Temptations. That is a very important subject in the Christian’s life. That is a daily issue in every Christian’s life.
Let me ask you some questions about temptations. Is it a sin to be tempted, that is, does the fact that you are tempted necessarily mean that you have already sinned? Why do temptations come to us? What is the devil’s purpose in temptation? Where is he going to aim? These are the questions we hope to address today and find the answer from the Word of God.
Recall with me that last week we began our series on the temptations of Christ under the theme, “Tempted As We Are.” We looked into the first temptation of our Lord as recorded for us in Matthew 4. You recall that we noted that these temptations took place immediately after He had been baptized by John in the Jordan River. Jesus had begun His ministry. And the Lord, having begun His ministry, is led of the Spirit into this severe struggle for forty days in which He confronts the temptations of the evil one.
The forty-day struggle of temptation resulted in the fact that the Lord was an hungered. The devil seizes upon this to bring a very powerful temptation. Recall again with me that we saw that the devil’s attempt in this temptation was to undermine the Word of God. God had just spoken from heaven that Christ was His beloved Son in whom He was well pleased. The devil meant to say, “But can you trust that Word of God? Don’t you need some physical evidence before you can really believe what God has said? If what God has said is true that you are His beloved Son, why are you hungry? You had better help yourself and make some bread. Certainly you cannot simply rely only upon what God has said.”
Then, you remember, we looked at the Lord’s answer. The Savior Jesus Christ taught us a profound and important truth for our Christian living. He taught us that the Word of God is to be trusted because it is the Word of God. It is to be received upon its own authority. He taught us, further, that the most important thing in our lives is the Word of God – that we know it and trust it. Still more, He taught us that the evidence of God’s favor is not to be found merely in the external conditions of our life. Yes, very often, when God blesses us He shows that also in physical things. But, again, the Savior says, “Satan, your error is this, you make your mistake exactly here: you would have Me determine God’s favor and blessing in terms of the earthly. You would have Me conclude that because I am hungry for forty days, therefore, the Father’s word that I am His beloved Son is, perhaps, not so sure and reliable as I might like to think. Satan, what you are telling Me is that I ought to gauge My Father’s love and favor from the things that are seen and not from His word itself.” The Savior rejected that and He said, “Not so, Satan. Never so. The word of God is trustworthy. And it is My confidence.”
Today we want to go on and learn at least three lessons from our own lives from this temptation – lessons that we need to apply this week and always to our lives.
The first lesson is this: There is no sin in being tempted, nor does temptation necessitate sin. Let me explain.
We read in Hebrews 4, He was tempted. That is, the Son of God, the sinless Son of God, was tempted. Now, we may never fathom the depths of that statement, but certainly it means that temptation is one thing and to yield to the temptation is another thing. To yield to the temptation is sin. Temptation is not necessarily the same thing as sin. We must not conclude automatically that when we realize that we are being tempted unto a certain sin, that that in itself is necessarily a sin. When the Lord taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” He was not saying that it was automatically sin to be tempted. But He was saying to us that as children of God who desire now to be pure in all of our ways, externally and in our hearts, we should pray that our way be hedged up from the pitfalls of temptation so that we do not fall. We pray that we may not deliberately walk into temptation, that we may not become careless and profane. Lord, we pray, lead us away from temptation. But to be tempted, in itself, is not a sin. The sin is when we yield. When we listen to the voice of temptation, when we entertain in our thoughts and heart the temptation.
For example. It is not a sin for you to drive your car and to be confronted by a crazy motorist, swearing and swerving around you, gesturing and speaking vulgarities through the window. Now, that is certainly a temptation. The sin is this: when you allow that to bear fruit and you behave back the same way and you have murderous thoughts which fill your heart and mind. That is sin. That is yielding to the temptation.
When you are tempted to conclude on a dark day, God is not with me, and you despair, and you conclude that you must be abandoned, that is sin. Then you have yielded to the devil, who is always going to be saying to you, “God is not with you, God is not with you!” When you concur and say, “That must be so, look at what is happening, look at how I feel,” then you have fallen into the temptation. Then you have made God a liar because He has said, “I am always with you.”
When you are drawn to an evil way, when you reject God’s Word because it does not suit you, when you set God’s Word aside and say, “Well, I know what God says, but right now I don’t feel like it. I’ll go my own way,” then you fall into sin.
Christ was tempted. And He responded immediately, “Satan, I hear what you’re saying. But I respond to you immediately, I trust God’s word, I reject everything you are saying to me. It is false. You, Satan, are a liar. And that is all you can ever be.”
So we must not immediately conclude that when we are tempted we have sinned. What do we do with the temptation? How do we respond to it? We must not conclude this way: “If I were a child of God, then that would never tempt me.” That is not necessarily so. We must not conclude that, “Well, if I am tempted, I am going to fall, I’m going to sin.” We are called in Jesus Christ to withstand temptation and never to give an inch. But, you say, that may be true of Christ. He was tempted, yet without sin. But how can that be true of us? When I am tempted, secretly I say, “Well, what can I do? How do you expect me to hold out? That lust, that temptation, that besetting temptation, that particular temptation that is so strong to me and which wants to occupy my thoughts – how can I withstand that?” We say, “Well, I’ve gone an hour. I’ve withstood that temptation for an hour. No lustful look, no covetous thought. But now I see it again. I held out for awhile. Doesn’t it count that I held out for awhile? I’ve been good. Now I can justify just a little bit of slack and yield just a little bit to this temptation.”
