Temptation - Part 1

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 10:13, Matthew 4:7, 2 Peter 2:9
Many Christians battle temptation. It is a problem in the lives of many. How do we deal with moral choices? What does the Bible say about this subject? Temptation is not a completely bad thing.
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We are concerned today with the intriguing subject of temptation. Never have I found an audience who was not interested in this problem in their spiritual lives. There is no age when moral choices and struggles of the spirit are not brought clearly before us. They may come on different levels of temptation, but it is always with us.

When I was a boy back in North Carolina, I remember that the neighborhood gang always started going through the orchards, or heading for the orchards when the fruit was ripe. You could always tell when it was ripe because the boys would make for it. Now listen, friends, as long as the fruit of your life is immature and sour, the devil is not going to trouble you much. But when the fruit is ready and ripe, all the demons may come to attack and try to steal it away.

In a way, then, it is an honor for thieves to break into your house. It shows at least that you have a reputation of having money. When the devil comes around it shows that you are becoming better off than you used to be. So count it all joy therefore when you are tempted. The devil doesn't trouble those who are not spiritual, it is the ones who are nearest to Christ who are most assailed. If you are a straggler out there on the edge of the battle, you are likely to come off with a whole skin even.

Now another reason temptation can be a good thing is that it implies moral insight. It shows at least that you see a choice, that there is a contrast between black and white. Some people go through life seeing everything as a dull gray. But if there are no meaningful choices of good and evil, there can be no temptation. In every moral situation we see a choice and have the power of choosing. The trouble with most of us moderns, I am afraid, is that we have just an average little conscience, and there's not any great moral struggle. We are just average and just little. What a contrast this is to the temptations that Luther and Augustine faced, and some of the other great heroes of the past. Theirs was a dramatic encounter, they seemed to see the demons. They knew what was right, friends, and they chose to do it. There was no sad little whimper with those men.

Then you are to be congratulated if you are tempted. It proves that you have moral insight. Now, how shall we find the power to choose the right over the wrong? Let's read 1 Corinthians 10:13: "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way of escape, that ye may be able to bear it." Paul was talking here to those who had to make choices daily. Those Christians faced the contrasting pagan and Christian worlds about them. And so Paul gave some very pointed counsel. First of all, he said, "when you are tempted, don't regard yourself as an exceptional case." We are always inclined to do that. My situation is different, you know.

All this subtle psychology that no one has ever faced the kind of temptation we face is a delusion, friends. Sometimes people think, "Well, under ordinary circumstances we shouldn't steal or cheat, but business is business and everybody else is doing it." Concerning adultery sometimes people reason, "But our problem is unique. My friend never had a happy home and no one understands the pressures that he is under." Yes, mark it down well, every sin is prefaced with these three words: "I'm an exception." Just remind yourself that this is old stuff. It is no different from other temptations that other men have faced.

You know, all the devil tried to do was convince Jesus in the wilderness that He was different. He said, "Command these stones to be turned into bread," and then under his breath no doubt he said, "Others can't do it, but you are different, you can do it." Then he took Jesus up to that high temple top and said, "Cast yourself down. Others can't do this, but you are God's darling, the rules don't apply to you." And then at last, he said, "Bow down and worship me. I know this is forbidden, but God will make an exception of you. Think of the good you can do if my army is behind you." Jesus met those subtle misquotations of the devil with the oldest words of Scripture. He said, "It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." Matthew 4:7 He quoted the very things Moses, Abraham. David, and Isaiah had written long, long ago. He defeated the devil with the words of Scripture.

Now notice Paul goes further and says that God will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able to bear. We need to remind ourselves that we will never be alone in temptation. God will never permit more to come than we are able to bear. Well, somebody says, "Why does He allow any of it to come?" Listen, friends, temptation provides opportunity for spiritual growth and conquest. It is not a disgrace to be tempted. If there were no battles with temptation, there would be no signs of nobility. There can be no growth without victory through strong decision. Virtue is tried innocence. Untried goodness may be no goodness at all. If you went into a cave somewhere and lived a good virtuous life and did no sin, it might be simply because you had no opportunity to do sin. No, you must be tried and tested and tempted before true virtue appears.

By the way, it is sheer nonsense to say that bad people are the ones who have temptations and good people have none. The only way we know people are good is because they reject temptation. And the only way we know bad people is because they give way to temptation. If a person is never tempted at all, he may be just morally anemic; he may not do any harm at all, but he might not do any good either, so he would be just good for nothing.

Now what did God mean "make a way of escape"? Does it mean an easy way out of temptation will always be provided? Absolutely not! It simply means that in every moral trial God will give us an alternative. What Paul is saying is this, that every temptation to evil also is a temptation to some sort of good. Every moral crisis is a double one and it offers two choices, it presents the alternative to evil, which is good. Are you tempted to anger? You are also tempted to self-control. If you are tempted to dishonesty, you are also tempted to find integrity at the same time. If you are tempted to lust, you are tempted at that very moment to find the highest type of love. In other words, there are two paths leading out of every temptation experience, the luring path of evil, but the equally alluring path of good.

