“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13).
One practical problem a Christian faces when tempted to do wrong is to try and respond in a fleshly way. For example, a person who knows the sorrow of yielding to temptation might vow to be fundamentally and forever different. A person might make a promise to themselves, or others, and say, “I will never do that again.” A person might try to avoid putting themselves in the place of temptation. However, all efforts at self-reformation prove to be useless “when the enemy shall come in like a flood” (Isa. 59:19). A person learns that “those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8). Flesh will never be able to defeat the flesh. There is a power to some forms of temptation that proves to be so appealing, the will surrenders.
Why resisting the temptation to do wrong is so difficult remains a great mystery. The problem of evil has challenged the thoughts of theologians for centuries. When St. Augustine wrote his Confessions in his mid-40s, he considered why he stole pears as a youth. He confessed that he did not steal the pears to feed the pigs, nor for his own enjoyment of eating them, but for the sake of an inward desire to disobey the known will of God. “It was foul, and I loved it. I loved my own undoing. I loved my error–not that for which I erred but the error itself. A depraved soul, falling away from security in thee to destruction in itself, seeking nothing from the shameful deed but shame itself.”
Because the strength of sin is so strong, because flesh can never destroy flesh, God must come and show the Christian a way out of yielding to sin that brings sorrow, shame, and spiritual death.
One primary way of Divine deliverance begins with a promise that must be firmly fixed in the mind, and believed. The promise is given that God is faithful. He will not permit a person to be tempted above that which he is able to handle; but will with the temptation make a way to escape (1 Cor. 10:13). The heart of the tormented Christian that is weary of constant failure, weary of self-loathing, wearing of spiritual weakness wants to know. “Lord, what is a way of escape?”
The Biblical answer begins with accepting God’s gracious invitation to consider the situation from a Divine perspective. “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord” (Isa. 1:18).
God wants individuals to be reasonable because He has designed the soul for the mind to guard and guide the will, and all of the various emotions. The concept is rather simple: when a person changes their thoughts they change their emotions. When inappropriate emotions are not enflamed by wrong thoughts then the temptation to do wrong need not be acted upon. Reasoning with God is a way of escape from temptation.
The apostle Paul understood this truth and wrote to the Church of Rome saying, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the compassions of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, [which is] your intelligent service. 2 And be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of [your] mind, that ye may prove what [is] the good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:1-2). R. C. Sproul (1939-2017) was known for his ability to clearly communicate the deep and practical truths of the Word of God through his broadcast, Renewing Your Mind. Dr. Sproul understood the importance of the mind being saturated with the principles and practices of the Word of God. When the mind is changed, behavior is changed for behavior follows belief.
So what should a Christian know, and believe, in order to escape temptation?
First, the Christian should know that every effort of self-reformation is doomed to failure. Oh, a person can conform outwardly to certain norms and standards, but the holiness which God demands in the soul can only be produced by the Holy Spirit. There is an old adage that you can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig. The outward moral life of a person can be reformed, but if the heart remains corrupt, the soul is not pleasing to God. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for this very practice. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess” (Matt. 23:25). No Christian should every place any confidence in their own vows to be better, or to do things differently in the hour of temptation. Place no confidence in the flesh (Phil. 3:3). This is a way to escape temptation.
Second, the Christian should know that in Christ the will is freed from the ruling principle of sin and death. The will of the natural man is in bondage to sin. However, the will of the Christian is freed to do what is right by the sustaining work of the indwelling Holy Spirit. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2). Christian, believe that “if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Rom. 8:13). “So if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.” Believe in the freedom of the believer not to sin. This is a way of escaping temptation.
Third, believe in the forgiveness of all sin, past, present, and future for those who walk after the Spirit. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:1). Visualize where the Holy Spirit is walking, and walk right behind Him. The Spirit will always lead you from the place of temptation. This is a way of escaping temptation.
Fourth, believe in the power of Christ. We know the power of sin. We need to experience the power of Christ so that we can say with confidence, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13). The Evil One comes to make a mockery out of our confession of faith. The Enemy of our soul knows our area of weakness, and our area of strength and exploits them constantly to reinforce a sense of being a bad person and unable to change. The Divine antidote to the Accuser is to become a Confessor of Christ. Ask, in the name of Jesus, for the victory that God has promised His people. “Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them” (Mark 11:24). Confessing Christ in faith offers a way of escape from temptation.
Finally, Christian, be on guard. The word has gone forth that you are being trailed by a wild beast. Therefore, “be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:” (1 Peter 5:8). Being alert, and taking an alternative route towards righteousness, is a way to escape temptation.