How to Overcome Temptation Back to all sermons

Date: November 21, 2014

Speaker: Steve Fuller

Category: Temptation

Scripture: Hebrews 11:24–11:28

In the Bible God tells us that Satan is prowling like a roaring lion seeking to devour those who trust Christ. And the way he seeks to devour us is by sending temptations our way.

God tells us this, because he loves us, and because he wants us to be alert to the dangers of temptation and sin. Think of how alert you would be if you heard there was a hungry lion prowling the streets of your neighborhood, or the hallways of your workplace, or the aisles at the mall. God wants to be alert to the dangers of temptation and sin.

But God doesn’t just tell us we will face temptations, and then leave us on our own. He also tells us how to resist these temptations. He does this throughout the Bible, but one of the passages I have found most helpful is Hebrews 11:24-28. So let’s turn there in our Bibles.

And while you are turning there, think about a temptation you are facing right now, or perhaps have faced recently. This will be helpful so you have a tangible example in front of you as we go through this passage.

  • Maybe you have been tempted to lie to your manager.
  • Or you have been tempted to have feelings for someone other than your spouse.
  • Maybe you have been tempted to look at something on the Internet that you shouldn’t be looking at.
  • Or you have been tempted to be bitter against someone who has hurt you, and not forgive them.

So with that specific temptation in mind let’s look at this passage. Here the author focuses on the life of Moses – and he answers three crucial questions about temptation. The first question is – how did Moses overcome temptation? Look at what the author says in vv.24-25:

24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.

Here’s some background. The people of Israel were slaves in Egypt. But they were growing in numbers, and were becoming so large that Pharaoh became threatened by them. So Pharaoh made a decree that every baby boy born to the Israelites had to be killed.

But when Moses’ mother gave birth to him, she trusted God, disobeyed Moses’ edict, and hid Moses by the Nile River. And what God does next is amazing. God led Pharaoh’s daughter to find Moses. And when she found him, she decided to adopt him. But she needed someone to nurse Moses, so she hired one of the Israelite women to nurse him – and the Israelite woman she hired to nurse Moses -- was Moses’ mother.

But when Moses grew up God called him to return to his people. Think of what that would have meant. He was a son of Pharaoh’s daughter. This would have meant a life of vast wealth and power and luxury – in today’s terms it would mean a water-front mansion on the Nile, the latest sports car, a private jet -- every earthly pleasure and comfort you could imagine.

But God called him to leave all that and join the people of Israel who were slaves laboring in the hot sun making bricks. Think of how strongly Moses could have been tempted to sin and disobey God.

But Moses resisted temptation and obeyed God. You can see that in v.24 – he “refused” to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. And notice in v.25 – he was “choosing rather” to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.

So how did he overcome this temptation? We could think he saw that Egypt had greater pleasures, and obeying God had lesser pleasures, and so out of a sense of duty he gritted his teeth and chose the lesser pleasures of obeying God.

That’s how lots of us battle temptation. We think there are greater pleasures in sin, and lesser pleasures in obeying God, but we know we are supposed to obey God, so we stir up our will-power and choose the lesser pleasures of obeying God.

We grit our teeth and turn from the greater pleasures of gossip, or nurturing a grudge against someone, or sexual lust, and try by our willpower to settle for the lesser pleasures of obeying God because we know it’s what were supposed to do.

But that’s not how Moses overcame this temptation. What did he do? Look at the first two words of v.24 – “by faith.” He did not resist this temptation by will-power. He resisted it by faith.

We can see what that meant in v.26:

26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.

“The reproach of Christ” refers to the suffering Moses would experience as he joined God’s people. And the author calls it the reproach “of Christ” to remind his readers that following Christ will bring suffering.

But notice how Moses overcame temptation. He did not see Egypt as having greater pleasures than obeying God, and as a result have to grit his teeth and settle for the lesser pleasures of obeying God.

No. “He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt.” But how can that be? How is it greater wealth to leave your water-front mansion and private jet and luxuries and comforts, and become an oppressed slave making bricks in the roiling sun? The answer is in the last seven words of v.26 – “for he was looking to the reward.”

Is that how you overcome temptation, when you are being drawn to the pleasures of sin, you fight by saying “Hold on! I need to look to the reward!” That’s how Moses overcame temptation – by looking to the reward.

So what is this reward? It’s not health, or wealth, or earthly pleasures. All through the Bible the reward God offers is the joy of knowing God, beholding God, worshiping God, fellowshipping with God. Or to put it into New Testament terms, it’s the joy of knowing God in the person of Jesus Christ.

So God does not call us to squelch our desire for joy and pleasure, and just do what’s right because we’re supposed to. No. God calls us to pursue our desire for joy and pleasure in him. Because knowing God in the person of Jesus Christ is the greatest joy and pleasure in the universe.

