Temptation is as common to life as just about anything else. It’s everywhere, presenting itself in multitudes of different forms. For everything we do, there is always a way for us to do it wrong and sinfully if we do not pay close attention and guard our hearts.
Eating? We could be gluttons instead of only eating what we need (Proverbs 23:20-21). Working? We could slack off and become lazy instead of being diligent and working hard (Colossians 3:23). Talking with friends? We could speak in unwholesome ways instead of only saying things which are beneficial (Ephesians 4:29). Even spiritual disciplines such as prayer, reading our Bibles, and singing songs can be done sinfully if they are not bringing honor and glory to God alone (John 4:24).
Whoa, that’s a lot. To think that in everything we do, there’s always the potential that we could do it the wrong way if we are lured and enticed by his own desire (James 1:14) is heavy. So the question is, How do we as Christians combat this? How do we live in a way that reflects Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”? There are many ways to do this, but I just want to focus on one way we can stay alert and fight temptations.
I remember that one of the first Bible verses I ever memorized as a kid was this, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11). It was very fitting, because the verse itself is about memorizing and “treasuring up” (as the NASB words it) God’s Word in our hearts. I think that this is one of, if not the main way to combat sinful desires.
But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. Why is doing this even important? Surely, we’re fine just praying a certain prayer one time, believing some of the right things, and going to church about once a week, and maybe cracking open our Bibles to read a few verses every once in a while, right? While all of these can be good things, they are simply not enough if we are to live a life wholly devoted to God.
God commands his people to “be holy, for I…am holy” (Leviticus 19:2; also see 1 Peter 1:16). We also see in the Bible that “without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). No, this is not some form of legalism, and neither am I advocating that. Legalism is precisely what Jesus would continually calls the religious leaders of his time out for fairly regularly (Matthew chapters 6 & 23). God doesn’t tell us to be holy so we can earn our salvation, he tells us to be holy because of our salvation. In short, pursuing holiness isn’t something the Christian should see as a burden and just another thing to check off the list. Pursuing holiness should be something that the Christian wants to do because of what God has done for them in saving them in the first place. It should be done from a place of gratitude, not grumbling.
So now we know that pursuing holiness is something we should do not just because God commands it (though that is reason enough), but also because we want to do it. How does Scripture memorization come into this? Let’s go back to our verse from the Psalms. “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” the word “that” connecting the two phrases is the answer to this question.
In essence, what the writer is saying is that the reason he has stored up God’s word in his heart is so that he doesn’t sin against God. Another way of saying this could be “In order to keep from sinning against God, I have stored up his word in my heart.” There is purpose behind the preparation. Storing up the Word isn’t done to be flashy or impress others with our knowledge of the Bible, it’s done to edify and encourage others and help us in our own times of need.
Perhaps the best and prime example of this in action is with none other than Jesus himself. In Matthew 4, right at the start of his ministry, Jesus is lead by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, where he then fasted for forty days and nights (4:1-2). After this period of time, Satan came to him and three times tempted him, even quoting Old Testament passages himself and making very clever arguments. How does Jesus respond? By quoting Scripture right back to him (verses 4, 7, & 10). Each time when faced with an attack from the evil on, Jesus relies on the only infallible Word to keep him from falling prey to the devil’s tricks.
Satan is very smart; smarter than any human being in the world, I would imagine. I’m certain that he has more Scripture memorized and knows more true doctrine about God than anyone. This is how he is able to lead so many people astray, by parading around as an agent of truth, or an “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). The truth is that each person has stumbled into his traps and sinned against God as a result (Romans 3:23). Not one of us could ever be smart enough or have enough power to overcome him on our own. He knows all of our weaknesses, and seeks to destroy us through attacking those. Thankfully, though, that’s not the end of the story.
There is a way, one way, to be freed from the power of evil, and that is to “repent and believe in the gospel” of Jesus Christ (Mark 1:15). Only then are we freed from the chains of pride and deceit. If we do this, we now have a power on our side that is even more powerful than that of Satan, and that is the resurrection power of Christ, which raised him from the dead, and has now raised us from the deadness of our sins. Instead of exploiting our weaknesses and trying to destroy us through them, Christ’s “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). He will fight for us.
But this does not absolve us of any responsibility. Paul wrote about a similar instance where some believers thought that because God is gracious (and he absolutely is!), they could live a double life by confessing Christ as Lord, while at the same time continuing to live in their sins. To which he replied, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2). Yes, God is gracious. But that does not give us a licence to sin at will, so long as we make sure we circle back and ask for forgiveness.
Likewise, yes, God will fight for us when temptation comes our way. But we must also put in the work of building spiritual “muscle” and disciplines in order to be prepared for war. What soldier would ever go off to war without any training? So also, we must examine ourselves, know our weaknesses, and insulate ourselves with the treasure that is God’s Word so that when the time comes, and it will, we will be ready.
So my call to you today is simple: know the Word. Do whatever it takes to store it up within you. For some, it will be easier than others. But just because it may take hard work and dedication, it does not give you an excuse to not do it. We are to be renewed “day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16) by daily preaching the gospel to ourselves, and doing all things to the glory of God. How are we to live as Christ did if we don’t know how to do it? Charles Spurgeon gives us a sober wake-up call: “There is enough dust on some of your Bibles to write ‘damnation’ with your fingers.”