Choose Christ over Willpower in Temptation

We have all tasted temptation. For the Christian, temptation is both a pre- and post-regeneration reality. James, writing to Jewish believers, states: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:13-15).

An incredibly lyrical prose! James uses it to explain that temptation is never from God but rather the product of your own heart. You are tempted by your own seductive desires; and you “father” children with your desire when “she” drags you away in lust, conceives and gives birth to sin – which always matures into death.

The picture I have is that of Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39:1-23). Imagine your sinful desire as a woman watching, planning, luring, persuading, begging, grasping and finally entrapping you with the intent to destroy. Like Joseph, our power to overcome rests solely in the sufficient grace of God. My mention here of Joseph however isn't to make him our example for imitation in temptation but rather to point to Joseph’s Fear (Genesis 39:8-9), the One who forever crushes the head of the tempter (Genesis 3:15).

There is a distinction between a sincere determination to conquer sin with focused willpower and a resolve to defeat sin through active reliance on God’s power.  What do I mean? Let’s see Paul’s statement in Romans 7:18: “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” Trusting in willpower during temptation is like leaning your full weight against an empty cardboard box. There is little power since your “will” by nature is bent determinedly toward disobedience – an inheritance from our First Father (Romans 5:12).

Jesus Christ is your strength and sure support in temptation! He is the Second Adam whose obedience is imputed as righteousness to sinners (Romans 5:19). Once justified, it is the Holy Spirit who enables and sustains you to walk in obedience that pleases God (Romans 8:1-11). So your best weapon in fighting the good fight of faith – fleeing sin in pursuit of righteousness (1 Timothy 6:11-12) – is a humble dependence on the Spirit and a fixed gaze on the One who has overcome the world (John 16:33).

Interestingly, James, after describing the nature of temptation in chapter 1, furthers the idea in chapter 4 with this admonition: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). And how are you to resist the devil? He continues in James 4:8-10 “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you… Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”

Power belongs to God, so sister and brothers, fight the good fight of faith! In temptation, draw near to God through the study of His Word and prayer. Fight knowing that you are indeed able to overcome that ancient serpent — “if and only if we are in the Son, that is, enabled by grace alone through the work of the Holy Spirit to thwart the tempter just as He did!”[1]

[1] Chris Donato, Freedom and Its Obligations, available online at Ligonier Ministries, accessed June 5, 2014,