Do you ever think of temptation as a nebulous concept? “I’m fighting temptation,” you might say. But…temptation to what? To sin in a particular way? Yes, certainly. But, each time you and I face a particular fight against a particular temptation to sin in a particular way, the temptation is actually this: We’re tempted to turn away from God. Our fight is always, at the root, a singular fight against temptation to turn away from God and turn toward something else:
“What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’ — could set up on their own as if they had created themselves — be their own masters — invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history — money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery — the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.”
When we’re tempted to believe we’ll find happiness apart from Him, it’s not a fuzzy or nebulous concept we’re turning from. We’re actually turning away from a Person: God. We set out to be our own god. We set out, determined to gather self-glory. And when we search for happiness apart from Him, the bad news is this: We can experience an intoxicating, temporary version of happiness, peace, “glory.” That false version delivers a quick fix, so we’re tempted to return (and return) to what is actually soul-poison (happiness apart from, outside of God).
Fighting temptation, therefore, is a personal, all-out war we often incorrectly understand: We think that our fight is a fight merely to abstain from that other something, that other love — and it is — but, the battle is even more so a fight to believe and stay with our personal God. To choose Him, not the other. To believe His love is better than life.
“No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later…We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means…” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)
As we battle, we remember that Jesus was the only man who never yielded to temptation. And we love Him more because of that. And because we love Him more:
- We don’t fight temptation in order to make our own life better. (“I was tempted to push away feelings of despair with a third bowl-of-ice cream, or by finding momentary pleasure in what I shouldn’t look at online, but I didn’t, and now I feel better about myself than if I’d given in.”)
- We don’t fight temptation to feel better about keeping up our end of our relationship with God.
- We, rather, fight a war to stay with God. We fight so that we might not bow to lesser loves. And the spiritual battle is fought not by giving in, or by lying down. The battle against what often feels like a tornado of temptation is fought in order to stay with Him, forfeiting our lesser invention of happiness so that we might bask in His greater happiness and peace.
A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world…Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. (Ephesians 6:10-18)
Photo: F5 tornado, Elie Manitoba, 2007, by Justin Hobson, Justin1569 at en.wikipedia