Temptation is a mysterious thing. There must be method to the madness, there must be patterns of how and when we are tempted by specific sins. If there are, I’ve never quite been able to hack or solve the system. But at the very least we can observe this: There are some times in life when you should be especially wary, when temptation is especially likely. Here are four times you should expect to face temptation.
During Times of Prosperity
Prosperity and temptation often go hand-in-hand. You need to be careful, though—prosperity is not a curse and you do not need to dread it or be suspicious of it. Rather, you need to have an awareness that prosperity carries with it fuel that feeds temptation. Agur knew this and wrote in Proverbs, “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’” Guard yourself in times of abundance and prepare yourself for the likelihood of an onslaught of temptation. Look especially for the temptation of ingratitude, denying that your prosperity is a gift of God’s grace; look for the temptation of greed, hoarding your wealth instead of being generous with it; look for the temptation of pride, believing that this abundance proves that God favors you over others. Always be aware that prosperity may be a kind of smokescreen that obscures the great temptation lurking behind it. Be wary of prosperity!
During Times of Spiritual Lukewarmness
There are inevitable times in life when your delight in God grows lukewarm. There are times when your heart longs for satisfaction in something—anything—other than God and his riches. In these times your worship can become marked by a lukewarm formality. Your time in prayer and God’s Word can become cold duty and you look with dread at the times of fellowship with other Christians. You may neglect the pursuit of communion with God, and instead treat your relationship with him as just another of life’s joyless duties. In these times you may be sure that Satan is close at hand to tempt you, to draw you even further from God and even deeper into lesser pleasures. Your heart is already marked by lukewarmness and he longs to chill it even more. Fight! Fight right now to restore the joy of your salvation.
During Times of Spiritual Highs
Just as temptation may be close behind your spiritual doldrums, it may also be lurking close behind your spiritual heights. You can observe this very thing in the life of Paul, who was given the great gift of being caught up to the third heaven and seeing Christ there. Yet immediately he was visited by Satan (2 Corinthians 12:7) who tried to discourage and crush him. God loves to bless us with those times of freedom and pleasure. We love to be blessed by him in this way! But temptation may lie close at hand. In those times of great spiritual enjoyment you may be so satisfied in your current state that you begin to neglect the means of grace, you stop fighting sin, you accept this delight as your due. You may even brag about the heights you have reached, and all but beg God to chasten and humble you. Enjoy soaring to those spiritual heights, but do not cease from guarding your heart, mind, and soul. In fact, be especially vigilant in those times.
During Times of Self Confidence
In times of self-confidence you can be sure you will soon enter into sore temptation. This was exactly the case with Peter who, on the final night of Jesus’ life, bragged that he would never desert his Savior. Yet within hours he had not only abandoned him but denied him three times. His self-confidence allowed him to compare himself with others and boast, “Though they may forsake you, I will not.” And still he fell gravely at the very first opportunity. This world is full of temptations custom-crafted to appeal to every depraved heart. The greater your confidence in your ability to overcome these sins in your own strength and the greater your confidence that these sins cannot sway you, the greater the likelihood you will be tempted with them and the greater the likelihood you will fall into them. Beware of self-confidence and flee from its first awakenings. Trust always, only, ever in Christ.
Expect Temptation, Resist Temptation
Temptation will come. It will come to you. It may come in times of prosperity, times of lukewarmness, times of spiritual excitement, or times of dangerous self-confidence. Be especially vigilant in those times! But always remember that even when temptation is inevitable, succumbing to temptation is not. God promises it. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). You must, and you can, endure.
Two notes: First, this is drawn entirely from John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation, but if I said that at the beginning you would have stopped reading. Second, I posted a variation of this article a couple of years ago but wanted to rewrite and hopefully improve it.