You are tempted when a thought to do something sinful comes up and you know it would be wrong to do it. Now you have to decide: will I sin here, or will I overcome sin? Everyone is tempted by their own desires that drag them off and trap them in sin. (James 1:14.) You will always know when you are tempted. You know that to give in to this thought would be to sin, to do what you know is wrong.
It is important to remember that you can’t be tempted without the thought first coming up. When the thought first comes up, it is only a temptation, not a sin you have done! It is only when you do what you are tempted to, that you sin.
What to do when you are tempted
What do you want more? Eternal life with Jesus, or enjoying sin for a short while? If it is really eternal life with Jesus that you want and that is always in your mind, then you will never agree with the sinful thought that is coming into your mind. Then you should be humble and go to God and pray, “God, give me strength to not give in. I am weak, but You are strong! Give me grace to overcome this sin.”
You can’t overcome sin without power from Him, without the power of the Holy Spirit. You need His grace to overcome sin. And then of course He gives you that power. “The Lord keeps close watch over the whole world, to give strength to those whose hearts are loyal to him.” 2 Chronicles 16:9 (GNT). You can’t stop a temptation from coming into your thoughts, but you can disagree with it and make sure that you don’t give in to it! Even when the temptation goes on for a long time.
It can feel like the temptation is going on and on and on, but it is important to understand that as long as you are fighting it, you are not sinning. If you make a clear, firm decision and say, “No! I will not do this thing I am tempted to. I will not get angry, I will not be jealous, I will not allow impure thoughts,” then you are not sinning! No matter how long the temptation goes on.
Living an overcoming life!
Then you are living an overcoming life, a life where you overcome sin! Even if you are still tempted but you don’t give in. It’s a fight that you know you are fighting. But then that sin will “die”, and when it is dead, it is dead. If another temptation comes up, maybe to the same kind of sin, it’s something new you’re fighting against. You have to understand that. It’s not that old thing coming back from the dead, even if it can feel like the same. It’s a new temptation, it’s a fight against a new sin, and once again, you say No to it and don’t give in until it is dead.
You should never think, “Should I do it or shouldn’t I? How far can I go? Is it really so wrong?” etc. Thoughts like that show that you are not serious about overcoming sin in your life, and sooner or later you will give in to sin. When you do that, you have listened to Satan. You should immediately say, “Get behind me, Satan!” And then Satan has to go away. “For it is written …” And then you throw God’s Word at him, just as Jesus showed us. Satan has no power against the Word of God. (Matthew 4:4-10.)
You can live an overcoming life like this every day, in every situation, and live a completely pure life.
Read more: What does it mean to get victory over sin?
What if I only see something was sin after I’ve done it?
You will always know when you are being tempted. You can’t be tempted without knowing that you are being tempted. But some of your deeds, words and thoughts can be against God’s will, without you knowing it. You can sin without knowing it is sin at the time; that’s what Paul calls “deeds of the body”. Then you can’t say that you have been tempted, because you didn’t choose to do sin. Then there is no judgement against that; you don’t need to feel guilty or discouraged for those actions. (Romans 7:25; Romans 8:1.) But that doesn’t mean we don’t do anything about it!
In Romans 7:15-25 it is written about the two “I’s”. One “I” is my sinful human nature, also called my flesh, and the other “I” is my spirit, or my decision to serve God. The “I” that is my sinful human nature, that is the one that does these sins that I do without knowing. It can be something that I said, and afterwards I see that I said it because I was irritated, or because I was looking for some praise for myself. But it wasn’t the real “I” who wants to serve God who did it! It was my sinful human nature.
But when you start to see that, then it is very important that you do something about it. You should hate the sin that came from your human nature, repent before God, and also say sorry to others if you’ve hurt them by what you’ve done. Then you are knowingly “putting sin to death”: you are “putting to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit”. (Romans 8:13.) Then it’s also important to be prepared; decide to be more awake next time you’re in such a situation. Take a firm decision to do it better next time.
You have to hate sin
It’s actually very simple. When you see sin, you hate it and overcome it. Whether it is in the moment when you are tempted, or whether it is after you have unknowingly done it. As long as you don’t agree with it, then God won’t judge you guilty for this. Because as soon as you saw it, you’ve been doing God’s will, which is to overcome it.
These situations teach you to be more awake. They help you to learn and to grow, so that you overcome more and more of the sin in your human nature. In this way you become more and more like Jesus.