This is Why You Can’t Overcome Temptation

Christian Life & Theology

This is Why You Can't Overcome Temptation

As a young “Christian”, my walk with God was little more than trying to follow rules. Trying to overcome temptation was an uphill battle against an ever-prefailing human self. I spent my Bible study trying to memorize the “lists” of Christian character qualities in the New Testament – then attempted to implement those virtues on my own strength. It’s no surprise I failed to overcome temptation – my walk with God wasn’t much to speak of, since God wasn’t very much part of it at all!

Something was definitely missing from my walk with God, but it took me years to understand what it was. Though I grew up in the church and was discipled by my parents, there was a disconnect between what I knew about God and what it meant to truly know Him. I couldn’t grasp why God didn’t change my desire to sin. I thought He was ignoring my prayers.

In reality, God was doing no such thing. I was missing the most integral part of life under Christ’s covenant: the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is Not Just for Charismatics

Too many believers get weirded out when the Holy Spirit is brought up. While they may have reason for it – unstable TBN pastors, an extreme Pentecostal acquaintance – it’s wrong to throw the Holy Spirit out with the false-teaching bathwater. The Holy Spirit is the most essential person to your Christian walk, and many Christians live as if He doesn’t exist. And without Him, you’re just another religious person trying to be good on your own power.

That’s why the Holy Spirit – talking about Him, seeking His influence, allowing Him to transform you – is not just for charismatics. The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Trinity, the One Jesus promised to leave in His stead after His ascension:

I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7).

The Holy Spirit is your Helper. If you’re struggling to live the Christian life, you don’t have to “try harder”; you have to seek and knock (Matt. 7:7-12). This puts your heart in the position to receive God’s Word, voice, and leading when He provides it, which He delights to do.

I personally believe that conversion contains two distinct events: the confession/repentance/redemption process, and the moment the Holy Spirit comes to dwell with that believer (receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit). These two events may happen at the same time; they may not. In my case, the Holy Spirit was not received into my life until my mid-teens. I said the sinner’s prayer at age six. There are obviously many opinions about this that I don’t have time to address here, but I want to make a clear point: It is possible to believe in Jesus yet never have experienced His Spirit. John Piper makes the point that everywhere we see the Spirit in Scripture, His arrival is an experiental process. He says:

It is easy to imagine a spiritual counselor saying to a new convert today, “Don’t expect to notice any difference. Just believe you have received the Spirit.” But that is far from what we see in the New Testament. The Pentecostals are right to stress the experience of being baptized in the Spirit. (Read the rest of this article here)

Baptism in the Spirit does not necessitate speaking in tongues. In my own case, I have never once spoken in tongues (though I’m not opposed to their use) – but at fifteen years old, the Spirit began actively working in my life after a distinct moment in which I experienced Him in power. It is He who began teaching me what it meant to walk by the Spirit through temptation.

What Even IS “Walking by the Spirit”?

Maybe you’ve heard the term “walk by the Spirit” but you have NO idea what that even means. Welcome to the club! I spent years baffled by this too. It actually made me angry, because the people who talked about it acted like it was all so easy to follow God and resist sin.

But the reality is that resisting sin IS easy when you’re saturated with the Spirit of God. If you’ve never experienced this, you won’t know what it’s like – and it will be hard to believe at first. But look at Scripture. God has promised to:

  • Deliver us from the evil one (Matt. 6:13)
  • Rescue the godly from trials (2 Peter 2:9)
  • Not allow us to be tempted beyond ability (1 Cor. 10:13)

Let’s talk about that last one for a moment. When you’re in the middle of temptation, it feels like you’re being tempted beyond your ability. And you are – your human ability. But you are never tempted beyond the Spirit’s ability in you.  That’s why you’re more likely to give into temptation when you haven’t been in God’s presence! You’re not in tune to His Spirit, seeking His wisdom and strength to overcome.

This is particularly applicable with sexual sin. Our physical desires are strong, but even they are subject to the Spirit of God – who had an active role in creating them. If you’re continually failing to conquer sexual sin, all signs point to a life that is not saturated with the Spirit. And until you see your desperate need for His influence, you won’t take the necessary measures to seek Him.

Read More: God, What Do I Do With These Desires?

Paul said it quite simply: if you want to conquer temptation, walk by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16). You walk by the Spirit by:

  • Allowing Him to speak through God’s Word
  • Spending time in prayer, specifically adoration and worship
  • Confessing God’s truth over your temptations
  • Rejecting unbelief in God’s goodness and ability
  • Choosing to trust Christ’s sacrifice on your behalf
  • Taking the step of faith that the Spirit will help you overcome even before you feel like it.

Your Walk With God is an Easy Burden

Did you have to memorize the “fruit of the Spirit” in Sunday School? I have an opinion about that: I think we should stop. Memorizing the fruit of the Spirit as children who do not yet possess Him ingrains in us a moral approach to Christianity. It is WE who have to be loving, kind, patient, and self controlled – all on our own power. This denies the very meaning of “fruit of the Spirit”!

When Paul wrote this famous passage in Galatians 5:22-23, it wasn’t a to-do list. This fruit grows naturally from a life rooted in the Spirit of God. You don’t have strive at it. You don’t have to grit your teeth and force it. Your only job is to abide in Christ and let Him grow the fruit in you.

This is why Jesus could say, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:30) If this has not been a reality for you, think about how you’re living your Christian life! What is missing from your walk with God?

It may be the influence of the Holy Spirit.

This doesn’t mean life won’t get tough at times. You’ll face trials, suffering, and pain just like all the saints who follow Christ. But the Holy Spirit will change how you handle those circumstances. Through Him, you live as an overcomer – not a victim of your situation. And through Him your life brings glory to God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, because everything you do is done by His power.

This truth should be freeing, not frustrating. Your walk with God is a journey. You serve a very patient Father – which is why He gave you a Helper for this process! This is the beginning of an overcoming Christian life; life the way Christ intends it. You are not broken. You are whole. You have a Helper.

And you can overcome.

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