Dale Johnson: Today on the podcast, I am delighted to welcome Lisa Schmidt. She is a homeschool mom of 19 years. Prior to that, she served as a public school teacher. Now, interestingly, she is a member at Bible Presbyterian in Grand Island, New York. She is a counselor there and serves as a ladies Bible study teacher. She’s also enrolled as a Masters of Christian Ministry student at Western Reformed Seminary. We’re so glad that she’s here today to talk on this particular subject about temptation, how we think through temptation, and how we respond to temptation. We have so many questions about temptation especially for us as believers. We all deal with these types of issues in temptations to sin, Paul tells us we still live in this body of death and we struggle with this in many ways. Lisa, when we think through temptations, where do these temptations even come from?
Lisa Schmidt: Well, it’s interesting because before we even answer that question, what’s foundational for all of us as believers is to have a right understanding of who God is. Knowing who He is according to who He says He is and not who we think He is, is foundational to our growth in Christ. We have to have an accurate and biblical knowledge of Him and His attributes, and that can only be obtained by reading, studying, and meditating upon the Word of God, and hearing the proper preaching of the Word of God.
Psalm 119:9-16 says, “How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your Word. With my whole heart I have sought You.” Which begs the question, have I done that? Continuing on he says, “Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments! Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You! Blessed are You, O Lord! Teach me Your statutes! With my lips I have declared all the judgments of Your mouth. I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts and contemplate Your ways. I will delight myself in Your statutes; I will not forget your word.”
So to go back to your question, “Where do those temptations come from?” many well intentioned believers think that temptations come because of external circumstances, either external difficulties or blessings. Some people will refer to this as “the world.” “The world is influencing me.” It could be something like physical illness or it could even be physical health; financial difficulties or financial prosperity. It could be relationship struggles or even relationship joys.
Many people believe that their temptations come from an external spiritual opposition, if you will, the devil, and you’ll even hear people say, “Well, the devil made me do it.” The problem is, the Bible says something completely different from that. “The devil made me do it” is actually not a valid excuse for Christians. He may have tempted us, but he did not make us sin. We all choose to sin on our own, and God’s Word says that temptations actually come from our internal condition.
That’s the answer to your question, “Where do these temptations come from?” They come from things such as our internal motivations, our cravings, our fears, our desires. We do have to be aware there, we do have a real enemy; the devil is there. First Peter 5:8 says that we are to be “sober and vigilant because our adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” But then the hope comes from 1 Corinthians 10:13, which says, “No temptation has overtaken us except such as is common to man. But God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape that you may be able to bear it.” In going back to the initial point of understanding who God is based on who He says He is from the Word, we also need to take our instruction from His Word on how we are to properly, biblically handle the temptations when they come.
The internal condition that I refer to is talked about very clearly in James 1:12-15, which says, “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him,” and here’s the key, “but each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed, then when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death.” The key is in verse 14, “but each one is tempted when he is drawn away,” and this is, quite frankly, the part most of us don’t like, “drawn away by his own desires and enticed.” This is fishing language, and it’s meant to portray the image of a worm on a hook. It is the bait actually, when we’re enticed by something internally and we take that bait, and once we do, it gives birth to sin.
Dale Johnson: We’ve identified a few places from which temptation comes. I know there are situations that I find myself in at times, maybe I’ve not gotten enough rest, or maybe I’ve not been as disciplined as I ought to in reading the Scriptures, or being around brothers and sisters in the Lord to encourage fellowship and to strengthen me, and we find ourselves being weak and much more vulnerable to temptation. Talk about when we are tempted.
Lisa Schmidt: Yes, and you bring up a good point that all of us deal with. The Bible is really clear, it tells us that we are tempted in both good times and bad times. It could be something as simple as, like you mentioned, “I’m just overtired I didn’t get enough sleep, so I’m tempted to be cranky with my kids or snap at my husband or even just the cashier at the grocery store. Or I’m angry while I’m driving because I’m late and I’m losing my patience.”
But we can also be tempted in good times, and we’re tempted just as much in joyful, healthy, and prosperous times as we are in times of struggle and illness and poverty. The important part is knowing that temptations come from our own evil desires within. We should then be more aware to know when and what conditions make temptations arise typically for us, because you may be tempted in one area, Dale, where I do not particularly have that weakness, or vice versa.
Dale Johnson: To follow up with that, what are some of those conditions of temptation? I think that’s a critical point that you’re getting at there.
Lisa Schmidt: The first would be conditions that make our obedience challenging, and some of those conditions are unintentional, like a physical illness. It’s often really difficult for any of us to concentrate or focus on spiritual things when we’re suffering physically. This is one reason why it’s really important for us to thoughtfully consider how we can minister to those suffering with physical infirmities and illnesses around us, maybe by reaching out, sending a card, making a call, better yet visiting them in person, reading the Scriptures to them. This then begs the question, “Am I doing those things for myself? Am I staying in the Word? Am I staying prayerful? Am I seeking counsel in those areas when I’m tempted to sin?”
