Sunday, November 13, 2016

5 Scriptures to Help You Overcome Temptation

1.      3 Nephi 18:15, 18-19  Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye must watch and pray always, lest ye be tempted by the devil, and ye be led away captive by him. Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, ye must watch and pray always lest ye enter into temptation; for Satan desireth to have you, that he may sift you as wheat. Therefore ye must always pray unto the Father in my name;

The Savior is the only one who ever lived who was perfectly righteous.  Even though he was tempted in all the same ways that we are, he never gave in, and he faithfully followed His Father in all things, and he lived a wholly sinless life (see Hebrews 4:14-15).  This makes Christ the unopposed champion of resisting temptation.  Not only do we have his powerful example of obedience to guide us, but he also left us valuable teachings concerning how best to resist temptation and how to avoid it when possible. Given Christ’s sinless life and example, it makes sense to look carefully at the things he taught about resisting temptation.  Namely, he exhorted His disciples to “watch and pray always lest ye enter into temptation.”

Why is it that constant prayer so effective a remedy in staving off temptation?  One answer has to do with the fact that the devil never sleeps.  He and his angels have nothing better to do than to try to lead you astray, and he is obsessed with your destruction.  I don’t know what it feels like to be sifted as wheat, but if Satan wants to do it to you, you can bet it’s not pleasant.  The only way to combat an enemy that never rests is to turn to God, who will never rest in providing and guiding us in the way to joy and salvation.   God is more powerful than the devil, and his voice can dispel the seductive tendrils of temptation.  We need Him in our lives, and prayer is the way for us to access God and His power.  That is why the devil works so hard to get us to neglect the habit and practice of prayer in our lives.

2 Nephi 32:8-9  And now, my beloved brethren, I perceive that ye ponder still in your hearts; and it grieveth me that I must speak concerning this thing. For if ye would hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray, ye would know that ye must pray; for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray. But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul.

With this in mind, it might seem like a perfectly natural thing for Christ to exhort the Nephites to pray to avoid temptation, but why did he also tell them to watch?  What did he ask them to watch, and what were they supposed to be watching for?  King Benjamin explained that we need to be watching our own selves, and our thoughts, words, and deeds.

Mosiah 4:29-30  And finally, I cannot tell you all the things whereby ye may commit sin; for there are divers ways and means, even so many that I cannot number them. But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not.

The devil is not all-powerful; he can’t force anyone to sin, but he doesn’t need to because we are perfectly capable of finding our own way to temptation and sin without him.  In other words, nobody can honestly say that “the devil made me do it!” We are each accountable for his or her own actions and choices.  Accordingly, we need to be self-aware, and vigilant in taking stock of our own behavior.  King Benjamin instructs us to “observe the commandments of God” in part because commandments help to provide an objective standard by which we can measure our lives and our behavior.  If our thoughts and behavior are not in line with God’s commandments, then we need to be aware enough and honest enough with ourselves to take steps to make corrections.

While those corrections generally take the form of repentance, part of sincere repentance is looking at where we went wrong, and taking steps to avoid the situation or circumstances that led us to stray from God’s word in the first place.  Simply put, a person who truly seeks to repent and grow closer to God through obedience will not only leave a certain sin behind, but he/she will also examine their past habits and behavior and make changes to avoid being tempted to commit that sin in the future.

Changing habits which have been a long time in the making will take a lot of work, and will also require us to watch ourselves carefully to avoid falling into old patterns and encountering old temptations. That is why it is so important to watch, as well as to pray, in order to avoid entering into temptation.  This whole process will require us to examine ourselves regularly, and make corrections as necessary.  The sacrament is a formal way to do this activity, however we ought to be making periodic self-evaluations and correction all the time, and not just on Sunday.

2.       1 Corinthians 10:13  There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

Satan likes to make us feel like we are completely alone.  It is one of the reasons why he works so hard to cut us off from God by getting us to forget to pray.  If we are tempted to do something we shouldn’t it is to his benefit to convince us that nobody else has ever faced such temptation, and to encourage us to feel isolated and unworthy.  Paul taught us the important truth that everyone is tempted as some point in their lives, and nobody is alone in being tempted.  Being tempted, in and of itself, doesn’t make you a bad person; after all, even Jesus was tempted.  The trick is to follow Christ’s example in resisting our temptations.

Paul teaches another crucial truth here: there is no temptation so great that you or I cannot choose to overcome it.  God sincerely desires that you and I learn to overcome and outgrow our temptations, and he is deeply committed to helping everyone to resist giving in to sin.  Accordingly, God will help us to escape temptation, and/or to better bear up under those temptations, if we will commit to faithfully following His guidance.  This requires some basic common sense on our part though.

Remember that the Savior didn’t just warn us about temptation; He expressly warned us against entering into temptation.  It is not reasonable to expect God to help us to avoid temptation if we knowingly went somewhere, or did something, or spent time with people, which place us in the way of temptation.  Sometimes the way to escape temptation which God provides comes before the actual moment in which the specific temptation occurs.

If you are a recovering alcoholic, it might be a good idea to find friends who will help you to keep your commitment to stop drinking, rather than questioning the validity of your choice to change.  If you know that there is a liquor store or a bar on your way home from work, you ought to consider taking a different street from now on.  If you are trying to overcome pornography use or addiction, don’t place yourself in situations in which you know you will be tempted to act out.  If you tend to be tempted by online pornography, use the computer in an open and well-trafficked area of the house.  Avoid idle browsing or surfing online.  Set time limits for computer use.  The point is that the Lord often provides a number of ways for us to avoid temptation before it ever becomes an issue, but this will require us to be active and vigilant in choosing to avoid situations in which temptation may be augmented.

