To Help Those Who Are Being Tempted
June 24, 2007
It is the English writer Oscar Wilde who is credited with having said, “I can resist anything except temptation.” Maybe you can identify with him. This little story that somebody sent me recently may explain why we can identify with him so well. Somebody said, “After starting a new diet, I altered my drive to work to avoid passing by my favorite bakery. I accidentally drove by the bakery this morning, and as I approached it there in the window was an amazing display of goodies. I felt this was no accident so I prayed, ‘Lord, it is up to you. If you want me to have any of those delicious goodies, create a parking place for me directly in front of the bakery.’ And sure enough, on the eighth time around the block, there it was!”
I think we all know that Christian living will demand that we be prepared to deal with temptation more effectively than that. We will not be able to overcome it at the same time we are courting it, but we do need to know that if we want to walk with the Lord, he will walk with us and that we will be able.
Hebrews 2:18 tells us that one purpose of Jesus being made like us was to qualify him to help us to win over temptation. The verse says, “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” Notice that he suffered and the tempting occurred in connection with it. The same things can happen to us. It will be that way for all of us.
James wrote about “when” you meet trials of various kinds (James 1:2) and then are tempted, what you should or shouldn’t say (James 1:13). Notice carefully his wording is “when” and not “if.” The when occurs for all of us.
And it is a serious concern for everybody who loves God and who is concerned about living life well. Paul’s mention of temptation in his letters to Timothy leads him to observe that to fall into temptation is to fall into a snare which can lead to ruin, according to I Timothy 6:9.
What’s Going On Here?
Now all of those statements together lead a Christian to ask, “What is going on here? Aren’t we secure in Christ and hasn’t the Lord promised to make us new creatures? And hasn’t he said that he would not fail us or forsake us? So why should we have to deal with temptation and why is it such a concern for us?” It will help us, I think, to understand what these and other passages mean by being tempted.
My Bible dictionary in an article on temptation observes: “The Biblical idea of temptation is not primarily seduction as in modern usage, but of making trial of a person or putting him to the test, which may be done for the benevolent purpose of proving or improving his quality, as well as with the malicious aim of showing up his weaknesses or trapping him in wrong action.” (New Bible Dictionary, p. 1173). Now notice carefully that the Biblical idea has to do with putting someone to the test, and notice that it can be done for good purposes or for ill purposes.
This means that God may allow his children to meet various trials as part of his saving purpose. He may test people by allowing them to pass through situations that reveal the quality of their faith and devotion so that they and others may know what’s really in their hearts and what kind of people they truly are. Experiences like this, of course, are not easy but they are necessary because it is improving his children this way that the Father accomplishes these kinds of things. He purifies them like precious metal is refined. He strengthens their patience and matures their character. James 1:2 and following show that in passing through trials character and endurance are developed. And he leads them to a deeper assurance of his love for them. Romans 5:3 and following suggest that we learn some things about God’s love in passing through tests with him that we couldn’t know otherwise. Someone observed, “The person concerned often does not know until afterwards whether or why God has been testing him, when he is able to come out of tribulation strong in faith.” So notice that God may allow trials that prove the quality of our character and help us grow.
But if temptation is putting someone to the test or making trial of a person, it seems obvious that Satan can also be active at it, that he can be, within whatever limits God allows, testing people by manipulating circumstances in an attempt to lead them to desert the Father’s will; that Satan may use these experiences not to improve the quality of our character but to prompt us to do wrong and to say to us, “It is not worth what you are doing. It can’t possibly make sense. It would be a lot better if you turned out of the Lord’s way and went off on your own.” Become a free agent, in other words, and let me be your agent.
