Sunday, October 30, 2016

Talking to God: Temptation

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. Matthew 6:13

Over the last two weeks, we looked at forgiveness. To get to forgiveness, we must recognize that we have sinned. We ask for forgiveness from our past sin. Now that we have done so, we ask for protection from future sin.

The reality is, temptation will always be with us. The closer we draw to Jesus Christ, the more the devil will tempt us. Our goal as Christians is Christ-likeness, and so we should expect the same things that Jesus experienced. Right as he was to begin his ministry, the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Hebrews 4:15, in describing Jesus as our high priest says this: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

Jesus has been tempted in every way, but he did not give in to temptation. Sometimes Christians believe that temptation itself is sinful, so if we have sinful thoughts or sinful urges, we can be overcome by guilt and shame. Temptation itself is not a sin. But when we give in to temptation, we sin. Temptation is a tricky subject. Does God cause it, or not?

Our language can confuse us in this manner. When we pray “lead us not into temptation,” some could think this would mean that without such a prayer, God might lead us into temptation. But James 1:13-15 tells us 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. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. 

So it isn’t that God is tempting us. A negative request does not mean that the positive is to otherwise be expected. If a husband says to his wife, “Don’t ever leave me” — he doesn’t necessarily assume she will leave him.

So asking God not to lead us into temptation does not necessarily infer that God might otherwise lead us into temptation. That said, God sometimes does lead us into times of testing. In our Bible study this week, we started looking at the book of James, where we learned to consider it pure joy whenever we face trials of all kinds, because it is through those trials that our faith is formed, developing into perseverance, which must finish its work to make us mature and complete, not lacking in anything (James 1:4). 

The reality is, God allows us to go through testing, which perfects our faith. But as 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us, 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.

So when we ask God to deliver us from temptation, we are in fact asking God to deliver us through it. To help us bear up under it. To escape it and endure it without sin. We need God’s help and protection, for the devil seeks to lead us astray. So we ask God to deliver us from the evil one. 

Know that when God delivers us, He actually expects something from us. It’s a prayer that we ask of God but that God expects us to do something as well. We can’t just sit back and say “well, I asked God to deliver me from the evil one, so I don’t have to do anything.” There are some people who continually put themselves in places of temptation. If something tempts you, don’t stay around it. Ask God to help you avoid it. For example, shortly after our marriage, we had a neighbor who was into drugs. They tried to get clean, but they kept all the same friends, those who were into the drug scene. So if you can imagine, the temptation was too hard to overcome.

This is a good area in which the church can be the church. Sometimes we just let someone struggle and fail, all on their own. We don’t even know when someone is struggling with temptation. Part of the brilliance of John Wesley’s system was that every Methodist met in a small group. We were never meant to be Christians all on our own. And one reason God put us into community is to encourage one another. Help keep one another accountable. We have to be real with one another for this to happen, admitting to one another where we need help. James 5:16 reminds us to confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

This also relates to temptation. When we admit to one another that we’re tempted in a certain area, we can help one another keep clear of that temptation. 

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