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How to Overcome Temptation: Christian Techniques that Work

Temptation word cloud
March 30, 2022

Congratulate yourself, just for a moment. After all your struggling and suffering with temptation, here you are, striving to rise above. You care deeply or you wouldn’t be researching this. That’s worth a bit of acknowledgment, isn’t it?

This article is full of fresh metaphors, wonderful scriptures, and links to other great articles. You won’t leave this reading empty-handed.

Degrees of Temptation

Recognize that there are different degrees of temptation you face:

  1. Occasional, fleeting tugs that don’t typically entice you to act.
  2. Frequent pulls at your weaker self, which often do result in making poor choices.
  3. Constant desires and impulses associated with your greatest weaknesses and addictions.

Let’s tackle these in reverse order.

  • In Overcoming Constant Desires and Impulses, I present deeply spiritual metaphors for drawing on God’s power to tackle the toughest temptations via the power of God.
  • For a terrific set of basic, practical techniques, jump to the Dealing with Occasional Temptation section.
  • Lastly, I share a collection of Bible verses about temptation in Bible Wisdom: What Does God’s Word Teach about Temptation?

Overcoming Constant Desires and Impulses

Scan these five methods and pick the one or two that resonate most with you.

Note: The first four metaphors assume you already believe in Jesus Christ and have learned to “see” Him and sense His presence, spiritually speaking. If faith is difficult for you, be sure to access this free 16-page PDF resource titled, How to Truly Believe (no email or login required).

1 – The Hot Potato Metaphor

Here’s a technique that God revealed to my mind not long ago when I struggling with one of my greatest, recurring spiritual challenges. I recently went through such an intense fog of temptation that it frightened and confused me. I’ve studied scripture throughout my life and have many “tools” at my disposal, but this episode was beyond anything I had experienced in a long time.

In a moment of desperation, I pleaded, “Dear Father, nothing seems to be working. Teach me. Help me see a way out of this.”

Within a minute or less, this counsel and image came to my mind:

“As soon as you feel the tempting impulse coming at you, throw it to me like a hot potato. I can handle it. I’m infinite.”

I understood and began to do it, with a steady stream of hot potatoes flying.

It provided instant relief for me. The temptations didn’t stop but they lost their hold. They didn’t enter me and afflict me. This image gave me a “handle” on them and enabled me to cast them away to the God I trusted and loved and was trying to follow.

Looking back, I saw the wisdom God built into this image for me: Throwing the hot potato helps us turn our focus from the temptation to Him. It reinforces that we trust God more than we trust ourselves. It acknowledges the spiritual truth that we are dependent on God.

2- The Burning Sacrifice on the Altar Metaphor

In the Old Testament, the people of Israel were commanded to offer sacrifices of animals on an altar, which were killed and burned before their eyes. This is a profound metaphor for a spiritual rescue that God can perform for us.

Imagine yourself crouched before an ancient altar. Envision a stone structure with a tabletop that’s about as high as your shoulders.

Understand that the harmful, sinful temptations within you spring from your natural, fallen, animal self.

With sincerity and trust in God’s power to help you, place your animal desires on the altar for God to burn.

Remember the great story of Elijah, who placed an animal on wood that had been soaked with water and called on God to light it and consume it by fire.

“Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.” (1 Kings 18:38, NIV)

This connection between animal sacrifice and the sacrifice of our hearts is explicitly made in Psalms 51:16-17.

“You [meaning God] do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.” 

“Broken” as used here means a worn-out, beaten-down, end-of-its-rope kind of spiritual exhaustion that comes from spiritual suffering. That’s what sin and addiction do to us in the end. The “heart” and “spirit” are our innermost being and the breath of our souls. The word “contrite” refers to awareness and acknowledgment of guilt. It implies sorrow for wrong-doing. God delights more in us offering such truthful acknowledgments of our guilt and brokenness than any other kind of sacrifice we can offer.

Taken together, the phrase “broken and contrite heart” richly describes the ideal condition for us to be in when we throw God our hot potatoes or place our animal desires on the altar for God to burn out of us.

3 – The Floating on Water Metaphor

I recently encountered this metaphor in an immensely insightful book by Dr. Michael Guillen, Ph.D., a former atheist, Harvard physics professor, and 15-year ABC News Science Correspondent, titled Believing Is Seeing: A Physicist Explains How Science Shattered His Atheism and Revealed the Necessity of Faith.

Sometimes we just have a hard time entrusting ourselves to God. We may doubt His words. Or we may believe something in our heads but can’t seem to muster the courage to act accordingly.

In his book, Dr. Guillen shares his lifelong fear of water. Until a certain day in his adulthood, he had never floated in the water. He understood Archimedes’ principle of water buoyancy, which states that water exerts an upward pressure equal to the weight of an object resting on it. Plus, he had seen other people float. He had all the logical evidence in the world to believe that he could float.

