There are two mistakes we can make when facing temptation. Sometimes we can fall off the horse on one side; at other times we can fall off the other side. God’s word keeps us in the saddle when dealing with temptation and its wiles. Paul tells us in 1 CO 10:12–13:
Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 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.
Mistake #1: Underestimate the power of temptation.
Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. (12)
Another way of putting this is overestimating your own strength to resist. In 1 CO 10 Paul catalogs a number of sins that Israel fell into, like desiring evil, idolatry, sexual immorality, testing God, grumbling. He says God recorded Israel’s sins for our instruction. Then he gives the above warning—if you think you stand, be on your guard or you’ll fall. We can read about Israel’s sins and think, “I’d never do that. I’d never fall into idolatry. I would never sin sexually.” Paul says you’re about to fall off the horse. We can hear others’ sins and judge them thinking, “How could he do that? How could he start embezzling from the church? How could she commit adultery? How could he make such a mistake with his kids?” It’s easy to look at others sins and struggles and think we could never be tempted that way. Take heed lest you fall.
I once heard someone say we are all capable of any sin. Don’t ever think I would never do THAT. In Galatians 6:1 Paul tells us:
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
We should deal gently with brothers and sisters ensnared in ANY sin, knowing that someday it could be us who are ensnared. We may think we could never fall into the sin our brother or sister is trapped in, but Paul tells us that we too can be tempted.
Sometimes we think we’re smarter than God. That we can walk into a tempting situation and not be affected. That we can watch that impure movie and it won’t bother us. Or hang out regularly with unbelievers and they won’t influence us, even though the Bible says “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’ ” (1 CO 15:33).
Don’t underestimate temptation. Don’t overestimate your ability to resist it.
Mistake #2: Overestimate the power of temptation.
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. (13)
A friend of mine once heard a pastor say there will always be one or more areas of sin that a Christian can never conquer. That we just have to accept the fact that despite overcoming some sins, there will always be some we can’t. That there will always be certain temptations that are just too strong for us.
Wrong. First of all, your temptation is not unique. There is NO temptation that is not common to man, no temptation that multitudes haven’t conquered by God’s grace.
Secondly, though your temptation feels strong, God is stronger. He knows exactly what you can take and he controls even the strength of the temptation. He won’t let you be tempted beyond your ability. For with whatever temptation he allows he also provides “the way of escape”—the grace to keep from sinning. He doesn’t always remove the temptation, but gives us the grace to “endure it” without falling.
Believers do NOT have to sin because of our union with Christ. Romans 6:6 says because our old self was crucified with Christ, we’re no longer enslaved to sin. Verse 12 says we must not let sin reign in our bodies. It’s not easy, but we are not doomed to a life of slavery to sin. We must fight, pray, flee temptation, cry out to God for help, put sin to death. But we CAN overcome it by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Don’t underestimate temptation. But don’t overestimate it either. Stay on the horse. Someday Jesus will free us from our temptations and sins when he gives us glorified bodies in the new heaven and earth where righteousness dwells.
Mark Altrogge has been senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, Pennsylvania, since 1982. He has written hundreds of songs for worship, including “I Stand in Awe” and “I’m Forever Grateful.” Mark and his wife, Kristi, have four sons and one daughter. Find out more on his blog, The Blazing Center.