Discipleship and spiritual formation curriculum for new believers, new Christians

3. Temptations - Getting Victory over Sin

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson

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New believer learning about getting victory over temptations Before you made a commitment to Christ, you probably weren't as aware of sin as you are now. But now that you have begun your journey with Christ, the light of his gospel is probably making you aware of the darkness of sin.  Let's explore the nature of sin, and then look at some strategies God has given us to get the upper hand.

What Is Sin?

First, we need to understand about sin. Sin goes farther than individual sins -- lying, cheating, adultery, murder. Sin springs from an attitude deep within us, an active or passive rebellion against God that places us and our desires first -- a kind of inner selfish nature. Because of this root problem, our sinful actions sometimes surprise us.

Sinful Nature

The Bible traces this kind of bent to selfishness and sinning in our human nature all the way back to Adam and Eve, the first human beings, who sinned against God.

But no matter what the cause is, you and I are stuck with the problem: a kind of inner rebellion that shows itself in moral weaknesses and sins of various kinds. On our own, even the best of us don't succeed in being completely sinless. As we saw in Lesson 1, that is why Jesus had to come to die for our sins, forgive us, and cleanse us.

We Have an Adversary

But a sinful nature is not the only factor. We also have a spiritual adversary, an opponent. The Bible calls him Satan or the devil. In our world it is considered okay to believe in heaven and even angels. But if you believe in an actual Satan or the existence of hell, people scoff.

Jesus did not scoff. As you study his teachings, you find that he said more about Satan than anyone else in the Bible.

You are not the only person who has struggles with temptation. So did Jesus. Before he began his earthly ministry, Jesus went on a long retreat into the mountains to pray and prepare himself. There, Satan tempted him three times, attacking him at the point of his physical needs, his pride, and his calling to serve God (Luke 4:1-13).

Satan and his demons -- the Bible reveals them as fallen angels (Luke 10:18; Revelation 12:9) -- are your opponents and seek to tempt you and neutralize your influence. It's not like, "The devil made you do it." Demons don't have the power to grab you away from God (John 10:28), but they do try to deceive you and turn you to the wrong path.

The Holy Spirit's Power Is Greater

Fortunately for us, God has not left us powerless against Satan. When we put our faith in Jesus as our Savior and Lord, something miraculous happens. The Holy Spirit, Christ's Spirit, comes to live within us. Jesus said:

"Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.'" (John 3:6-7)

Before we were Christians, we were merely human. But the new birth that Jesus talks about is the Holy Spirit making us alive spiritually.

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Corinthians 5:17)

"No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God." (1 John 3:9)

Because God's Spirit is now living within us, sin is confronted, and we are given power to overcome it.

What Can We Do to Stop Sinning?

You are probably finding that sins aren't very glamorous. Rather they are demoralizing and degrading. How can you escape them? Let me outline a series of strategies that will help you, though I'm not listing them in any particular order.

Strategy 1. Trust in God

First of all, you must realize that God is with you to help you! He will never leave you. He is your Strength. He is your Help. The Bible reminds us:

"You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world." (1 John 4:4)

You are on the winning side. You have aligned yourself with Christ, who was victorious over sin and even death. Trust in him to help you.

Strategy 2. Be Humble

Second, be humble. As long as you are proud and think you can fight sins in your own strength, you will fail. When you think that you are so strong that sin cannot touch you, you set yourself up for a fall. We are strong only in the Lord, not in ourselves.

Strategy 3. Resist

Third, resist the temptation. God is building your character. Every time you say "No" to a temptation, it will be that much easier to say "No" the next time you are tempted. You are developing a healthy habit of saying "No" to temptation and "Yes" to God. Resist!

"Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." (James 4:7)

Don't flirt with a sin, trying to enjoy it without getting hurt by it. That is stupid. Resist the temptation and move on.

Strategy 4. Flee

The fourth strategy may seem almost contradictory to the third. Flee!

"Flee from sexual immorality." (1 Corinthians 6:18)

"Flee the evil desires of youth...." (2 Timothy 2:22)

How can you resist when you are fleeing, running away?

There is a time to stand your ground and resist temptation. There is also a time to get as far away as you can from sources of temptation and, if possible, from the people who try to lead you astray.

If you struggle with lust, for example, stay away from situations and pornography that enflame your lust. If you struggle with alcohol abuse or drug addiction, stay away from situations where you will be tempted and from people who are indulging in these vices. When you identify "triggers" or strong temptations that tend to lead you into sin, carefully avoid them.

Strategy 5. Embrace Truth

We human beings do what we believe in our heart of hearts to be true. If we really believe that true happiness lies in accumulating money, then we will be tempted to cheat, to steal, even to bend the truth to get money. If we really believe the ultimate source of happiness is having another human being love us or desire us sexually, then we find ourselves attracted to the wrong man or woman, and are subject to all kinds of compromise and weakness. The truths we hold most dear guide our lives.

When we make Jesus Christ our ultimate authority and begin to follow his teachings, the beliefs that previously motivated us are exposed as falsehoods. Jesus said:

"If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32)

This is why Scripture reading is so important. Gradually, we begin to align each aspect of our lives with truth, which weakens the temptation.

Scripture is helpful in times of temptation. When Jesus was tempted by Satan, he quoted Scripture to resist the temptation, saying: "It is written..." (Luke 4:1-13).

