“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.
The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” Matthew 26:41
These words of Jesus raise three questions…
- What does it mean to “fall into temptation?”
- Where do I need to “watch?” How do I do this?
- How should I “pray?” What does that look like?
Falling Into Temptation
Everybody is tempted. As long as you’re in the body, you’re in a place where temptation can reach you. The impulse to sin has a landing place in your life.
Jesus doesn’t say, “Watch and pray, so you will not be tempted.” There is no way you can get into a place in the Christian life where you are no longer tempted. He says, “Watch and pray, so that you will not fall into temptation.” Literally it says, “so that you will not enter into temptation.”
John Owen is helpful here. Entering into temptation, he says, has two distinctive features. First, “Satan becomes more earnest than usual.” There are times when he intensifies his assaults against you. Not every day in the Christian life is the same. There seem to be days and seasons of life when all hell breaks loose. Paul refers to this, “put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes…” (Ephesians 6:13).
Second, “the heart… is unable to escape the trap of temptation.”  Often you will be able to brush off temptations without serious difficulty. But there will also be times when a particular temptation will gain power and vigor within you. You will find yourself divided, wanting to reject the temptation, but at the same time unable to free yourself from it.
Imagine a salesman knocking at your door. You open the door, and he tells you what he is selling. At that point, if you’re not interested, it’s not hard to say, “Sorry, I’m not interested. Try the nice folks next door.”
But suppose you invite this person into your home. He sits down in your living room and makes his presentation. He shows you the product. He talks to you about how much you need this and how much better your life will be if you have it. Some relationship begins to be formed and your mind and your heart become engaged. Now it’s harder to say “No.”
This is what it means to “enter into” temptation. You are engaged with it. You let it inside and its sitting in your living room. You’ve become connected to it. The temptation that landed in your flesh has found a place in your affections. This fits with all that we have been learning over these last weeks: Temptation grows in power as it builds a position in your soul.
Last time we used the analogy of football. The game is about moving the ball forward and backward, trying to gain yardage. You are building a position. It’s the same in chess. The chess master builds a position on the board. Gradually he moves his pieces into commanding positions on the board, until your king suddenly gets knocked over.
It’s the same in business when there is a hostile takeover of a company.
Gradually, over time, a position is built with the shares and with seats on the Board, and eventually their position becomes overwhelming and the takeover is irresistible.
It’s the same in warfare. The great military conflicts of history were won or lost by where the generals positioned their troops, the strategic pieces of high ground that they took and so on. This is true on the football field, in the boardroom and on the battlefield.
On the night when our Lord was betrayed, Satan was building a position.
He’d entered into the heart of Judas, the betrayer. He was unleashing his entire arsenal, so our Lord Jesus comes to the disciples and says, “Watch and pray so that you will not enter into temptation. What Satan is doing here is going to trap you. Don’t get into a place where sin traps you.”
This is a word for us. Temptations will come to you this week, and Jesus says, “Watch and pray, so that what will come to you will not enter into you, so that it cannot build a position.”
Identify your primary battles
“Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed…” James 1:14
The temptations we face are tied to our own flesh. The distinctive battles you face are, to some extent, rooted in the created form in which God has made you. All Christians are tempted. All Christians are not tempted in the same ways.
Knowing yourself is of huge importance when it comes to living the Christian life. How well do you know yourself? One of the striking things about the American Idol phenomenon is the extraordinary degree to which people lack self-knowledge.
Many people really don’t really know themselves at all… Here’s a woman who is quite sure she can sing, so she comes on the show. The judges tell her she can’t, but she leaves even more determined than before to prove that she has this wonderful gift. Extraordinary!
John Calvin said that nearly all the wisdom we can possess is in two parts: Knowing God and knowing yourself, and you cannot get the one without the other. So, how well do you know yourself? Because the distinctive temptations that you will face rise out of who you are.
David was an impulsive person, and his temptation with Bathsheba reflected his impulsiveness. There are certain kinds of sin that dog the impulsive person.
Jonah was an introverted person, and his temptation to sulk outside Nineveh reflected his introversion. If you are made of that kind of character, you will need to know that you will be tempted that way.
Hezekiah was an extravert. He likes to make an impression, and his temptation to show his riches to a visiting king came right out of that. That was the beginning of the end of his reign, because that king saw what Hezekiah had, and he was right back on his doorstep with his army.