Another condition that makes obedience challenging might be the loss of a loved one. A lot of people call into question the goodness of God in those times, especially if it was a sudden loss, something not expected. It could also be when we are struggling in our relationships, or maybe someone we love or know or ourselves even has lost a job, or there are other financial struggles.
The other way that temptations arise is with conditions that make it easy for us to sin. We have to be really consciously aware and proactive not to put ourselves in situations that we know, personally for us, are trigger points. If over-tiredness typically leads to sin in our life, then it would be really wise for us to make sure we, as best we can, have a regular bedtime and we’re getting the proper rest that we need. Often, you’ll hear a lot of women say, “Oh, my husband is such a baby when he gets sick.” Well, that may be an area where he is particularly tempted to sin, because he’s created to work and work hard, so sickness really interferes with that, and we want to be sensitive to that as wives and then not use that as an excuse to sin against him.
Conditions like spiritual laziness, not training ourselves with Bible reading or church attendance or serving in the church or prayer. Other conditions that make it easy to sin would be being with people who influence us to sin, we choose our friends very wisely. First Corinthians 15:33 is clear. It says, “Bad company corrupts good character.” Or going places that increase our temptation. As counselors, of course, we would never have to advise someone struggling with the sin of drunkenness to spend their time in a bar. We need to be really careful that we aren’t going places or spending time with people who cause us to sin. Even buying things, watching things, reading things, or listening to things that do not glorify God are things that can lead us to sin. In order to know how to best overcome temptation in our own life, we not only need to know when we’re tempted and what conditions make temptations arise, but we also really need to understand the stages of temptation.
Dale Johnson: Up to this point, you’ve laid the landscape to make us very aware of preventive care, thinking about temptation and how we can avoid it and things we can do to make sure that we’re walking with the Lord, that we’re aware of the way in which the evil one might tempt us. The Scriptures even tell us to know the schemes of the evil one, to pay attention to those things. Now we get to a little bit more practical discussion. You mentioned the stages of temptation. You talked about James 1 earlier. Walk us through some of the ideas that the Scripture gives on the stages of temptation.
Lisa Schmidt: It’s crucial that we train ourselves to recognize temptation on its onset, in its first stage. Most of us know what entices us, whether it is lust of the eye, lust of the flesh, or a lot of pride in our life. If we can recognize these things as soon as they present themselves, and we resist them, we really can avoid the downward spiral into sin. In James 1, the Lord outlines those three stages of temptation for us. In James 1:14, it says, “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed,” and this would be best identified as the “seduction stage.” We are tempted when we are seduced and drawn away by our own evil desires. We take that bait and boom, conception of that evil desire occurs.
Dale Johnson: So, what you are saying is that Satan does not make us do this stuff.
Lisa Schmidt: That’s right. The devil made us do it is not a valid excuse for Christians. He tempts us, but it is something in our own evil desires that causes us to be enticed and then take the bait. That second step after seduction would be conception. James goes on in verse 1:15 when he says, “Then when desire has conceived,” there is conception, “it gives birth to sin.” Once conception of that evil desire occurs, I hate to say the birth of sin is inevitable, but pretty much it is; it’s soon to follow, either in the form of sinful thoughts, sinful words, or sinful behavior. Then we heard that third stage in James 1:15 when he says, “And sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” The birth of sin occurs, that is that third stage.
We’ve got seduction when we are enticed by our own evil desires, conception when that desire has conceived, and then that conception if you will, gives birth to sin. It’s kind of like the fish and worm illustration; that worm looks real good on that hook, and the fish has no idea until it bites and realizes, “I just got something more than I bargained for.”
Dale Johnson: That’s right. So even that word at the end of James, “That it brings forth death,” that word means “separation.” We die, our body is separated from our immaterial man, our soul, our spirit, and when we think about sin in our body, we begin to see separation, death, and destruction happen all around us as the result and fruit of our sin. We see this stage, and God is trying to warn us to help us to see the end result of falling into temptation. We start to wreck and ruin and disorder our lives as James would talk about later in that passage. Let’s close out with this idea and think about a biblical process for overcoming temptation. How do we take the knowledge that we have learned from the Word, and now put it into practice to fight against this temptation that the evil one lures us with.
Lisa Schmidt: The Lord explains a three-step process for us all throughout Scripture, and it’s not just for one particular sin, it’s for all sins, for overcoming temptation and sin. It’s known as the “Put off, Put on” principle. That first step is to put off that sinful habit. When this phrase “put off,” it is found in Scripture, it literally means, “to shed” or “take off,” like an old, filthy, and disgusting garment. That’s what God wants us to do with our sin, to put it off to get rid of it, kind of like you need to shed this thing off of your body, like that filthy garment.
This is a really proactive part on our step. Nowhere in Scripture will we find the Lord telling us to just be laid back in the sanctification process. We do not struggle in our sin and then just wait for God to take it from us. We really need to do our part in sanctification because it is a synergistic process. Justification is monergistic, it is done only by God. Glorification, when we go to heaven, that’s monergistic, done only by God. But that dash in the middle on the gravestone that people have referred to, the life we live, is synergistic. It is our obedience coupled with the Holy Spirit helping us. He is the true agent of change, working in conjunction with our obedience to God’s Word.
