When I first saw the strawberry bonbons, my mouth watered involuntarily with a tangy sweet twinge, anticipating the taste of the delectable treat. My brother received the candies as a reward at school, so they were special—and they were his. I knew it would be wrong to take one without his permission, but he wasn’t home. The tempting morsels sat there, beckoning to my 11-year-old self.
How do we resist temptation when it seems irresistible? What can we do when the allure of sin threatens to overpower our feeble flesh?
Distraction and avoidance were my first line of defense. Wandering around the house, I tried to engage in productive activity, to no avail. Repeatedly, I strolled past the room with the candies and my eyes caught a glimpse of them every time. Roundish and red against the white styrofoam cup, the strawberry sweets were like the bulls-eye on a target, my forbidden yet desperately desired focal point.
The seduction of the unlawful confection proved more powerful than my will. “I’m sure he won’t mind if I take just one,” I convinced myself. But one became two and two became more and, before I knew it, I had devoured them all.
After telling this terribly true story to my five-year-old niece, she responded, “Auntie, you should’ve prayed. Jesus would’ve helped you.” She’s right. Jesus told his disciples to “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). Prayer is an effective solution to irresistible temptation “because [Jesus] himself has suffered when tempted, [so] he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18).
What if I give in to temptation?
Sometimes the urge to give in to temptation is so compelling that we don’t even want to pray because we don’t really want to overcome it. We desire our sin more than we desire our Savior. What then? What if we submit to the desires of our flesh instead of walking in obedience to God?
As soon as I realized I’d literally stolen my brother’s prize with no means of making restitution, my satisfying indulgence turned into a sick stomach. “Maybe he’ll think it was someone else,” I hoped. “Or maybe he’ll forget about them and never notice they’re gone.”
I spent the rest of the day trying to ignore my despicable sin. Every few minutes, I shuddered at the horrific realization that I’d become a thief. I believed if I waited long enough, the discomfort would eventually disappear. But it didn’t. At least, not until I confessed.
I couldn’t bear the weight of the truth any longer. “I ate your candies,” I tearfully admitted to my brother. “I’m so sorry. I know they were special because they were your prize from school. There’s no excuse for what I did. I’m a disgrace.”
I saw myself as worthy of the most severe punishment, so my brother’s response shocked me. “I forgive you! I don’t even like those candies anyway.” The relief was tangible—my shoulders lifted, I could breathe again, and that poisonous pain in my gut left immediately.
The Best Response When We Sin
When we sin, we tend to shy away from God, ashamed of our wretchedness. Yet the writer of Hebrews tells us that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 14:15). Jesus is our high priest, and he’s an understanding and compassionate one. He can actually relate to our battle with temptation because he, too, was tempted by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16, Luke 4:1-13).
Jesus remained sinless, but he’s familiar with the mental battle, spiritual struggle, and physical challenge involved in resisting temptation. He wants us to come to him, even when we mess up—not so he can beat us up and tell us how awful we are, but because he loves us and wants to help us. ”Let us then draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
Through John the apostle, Jesus promised that “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). When we come to Jesus with a humble heart of repentance, he forgives us and our sin is no more because he has already paid the price for our sin by his death on the cross (Isaiah 53:4-5). David sang about this beautiful, life-changing truth in Psalm 103:8-14.
“The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.”
How to Overcome Temptation
When you’re tempted to sin, Jesus is willing and able to help you overcome that temptation and walk in victory. Turn to him through prayer (Luke 22:39-40).
There are many more practical things you can do to equip yourself to overcome temptation. Memorizing Scripture is a key strategy (Psalm 119:11). When Satan tempted him, Jesus quoted Bible verses he had memorized. Listen to music with lyrics taken directly from Scripture to help you remember the words, or select Bible passages related to a specific temptation and display them where you’ll see them often. Avoid tempting situations and people (Proverbs 4:14-15, 1 Corinthians 6:18, 2 Timothy 2:22, Matthew 5:29-30). Enlist the help of a friend or family member who will hold you accountable and pray for you (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, Proverbs 28:13).
When you do sin, turn to him again. He’s waiting for you with open arms and he longs to forgive a humble sinner. He loves you!