You may find it helpful to talk about this in the LIFE groups this week.
List some different personality types, and work out what temptations would most likely arise from each one.
A person who is meticulous keeps score, you see, and so they may be tempted to hold a grudge and not to forgive.
A person who is naturally cautious may be tempted to live much of life in fear, rather than actually taking steps of faith.
A person who is a perfectionist will be tempted to feel that nothing anyone else does is good enough, and they are very difficult to live with.
A cool dude may be tempted to go through their whole life without fasting or praying all night. Why? Because they’re a cool dude.
A laid back person is tempted to go through life without making any real commitments.
Become a student of your own heart. Get to know the special temptations that lurk within the frame of your temperament. Are you the kind of person who might be tempted to control, to withdraw, to resent, to rebel?
Ask God to help you see what you are up against…
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:23-24
Note your most vulnerable times
Let me suggest three vulnerable times from the passage…
- When you’re tired
The disciples were tired in the Garden of Gethsemane and it was late at night. It had been an exhausting week since they arrived in Jerusalem, after walking from Galilee. Every day they were with Jesus in the temple, with all kinds of debates and questions to answer. The whole business of ministry had been exhausting.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m tired, I don’t see things clearly. Things easily get blown out of proportion in my own mind. I’m less careful with what I say and less patient, more irritable and more easily provoked. When I’m tired, I’m more vulnerable to temptation, so I’ve got to watch. I’ve got to pray.
- When a friend has failed
“If someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently, but watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.” Galatians 6:1
The disciples had been banded together like a team for more than three years, and now Judas walks out of the last supper. Never underestimate the effect in your life that comes from the choices made by your friends.
Your friend leaves his wife, or he engages in some deception. What he has done gets into your mind. It makes you more vulnerable to temptation. Your friend tries a drug, and what he or she has done gets into your mind, and you say, “If he can do that, why shouldn’t I?”
We read in the New Testament about two men called Hymenaeus and Alexander, who made shipwreck of the faith. When they fell, other people fell with them. People don’t fall alone.
iii. When people are hostile to Jesus
It’s hard to be “for” Jesus in an environment where most people are against Him. Peter sees hostility in the soldiers who arrest Jesus, then later when he’s warming his hands, he denies the accusation that he’s one of Jesus’ followers. The natural thing to do is to keep your love for Jesus secret, or perhaps distance yourself from Jesus altogether.
Watch and pray so that you don’t fall into temptation on the college campus. Watch and pray so that you don’t fall into temptation in the business world, because many people there are hostile to Jesus. As our culture becomes increasingly hostile to Jesus, we need to watch and pray so that we do not fall into temptation.
Study your past experience
Reflecting on past failures is the best way to avoid repeating them. Don’t move on until you’ve learned from a failure. When did that happen? What could you have done, as you look back on that experience, that might have led to a different outcome?
A football team, after a game in which they’ve allowed touchdowns, will watch film. They’ll watch it in slow motion, analyzing how the play might have been stopped, because they want to do better next time. If you’re serious about making progress in the Christian life, that’s exactly how you’ll think. Learn from your defeats, so next time you will prevail.
Listen to how John Owen describes this…
“We need to be intimately acquainted with the ways, wiles, methods, advantages, and occasions which give sin (lust) its success. This is how men deal with their enemies. They search out their plans, ponder their goals, and consider how, and by what means they have prevailed over them in the past. Then they can be defeated.”
You cannot wage war without intelligence. That’s why Jesus says, “Watch and pray,” so that you can gain intelligence.
“One of the… most important parts of spiritual wisdom is to find out… how [sin] it uses occasions, opportunities, and temptations to gain advantage. We need to… trace this serpent in all of its turning and windings, and to bring its most secret tricks out into the open. We must learn to say – ‘this is your usual method; I know what you are up too.” 
Jesus said, “Watch and pray.” It is important to keep these two together.
If you watch but you don’t pray, it’s like getting a diagnosis from the doctor, but no prescription. That’s what happens when you study your own soul, without doing anything to put it right. Watching without praying is profoundly depressing. You see the problem, but never take action to move forward.
If you pray but you don’t watch, it’s like going into in a pharmacy without knowing what’s wrong with you. The medicine you need is there on the shelf; it is available, but you don’t know what to ask for, and therefore it is of no use to you.
