I’ve been to the Grand Canyon once. I was in my early 20s and was just there for one afternoon while on a cross-country trip. Because I wasn’t sure when or if I would ever return, I took many pictures. But I wanted only the pure beauty of the canyon; I didn’t want man-made objects obstructing the views. I didn’t want parking lots in the background, and I didn’t want guard rails in the foreground. So I did what seemed very logical to me — I stepped over the rails to get as close to the edge as I could to take as expansive a picture as I could. (I think back on that, and even as I type this story, my hands are perspiring with increased anxiety and adrenaline.). I didn’t slip or fall, but had I lost my balance, it was a really long way down.
That was not the best idea I’ve ever had and that is not a biblical perspective toward temptation and sin. Rather than approaching and being enticed by sin, the believer’s goal should be to stay as far away from sin as possible. How can we do that? How can we stay away from sin? What will keep us from stepping over the guard rails that God has established to keep us from sin?
In addition to the principles of renewing the mind, putting off sin, putting on or replacing sin with a righteous equivalent, and confessing and repenting of sin (see last Sunday’s sermon), the believer will do well to pray before and when he is faced with temptation.
Jesus teaches His disciples to pray by telling them to ask their heavenly Father before the temptation arrives, “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Mt. 6:13). Later, when the disciples are facing temptation on the night of Jesus’ betrayal, He warns them, “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mt. 26:41).
Jesus commands the disciples and us to pray because prayer does at least three things for us in the fight against temptation.
Prayer reminds us of our dependence on God’s power. The requests that Jesus exhorted the disciples to pray reminded them they were inherently incapable of fighting against or defeating sin. They needed the power of God if they were going to defeat sin. Even though the believer no longer is mastered by his Adamic nature or sin, he still has the flesh, and he does not have enough power in himself to defeat sin. That’s why the apostle Paul says those who are putting to death the deeds of the body will have to do it “by the Spirit” (Rom. 8:13), and if one is being led (controlled) by the Spirit of God so that sin is being killed, it is evidence of His sonship to God and salvation (Rom. 8:14).
We cannot defeat sin on our own. Every time we defeat sin we can be sure we have done it only because of the power of the Spirit within us. Prayer reminds us of that truth.
Prayer aligns our heart with God about sin. We are enticed by sin because we are not thinking rightly about sin. We have been deluded about its cost, or we believe it will benefit us, or we forget the length of eternity, or we forget the joys of obedience to Christ. In contrast, when we pray, we remind ourselves of God’s will. Remember the sentence Jesus told the disciples to pray: “Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven” (Mt. 6:10). When we pray for God’s will to be accomplished in our lives and when we pray in the name (and for the glory) of Jesus, we are asking for God to change the desires of our hearts so that we yearn for the things that please Him and we want to do the things that please Him.
Prayer forces us to be God-focused with our words and hearts. Prayer compels us to seek understanding of what His mind is on a given topic, so prayer will drive us to search the Scriptures so we know how to be obedient and then finding that answer in the Scriptures, we will go back to prayer to affirm our longing to be obedient and seeking His strength to be obedient.
Prayer keeps us from sin. Part of the danger for Peter, James, and John when they fell asleep was that they weren’t prepared when the temptation came. They slept when they should have prayed. But part of the danger also was that had they been praying when the temptation came, they would not have sinned because one cannot genuinely pray and then sin at the same time. It is impossible to bow before God’s throne and be in fellowship and communion with Him and indulge in sin at the same time. We will pray. Or we will sin. But we will not do both at the same time. So the very act of prayer serves to keep us from sin.
How will you fight against sin? The weapons of warfare that the Lord gives are many. Perhaps one of the least used and most neglected of those weapons is prayer. When we pray, we are well-equipped to face temptation.
Fight temptation and the flesh and kill sin with prayer.