to win the struggle of this impulse, it would be best to take a long deep breath and slow your reaction time down. This gives you a few seconds to clear your head of negative emotions so you can act appropriately. Asking God to help us during those emotion-filled moments is the best habit to get into after stopping to take a breath once we recognize the temptation.
James 4:7 says, "Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." Even something as simple as slowing down our reaction time can help us resist Satan's urgings for us to sin.
The Way Out
God wants us to withstand temptation and responsibly react in times when impulse strikes. He has provided His Word to encourage and empower us to resist the devil and his schemes. In Matthew when Jesus was tempted by Satan, do you know the first thing He did to resist him? He recited Scripture (Matthew 4:4). Hey, it worked for Jesus, so maybe we should follow His example! Read Joshua 1:8. There's some excellent advice right there.
The good news is that no matter what type of impulses we deal with, we always have Jesus just a prayer away to help us. We do not have to submit to our impulses. Even though Satan would lie to you about this fact, here's the big secret: YOU HAVE A CHOICE. Just because you face difficult temptation that doesn't mean you are obligated to go through with it (Romans 8:37).
So the next time you forget to study for that test (or you decide to play video games with your brother instead of study), and it seems easier to just cheat off the nerd sitting next to you, SLOW DOWN. Take a minute to breathe and pray for God's help, remembering that He always provides a way out of those burdensome impulses.
The next time you feel like you can't help but visit that porn site you like, SLOW DOWN. Take a minute to breathe and pray for God's help, again remembering that He always provides a way out of those seemingly impossible impulses.
Memorize Scripture and resist Satan by finding strength in the words of God. Romans 8:37 is a great one to cling to. God is on your side, don't be afraid to tell Satan off during those times of temptation. Repeat Proverbs 3:5-6 in his face, "[I will] trust in the LORD with all [my] heart and lean not on [my] own understanding; in all [my] ways [I will] submit to him, and he will make [my] paths straight."
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