Pastor Dan Haugen
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father….
Please pray with me…
Man, those cookies sure look good. Too bad they’re for the church auction. You know if I only took a couple no one would know…
Here, drink this, I’ve been saving it for a special occasion? Go ahead, take a sip…
Who says you can’t go down this hill on a toboggan? It don’t look that steep to me. Try it…
Welcome to my childhood and high school days, full of temptations and the wrong decisions they led to. The missing cookies were noticed, the “drink I’ve been saving for a special occasion” was anything but special and the slide down the mountain proved to be a really bad idea. Let’s just say I didn’t have the discipline of Christ.
We think of temptation and our minds naturally think of sin, after all, it’s temptation that leads to sin. If this is so, then why was it necessary for Christ to be tempted? How could one who would win the battle over sin and death be tempted by it? Temptation by its very nature seems wrong. When it is introduced, our consciences immediately sense danger. But is temptation really a sin? Did Jesus sin by allowing temptation to happen to Him?
Hebrews 4:15 answers the question saying, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every aspect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
To me at least, the answer is clear. Temptation in itself is not the sin. The sin occurs when we allow it to take hold of us. Sin occurs when we mishandle temptation. The sin is not in the tempting but, rather, in the following. We all face temptation, the choice for us comes in how we handle it.
Martin Luther said, “No one may avoid temptation. But we can certainly defend ourselves and relieve all temptations by praying for and imploring the help of God.” He goes on to say in another passage, “As long as we live in the flesh and have the devil around us, no one can escape temptations and incitements to sin. It cannot be otherwise. We are bound to suffer temptations, in fact, to be deeply involved in them. But our prayer, “Lead us not into temptation,” is that we do not fall into them and be entirely overwhelmed by them. There is then, a great difference between feeling temptation and yielding to it, saying yes to it….Therefore we Christians must be armed against temptation and must daily expect to be incessantly attacked. We must at all times expect the devil’s blows. Only by the grace of God may we expect to be delivered from it.”
There are really two sources from which we are tempted: satan and our own flesh. We see an example of the devil’s work in Luke 22, “Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve (The twelve being the disciples) He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray (Jesus) to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray (Jesus) to them in the absence of a crowd.
2nd Corinthians 4:4 calls satan, “the god of this world” and John 8:44 calls him “the father of all lies” in which all evil originates. Knowing this as Christians you would think we would do all we could to separate ourselves from his influence, yet, in our sinful nature we find ourselves his ally way too often. Just the littlest whisper from him springs us into action. We need very little prompting from him to entertain our own sinful ideas.
James 1:13-14 says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” Even when we desire to do good at all times, we are all tempted to betray this desire on a regular basis.
No one is above it, even the apostle Paul. He shared his struggle with his readers in Romans 7:22-23 saying, “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.”
Temptation in and of itself is not a sin. It becomes sin when we surrender to it by turning it into action, even in our minds. Lust, for example, is sin even if we don’t physically act on it. Jesus says in Matthew 5:27, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Covetousness, pride, greed and every envy are all sins of the heart, even though they might not be obvious to others. When we give into these temptations to entertain these thoughts, they take root in us and make their home with us changing us so much that they become part of who we are. They defile us to make us more like the devil then we are like Christ. When we yield to temptation, we replace the fruit of the Spirit with the worthless fruit of the flesh. Galatians 5:19-21 describes them, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
We listen to the temptation, we entertain the thought and we take action becoming just another pawn in the devil’s game, another victory over goodness, another victim of darkness.
The best defense from temptation is to avoid it. At the first suggestion of it we must flee from it. One of my favorite examples of this is with Joseph. A captive in Egypt he was made to be a slave in the house of the powerful man named Potipher. Although tempted to sin sexually by the prompting of Potipher’s wife, he didn’t give into her lustful enticements. Instead he fled. He used the legs God gave him to run from it. Rather than stay in a potentially dangerous situation and try to talk or reason his way out of the situation, Joseph took off. The temptation was not the sin because he dealt with it in the proper way but it could have easily become sin if Joseph had stayed around longer, having to use his own powers of self-control against the powers of the flesh.
