Temptation is an issue that Christians rarely talk about these days. Even the word itself has quietly slipped out of religious use, becoming instead a term used to boost sales of perfume and chocolates. Attempting to create an electrifying name that would attract big audiences, television producers titled a reality show "Temptation Island." I know of no musical groups called The Blasphemers or The Compromisers, but one of Motown's most famous groups was named The Temptations. One grocery store chain called its new line of gourmet cookies—you guessed it—Temptations.
The word temptation once evoked a sense of seriousness and caution, much as did the words tuberculosis and heresy. To brand something a temptation was to give it the kiss of death. No respectable person would knowingly flirt with temptation. Now it is a word we say with a twinkle in our eye.
It would be bad enough if the word temptation had simply dropped out of common use, but it is worse than that. Temptation is no longer seen as a devilish strategy for encouraging Christians to sin. By losing the biblical concept of sin's enticing appeal, we have also lost (at least in part) the biblical diagnosis of how and why we sin.
Few subjects are as practical for the Christian as temptation. In all likelihood, you will be tempted to sin at least several times today. If you are a believer, then you know from experience that sin's seduction is frequent, unrelenting, and more successful than we would like to admit.
This series aims to reacquaint believers with the critical subject of temptation. More specifically, it is designed to equip you to resist temptation more effectively. This series also has a second goal: to familiarize you with a book about temptation that was written 350 years ago: Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices.
Thomas Brooks (1608–1680) published Precious Remedies in 1652. Holding Brooks' book in my hands makes me feel like a football coach who will be leading his team into the Super Bowl in a few weeks... and who has obtained his opponent's entire playbook. Precious Remedies is something like Satan’s playbook; with withering thoroughness, it exposes the most common temptation strategies that the Father of Lies uses to damage God's people. It then supplies no-nonsense remedies that the believer can use to thwart Satan's assaults.
Because my burden is identical to that of Brooks, I will rely on the first section of Precious Remedies as a framework for discussing temptation. I will borrow some of Brooks' ideas and quote him occasionally. I will also include a few quotations from other Puritan pastors, in part to demonstrate that Brooks' ideas were shared by his peers in pastoral ministry.
But before we begin, why should Christians consider carefully the subject of temptation? Here are four reasons.
First, discussions today about combating temptation have gone the way of the dinosaur, yet virtually all honest observers agree that holiness among professing Christians is at low ebb today. Part of the reason we are not holy is because we rarely consider the old issue of temptation. The Bible establishes a direct causal link between our desires, temptation, and sin (James 1:14-15). Temptation is the door between holiness and sin, and Christians who are determined to perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord must be determined to battle with temptation.
Practical Christian living often comes down to saying to oneself, “I am facing a temptation to sin. I will say 'no' to it.” “Learn to say no," advised Charles Haddon Spurgeon. "It will be of more use to you than to be able to read Latin." In everyday terms, denying myself, taking up my cross, and following Christ almost always—and I am inclined to say always—involves resisting sin's temptations. However, naivete about the Devil's schemes allows temptation to flourish unchecked. If we don't see the enemy, he is free to plunder. Christians can only resist temptation effectively when they have reflected on how temptation works.
Second, discussing temptation means discussing Satan's activity in this present world. It is difficult today to speak about spiritual warfare, in part because of the excesses and downright nonsense of some who have used these concepts unbiblically. Our caution regarding the careless use of words like “Satan,” “the devil,” and “demons” often keeps us from talking about spiritual warfare at all. But a biblical understanding of temptation recaptures the truth; Satan's primary activity in this world is to tempt humans to sin.
Spiritual warfare (correctly understood) is warfare that takes place largely within a person’s soul. Satan tempts me to sin, while God's Word and God's Spirit call me to faith and obedience. We must recover this sense of daily spiritual warfare, or we will not recover daily biblical holiness.
Third, the joint treatment of temptation and Satan communicates this issue's seriousness. Temptation is not just a nagging desire to eat a little more chocolate; rather, it is the Prince of Darkness's activity that encourages me to commit cosmic treason against God. Sin is not merely a violation of abstract moral rules; rather, it is a personal defiance of the Creator's legitimate authority. Spiritual warfare is not an exotic topic reserved for charismatic preachers and Christian novels; rather, it is what happens every time I am tempted to sin.
Fourth, to expose Satan's tactics with regard to temptation is to win half the battle. Simply understanding temptation does not guarantee holiness. Exposed temptations still retain their fleshly appeal. Nevertheless, the sad fact is that many are far too easily sucked into sinful behaviors. We are, misled, tricked, and bamboozled by the Father of Lies. Often we do not even realize it. Fortunately, light dispels darkness, and masked sin is easier to resist than camouflaged sin
The first section of Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices is entitled "Satan's Devices to Draw the Soul to Sin." This section discusses twelve temptations and their “remedies" (to use Brooks' word). I will use Precious Remedies' twelve-point framework here to organize our own discussion. The posts that follow will match Brooks' identification of Satan's twelve most frequently used temptation strategies.
This series is not a shorter version of Brook’s book, but it uses some of Brooks' concepts as a starting point for its own treatment of temptation. I trust that these posts will prosper your soul. I hope they will also encourage you to read Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices for yourself.
Robert Spinney (PhD, Vanderbilt) is professor of History at Patrick Henry College, where he teaches American history and historiography. He is the author of City of Big Shoulders: A History of Chicago and World War II in Nashville: Transformation of the Homefront, as well as an American history textbook and numerous ministry-related booklets. Dr. Spinney formerly served as a pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Hartsville, TN, and at Winchester Baptist Church in Winchester, VA.