3.      2 Peter 2:9  The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished:

Notice that Peter teaches that the Lord knows how to deliver the GODLY out of temptation.  It is important to surround ourselves with people, and to spend time in places and environments, and to only consume media that invites the presence of the Holy Ghost, and which will help us to become more like God both in the short run and in the eternal sense.  There is a lot that we can do to preemptively avoid temptation, but we need to actively choose righteousness and godliness in our thoughts, words, deeds, as well as in our choice of environment and companions.  We must earnestly seek after those things which will help us to obey God and avoid temptation, while actively avoiding those things which detract from the Spirit and which make resisting temptation more difficult.  It wasn’t just nice sentiment when Joseph Smith declared that a central article of our faith is that:

Articles of Faith 1:13  We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.

Sometimes, through no fault of our own, we may find ourselves in an unexpected situation in which our morals or even our virtue may be threatened.  In cases such as these it is best to follow the example of Joseph, who fled in haste from the clutches of Potiphar’s wife.  If you find yourself in a situation in which you know you could be tempted to sin, then get out, and get out now.  Don’t wait, and don’t stop to worry about what other people might think of you.  Worry more about what the Lord thinks of you, and about being able to look yourself in the eye when you look in the mirror. 

4.      Hebrews 12:4  Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.

James 4:7 But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

When Paul reminded us that we have not yet resisted unto blood, striving unto sin, he was trying to teach us a principle that should change the way you look at temptation and the urge to sin.  As James says, if you will resist the devil, he’ll flee from you.  Refusing to give in to temptation is the only way for us to develop the integrity and strength of character that we need to conquer sin and the devil. However, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you are strong enough to do it all on your own.

It is normal to feel overwhelmed at times by temptation, and the urge to give up and give in may seem like an easy and enticing alternative.  When you rely only on your own willpower to resist temptation, it can be easy to feel discouraged and like you just aren’t trying hard enough. Many who struggle with sin and temptation think that they just need to try harder, or pray harder, or read more scriptures, and when they fail they become discouraged and they give up.  Satan knows that good people are going to give it their all when it comes to resisting the temptation to sin, and he is counting on us to fall into his trap by trying to do it all by ourselves until we are too exhausted to resist anymore.

Don’t give up!  If you feel like you can’t fight anymore, turn to the Savior.  If you think you have to do it all by yourself, you are doing it wrong!  The Savior gave himself for you so that you don't have to be alone.  Because of the atonement, you can overcome sin in your own life, through the power of His grace.  Jesus Christ meant what he said when he invited all to:

Matthew 11:28-30  Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

It is only through the power that comes from Jesus Christ, through his atonement and His gospel, that we can overcome our burdens, including temptation.  Without him we would be quickly overwhelmed.

If you and I are going to beat temptation, we will have to turn ourselves over wholly to the Savior. This isn’t something that we can do halfway.  Nor should we feel like Christ is just there to tip us over the edge after we get ourselves most of the way there.  “Jesus doesn’t make up the difference. Jesus makes all the difference. Grace is not about filling gaps. It is about filling us.” (Brad Wilcox, "His Grace Is Sufficient," BYU Devotional, July 12, 2011).

One of the blessings of the atonement of Jesus Christ is that we can rely on the power of Christ’s grace to help us overcome any number of things that might overwhelm us otherwise, temptation being chief among those things.  It takes humility to rely on someone else to do something that we can’t do on our own.  It also takes humility to admit that we are flawed and to set aside our pride so we can submit ourselves to God’s will.  It takes humility to admit that we did something wrong, and take the steps needed to repent.

James 4:7 But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

God wants to bless us with His grace to help us resist the devil, but our pride gets in the way. Only those who choose to humble themselves and submit themselves to God will enjoy the full power of God’s grace.  If we choose to learn the right lessons from them, our weakness will be compensated for by the power of Christ’s grace, which is sufficient to help us to overcome the worst that Satan can throw at us.

5.      2 Corinthians 12:7-9  And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Take courage in the knowledge that even the great apostle Paul was afflicted with his own imperfections.  We don’t know precisely what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was, but it is likely that he was tempted just like everyone else.  Everyone will, at one time or another in their life, find themselves buffeted by the messenger of Satan.  Each person is unique, and as such they might be tempted in different ways, but each of us has the same power to turn to Christ and to rely on His strength to overcome our temptations.

When you feel weak, and you are faced with temptations that seem too powerful to overcome, remember that you are not expected to face them alone.  The most important reason why Jesus Christ taught us over and over again that we need to pray always to overcome temptation is because prayer is the best way to access the power of his atonement, and the sweet power of His grace to help us to do more than we can do on our own.  Jesus Christ died so that we can each choose to set aside “lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us,” and turn ourselves over wholly to Christ.

Hebrews 12:1-2  Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

We shouldn’t expect to be perfect right away, but we ought to be diligent, “and… run with patience the race that is set before us.”  If we will follow Christ’s example in living the gospel and putting off all ungodliness, and learn to rely on the sustaining power of His grace, over time we will be born again and sanctified through the power of the Holy Spirit and the grace and blood of Jesus Christ (see Moroni 10:34).  There will be no temptation strong enough to move us, and we will find that we cannot look upon sin without abhorrence (see Alma 13:12).  When we are born of God through the spirit, temptation will no longer have any power over us.

1 John 3:9  Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

1 John 5:  For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.  We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.

I am working and looking forward steadfastly and with all my heart for the day when I can grow out of sin and temptation.  I am grateful for the grace which my savior offers me, and the power which he gives me to overcome those temptations which at times can seem overwhelming.  I promise that if you will turn yourself wholly over to the Savior, through obedience to the principles and ordinances of the gospel, you too can rely on him to make you better than you are on your own.  Jesus Christ has the power to help you to overcome temptation and forsake sin, so you can more fully embrace righteousness, which will bring you unimaginable joy.

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