In buildings we post an evacuation plan, to be prepared in case of an emergency. Why not also have temptation plans so we can be prepared in case of temptation? When temptation strikes, it’s very helpful to have a plan in place. We often fail simply because we do not have a battle plan for defeating a temptation. Thankfully, Scripture gives us keys for what to do during a temptation and from these keys we can develop a temptation plan.
Step 1: Realize You Are Being Tempted.
According to Proverbs, there are people who “walk in darkness” and “do not know over what they stumble” (Prov. 4:19). We do not want to be like that, so we have to become self-aware when we are being tempted. We have to train ourselves to realize, “Hey, I’m being tempted now!” It helps to call it out loud. Instead of being washed about by the feelings of temptation, say: “I see what’s happening here; I’m being tempted to sin right now.” This will give you power over your feelings and put you back in control to decide how to act, rather than just unconsciously going along with enticing feelings. To get better at this, we should pray to the Lord to help us to become more self-aware during temptation.
Step 2: Refute Rationalization.
No sooner than you realize you are being tempted, rationalization kicks in; and oh how clever we can be! Like in Step 1, we must recognize our propensity to rationalize, realizing, “There is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way to death” (Prov. 14:12 NRSV; cp. Prov. 16:2). Here’s a good passage to memorize and recite when we catch ourselves trying to rationalize giving in to a temptation:
(5) Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
(6) In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
(7) Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.
Step 3: Tattletale on Your Feelings.
Once we become aware of temptation, it helps to tattletale on those feelings to the Lord. Scripture says “we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5b NIV). Imagine yourself physically handing the thought to Jesus, telling him you caught this culprit in your brain and you are turning it over to him for prosecution.
Step 4: Rebuke the Adversary Behind the Temptation.
Not every temptation is demonic; mostly it’s our own lust that draws us away (cf. James 1:14), but it doesn’t hurt to shoot in both directions, just in case. In other words, treat the problem as though it’s your own sinful flesh, and as though it were spiritual. Be like Jesus who, when he rebuked Peter, looked past the physical situation to the underlying spiritual force. He looked right past Peter and said, “…Get behind me, Satan!…” (Matt. 16:23). If you are struggling with pornography, for instance, look past your computer and say the same.
Step 5: Replace the Lie by Stating God’s Truth.
It helps to state out loud your choice to obey God rather than succumb to the temptation. As Psalm 119:13 says, “With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth.” Instead of focusing on the lie we do not get to participate in, we should focus on the beauty of God’s heart we do get to participate in: “Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them” (Ps. 119:129). It helps to think, “I don’t want to participate in this evil, because I see the beauty of God’s righteous ways, and I want that beauty for my life.”
Step 6: Expect the Second Wave of Attacks.
How many times have we survived the first five steps only to feel immediately tempted again, and give in? Know that Satan will almost always throw a second or third wave of attacks to wear away at your resolve. He tempted Jesus three times in a row (Matt. 4:1-11). If we expect the feelings of temptation to remain momentarily, we will be one step ahead of Satan’s game. He will try to get us back to forgetting Step 1 and to go into autopilot mode in the direction of sin, but if we expect him to do this we will be better equipped not to fall.
Step 7: Physically Remove Yourself from the Source of Temptation.
Remember how Joseph ran away from his master’s wife when she tempted him to commit adultery (Gen. 39:12)? He physically ran away. Speaking of Lot living in Sodom and Gomorrah, Scripture says, “As he lived among them, that righteous man tormented himself day by day” (2 Pet. 2:6 HCSB). Is there any way you are “tormenting yourself” by hanging around the source of your temptation? Perhaps you need to say, along with the Psalmist, “Depart from me, you evildoers, that I may keep the commandments of my God” (Ps. 119:115), or perhaps you need to depart yourself.
Step 8: Ask Jesus to Help you to Resist the Temptation.
Hebrews 4:15 and 16
(15) For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
(16) Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
If we would just turn to him, Jesus would help us during the times we are tempted. Also, he is always ready to give mercy and grace after we sin (1 John 1:9-10). But instead of simply going to him after we sin, why don’t we turn to him during the temptation! As the Scriptures say, “I call to you; save me, that I may observe your testimonies… Let your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen your precepts” (Ps. 119:146 and 173).
Step 9: Now Make the Right Choice.
Ultimately it comes down to a decision. We each have to decide to be faithful to God in the moment of temptation; He will not make the choice for us. But this temptation plan will help. Having all these steps lined out in our minds will put us in the best possible place to resist temptation, because we are “pondering the path of your feet” beforehand (cp. Prov. 4:26). “When I think on my ways, I turn my feet to your testimonies” (Ps. 119:59). It’s when we are not thinking about it that we can get into trouble, so having a plan like this can help. Why not practice going through these steps several times with a fellow Christian? This will help to cement the process in your mind, so you can remember it in the time of temptation.