“It may surprise you that nowhere in the Bible are we told to ‘resist temptation’. We are told to ‘resist the devil’, but that is very different….” So wrote Rick Warren in his seminal book, The Purpose Driven Life…and he’s 100% correct.
The incorrect notion that resisting temptation is the biblical prescription for dealing with it is remarkably common. We hear it all the time, including from the pulpit, but also in popular Christian books and online articles. The problem with this response to temptation is not only that’s it’s unbiblical, but that it relies on human strength rather than on God’s power.
“It may surprise you that nowhere in the Bible are we told to ‘resist temptation.’ We are told to ‘resist the devil,’ but that is very different. . . .”
Add to this the fact that virtually everyone has a different opinion of how to defeat temptation. Take 45 seconds to watch how folks cannot fully agree on how to defeat temptation.
1 Cor. 10:13 is the central verse in the Bible dealing with temptation. Here’s how it reads (ESV):
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.
Okay, let’s unpack this verse (that’s code for, “We’re going deep”).
The words “ability” and “able” in this verse come from the same Greek word, dýnamai. It generally carries the idea of ability, power, or strength. But the question here is, “Whose ability, God’s or ours?”.
The answer lies in the Greek grammar. In the phrase “beyond your ability”, ability is in the passive voice. This means that you are not “active” in the process, you are passive. In other words, it’s not something you do, but something done to you or for you. The phrase “able to endure it”, is likewise in the passive voice. Both are in the present tense, meaning it’s not in the past nor for the future. It’s for now.
Based on the grammar, I paraphrase the verse as follows:
You have not allowed any temptation to overtake you that is not a temptation that has already been experienced by another. But God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be subjected to the pressure of temptation beyond the [dýnamai] ability He gives you (present-passive), but with the temptation, He will also definitely provide the way out, so that you will have the [dýnamai] ability He gives you (present-passive) to endure it.
“Resisting temptation actually empowers it since it consumes our thoughts.”
Resisting temptation actually empowers it since it consumes our thoughts. Imagine trying to quit smoking by resisting it. You wake up thinking, “I’ve got to quit smoking. Whatever I do today, I can’t smoke. I can’t buy a pack of cigarettes or I’m toast. And I better not bum one from someone. I just can’t smoke. I’m gonna lick this thing if it’s the last thing I do”.
You see what’s happened? The one thing you’re trying to stop ends up consuming your mind throughout the day. Remember, what you think determines how you feel and how you feel determines what you do. “I have to stop overeating, smoking, lusting, drinking”, etc., is a self-defeating strategy.
So, no matter what else you may do, please don’t attempt to defeat temptation by resisting it.
How then do we defeat temptation? I’ll answer that next time when I unpack the term, “the way of escape”.