Our enemy’s malicious intent is demonstrated in his efforts to show that we have failed the test and that we are rejected, ruined and worthless. The tempter is forever at work to make God’s children fall, either by crushing them under the weight of hardship or pain, or by urging them to a wrong fulfillment of natural desires which are not wrong in themselves, or by making them careless, complacent and selfish, or by misrepresenting God to them and leading them to false ideas of what God thinks or what God wants. Our enemy, according to our Savior, is a liar and a murderer (John 8:44), offering choices without consequences, making promises he cannot and will not fulfill, cunningly exploiting our most vulnerable parts of life, and using our own desires against us. Temptations, folks, are “testing situations in which the servant of God faces new possibilities of both good or evil and is exposed to various inducements to prefer the latter,” as J.I. Packer put it.
Where Is The Help?
The question is how do ordinary people like us overcome that kind of pressure? If the Lord came to enable him to help those who are being tempted, where’s the help? And what kind of help does the ministry of Jesus offer to those who are being tempted? Please think about this.
The first source of help is what we learn from the Lord about the importance of settling the one big question first. The one big question is “Whose am I? To whom do I belong?” Jesus pointed out in his life that “no one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Matthew 6:24) The Lord always kept it clear in his own life whose he was. He said that he had not come to do his own will but the will of his Father (John 6:38). He said he didn’t seek his own will (John 5:30) but that his food was to do the will of his Father (John 4:34). He used what we might call “the secret of single-mindedness.” The secret of single-mindedness is one of the great reasons why he was able to endure successfully even when he was being tempted. He knew whose he was.
This may be one of the reasons why some temptations are more enticing to us than they ought to be or need to be. You see, once you have made the big choice about whose side you are on, there are some things you don’t have to think over again every new day. If you have decided to always serve the Lord, you don’t have to decide who you are serving tomorrow morning. If you have already decided not to go down some road, you don’t have to decide how far down it you can go. If you have already decided you belong to the Lord on the Lord’s Day, you don’t have to decide whether the weather is good enough for you to go fishing. That doesn’t have to tempt you. You have already made a choice of whose you are. A decision to live a life devoted to the Lord keeps some temptations from even being considered, and that makes a person strong.
Secondly, the Lord tells us that in overcoming temptations we can be successful if we will use his Word. In Psalm 119:11 it says, “I have stored up your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” We don’t come to Bible classes or worship just to study about the Lord’s word or to hear another lesson from the Lord’s word. Our effort needs to be to store up the Lord’s word in our hearts and minds so that when the moment of pressure comes, our thoughts rush immediately to what we have been thinking on already. Jesus resisted the tempter in just this way when he confronted the devil in the wilderness. Remember in Matthew 4, each time the tempter made a devilish suggestion urging the Lord to depart from the Father’s way, he answered with “It is written.” And finally, Matthew 4:11 says the devil left him. I think that is what James means in James 4:7 when he says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” You resist him by using his word to say, “This is the way that I should live and not according to your suggestion.” Acts 20:32 has Paul commending the elders of the church at Ephesus “to God and to the word of his grace” which, he says, “is able to build you up and give you the inheritance among those who are sanctified.”
Then, the Lord will help us deal with temptation if we will pray. I often hear us praying for forgiveness of our sins. Usually two or three times every time we meet we will pray for forgiveness of our sins. I hardly ever hear us praying that we not be led into temptation. We may be guilty of wanting the remedy without wanting the guidance. It might be that we ought to back up and pray about temptation before forgiveness becomes a necessity. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus brought his disciples and in the urgency and the crisis of that moment, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” He said that twice. (Luke 22:40, 46). And then, of course, he went on to set the example by praying fervently. When the disciples had asked him earlier to teach them to pray, he laid out a model for them in Luke 11:2-4 which ended with “and lead us not into temptation.” James’ instruction to “resist the devil and he will flee from you” continues “draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” (James 4:8) So always pray for strength to overcome the tests when they come, but when you are facing a particular temptation, pray then. Ask for help. Pray to be delivered from it.
