“The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat the fruit from the trees in the garden. But about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said, “You must not eat it or touch it, or you will die.”’” (CSB – Read the chapter)
How do you resist temptation? What are your strategies? Are there any routines that help you do it? Do you have certain things you say, perhaps a mantra of some kind? The fact is, you do face it. We all face it. We’ve all faced it since Eve here took the initial shot to the heart. Succumbing to it obviously isn’t the best plan, but if we don’t have another one better, that’s usually what’s going to happen. What do we do?
Well, let’s start with an important clarification: Overcoming or resisting temptation means struggling with it. If you are struggling with it, you are necessarily not succumbing to it. If you are regularly giving in to temptation, you are not struggling with it, you are falling prey to it. Some people make themselves out to be in a kind of noble struggle against temptation, but give in more often than not. They aren’t struggling with temptation, they’re jumping in with both feet.
The people who best understand the struggle against temptation are those who give in the least. The secret about temptation is that it doesn’t go away just because you say no once. It comes back again and again and again. And, the harder you resist, the harder it presses; the more creative and insidious it gets. If it can’t find a door, it will find a window. If there’s no window, then it is going to find whatever crack it can and wriggle itself back inside. Temptation has no pride or shame. It’s only commitment is to whatever it’s going to take to get you to say yes.
This is why having a strategy of some kind is so important. Eve didn’t have that here so she fell face first into it and Adam went right along with her. What can we do differently?
Well, to get our minds around that better, let’s look a bit closer at what she did that didn’t work. And let’s do that by setting her interaction with the tempter up against Jesus’ interaction in Matthew 4.
In both instances Satan came before them with something God had said they could not have. In both instances Satan twisted around God’s words a bit to ignite a little flame of discontentment in their heart. In both instances they engaged with Satan’s offer. In both instances they engaged with Satan’s offer by referring to the word of God. All of these things are the same.
The difference comes in how they did that last part. Jesus corrected Satan’s misuse of God’s word. Eve played right into it, adding to the error. Satan asked: “Did God really say you aren’t to eat from any tree in the garden?” Eve corrected the tempter accurately at first by noting they could eat from any of the trees save one. Then she veered off course. The one tree they were not to eat from or even touch.
The problem is that last part. God hadn’t said that. He hadn’t said anything about not touching it. This was either an unintentional error (most likely), or it was an intentional guardrail the pair had mentally placed around the tree to help them keep the first command. The problem with this second option—and even this wasn’t the problem here, we’ve done it often enough ourselves that it’s worth noting—is that when we start adding rules of our own to help us keep God’s rules, we’re tacitly suggesting God’s rules aren’t enough. This kind of thing always devolves into a stifling legalism that quickly earns itself all of the negative stereotypes Hollywood likes to give the church (Handmaid’s Tale, The Giver, The Village, etc.). When this happens, our rules tend to become the focus, not God’s, and we wind up forgetting about His while becoming experts in keeping ours. Different route, same destination.
The heart of the problem here is not getting God’s word right. That’s what Jesus did that Eve failed to do. If we get God’s word wrong, even a little bit, we are setting ourselves up for disaster. His words are given for our benefit. They are to give us clarity and direction on how to do life well. They give us a story context in which our lives will make sense. If we leave them behind, we lose all of that and we won’t find it again anywhere else.
And the thing is, being only slightly askew from it now may not seem like a big deal—after all, Eve only deviated from what God had said by the tiniest of amounts and in a way that seemed to be leaning into it—but paths that begin only slightly less than parallel eventually grow an awfully long way apart given enough time. And if you don’t believe me…well…just look around.
If you want have any hope of success in your struggles against temptation, start by getting God’s word right. Learn it by heart. Commit it to mind. Understand its intent and context and heart. Read it every single day. Don’t just throw down Bible McNuggets, as Philip Yancy called the pick-a-verse-a-day approach (there’s a reason I always include a link to read the whole chapter of whatever verse I focus a particular note on), read the context to understand the big picture. Secure God’s word in your heart in every way you can. This will give you the best and strongest platform possible for standing firm.