The danger is that your prayers become separated from the reality of what Satan is doing in your life. Jesus says, “Watch and pray so that you will not enter into temptation.” Temptations will come to you this week. Watch and pray so that they will not build a position that overwhelms you.
Pray because your flesh is weak
“The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:41
The flesh is the place where sin lands in your life, and powerful temptations are about to land on you. So pray, so that you will not fall into temptation.
Do you believe that your flesh is weak? Peter reminds us of the great dangers of overconfidence. He was the one who said to Jesus, “I will never disown you” (26:35), “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will” (26:33).
Peter did not know the weakness of his own flesh. He did not watch. He did not pray. He did enter into temptation. The one who thinks he stands should be careful, lest he fall.
One of my Christian heroes is a man named Robert Murray McCheyne, a pastor who was especially vigorous in his own determination to follow the Lord. He wrote a piece called “Personal Reformation,” in which he examines his own soul and makes commitments to God…
“I am tempted to think that I am now an established Christian; – that I have overcome this or that lust for so long that I have got into the habit of the opposite grace – so that there is no fear; I may venture very near the temptation, nearer than other men.”
“This is a lie of Satan. I might as well speak of gunpowder getting by habit a power of resisting fire, so as not to catch the spark…”
“The seeds of all sins are in my heart and perhaps all the more dangerously because I do not see them.”
Jesus says you are to watch and pray. Why? Because your flesh is weak. Do you believe your flesh is weak? He doesn’t say, “You are weak.” You have the power of the Holy Spirit in you. This is the danger of overconfidence in the Christian life.
Pray because your Savior is strong
“Watch and pray…” Matthew 26:41
Jesus gave the command to watch and pray: “This is what you must do.” But they do not obey the command, and they enter into temptation. That’s our position, isn’t it? We have not kept the command of Christ. All of us have sinned in many ways.
None of us can find peace and rest when we look at our obedience. We have not watched or prayed as we ought. We have entered into temptation and sin mars our lives because of it. We need to look to Christ.
What is Christ doing here? Jesus was praying for Peter, when Peter wasn’t praying for himself, “Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith will not fail” (Luke 22:31).
You may say, “I thought Peter did fail.” Yes, Jesus knew that Peter would fail to watch and fail to pray, and that within a few hours he would curse and swear blind that he did not even know Christ. Jesus knew Peter would fail, but He prayed that Peter’s faith would not fail.
Satan has his eye on you, Peter. He wants to tear you apart. He will come against you with everything he’s got. He wants to destroy you. But I have prayed that your faith will not fail.
I’ve prayed that when you fall into sin, it will not be the end for you. I’ve prayed that when you fall, you will look to Me. The next day Jesus went to the cross, where He died for sinners like us. He bore our sins and our failings. Then he rose from the dead and today He offers forgiveness and restoration for all who look to Him in faith and repentance.
Christ died for you; Christ intercedes for you. The Son of God is at the right hand of the Father and He’s for you! He’s for you when you triumph and He’s for you when you fail. And when you pray, you draw near to Him! That’s why there’s hope for you when you fall into temptation.
The Double-edged Sword of Temptation
At the end of the New Testament, we read about how God uses all kinds of trials to prove that your faith is genuine, and that this will result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
These words were written by Peter, and the word he used for trials is exactly the same word that Jesus used when he said, “Watch and pray that you will not fall into temptation.”
“Now for a little while, you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of temptations. These have come so that your faith, of greater worth than gold, will be proved genuine, and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” 1 Peter 1:6-7
Temptation is a double-edged sword. It was the undoing of Judas, but it was the making of Peter. Even Peter’s failure led to repentance, and it proved that his faith was genuine. It made him more humble, more realistic about the weakness of his flesh, more grateful to His Savior, and more gentle towards others who fail.
One of the fathers of the church said, “Christ became like us that He might be tempted. We are tempted that we might become like Christ.” Come to Christ before temptation, in temptation and after temptation.
He is able to help you when you are tempted. He is able to restore you when you’ve fallen. He is able to keep you from falling, “and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy!” (Jude 24).To him be glory and honor—now and forevermore! Amen.
 John Owen, “Triumph Over Temptation,” p. 144-145, David C. Cook, 2004
 John Owen, “The Mortification of Sin,” p. 37, Banner of Truth, 2004
 A. A. Bonar, “Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne,” p. 153, Banner of Truth, 1966
© Colin S. Smith
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