We can also defend ourselves from temptation by devouring God’s Word. Just as giving into evil temptations can change us into something more resembling the devil than Christ, so can God’s Word transform us into something closer to Christ in our daily lives. In the desert, that’s how Jesus fought against temptation, He used God’s Word. Imagine, He had been without food for 40 days. Imagine how hungry he was. Then comes the devil’s whispers, “You’re the Son of God, show your power by making these stones become loaves of bread. Satisfy your hunger as only you can. Show me how special you are Son of God.”
There was nothing untrue about the claims of Satan. Jesus could have done just what he said. Yet there was deceitfulness behind the devil’s request. He wanted Jesus to worship and obey him rather than God the Father, the same way Adam and Eve were tricked into doing. It was much the same scene all over again, but instead of satisfying His hunger like Adam and Eve, He relied on God’s Word, something they failed to do in the garden. Jesus didn’t fall for His tricks, rather he used God’s Word as His defense.
In the same way, when faced with the prospect of having the world to Himself or challenging the angels with His safety, He did what He was called to do. He faced the devil’s temptations yet put His trust in His heavenly Father’s Word. We see this again as He faced the cross. Imagine how tempting it was to have the angel’s save Him, yet He did what must be done to save us from our sins and win for us our salvation by trusting in His Father to be good for His promises.
Romans 13:13-14 give us a guideline for avoiding situations that can lead to temptation. It says:
“Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Jesus was our example of how to avoid temptations and how to defend ourselves from them.
If we determine to “Make no provisions for the flesh,” we will keep ourselves from having to prove we can avoid temptations. God has promised us a worthy defense when we are tempted. 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” That’s a promise, we have only to trust that God is true to His Word.
But the best way is to avoid it altogether. 2 Timothy 2:22 urges us to “Flee the desires of youth.” We have, therefore, a great responsibility to pay attention to the direction of God and where He is leading us, avoiding temptation all along the way.
It says in verse 13 of our Gospel lesson in Luke that, after his attempts to tempt Jesus, the devil departed from Him until an opportune time. Jesus won the battle but the devil wasn’t done with Him yet. In our lives it is the same. With every victory or defeat, comes another challenge. Another whisper of temptation to draw our attentions from God and all His goodness.
In Jesus life the devil tried many times to win His soul. Another attempt, a more opportune time, might have been on the night before Christ’s crucifixion in the Garden of Gethsemane. But He handled every temptation, instead choosing to follow the will of His Father. Instead of acting on the temptations of the devil, Christ wielded the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.
Another opportune time may have been as He hung on the cross. Below Him he heard the rulers of the church, scoffing at Him saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself, if He is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.” Beside them are the soldiers, mocking Him saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!” To the side of Him are criminals in the same situation He finds Himself in. In their agony they cry out, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
Could Jesus have done all that? Certainly. He could have jumped off that cross and said, “Ta,da!” But He didn’t, because He lived His life for this very purpose. To take on the sin of all mankind so that through His death we might find life. He didn’t bow to the devil’s temptations, He listened to the still, small voice of His Father.
How are you facing your temptations? Are you giving them a willing ear? Are you putting them into practice? If so, God has a better plan for your life.
In ourselves we are doomed. Satan is pressuring us to fall away from God, He is urging us to give in and give up. He wants to crush you under his thumb. But in Christ, with the Word of God filling us, there is no temptation God will allow you to face which cannot be defeated.
The more tempted you are, the more you should run from it. The more tempted you are, the more you should spend time in God’s Word. Not only will this help you resist temptation, but it will cause the tempter to flee. You see, the last thing Satan wants you to do is spend time in the Word. And if he sees that every time you are tempted you flee to God’s Word, he will flee until a more opportune time. If you are filled with the Word, you will not fall to the devil.
May God give you the power to resist the devil and his schemes and may we all learn from Jesus to follow the will of God by following the direction in His Word. Amen