Part of putting off our sin means that we will be prepared for the battle. We need to know ourselves; we need to know our weaknesses like I referred to earlier. Second Corinthians 10:3-5 says, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds; casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” I remember when I first started teaching on this at an Annual Conference years ago, it was explained that the phrase, “bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” actually means to wrestle to the ground with the intent of killing. This is not a lazy approach to sin because we’ve got that real enemy. We are to be sober and vigilant like Peter admonished us because the devil walks around seeking to devour us. We need to resist him. We need to be steadfast in the faith, and these are not casual verbs. They are imperatives, which means they’re really active commands.
In order to put off that sin, we not only need to be prepared for battle ahead of time. But we also need to do something that Jesus refers to as radical amputation. We need to cut off immediately, all people, places, things that cause us to sin. Jesus says in Matthew 5:27-30, “You’ve heard that it was said of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ but I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you, for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you, for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish than for your whole body to be cast into hell.” We know Jesus is not talking about literal self-mutilation here, but rather radical amputation of the people places and things in our life that make it easier for us to sin.
A good modern-day example of this is if anyone saw the movie Fireproof with Kirk Cameron. He’s struggling with pornography throughout the movie, he and his wife are struggling in their relationship, and he has a realization, if you will, from the Lord that the computer is the enticement. He takes that computer out into the driveway and smashes it to pieces with a baseball bat. The theater that I was in erupted into cheers and I thought, “Yes, that’s radical amputation.”
Once we have that understanding of our own sin, because the Holy Spirit has convicted us of it, it’s important that we then confess our sin. We don’t want to just wallow in it. Then we need to take the next step in that biblical process for change after putting it off and confessing it. We need to renew our mind with Scripture, specifically Scripture related to that particular sin by choosing to read God’s Word whether we feel like it or not, and I would actually say to read God’s Word, especially when we don’t feel like it.
Then the third and final step in that biblical steps for change is to put on righteousness. The bottom line for that is because sinful habits are not broken, they are replaced. We need to be putting on the opposite of whatever that specific sin is. This is where, if we feel ill equipped, even if we have been walking with the Lord for a long time, it’s so wise to seek biblical counseling, to reach out and say, “I need help. I am really being enticed on a regular basis. I am finding that I am taking the bait on a regular basis and I feel like I am drowning. Can you help me?” Seek that counsel out. There is no shame in needing counsel. Even the wisest men and women I know have sought out counsel, even in the later stages of their walk with the Lord, to just stay humble and teachable. Find somebody that can help you through that and can walk through that process with you.
Dale Johnson: We’ve been talking about a lot of really great stuff, and one of the things that I’m hearing you say is that maybe one of our greatest weaknesses is our passivity. We actually act as if we can be passive in relation to our temptation and sin as opposed to attack it based on the Word and pursue righteousness in the way God talks about. As we have been talking about temptation, one of the great resources that I think about often and use often is a book by Kris Lundgard. It’s called The Enemy Within, and he walks through a very similar process that you’re describing here, how to pay attention to temptation, where it comes from, how we understand it, and then how we pursue biblical change in overcoming our temptations from sin.
Lisa, we’ve been talking about this biblical process of overcoming temptation, and that’s exciting as we think about pursuing how to overcome temptation. One of the things we need to consider is, how do we pursue hope in the midst of this, in the midst of difficulty, as we’re fighting through this challenge of temptation? What are some areas where we can give hope to our counselees as they struggle with temptation?
Lisa Schmidt: This is really important. It’s where the theology aspect of counseling is really important, for people to understand who God is based on who He says He is. One of the main attributes that I personally love about the Lord is that He is faithful. I go back to 1 Corinthians 10:13 where it says, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man, but God is faithful,” and then here comes the promise, “He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able,” even though it doesn’t always feel like that, “but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” It’s really important for our own lives but also for counselees’ lives to notice that nowhere in that verse does it say God will take the temptation away or that He will remove you from the bad circumstance. That’s where the synergistic part of sanctification comes in. God will do His part; we have to do our part by being obedient and making sure we’re not putting ourselves in those difficult situations.
Then the second way that we can have hope for future temptations is to respond by doing our part in that sanctification process, by thinking right, when we read and memorize and meditate upon Scripture, by doing right by obeying the Scriptures regardless of how we feel, and then trusting God who promises to make us feel right when we obey Jesus. This is very clear in John 13:17. He says, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” There’s the “think right” when we know these things, we’re meditating on that Scripture, we will be blessed if we do them. The “think right” and the “do right” are our responsibility; the “feel right” is God’s. The word “blessed” in the original language actually means, “to be overflowing with a sense of happiness, or joy and peace.” I don’t know about you Dale, but the two things that counselees tend to be wanting more of in their life is peace and joy, and it comes directly as a result of our thinking rightly according to Scripture and then obeying what those Scriptures say.
Dale Johnson: This has been a great conversation Lisa, and I am so grateful that you have been with us. Thank you for your time.
The Enemy Within: Straight Talk about the Power and Defeat of Sin by Kris Lundgaard