Behind it is this: we are saying that when we are tempted it is inevitable that we must fall into sin. And on God’s Word, I deny that. I deny that as something in which we would deceive ourselves. We are called always, by the grace of God, to withstand temptation, yes. We fall into sin. But we must not simply say, “Well, that’s the accepted way. That’s the rule of it all. There’s really nothing else you can expect.” Oh, no! Standing in the Word of God, looking unto the Savior, we are called daily to battle our sins and never to make an excuse for falling into sin. We must put the blame, when we fall into temptation, where it belongs – our own sin. And we must cry out to the Lord and trust His Word when He says, “The Lord knows how to deliver in the day of evil.”
The second lesson that comes from this temptation of the Lord is this: temptation will come without invitation.
Jesus was led of the Spirit into the wilderness. Jesus, for sure, was not being rash, He was not being foolish, and He was not walking in a carnal way. God’s providence which controlled the details of His life willed that these temptations come to Him.
There are some times that you and I do bring temptation to ourselves. Sometimes we invite it in the way we are living or thinking. But there are other times that we do not bring it to ourselves. We avoid it, by the grace of God. Yet, it will come. We must avoid everything, the Scriptures tell us, which will bring temptation. We read in the Word of God, I Thessalonians 5, “Avoid every appearance of evil.” Do not allow sin to present its goods to you like a salesman. Do not invite sin into your living room as you would invite a salesman and have him give the whole speech and then decide whether or not you are going to buy it. Do not do that. That is foolish. You will have enough opportunities to face temptation. As you walk in the way of obedience to Christ, you do not need to go out of your way to find temptation. Flee temptation and learn to recognize what brings temptation to you.
A man may begin to wander. He’ll say, “Why am I tempted so much? I’m tempted to steal, I’m tempted to be dishonest, I’m tempted to swear, I’m tempted to have lustful thoughts, I’m tempted to explode with anger and violence. I see no progress. I see no growth in my Christian life. I despair. I wonder if I’m a child of God. God has not been helping me very much.” But then, when we look into this man’s life, we see that he sits in front of the TV without discretion. He watches the movie, the soap-opera. He hears men with foul mouth take the name of God in vain, and says nothing. He watches others in the office and idolizes those who are womanizers and killers. And then he wonders why these temptations are so strong to him?
There will be many trials upon our pathway. God will stretch our faith to cause our faith to be strengthened. And we shall never avoid temptations. To avoid temptation, we have to go out of the world. That is in God’s hand at the moment of our death. So we do not need to go out of our way to find temptation.
We must guard ourselves at all times from temptation. We must flee. We must avoid it.
Young people, what are you listening to. Do not say that it does not make any difference. What you hear leaves impressions – on how you are going to view a woman, how you are going to view society, how you are going to view your parents. Wicked music which promotes lust and fornication and sexual uncleanness – do not say that it does not affect you. Do not be so foolish.
This is the question that must be before us: How am I living my life? Am I avoiding temptation? Am I fleeing from temptation? Sometimes we imagine that somehow God is going to perform a miracle, and we think, “Well, even though I’m not living the Christian life the way I should, God will somehow keep me from falling into these temptations.” We come home and pray, “Lord, forgive me,” after it is all over. Or we pray like an early church father, Augustine, would pray before his conversion: “Lord, give me chastity, but not yet.”
If you do not want the devil’s goods, then do not go to his shop. Stay out. Avoid it. Pass not by. Go on the other side. Yes, we must have necessary contact with this world. Yes, we are in this world. Yes, we have to go to work. But we must be led of the Spirit. We must walk the way of the Father. We must walk in the way of trust in His Word. If you foolishly trifle with your soul and expose yourself unnecessarily, then do not stand in amazement when you fall into temptation. Flee temptations.
The final lesson that we learn today is this: The devil will work on weakness. We read that the devil came to Jesus when He was an hungered. Always he attacks what he sees as the weakest point.
This says something about food and eating. The severe temptation of Satan came when he saw that the Lord was famished. Our Lord is one with us. The body and the soul are tied together. Hunger and weakness of the body naturally weaken our spiritual resolve. Sickness naturally weakens the spiritual resolve. That is why James says in chapter 5 that when we are sick we must call the elders so that the prayer of faith shall save the sick and the Lord will raise him up. Is James referring there to a physical recovery? No. He says this: “And if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess your faults one to another.” The context there is sin. It is when I am on a bed, near death, I think, in my weakened mind, and Satan whispers to my soul: “Now you’re going to get it. Look at you! You call yourself a child of God? Look what’s happening to you.” That is what he says. So, especially when our physical bodies are weakened, we need evermore the strength of the Word of God and the strength of one another in the church and prayers one for another.
The devil can find your weakness. He can pigeon-hole you. He knows men well enough by this time. He has had six thousand years of practice and he can spot your weakness a mile away. He can tell men apart. He can tell what man has a particularly difficult time to deal with lustful looks. He can tell men who are prone to covetousness and who dream of material possessions. He can spot the personality who easily becomes chemically dependent. He can pick out women who battle with discontent. He can pick out women who struggle with the weakness of constantly comparing themselves to others. He can size up young people in a moment. He knows human character.
And he does not waste his time. He does not go first probing into areas where the grace of God is clearly seen in your life and where that grace of God has proven itself to be abundant. No, he quickly picks out secret, pet sins – the wee little ones which you tell yourself are no big deal and you can live with them because there are no consequences. He finds the weakness and the devilish desire to kill you, to kill your soul in hell.
He will often attack you after periods of God’s mercy. He will often attack you after periods of rich spiritual blessing. After the mountaintops will often come the valleys of the devil’s temptation.
Flee your temptations. Look unto Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Savior whom God has provided us. Hear His words as He responds to the devil’s temptations: “Get thee behind me, Satan. Thou savorest not the things that be of God. Thou savorest the things that be of death.”
Commit your way unto Him in faith, believing that He is able to keep you from falling and to present you faultless before His presence with exceeding joy.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word. We pray that it may have a ready entrance into our hearts this day, through Jesus Christ. Amen.