We may think that it would have been simpler if God had removed the issue of sin once and for all when He saved us. Surely it would have been better to be impervious to temptation so that we could live holy lives free from that struggle. That wasn’t God’s plan, and we have to deal with temptation to sin throughout our lives – it never goes away.
The older we get, the more we reflect upon those newly saved days when we craved the Lord and despised sin. Now those absolutes are a distant memory and we face a daily grind of temptation all around and desire arising from within. Perhaps we need to turn the clock back – sing the same songs, read the same books, listen to the same sermons and recreate those “good old days”. Perhaps not.
In many areas of life “newness” is a remarkable thing, but new becomes not so new, and not so new becomes old very quickly. We can’t artificially turn back the clock of experience and pretend that all is new again. We shouldn’t try to go back and pretend; we should move forward in reality.
What we must do
We have previously seen the struggle between the indwelling Holy Spirit and the flesh in the believer.
“I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish” (Galatians 5:16-17).
Paul instructs the Galatians to approach this conflict in a positive way. “Walk . . . and you shall not”.
Walking in the Spirit is what we do when the desires produced by the Spirit are stronger than those produced by the flesh. We choose the Spirit over the flesh. As a result we no longer generate the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21) but the fruit of the Spirit (vv.22-23).
This means a radically different character produced by the indwelling Spirit of God. The outworking of that new character will be seen in our responses to temptation, conversation, time management, social media feeds, friendships, spending and every other area of our lives. This does not happen overnight and requires a good foundation of regular Bible reading, time spent in prayer and the cultivation of friendships that help us grow in Christlikeness.
To walk in the Spirit, we need the power and enablement of the Spirit. This will be worked out in our prayers as we confess our need and ask for God’s help day by day.
“Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Hebrews 13:20-21).
As well as praying for God’s help, we need to be people of faith and action; asking the Lord to reveal truth from the Scriptures as we read them daily and, depending upon God for strength and wisdom, making the right choices and doing the right things.
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).
What we must avoid
Paul wrote to the Romans about the need to “make no provision for the flesh, to fulfil its lusts” (Romans 13:14). If walking in the Spirit is something to actively engage in, then “making no provision for the flesh” highlights something we must avoid.
Paul begins his subject by instructing the Roman Christians to actively “put off” certain things.
“The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armour of right living. Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarrelling and jealousy” (Romans 13:12-13 NLT).
Hopefully, this is self-explanatory for the Christian; these should all be easily recognisable sins. Paul then makes the statement “make no provision for the flesh, to fulfil its lusts” (Romans 13:14).
The word “provision” means to see forward, or to have “foresight”. Paul is telling us not to think ahead about how we are going to satisfy the desires of the flesh. Another way to say it is as the NIV translates it, “and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” The battle over sin is fought in the mind.
Don’t think about it. Don’t let your mind dwell on it. Don’t let the mind admire it. Deal with it immediately! You can’t pretend you don’t have the desire. You must note it and fight it!
The battle requires planning and foresight of a different kind. We need to plan not to sin – stay away if possible, run away if necessary. Don’t let the nibble become a feast. Realise our weaknesses and desires and starve them. For example, if you love chocolate and need to lose weight, you are not going to have big bars of chocolate in your house.
The more subtle aspect of this issue lies in the feeding of the flesh in non-sinful areas. There are many things we enjoy doing that are not sinful in themselves, there’s nothing inherently wrong with them. But if we indulge them long enough, we may be strengthening the flesh, for example, by satisfying our own desires for pleasure rather than bringing glory to God.
Sometimes we’re going to have to say “no” even to things that are not sinful, so we have mastery over ourselves and don’t let these things have mastery over us, creating idols in our hearts.
When temptation comes
When faced with temptation, many of us struggle because all we try to do is stop or resist in the moment. We need to have established regular prayer and reading the Bible and with it a mindset that says “no” to sin.
Instead of letting the temptation lead to sin, we should make a conscious effort to think about the beauty and excellence of Jesus Christ that we have come to appreciate from our regular reading of the Scriptures. That’s the weaponry against the flesh. It’s not just looking away but actively, vigilantly fighting to think about Christ—who He is, what He’s done, His beauty and glory and excellence – and that will only be possible if we have taken active steps to memorise verses of the Bible and understand their meaning.
If we struggle with remembering verses, then why not carry a pocket Bible with key verses bookmarked for ease of reference. Another option is to use our phones to help us read or be reminded of helpful verses through the day. The main thing is to make a plan that will enable the Spirit to use the Word of God to help us turn away from temptation to God and Christ.
This is what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote:
“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (Philippians 4:8).