Fighting Temptation by Understanding Its Lie

There is a lie that is circulating around (and always has been) that says pursuing sin is where we’ll find joy. Have you experienced this? Are you ever tempted to believe that laziness, gluttony, lust, or idolatry (these are but a sampling of sins we could list) will satisfy your desires? Sin comes to us and entices with bold and alluring temptations which appear to offer happiness and satisfaction.

Or will they? Is joy really to be found in pursuing sin? (And to be clear, I’m not talking about a short-term thrill—there may be plenty of that. Rather, I’m thinking of a long-term, soul-satisfying joy.) Is that kind of joy to be found with choosing to listen to temptation?

Clearly, the answer is no. The path of sin is the path of futility, shame, and death. Try as you may, true and lasting joy can no more be found on that path than you can find drinkable water in the ocean. It doesn’t matter how vast the options of sin, none of them lead to satisfaction.

I think of Romans chapter six in this regard. In talking about believers not being slaves to sin but “set free” to live for righteousness, Paul then says in verse 20, “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death” (Romans 6:20-21).

Isn’t it thought provoking to think back in our lives and ask “what fruit we were getting” when sin was our master? As Christians, indwelt by the Spirit, we have eyes to see that the fruit of our sin then was misery. It had temporary highs, but was followed by devastating lows. Sin offered us lots of promises of joy. But it lied to us. Like the ancient snake lied to Eve with deadly half-truths, so too we were carried away by the passions of our flesh. And all the while that path was heading to nothing but spiritual destruction (“For the end of those things is death.”).

I’m reminded of Proverbs 6 in this regard as well. In this chapter the preacher is giving an example of the fool who listens to the “seductive speech” of the adulterous. “With her smooth talk she compels him. All at once he follows here, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a stag is caught fast till an arrow pierces its liver; as a bird rushed into a snare; he does not know that it will cost him his life” (6:21-23).

I began thinking about this theme on sin, temptation, and the empty promises they offer through reading the biography of Robert Murray M’Cheyne, a pastor in Scotland in the 1830’s (who died at the young age of 29). Toward the end of his life he spent time writing out, “an examination into things that ought to be amended and changed” in his own life. He wasn’t able to complete it before sickness and death overtook him, but one of the things he emphasized strongly was his desire to be more like Christ. In the process, he felt, he would thereby find his greatest joy in life. Temptations from his flesh, the world, and the devil would tell him that joy was to be found on the path of sin. But he countered that, “Every sin is something [which takes] away from my greatest enjoyment…the devil strives night and day to make me forget this or disbelieve it.”

This was so helpful to me; I trust it will encourage your soul as well as you fight temptations to sin in your life. Sin comes to us promising joy…but it lies. It can’t give us true joy. And even worse, it is actually taking us away from our “greatest enjoyment” in God Himself by all that He offers us in Christ (this demands much more explanation, which Lord-willing I will do next week).

This though also has great implications for how we fight sin. The next time you face the temptation to sin, please remind yourself that that sin has got nothing for you. It’s an empty promise. It is not offering you true joy, no matter how hard it tries to sell you on the benefits of pursuing it. I don’t know where temptation is bearing down hard on you, but when it rears its ugly head again, answer it by saying: “That’s not joy. You’re telling me it is, but it’s not. I know the ‘fruit’ of that path only leads to death (Rom. 6:20), and I’m not going to be like the ox going to slaughter (Prov. 6:22). Temptation, be gone!”

Beloved, this isn’t the only way to fight temptation, but it is an important way: to keep the true joy of following Christ in our sights, and refuse to settle for lesser things. May the Lord use this encouragement in your life as He is in mine.