There are temptations in the heart of man that are not easily removed, those that are only able to be extinguished through a very painful process. Now, to be sure, there are some sins which disappear in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye. Think of Saul of Tarsus. One minute he’s walking in darkness, the next he’s prostrate in the blinding glory of the Lord and when he rises to his feet the old life is left in the dust of that Damascus Road. Instantly he is a brand new man.
The difference, however, is that Paul’s temptation came from within, so the Spirit reached it more quickly. There are temptations which come from without, those that are given to the heart by it’s union with the body. These are the temptations that oftentimes toss a man into the fire or throw him into the water. Jesus says that these temptations are not easily removed, and may only be done so through prayer and fasting.
The reason Jesus mentions both prayer and fasting is because both are necessary to remove stubborn sins. Prayer alone will not suffice for prayer is but a great resolution to abstain from the temptation, and a resolution without action will not last in the heat of day. Fasting will not suffice either. Fasting is simply the resistance of the flesh, but without the consent of the spirit, such resistance will become weary and finally yield.
The old habits in a man’s life may not instantly disappear the moment he surrenders his life to Jesus. If he stands before you today and professes to be a follower of Christ, but falls tomorrow, don’t immediately declare him a hypocrite. The High Priest’s servant asked Peter, “Didn’t I see you in the garden with Him?” You may have to ask this question of many men, but don’t assume then that the garden as an illusion. Gethsemane’s flowers rise slowly and often only through great struggle. Realize that there will be dark and rainy days. There will be stormy and dreary nights. There will be seasons so cold that the seed is forbidden to spring forth. Give grace to such a struggling soul. Add to their prayer and fasting your own. Do not take advantage of your freedom in Christ until your brother is also free. You may be able to journey through this world unscathed, but your brother may be hurt should he walk with you. Limit yourself for his sake. Fast for the benefit of your brother.
Do you see this as weakness? It’s not. Don’t you remember when Jesus, the One who spoke not just of His liberty, but of His very life, said “I have the power to lay it down”? It is not weakness to be like Christ. It is the greatest of strengths. In spite of Cain’s evading question, you are indeed your brother’s keeper. Yours is a divine call – the charge of God, the call of the angels, the responsibility of being a ministering spirit sent forth to those who are the heirs of salvation. That’s why you must keep that which the Lord has committed to you until the day of your liberation.