As C. S. Lewis said, our problem is not that we pursue joy too much, but that we settle for too little. We waste our lives living for the tiny joys of money and prestige and sex, and neglected the massively greater joys of knowing God in the person of Jesus Christ.

But instead, if we will follow Jesus Christ, he will give us times when he so pours his love into our hearts, and so shows us his glory, that our hearts are filled to overflowing with joy. Nothing else in the world can do that. God can so satisfy our hearts that we can say, with the psalmist, “whom have I in heaven but you, and besides you I desire nothing on earth” (Psalm 73:25-26).

And Moses knew that. So even though Egypt had great wealth, Moses knew that becoming a slave would be greater wealth, because in the path of obedience you have sweet fellowship with the living God, communion with the living God, relationship with the living God.

But now if that’s true, then why are we tempted to pursue sin? If God is the greater pleasure, why would we be tempted with the lesser pleasure? Think of it like this: as a human being you are really hungry with heart-hunger for joy and meaning and pleasure. So you are really hungry, and (I’m going to use an American illustration) God is like filet mignon, which is a tasty steak. God is filet mignon, and sin is like a moldy peanut butter sandwich at the bottom of a neglected trash can.

That’s reality. But why, then, are we drawn to the moldy peanut butter sandwich of loving money, or porn, or slander? It’s because we are hungry, and our sin is blinding us to the fillet mignon of knowing God.

But if we are blinded, then how can we overcome the temptation? We turn to Jesus Christ as we are, in our blindness. We confess our blindness to him, and ask him to forgive us. We ask for his power to open our eyes. And then we open up God’s word, and look at the fillet mignon of knowing God in the person of Christ. As we do this, praying over the Scriptures, Jesus will heal our spiritual blindness. We will once again see and feel his superior pleasures, his all-satisfying worth we will once again see that he is the fillet mignon. And when we do, we will want to turn from the moldy peanut butter sandwich of sin to the fillet mignon of Christ.

That’s how Moses overcame temptation. Not by seeing sin as the greater pleasure, and dutifully obeying God just because it’s the right thing to do. But by seeing the reward of the superior pleasure of knowing God, and gladly turning from the inferior pleasures of sin to God himself.

But there’s a problem. Temptations don’t just attack once and then stop. Every day there’s new temptations. Temptations continue. So how can faith keep on overcoming temptation? That question is answered in v.27 –
27 By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.

Moses left Pharaoh’s household and went to the people of Israel. But then he saw an Egyptian guard beating an Israelite slave. So he killed the Egyptian guard. But when Pharaoh heard he said Moses had to be killed.

So Moses left Egypt and went to Midian – where he didn’t know anyone and didn’t have anything. And this would have meant more suffering. More hardship. More temptation. When you overcome one temptation – you will soon face another, and another, and another.

But notice what Moses did. V.27 says he endured. To endure means to stay the course of obedience no matter how many temptations. So how did Moses do that? Notice the last half of v.27 – “for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.” The way to keep overcoming temptation is by continuing to see God as our all-satisfying treasure.

How do we do that? I would encourage you to have a daily time where you put everything else aside, open up God’s word, and pray over the Scriptures. When you do this God will give you times when he so pours his love and presence and glory upon you that your heart will be filled to overflowing. And you will know once again that the pleasures of knowing God or infinitely superior to the pleasures of sin.

But there’s one last question in this passage. A crucial question. What about when we don’t resist temptation? What about when we end up choosing to sin? What should we do if we don’t overcome temptation? And look at what we read in v.28 –

28 By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.

You remember the story. The final plague was that the angel of death was going to go throughout Egypt and kill every first-born son. But God said that if people would kill a spotless lamb and put its blood on the doorposts of the home, the angel of death would pass over that home and their first-born son would not be killed.

So what caused God’s judgment to pass over the home was not how good the people had been, or how much they had resisted sin. What caused God’s judgment to pass over the home was the fact that the blood of the Passover Lamb was on the doorposts. That Passover lamb was a picture of what Jesus Christ would do on the Cross when he took upon Himself the punishment we deserved for our sin.

So what saves you is not how good you’ve been, or how much you’ve resisted temptation. What saves you is Jesus’ death on the cross, and that you are looking to him by faith alone.

So when you stumble and sin, don’t think you need to do something good before you can come back to Jesus. Turn back to him as you are. Confess your sin to him. Trust him to forgive you, change you, and satisfy you. He will.

So resist temptation. Fight against temptation. But if you fail – when you fail – it’s not all over. Look to Jesus by faith, look to the Passover lamb by faith, confess your sin by faith, and you will be assured that you are forgiven by God, reconciled to God, loved by God, and that now and forever God will be your all-satisfying Treasure.

And then get back in the fight.