Have you ever resolved to resist temptation? How’d that work out for you? Yeah, pretty much the same for me too. No matter how hard I gritted my teeth or how many times I told myself, “Don’t do this!” the outcome was usually the same. Humiliation, regret, and failure. I crept before God with guilt and shame asking for forgiveness—again. I get so frustrated with myself for this repetitious cycle of determination followed by a side glance at my old faithful “guilty pleasure” and finally defeat at my own hands.
I believe the reason we have so much trouble with temptation is because we’re doing it all wrong. I grew up like most of you hearing the mantra: “Resist temptation and flee from the devil!” But a closer look at Scripture reveals that the Bible doesn’t tell us to resist temptation. Nor does it say we must flee from the devil. The Bible actually turns the statement around; we are commanded to resist the devil and flee temptation. No wonder we’ve had such a hard time with temptation!
Consider Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 6:10-20, the Armor of God. In fact, go grab your Bible and read that passage. I’ll wait for you right here. Notice that four times in verses 10-14, Paul tells us to “stand.” For three of those “stands” he uses the Greek word that means to stand firm, to establish— saying we must take a firm stand on the truth. However, the first “stand in verse 13 is anthistemi, which means to oppose, rebel and withstand. Paul is saying “when the day of evil comes, you strong stand and actively oppose and rebel against the evil attacks. And this is the purpose for all the pieces of the Holy Armor.
Peter agrees as he says in 1 Peter 5:9 “Resist the devil, standing firm in your faith.” Peter uses similar terminology as Paul; again commanding us to actively resist the devil while we stand firm in our faith in Christ Jesus.
However, when it comes to temptation, we don’t resist, we are told to flee! The Bible couldn’t be any clearer: run away from temptation. Don’t stand there trying to stare it down and think you’re going to win, because you won’t. Paul commands us to “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18), “flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14), “flee from false teaching and from greed” (1 Timothy 6:3-11), and “flee from evil desires” (2 Timothy 2:22).
Why this dual command to resist the devil and flee from temptation? One reason is because if you are in Jesus Christ, you have already claimed the victory! The devil is a defeated foe, and he knows it—and you need to know it too. Remember the word anthistemi? One of its definitions is to rebel. You can rebel against him because, as a child of God, the devil has no authority over you. None. You can stare him down and say, “You’re not the boss of me!” and he can’t argue with you.
The other reason is because temptation taps into what is within us. Hear James on this: “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed” (James 1:14). That temptation reaches in to that sinful nature that lives in every man and battles for control of the believer. Though we are new creations in Christ, those sinful desires still exert a tremendous amount of influence, and this is where the devil throws those powerful enticements in our face. He’s playing on our weakest area, our old sinful passions. So we must flee temptation if we want to walk in the victory Christ won on our behalf.
God has not left us to fight on our own. He is so faithful to help us in this battle of the flesh. The Greek word Paul uses for flee means to run away from, elude, to escape. Now keep this thought in mind as you read 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (RSV). God provides the way out of temptation. You don’t have to stand with fists clenched and face it. Take the escape hatch and run—don’t walk—from the thing that causes those sinful desires that rise up within you. That may mean shutting off the computer, turning off the television, walking out of the bar, finding other people to hang out with it, or not going someplace where you know temptation lives. God makes the way of escape, but you must take it.
When you put yourself in God’s hands and follow His commands you will gain the victory over temptation and sin. Here is a promise from James on which you can firmly stand: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7, emphasis added). Run away from temptation, but take your stand against the devil. Now we have this in the right order! Ready to send the devil running?
Mighty Jesus – because of Your blood I have been set free, because of Your resurrection, the devil has no power or authority over me. Teach me to walk in victory every day as I both run from temptation and stand against the devil. No power on earth can defeat me because I’ve already won in You! Amen.