Victory Over Temptation


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The New Testament emphasises God’s grace through Jesus Christ has made available to all believers the possibility of resisting each temptation to known sin they may confront. 1 Corinthians 10:13 states: “No temptation has overtaken you 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 every second after conversion, God’s infinite power is available through the Presence of His Holy Spirit within believers, giving them the ability to be able to resist successfully whatever sin is tempting them.

Philippians 4:13 declares: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Paul here reveals believers can do everything that is God’s will for their lives through the strength of Jesus Christ living within them by His Spirit.

Paul was in a dreadful Roman prison when he wrote these above words. When he said “do all things”, he included resisting all temptations to commit known sin. In prison, Paul obviously faced many temptations to sin. Jesus Christ hates sin. So He will help believers resist it.

God’s grace not only provides us with a perfect legal standing in Christ before God, but also gives us His power to resist temptation to commit known sin. Galatians 5:22 refers to the power available through God the Holy Spirit to resist temptation when it says one of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control. This God-given ability of self-control gives every believer the power to resist all the temptations of the sins of the flesh.


Spirit-empowered escapes and Satan’s excuses


For every temptation, God the Holy Spirit provides us with an escape. But for every sin, Satan provides us with an excuse. These excuses can involve totally or primarily blaming our parents, friends, society, teachers, those who hurt us, how we are created, and so on for our sins. This is instead of accepting total or primary responsibility ourselves.

Hebrews 13:20-21 refers to the high level of victory God wishes to work in us by His grace through Jesus Christ: “Now may the God of peace…make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ…”

2 Peter 1:3 shows Christ's power has given believers all and not just some things needed for godliness. Godliness refers to being godly and living godly lives. 2 Peter 1:3 says: “as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness…”

Ephesians 6:10-11 and 13 teaches that if we walk strongly in the Lord and His glorious gracious power, we can stand against all the attacks and temptations of Satanic forces: “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil…Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”

Through the Holy Spirit living within us, we are able to resist each temptation to commit known sin. Also, contrary to what many Christians believe, we are able to turn from every known sin now through His ever-available power.


A controversial but key verse


The second part of 1 John 3:9 shows God has given born-again believers His power to be able to resist all known sin. The second part of 1 John 3:9 says: “and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.” In the original Greek, the expression “he cannot sin” is “ou dunatai hamartanein”. “Dunatai” is a form of the word “dunamai” which means “to be able, to have power”. [1] “Dunatai” is in the present tense and passive voice in Greek.

“Ou dunatai hamartanein” does not mean believers have the power in their own nature to resist sin. The passive voice shows it is Another – God-whose power enables them to resist sin.

“Ou dunatai hamartanein” literally means “not he is able to sin” or “not he can to sin” or “not he has power to sin”. But the Greek grammar of the second part of 1 John 3:9 makes it very difficult to know whether John meant “not able to sin” or “able not to sin” when he used this Greek expression. This is because we are not sure grammatically if the Greek word “ou” meaning “not” relates in this context to the word “dunatai” or to “hamartanein”.

Mostly in Greek, the present tense refers to continuous or repeated action. So if “ou dunatai hamartanein” means “not able to sin”, it must be taken as “able to not sin continuously”. Otherwise it would be saying born-again believers can never sin, something which is contrary to John’s own words in 1 John 2:1.

If John, however, meant “ou dunatai hamartanein” to mean “able not to sin”, it simply means God has given believers His power or ability to choose not to sin when tempted. In the context of 1 John, this second alternative seems to fit better.


Many verses commanding believers to aim very highly


There are many New Testament verses which command believers to aim very highly in terms of practical holy righteous living: Romans 6:12, 13:14, Philippians 2:15, Colossians 1:10, 2 Timothy 2:19, 2:21, Titus 2:11-14, 1 Peter 1:16, 2:11-12, 2 Peter 3:11 and 3:14. 1 Timothy 3:10 and Titus 1:6-7 are similar verses related to different types of church leaders.


Verses used to justify sinning


One false view claims that the following verses prove born-again believers cannot by Christ’s power resist all temptations to commit known sin each day – Job 9:20, Psalm 14:1-3, 51:5, 53:1-3, 143:2, Proverbs 20:9, Ecclesiastes 7:20, Isaiah 64:6, Jeremiah 17:9, Matthew 15:18-20. Mark 7:21-23, Romans 7:14-24, 1 Corinthians 3:1-3, Philippians 3:12-14, James 3:2 and 1 John 1:8.

But note in their original contexts, Job 9:20, Psalm 14:1-3, 51:5, 53:1-3, 143:2, Proverbs 20:9, Ecclesiastes 7:20, Isaiah 64:6, Jeremiah 17:9, Matthew 15:18-20 and Mark 7:21-23 are all referring to the wickedness of human hearts that are not new creations in Christ Jesus. None of these Old and New Testament verses can be used to suggest new creations in Christ cannot through His power resist all temptations to commit known sin.

