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The Challenge of Daily Temptations
The most common challenge we face in following Jesus is daily temptations to the particular sins that appeal to the inclinations and passions of our old fallen nature, which Paul calls “the flesh.” Paul describes the experience of every true Christian when he says “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Gal. 5:17). Do you find a struggle raging in your heart as you are tempted to sin and then seek to resist? If so, that is a good sign, an indication that God’s Spirit is at work in you. The path to victory, says Paul, is to “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). This means saying no to the sinful desires that tempt us and yes to the Spirit’s prompting to obedience.
Some people have been defeated so often that they have given up hope of gaining victory over the sinful temptations that assail them. This is a great mistake and an unnecessary capitulation to sin. It is also a great danger, for it makes them vulnerable to the hardening effects of sin in their hearts, which can lead to gradually drifting from faith in Christ. They need to understand the Bible’s teaching on how to deal with remaining sin by putting to death the deeds of the body by the power of the Spirit (Rom. 8:13). We are not the helpless victims of our sinful desires and temptations, even though it may sometimes seem that way. Paul assures us that “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 will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13). Through learning constant reliance on the empowering presence of the Spirit, we can resist the fleshly temptations that assail us. In some cases we may need the wise counsel and prayers of a godly pastor or elder or an accountability group.
The Spiritual Benefit of Challenges
So far, following Jesus has sounded like a life of unmitigated misery. Is there any good news? Anything positive or encouraging? The answer is yes. The first thing to say—and to be thankful for—is that normally our daily life is not besieged by all of these challenges at once! Although we can expect to encounter temptations to sin on a daily basis, things like persecution, suffering, false teaching, and demonic attack tend to come and go. They intensify at certain seasons, then recede, unless we are living in an especially hostile, anti-Christian environment or period of time.
But the most encouraging news is that God uses the challenges we experience for our good. They play an important role in our transformation into the image of Christ. Paul says, “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:3–5). Paul is telling us that suffering actually strengthens our endurance and ability to persevere, and lays the foundation for the increase of other virtues.
James takes it a step further when he says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness [i.e., perseverance]. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2–4). We are to rejoice in trials, says James, because they produce perseverance, which helps move us on to maturity.
Peter, likewise, commends the value of trials and testing: “You have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:6–9). Trials serve to purify our faith and make us stronger and more Christlike. And they will also bring us praise, glory, and honor when Christ returns, as well as glorifying Him who enabled us to persevere.
Towering over all the difficult experiences of life is the unshakable truth that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). This doesn’t mean that everything will somehow turn out to be good from a human point of view. Rather, it means that God will use all the difficult things we encounter as part of His process of conforming us to the image of His Son, which is the ultimate good (Rom. 8:29).
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