"Lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil...." is a crucial part of the Lord's Prayer. The idea of overcoming temptation is part of the foundation of Biblical faith. More than that, it is crucial for the Christian to maintain a walk "in the Spirit". So, what are practical ways for success in being an overcomer?
Be encouraged. Most if not all of us are, one way or another, "held with the cords of...sin". There are some "besetting" sins that just have a grip on us. But, there is a path, a way of thinking, to overcoming them. Proverbs 24: 16 says, "For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again...." (NASB) Notice that even a person whom the scriptures call "righteous" can fall. Whose righteousness do we have, our own? No. We were bought with the price of Jesus' blood and by His resurrection from the dead. By His righteous power in us we can rise again and again to repentence, forgiveness, and victory.
Moreover, In Matthew 18:21 and 22, "Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven." (NASB)
Whose idea was it to forgive so much? God's. But why, so that we can keep on sinning? No, so that we can put the past behind us and continue to grow in strength in relationship to Christ. The purpose of God's forgiveness is repentence, that is changing of our minds and hearts, to go back to the right way for which we have been redeemed.
We all are tempted. Isn't it nice that being tempted is not a sin. So, overcoming temptation does not include having to repent for being tempted. Let your conscience be at ease about that. However, following after the temptation, flirting with it. Now, that is a different story.
Once I was on a business trip and went into the hotel magazine store to get a local newspaper. There, on the back wall was a rack of magazines with provacative pictures of women. My attention was rivited to those pictures. I decided to turn around and walk out of the store with my newspaper. But, unexpectedly, my body seemed to have a different mind. I found myself turning around again and taking steps toward the magazine rack full of soft porn. My spirit lept up within me. The Holy Spirit convicted me about pursuing those thoughts any further. I turned around again and did walk out of the store without buying or looking at one of the magazines.
That was a success story. I have plenty of failure stories which I will obviously not mention here. That is to say that we all have some kind of "hot button." To others it might be covetous jealousy. Or, it might be habitual stealing or lying. It is most likely a combination of weaknesses.
Each weakness seems to be connected to some lie about it that we are willing to accept. For instance, in the case of my weakness, it was a lie that said, "After all, you are a man. It is only natural for you to have to find an outlet for your natural masculine tendencies. Because it is nature, it is impossible to not carry it out." In other words, the lie is all about justifying our failure so that we will continue to fail.
Our temptations can be overcome by our cooperation with the Holy Spirit. We cannot count on overcoming temptations without a combination of our willingness to face the truth, our willingness to humble ourselves before God, and our willingness to cooperate with the mighty resurrection power of our Friend, the Holy Spirit that lives within every true believer in Christ.
When at last the final failure has been put behind us by a continual string of overcoming victories, there is a joy. That joy is so overwhelming that you want to mark the day, just like an alcoholic remembers the last day they took a drink before they became sober. My day is March 12th. You can discover your own day because of the overwhelming resurrection power of the Holy Spirit will help you. It will be an anniversary of joy.
So, what are the ways of thinking that will lead to overcoming sin and reaching that day of joy.
First, when temptation comes, capture that thing. Capture it in your imagination and bring it directly to the Holy Spirit by faith. Tell the Holy Spirit in prayer that you don't want this thing. Tell Him that you renounce in your own body and mind and heart any thought or feeling or image of it. Ask Him to throw that thing into the "sea of forgetfullness" or back into hell where it came from. Be violent about it. Beat it up. Tell your body (actually, your evil carnal nature) to "shut up". Tell your body to cooperate with the Holy Spirit for the sake of your own healthy well being.
Second, replace that moment with a new moment of thankfulness to Christ for His love for you. Thank Him for his grace to you. Ask for the joy of His redemption of you to be remembered and built up. Remember when He first saved you, and you loved Him so. You were so relieved to be freed from the destructiveness of sin. Now, remember your love for Him and the joy will rise.
You see, we are not giving up our sins. We are trading them in for better things, things of joy and love, things of peace and health.
Sin always gave us some kind of "pay back" or benefit that hooked us. But, according to Pastor Paul Binion, "sin never dwells alone." It always brings sorrow, shame, pain, loss, and destruction. It brings the death of our spirit, not that we will go out of existence, but that we will become less and less sensitive to God and thus suffer the death of our relationship to Christ.
If we do fall for our temptations, what then?
If you fall, rise again. Go to Psalm 51 and read it carefully. Look for the pattern of King David's repentence, God's process of redemption, and the restoration to a healthy, joyous walk in righteousness. You may want to use Psalm 51 as your own prayer to God. I have, sooooo many times.
Then, go to I John 1:9. Realize the depth of the love God has for you. Find in Christ the refuge from temptation. Hide in His love. Let the power of the Holy Spirit that raised Christ from the dead be the power with which you cooperate to overcome those temptations.
Read Romans 8: 1 & 2. Those are accomplished facts already provided by Christ. "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For, the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death." And in Romans 8:11 "But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you." (I know 8:11 speaks of the resurrection in the "last days". However, if He works in you to raise you from the dead, how will He not use His resurrection power to raise you above your sins?)
If you are a believing Christian, your name is written in the "Lamb's Book of Life" that rests before the throne of God in heaven. That value is beyond all riches, fame, possessions, and earthly power. It is certainly greater than the pitiful "pay backs" of sin. The relationship you have with Christ is worth the process of overcoming.
I pray for you who read this, that the Holy Spirit will cause the scriptures to come to enliven your spirit. And, I pray that the ways of thinking presented here will make a positive difference in your walk with Christ.