He who represses the impulse to steal, expresses the virtue of honesty. And he who represses the impulse to adultery is expressing the ideal of virtue. It is like a little boy who was standing by an apple barrel in a grocery store. The store keeper kept watching the little boy as he polished the apples. Finally he came over and said, "Sonny, are you trying to steal my apples?" The little boy said, "No sir, I am trying not to." So the same temptation that was urging him to steal was also urging him to be honest. Ah, here is the secret, friends, do not go through life regarding temptation as a negative thing, always something to be feared. You will lose every time. Just realize that in the long run, the most tempting things in life and the most fascinating things are the good things.

D. L. Moody was always fascinated by a certain hill near his home. What do you think he named it? Temptation Hill. "Because some day," Moody said, "some one just won't be able to resist building a church up there." And this very moment, high up on Temptation Hill, stands one of New England's loveliest chapels.

Think of it this way, friends, the temptation that makes one character noble by non-consent, makes another ignoble by consent. We either grow stronger through victory, or else we grow weaker through defeat. So that the next time we meet temptation we will be stronger or weaker as a result of what happens now.

Someone says, "Well, if temptations are opportunities for growth, why should we pray ‘Lead us not into temptation'?" Well, there's an answer to this, friends. This simply means that those of us who have this free will should pray not to misuse it by putting ourselves into the clutch of circumstances which are likely to test us beyond our powers. You see fire is good when it is controlled in the stove, but it is bad when uncontrolled on the roof. Now, let's look at a text or two right here. Second Peter 2:9: "The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished." Notice that the Lord is the one who knows how to deliver us from temptations. We do not know how to do it for ourselves, and we shouldn't put ourselves into the clutch of temptations deliberately. Again, in Revelation 3:10: "Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation."

Now listen, God knows us better than we know ourselves. The fire could easily sweep out of control if we are trying to keep it under control. We misjudge our own strength. No man is justified in placing himself in a position of test. We have no promises of deliverance then. It is better to shun the bait than to struggle in the trap after it closes on you. A man is just as strong as he is in his weakest moment. Man's character is just as strong as the weakest link in it. It is solemnizing to remember, friends, that we will be judged and tested, not by the strong points in our life, but by the weakest point. The real trial will be the test of your weakest place in your weakest moment. That's why we dare not put ourselves on Satan's enchanted ground. That is why we dare not open the door to any temptation deliberately. When we are brought into those places, God will deliver us from temptation. He promises to do it. But we dare not put ourselves there.

Listen, Satan knows much about our moments of vulnerability. Everyone has a besetting weakness. The old devil keeps a card file on the defeats you suffered. He seeks to catch us off guard. We need all the strength we can get. We need the power of God. That's why we shouldn't seek for a show-down with the devil.

Another interesting fact about temptation is that it always assails the mind first of all. Every sin has its origin in the thoughts long before it appears as an act of the body. Jesus said, "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness." Mark 7:21, 22. Almost every category of evil is included in this long list of sins which come forth from the heart. Paul described lust as "Fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind." Ephesians 2:3. The Greek text more accurately says "Desires of the thoughts."

Right at this point we must make some careful distinctions. It is very important to understand that desire, in itself, is not wrong. God has actually placed certain powerful appetites and propensities within our human nature. There is nothing wrong with these drives as long as they are properly controlled and directed. This includes ambition, temper, sex, and every other basic disposition. Wrong comes in only one way. When desire oversteps the bounds and seeks gratification outside the will of God, it turns into lust.

Every day we are confronted with pictures, books, words, etc., which are exciting and appealing to the mind. It is through these emotional stimuli that the mind is often presented with unholy desires. The temptation to lust is present, but this is not sin. As long as those desires are not gratified or fulfilled they are not wrong. It is only when the mind responds to the desire by receiving it and holding it that the temptation turns into sin.

James describes it this way. "But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth for death." James 1:14, 15. Here the act of sin is compared to the process of conception and reproduction. Just as the bee carries pollen from one open blossom to another to fertilize the flower, so the heart of each individual is open to the introduction of unholy thoughts and desires. If those seeds are allowed to mingle with the carnal nature, they produce an inevitable harvest of sin, and finally death. Our only protection is to set a guard before all the avenues of the soul to test every entering thought. By the grace and strength of Christ, every evil desire can be recognized and sifted out, so that is has no opportunity to linger in the mind as a catalyst of lust and sin.

This touches an issue that often becomes exceedingly sensitive. How easy it is to say that we can monitor the mind and weed out the clamoring thoughts of sin. But can human beings, even in concert with Christ, actually conquer the temptation to harbor impure thoughts? The Bible says Yes. "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds; Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ." 2 Corinthians 10:4, 5.

How is such total victory possible? Is it accomplished through prayer, faith, or personal effort? Basically, we must agree that this kind of deliverance comes only through the enabling, indwelling Spirit of God. There is not enough strength in the flesh to overcome one evil desire. Nevertheless, the victory is not obtained without our strong cooperation and action. God does not work miracles to deliver those who have been given the power to avoid evil.

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