In Lesson 2 we talked about the importance of having a quiet time each day when you read the Bible and pray. I also encourage you to use this time to memorize the memory verse for each lesson. This will help you to internalize the truth contained in the verse so it will strengthen you. The Psalmist said:

"I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you." (Psalms 119:11)

Strategy 6. Pray

Of course, prayer is of great help in temptation, since it connects us directly with God by faith. In the Lord's Prayer, Jesus teaches his disciples to pray for help when we are weak: "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" (or "from the evil one", Matthew 6:13). In the Garden of Gethsemane before his crucifixion, Jesus struggled with temptation by means of prayer. He told the disciples who were nearby:

"Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak." (Matthew 26:41)

Prayer strengthens us, so we must "watch" (that is, stay awake and alert) and pray. When we focus on the sin and the temptation, sin has our attention. When we turn to God in prayer then God has our focus and attention, weakening the temptation.

Strategy 7. Love God and Embrace His Love for You

The seventh strategy is to embrace God's love.When you believe that God loves you greatly, sin becomes the disappointing of the one you love, rather than the breaking of some impersonal rule or law. Love is the unique glory of Christianity. God loves you, even though you have sinned. Love is more powerful than temptation.

What If You Do Fall to Temptation?

But what if you do sin? What if you fall to temptation? The Apostle John wrote:

"My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense -- Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world." (1 John 2:1-2)

Even when we sin after becoming Christians, there is forgiveness for us. Thank God! Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for all my sins and yours -- past, present, and future.

Repentance, Confession, and Forgiveness

Here is what to do. The Apostle John tells us:

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)

I can't begin to tell you how much this promise has meant to me. I memorized it as a young Christian and have said it over and over again when I became aware that I had sinned. You should memorize it, too.

Let me explain three concepts:

1. Repentance is sorrow for your sin and the willingness to turn away from it. This is not sorrow for getting "caught," but sorrow that you have disappointed the Father you love.

2. Confession, which follows repentance, is telling God (or another Christian) that you have sinned. This is not simplistic. There is great power in saying directly and aloud (1) that you have sinned and (2) the exact nature of your sin -- without making any excuse.

Confession moves what was done in the darkness into the light where it can be healed.

"But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin." (1 John 1:7)

Many Christians have discovered the value of having a close Christian friend or accountability partner with whom they can be honest and to whom they can confess their sins (James 5:16). Confession is a declaration of truth and therefore powerful. Confession helps restore and strengthen you.

3. Receiving Forgiveness. Third, you must receive forgiveness. Believe that God does indeed forgive you! Remember:

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)

This promise has two parts: (1) forgiveness -- that God will forgive us our sins and not hold them against us any longer, and (2) cleansing -- that God will purify us or cleanse us from our sins, so we don't have to feel dirty any longer. We are washed! (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). We are clean before God again.

Sometimes you may still feel dirty and degraded. That is Satan trying to trick you and drag you down. Resist it and take hold of God's promise for you that he "will forgive us and purify us." God forgives you!

Temptation Is Not Sin

Realize that temptation is not the same as sin. Sometimes being tempted makes us feel dirty, but temptation is not sin. Jesus was severely tempted, but that does not mean he was contaminated with the sin. When asked about temptation, Reformation leader Martin Luther is reputed to have said:

"You can't help it if a bird flies over your head,
But you can stop it from building a nest in your hair."

There Is No End to God's Forgiveness

When I was younger in the faith, I used to despair when I found myself committing the same sin time after time. I'm not worthy to be forgiven, I'd tell myself. (Which is true.) God will give up on me. (Which is not true!)

One on occasion, St. Peter came to Jesus in extreme frustration.

"'Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?'
Jesus answered, 'I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.'" (Matthew 18:21-22)

God has no limit to the number of times he will forgive your sins.

Is It Worth the Struggle?

  JesusWalk - Beginning the Journey book cover
Printed books, e-books, and a DVD set are available

It really is worth the struggle. As we walk with Jesus on this journey, we will experience the joy of his presence, the health and rightness of his Way, and the blessings that come through walking with God himself.

As you walk with the Lord, you will become stronger. Gradually, you will be able to resist temptation to sins that used to overpower you. Don't give up! Jesus tells his disciples:

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)


Lord, sometimes temptation seems so strong. Thank you for teaching us how to resist temptation and more and more be free from sin so we can walk with you in joy. Forgive us where we have failed you. We know you do -- and that is what keeps us going. Thank you for your love for us. Thank you that you believe in us -- in spite of ourselves. In your name, Jesus, we pray. Amen.

Memory Verse

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9, NIV)

Questions and Discussion Points

  1. Read aloud five times your new memory verse (1 John 1:9) and copy it onto a card.
  2. Report how your daily quiet time is going. Discuss any problems you are having with setting aside the time, interruptions, tiredness, etc.
  3. Baptism. Have you made an appointment yet to discuss baptism with a pastor? If so, what is the process in your church for being baptized?
  4. Discuss. What is sin? In what way is it part of our fallen human nature?
  5. Discuss. Does Satan make us sin? If not, what part does he have in temptation?
  6. Discuss. How does the Holy Spirit help us resist sin?
  7. Discuss. What strategies can help us resist temptation? Which of these strategies seem to work best for you?
  8. Discuss. What is the difference between repentance and confession? How does confession strengthen you resist temptation the next time you are tempted?
  9. Discuss. How do you know that God will forgive you when you sin again and again? Is there a point where he stops forgiving you?
  10. Discuss. When you are tempted, is that a sin, even though you are able to resist the temptation?
  11. Review the memory verses for Lesson 1 (Ephesians 2:8-9) and Lesson 2 (John 8:31-32). Keep working on your memory verses during the week so you are able to say them without any mistakes. By the way, when you say the verse, also say the reference after the verse. Why don't you challenge your mentor that you can say the verses better than he or she next week.
  12. Pray. Discuss with your mentor which sins you are having the most trouble resisting. Then pray with your mentor, asking God for help to resist temptation and for forgiveness.
  13. Appointment. Set a time and place to meet and go through next week's lesson.

JesusWalk: Beginning the Journey
New Christian, New Believer Discipleship Training and Spiritual Formation

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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