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The desires of the flesh are connected to particular sins we think will give us pleasure in one way or another. But Paul assures us that the Spirit will enable us to resist the temptation and walk in obedience, if we choose to do so. This is a crucial point. Our will must be committed to obeying the Holy Spirit and resisting the desires of the flesh if we are to have victory. Or to put it differently, we must desire and will to do God’s will above our own. If we don’t, we will yield to the flesh by default, with potentially serious consequences. (If there is an area in our lives where we really don’t want to do God’s will, if we will honestly confess it to Him and ask Him to help us become willing, He will answer.)
In some cases we may think, “What’s the harm if it’s just once? God will forgive me.” Such deceiving thoughts come either from our flesh or the devil. The harm, in addition to grieving the Spirit and thus breaking fellowship with God, is that what we feed grows. If we begin to feed the flesh, the flesh will gain increasing domination over us with the potential of leading us back into enslavement to sin. What we must do when we are tempted is immediately turn to the Holy Spirit and ask for help; He will lead and prompt us with the Word of God. This is not an inconsequential matter, for whenever we take a deliberate step into darkness, the next step is easier and the one after that is easier still. Each step puts us that much further from God and progressively hardens our conscience. And we cannot know where it will all end. Like stepping into quicksand, there is no guarantee that we will be able to extricate ourselves. No doubt David thought just one sexual encounter with Bathsheba wouldn’t matter. But it did matter—greatly. Although he eventually repented (Psalms 32 and 51), he nevertheless incurred God’s disciplinary judgments (2 Sam. 12:7–14) which, as recounted in 2 Samuel 12:15–20, are very sobering.
In other instances, thinking that temptation is just too strong to resist, we deceive ourselves with the thought that God will understand and give us a pass. Perhaps David thought this as well. But this, too, is deception, for, as Paul says, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13). In other words, we can overcome temptation if we really want to. How? When we become aware of sinful desire rising in us and are tempted, we must at once ask the Holy Spirit for strength, remind ourselves of what the Word says, and resist before it can germinate and blossom. James reminds us that “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14–15). Resisting vigorously at the first suggestion of sinful desire, before it can conceive and gain strength, is a critical key to overcoming temptation. Wise men and women will seek to avoid being surprised by temptation by asking the Holy Spirit to search their hearts and reveal any indwelling sins so they can close the doors of vulnerability before being ensnared (Ps. 139:23–24).
What if we do give in to temptation and commit sin? We should confess to God as soon as we become aware of our sin, repent and return to Him, asking to be restored and filled afresh with His Spirit and His grace. To repent and return to God doesn’t mean to simply say words like “God, I’m sorry.” It involves a full intention to forsake our sin and a battle to put it to death and root it out of our lives. God is gracious and will forgive those who are truly repentant, for “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Sadly, some people find such a life not to their liking. They believe they can be saved by grace but continue to live in the flesh and ultimately go to heaven. Rooting out sin may be okay for others, but it is not important to them. This raises the question, can a person pray the sinner’s prayer, continue to live in his or her sins as before with no concern or effort to live for God, and then go to heaven? One can only wonder, what kind of grace it is that saves a person and leaves him the same way it found him. Certainly not the transforming grace of God taught in the Bible. Paul, the apostle of grace, says, “If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Rom. 8:13–14). The Spirit of God leads the children of God to turn away from sin and to give up themselves to His service, walking before Him in holiness and righteousness all their days.
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