Romans 7:14-24 is discussed in Chapter                  “Was Paul a very carnal believer?” 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 is commented on in Chapter                          “Carnal and spiritual believers”. 1 John 1:8 is examined in the section “John’s teaching on sin and the fruits of regeneration” in Chapter     “The normal fruits of regeneration”. In these chapters, we see these verses cannot be used as proof for the idea that believers cannot resist all temptations to commit known sin.


Are the regenerated hearts of believers presently totally wicked?


Jeremiah 17:9 states: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” One view suggests Jeremiah’s words here teach that the hearts of even born-again Christians are presently in a totally wicked state just like those of unbelievers. Such an interpretation is a tragedy which ignores the prophecies God gave the prophet Ezekiel in Ezekiel 36:26-27 and 11:19-20. These latter two passages speak of the new hearts God was going to give the Israelites under the future greatly superior New Covenant.

Ezekiel 36:26-27 prophecies: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh, I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgements and do them.” These marvellous prophecies about the new heart God was going to give Israelite believers when they became new creations in Christ were mirrored in Jeremiah’s own prophecies of the New Covenant which are stated in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and are restated in Hebrews 8:7-13 and 10:13-18.

Observe the same Hebrew word for “heart” found in Jeremiah 17:9 is also used in Ezekiel 11:19 and 36:26-27 when these latter verses speak of believers in New Testament times being given a new heart.

Jeremiah 17:9 refers to the state of hearts which are not in union with Christ. This verse relates to the characteristics of the hearts of unbelievers or of what the hearts of believers would be if they were not in any way submitted to and ruled by the Holy Spirit.


Not sinlessly perfect, but…


Philippians 3:12 clearly reveals that even after our becoming new creations in Christ, we will not obtain a state of sinless perfection in this earthly life: “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.” But the above words do not mean that by Jesus Christ’s power, we cannot resist all temptations to known sin every day.


The truth but not an excuse


In the broader context of discussing sinning with our tongues or speaking wrong things, James 3:2 states: “For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.” In the original Greek, the two usages of the word “stumble” in James 3:2 mean in this context “to make a mistake, go astray, sin”. [2]

James 3:2 reflects the truth that over lengthy periods, the deliberate known and unintentional sins of us as believers with our mouths will add up quickly and be classified by God as us stumbling in many ways. So looking back historically over our lives after conversion, we will say, “I have stumbled with my mouth in many ways.”

But to use this as an excuse for believing either it does not matter if we frequently fall into known sin with their mouths each day or we cannot really by Christ’s strength resist all temptations to known sin are themselves two of the most horrendous sins we can ever commit.

Just because James 3:2 reveals all believers will fail sometimes to use Jesus Christ’s infinite strength to resist all temptations to commit known sin does not in one way take away from the New Testament teaching that after conversion, we have been given His unlimited power to resist such temptations. Christ’s power is available every moment of every day to every believer. So if we sin, we are to blame for not using His strength to resist it. We cannot say, “I did not want to steal those clothes nor watch that dirty movie yesterday. The Devil and the flesh made me do it. I am not to blame.”

Also note James 3:2 does not mean all believers continually commit known sin almost every minute of every day.


Various abilities or inabilities to sin


God created Adam and Eve with the ability not to sin if they so chose. They were not created with any sinful tendencies in their human nature. But Adam and Eve were not created with inability to sin. This is why they had a choice of whether to sin or not.

After they chose to turn to sin and evil, God’s Spirit no longer resided in their human nature. The result of this was they came to have a fallen human nature so severely corrupted, it had a permanent inability not to sin. All descendants of the first humans are born into this sad state (see Psalm 51:5). In Romans 3:9-28, Galatians 3:10 and Ephesians 2:1-9, Paul emphasises the inability of any fallen human to live a type of life which is totally acceptable to God.

But note we are totally to blame if we choose to remain in this state by rejecting God’s only solution to this problem. This solution is Jesus Christ (see John 3:36). Also, Ezekiel 18:1-32 shows we are to blame if we choose to sin. From our conception, Adam’s sin resulted in us having a sin-tending nature. But as unbelievers we chose to let it instead of Jesus Christ rule us when we sinned.

By His undeserved grace, God imparts the awesome power of His Holy Spirit to new converts to enable them to resist every temptation to known sin. But never during this earthly life will these converts reach a state of total inability to sin.

After physical death, believers either are given by God the total inability to sin ever again or the ability not to sin if they so choose (without them ever actually choosing foolishly to sin). The Scriptures do not clearly say which of these two alternatives is right. 1 John 3:2 is a relevant verse.



Bible Study Questions


1.         What does 1 Corinthians 10:13 teach us?

2.         Explain the difference between Spirit-empowered escapes and Satan’s excuses in relation to our known sins.

3.         What are the two possible meanings of the expression “and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God” in 1 John 3:9?

4.         Which New Testament verses command believers to aim very highly in terms of practical holy righteous living?

5.         Does Jeremiah 17:9 mean that the hearts of born-again New Covenant believers are totally wicked?

6.         Explain what James 3:2 teaches.

7.         Who were created with the ability not to sin if they so chose?

8.          Which humans have a permanent inability not to sin?


[1] Vine, page 3.

[2] Bauer, page 727.

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