We live in a world that is full of temptation. There is no rest from sin and no rest from temptation to sin. There is not a single moment when we can relax our vigilance. As John Owen says, we can leave sin alone when sin leaves us alone, and that will not be until we are on the far side of the grave.
Temptations can be like the waves of the sea as they break along the beach—they rise and fall, they ebb and flow. Yet temptations are not entirely unpredictable, and there are certain times in life in which they are more likely to press hard than others. Here are four times or seasons in which you need to be especially vigilant against temptation.
A Season of Prosperity
Prosperity carries with it the food and fuel for so much temptation.
Prosperity and temptation so often go hand in hand. It is not that prosperity is a curse or that you ought to dread it. Rather, you need to have an awareness that prosperity carries with it the food and fuel for so much temptation. Agur knew this, writing 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 those times of abundance, and prepare yourself for an onslaught of temptation—temptation to deny that this prosperity is a gift of God’s good grace (ingratitude!), temptation to hoard those good gifts (greed!), temptation to believe that God prefers you over those who have less (pride!). Your prosperity may be the smokescreen that masks a great temptation.
A Season of Spiritual Formality
There are inevitably 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 is marked by formality, your time in prayer and God’s Word become cold duty, 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 farther from God and even deeper into lesser pleasures. Your heart is already marked by coldness, and he longs to make it colder still. Fight! Fight to restore the joy of your salvation.
A Season of Spiritual Bliss
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 received the great gift of being caught up to the third heaven and seeing Christ there, but who was immediately visited by Satan (2 Cor. 12:7).
God loves to bless us with those times of freedom and pleasure, but temptation may be close at hand. In those times of great spiritual enjoyment, you may be tempted to neglect the means of grace. So satisfied are you in the current state that you stop fighting sin and accept this grace 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.
A Season of Self-Confidence
Beware self-confidence and flee from its first awakenings.
You will inevitably enter into sore temptation in those times when you are full of self-confidence. 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 not once, not twice, but 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 that range from sins of lust to sins of anger and sins of false belief. The greater your confidence in your ability to overcome these sins in your own strength, 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 self-confidence and flee from its first awakenings.
Temptation will come. Temptation may well come in those times of prosperity, those times of formality, those times of bliss and those times of self-confidence. But even when temptation is inevitable, succumbing to the temptation is not. “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.