The fourth source of help for those who are trying to follow the Lord is the importance of watching, staying on the alert. I have been reading about Andrew Jackson recently. Jackson discovered that Aaron Burr was planning a sort of rebellion in which he would take the northern part of the territory that belonged to Mexico and the southwestern part of the Louisiana territory that belonged to the United States and that he would create a rebellion over which he would make himself king. Jackson then wrote to William Claiborne, who was the governor of Orleans territory, “There is something rotten in the state of Denmark. You have enemies within your own city that may try to subvert your government and try to separate it from the Union. Be upon the alert.” That was good advice.
Have you noticed that in the Garden of Gethsemane when Luke says Jesus taught his disciples to pray that they not enter into temptation, both Matthew and Mark indicate that he said to them, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” One reason for the importance of this instruction is the deceitfulness and craftiness of our enemy. Bro. Cecil May says that one of his students had a saying, “The devil don’t come to you ugly.” I’m not sure about the English, but the advice is on point. The devil sneaks up. He doesn’t come in open charge.
Another reason this is important is that thought our spirit may be willing, our flesh is weak. It is hard to live up to our best intention. And then there is the fact that sin seems to have an enslaving power to it. It can take hold of you and drag you deeper into it than you ever thought. So watch!
Together with that, replace the temptation with something positive. You can’t succeed just by kicking the evil out or chasing away the enticement. You have to replace it with something good. Remember the story Jesus told in Matthew 12:43 and following about the fellow who drives out the evil spirits, sweeps his house, puts everything in order, doesn’t fill it with anything good, and the spirit brings back seven of his worst buddies. Things were worse than when they first started. In Ephesians 4, it advises us in verse 27 to not let anger give the devil an opportunity. But in verse 32 it tells us to be kind, tender-hearted and forgiving. You can’t say, “I’m just not going to be angry.” Are you going to be kind, tender-hearted and forgiving?
Next, notice that the Lord urges us to look for the way of escape. In any temptation, look for the way of escape. I read about a four-year old little girl who was caught by her mom standing in a chair eating cookies, of course, after she had been told not to do so. Here’s how she explained the situation, “Mom, it’s not my fault. I just climbed up to smell them and my tooth got caught.” The Bible would advise us “Don’t climb up to smell it.” In 1 Corinthians 10:13 there is the statement that God will with the temptation make a way of escape. Look for it.
In Paul’s writings he often urges his readers to flee from the things that tempt, whether they are youthful passions, money or idolatry or sexual immorality. Don’t see how close you can get. Fleeing means more than waiting till you get caught up in it and then trying to get away. It means staying away from it. Those of us who would try to use those tools will find that the Lord will help us be successful in spite of the tests and the trials.
Encouraging Facts to Remember
Let me leave you with some encouraging facts about temptation that I hope you will remember this week.
First, God will not tempt any of us to do evil (James 1:13). He may allow us to endure trials to strengthen us, but he won’t tempt us.
Second, the devil cannot make us sin. He cannot make us do wrong. The devil has no authority. He only has persuasive power. He can tempt but he can’t make us do it.
Third, temptation – being tempted itself – is not a sin. Don’t begin to think you are a terrible person because you feel temptation. Jesus dealt with every temptation we face, the Bible says (Heb. 4:15), but he never sinned. So temptation can’t be a sin.
Fourth, any temptation can be overcome with the Lord’s help. Temptation that we face is common to man (1 Cor. 10:13). Jesus faced them and overcame them, and he wants to help us do that. Of course, we won’t be as successful as he was all the time. We have our weaknesses. But please remember that if sin occurs in the life of a Christian, it is a mistake and not a way of life. Our weaknesses may be things that we have to keep trying to overcome, but they don’t have to be permanent failures. If we do sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, according to 1 John 2:1-2. (These points suggested by Cecil May in “Magnolia Messenger.”)
What about temptation? Are you an overcomer? Are you winning the victory? Have you made that one great decision and then are you living by it. Maybe today you are ready to confess that you are a believer in Christ and be baptized into him where sin is buried, you die to sin and God raises you up to walk in newness of life. If that be the case or if you are needing the prayer support of your brothers and sisters in Christ, if we can help you, let it be known by coming this morning as we stand and sing.