The concept of allowing his fallen self to be totally supported by God finally became crystal clear to him when he realized he needed to face his spiritual fears by falling backward into the “water” of God and trusting His promised buoyancy to hold him up securely and save him from drowning in doubt and sin.

We can’t save ourselves from our sins and fallen nature. It just won’t work. We don’t have the power in us to do so. Surely we must contribute to the effort by humbling ourselves before God and seeking His power, but ultimately, deliverance from our deepest, most tenacious sinful tendencies requires God’s deliverance.

Our human will to change (repent) starts the process but that’s about all. We must, MUST discover God’s saving delivering, lifting power.

4 – The Emerging from Trench Warfare Metaphor

One of the things that made my fog of temptation (described earlier) so challenging was my growing realization that deep down, I wanted to do what I wanted. I sensed I would experience a deep loss if I turned away and did things God’s way.

In other words, I knew the behavior was wrong and that it would lead to negative consequences, but on some animal level in my heart, I was angry that I would have to let this go forever. I doubted if I could let it go but worse yet, I really didn’t want to.

I believe most of us find ourselves in this tortured place at some point. Whether it’s an addiction, a refusal to forgive, an unrelenting lust for another person, or love of an item or habit that “God shouldn’t expect you to give up,” we all have our individual enmities toward God. Our pride says, “You can’t make me” or “You can’t possibly ask this of me.” Such thoughts constitute temptations as well.

The whole message of the New Testament is designed to deliver us from such states. Christ came to be our Savior and Deliverer.

Presented as a metaphor for trench warfare, the process of coming to trust God and relying on Jesus as our Savior is described in a detailed, powerful blog post on this site called, Why Surrendering to God Makes So Much Sense (and How To Do It). If you struggle with such deep, recurring temptation and simply don’t want to let go, read that post. It beautifully depicts Jesus as the merciful Mediator who rescues us from our trench of rebellion.

Tossing our temptations to God as hot potatoes is a useful mental image, but when it comes to a fundamental change of heart by relying on Jesus Christ, this blog post can help you submit to God with a willing heart and begin the process of change that only Christ can do within us.

5 – Cite Scripture and Command the Devil to Leave You

If we follow Jesus’s example when He was tempted—just as we are—He cited scripture and told the devil to leave Him.

I have found both of these to be critically important tools in my spiritual warfare with the enemy of my soul.

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” (Matthew 4:10, NIV)

In this simple verse, we see where Jesus deflected the devil’s temptation with scripture and commanded him to leave all at once.

We can do precisely the same, except that we command the devil in the name of Jesus. We have no authority to command the devil in anything, except by the name of Jesus. And by the name of Jesus the devil MUST obey and leave you. Say it over and over if needed. If you have never done this, try it. Say it out loud. It truly works.

Intensive Support May Be Needed

In my own temptation episode described above, I also chose to talk with my wife and then a therapist whom I had already been seeing. Both conversations were enormously helpful.

I’ve sought out church-related counselors and pastors before.

There are addiction recovery groups like Narcotics Anonymous that are freely available to anyone in need.

For serious and recurring temptations and behaviors, we need counsel, love, and accountability from the humans around us.

This article does not assume you can overcome your challenges alone.

Dealing with Occasional Temptation

Definitely open this wonderful article by Catherine Boswell, Ph.D., with many techniques for overcoming temptation. While it is not Bible-based, the techniques are practical and wise and certainly don’t contradict biblical teachings.

I highly recommend at least scanning this well-designed article, How to Deal With Temptation, with really nice images that will help you understand and remember the techniques. It includes topics like “Remove yourself from temptation,” “Try to understand why you are tempted,” “Visualize yourself resisting temptation,” “Think of the long-term consequences” and many more.

Click the article title or image below.

Bible Wisdom: What Does God’s Word Teach about Temptation?

[When Jesus prayed as an example for the people, He said] “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6:13, ESV)

[Jesus said to His apostles] “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41, ESV)

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. (Psalm 34:18-19, ESV)

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7, ESV)

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. (James 1:12-16, ESV)

For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he [meaning Jesus] is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:18, ESV)

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (I Corinthians 6:18-20, ESV)

For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. (1 John 2:16, ESV)

For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Galatians 5:17, ESV)

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21, ESV)

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:13-17, ESV)

Additional Bible-based Articles on Overcoming Temptation

Terrific insights and scripture citations by Rick Warren: To Overcome Temptation, Change Your Focus

Video: How To Overcome Persistent Temptations with Rick Warren & Tom Holladay


Read or hear John MacArthur’s scriptural insights and great stories: How to Overcome Temptation (from 1970!)

Positives Posts You May Also Enjoy

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The “Be Kind” Quote (and its elusive origin)

How to Truly Believe (16-page PDF with fresh metaphors to make it easier)

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