Now I’ve looked at these different verses from James because through them we can summarize the different teachings that the Bible has about temptation. When we summarize them, we see that there are two basic kinds of temptation: temptations from God, which are good (and it’s not even good to use that word; “testing” is a better word). And then there are temptations to sin, which are evil. This second kind of temptation, the temptation to sin, may be divided into temptations of the flesh, the world, and Satan. It is over these temptations that every believer must triumph. And therefore it’s these we must talk about in this study.
Now how do we triumph over the temptations that come to us from the world, the flesh, and the devil? How are we to defeat these temptations? We should begin, I suppose, with fleshly temptations, since you and I generally think of them first. What are they? Well obviously they’re at least temptations to sexual sins, drunkenness, overeating, pampering of our body, and so on.
But we cannot limit the sins of the flesh to these things. What about laziness, for instance? Very fleshly! Shouldn’t fleshly sins include the desire to stay home and enjoy comfort, while others are suffering great material deprivation or are working hard for a good cause? Shouldn’t they include the temptation to buy the second car when we don’t need it, take the long vacation, or whatever it may be, when we could help important spiritual enterprises by our giving or by a better use of our time? Aren’t they also the temptations to stay home on week nights and watch television, when we know of a need for tutoring the underprivileged, befriending the lonely, visiting the sick, and so on? Well obviously all of these things are fleshly sins and temptations to do them are fleshly temptations.
How are we to defeat them? There is only one answer according to the Word of God, and only one. We are to run from them. We are to run away. We are to remove ourselves from the place of temptation. This was Paul’s advice to his converts in reference to sexual sins. He advised the Corinthians, “Flee fornication,” and he told the young man Timothy, “Flee also youthful lusts, but follow righteousness, faith, love, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” In other words, in reference to sexual sins, imitate Joseph who fled from Potiphar’s wife, and not David who invited Bathsheba over to the palace.
Now a moment’s reflection will show why in some instances this must be so. In most of the temptations of this life, although they may be severe, the Christian has an ally in reason. For example, he may be tempted to cheat on his income tax, but his reason will tell him that the computers today are very thorough and that the gain (if there is any) is entirely out of proportion to the loss of money, time, and reputation if he should be caught. Reason unites with his knowledge of the good and the internal witness of the Holy Spirit to save him.
It’s the same with many other temptations, but not with most of the fleshly temptations. What couple ever sat alone in an apartment reasoning out the relative advantages and disadvantages of premarital sex, for instance, and on that basis either had sexual intercourse or avoided it? It just doesn’t work that way. And consequently, if you find yourself in this situation, you must start running like Joseph. Get out of the apartment. Visit a friend. If your problem is drunkenness, avoid alcohol. If it’s overeating, you must force yourself away from the table. If you’re lazy, turn off the television set. Without such aid, mechanical aid if you will, neither you nor anyone else is 100% able at all times to avoid these temptations.