False Ideas Christians Believe About…Temptation

10 Jun

Author’s Note: It’s been 2+ months since I wrote for this blog, and I’m excited to get back to it. A very busy season of life has finally eased up, and I want to catch up where we left off in the series on False Ideas Christians Believe. In order to speed the catch-up process, what you will read in the remainder of the series is the full sermon rather than the smaller portions, which was the approach I had been using. I’ll also be posting the current sermon series, which just started this past Sunday.

Remember the classic story of temptation, that of Adam and Eve in the garden when they were tempted by the serpent to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge?  After they give in to temptation, God asks them about it. Adam blames Eve, and Eve blames the snake.  Certainly it wasn’t their fault!  This story is so powerful because we see ourselves in it. We struggle with temptation just like they did, as you will see in the phrases we’re fact-checking today.  Here they are:

  • The devil made me do it.
  • That just the way I am. Deal with it.
  • The temptation was too strong. I couldn’t resist.

When I found the picture above, I thought, “Yes, that expression captures the way this phrase is often used!”  Whatever that guy did, he is really trying to defer attention away from himself.  He knows it was all his fault, but he wants to make a joke out of what he did.  He wants us to think that it was no big deal!

Can we defer our sins onto the devil?  We can try.  And actually, I think we often do.  When we say, “The devil made me do it,” how seriously do we mean to talk about the devil?  If we seriously meant those words, then we would be saying that we were possessed by Satan or a demon, and that they took control of our body and made us do something that we actually didn’t want to do.  We would be insinuating that our free will was temporarily overridden by a more powerful sinister force, and there was nothing we could do about it. 

That’s not going to hold water for most situations.  You’d be better off pleading temporary insanity. 

The reality is we know what we did.  We chose to do the wrong thing.  It didn’t have anything to do with Satan or a demon.  We say “the devil made me do it,” though, because we got caught, or we’re about to be punished, and we don’t want to face the consequences.  Sometimes we say “The devil made me do it” like the guy in the photo above, with a smirk and an eye roll hoping to get a laugh from the other person to diffuse the tension a bit, and hopefully lighten the consequences. 

That said, we can seriously blame Satan, but in another way.  We might not say, “The devil made me do it,” but I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard people talk about Satan as involved in many circumstances.  Usually it is when a person is going through a rough time, and they say that Satan is at work. 

So how involved is Satan and his demons in our lives?  Is he constantly at work trying to tempt us?  Is he hovering around all the time?  Is he here right now? 

Many people in the Faith Church family have told me that they have been in the church alone at night and thought, “this place is super creepy.”  Me too. I walk through this place in the pitch black all the time.  But are Satan and his minions hanging out in churches waiting for us Christians to stop in after hours for some reason, and he is rubbing his hands together thinking, “Now I have them!”?  That makes for great TV and movies.  But real life?  What does the Bible say?

First, of all, Satan is real and he is powerful. 

In 1 Peter 5:8 Peter describes the devil as our enemy who is like a roaring lion prowling around looking for someone to devour.  This is no joke.  Peter is saying that the devil is serious business and we need to take him seriously.  The devil does want to take Christians down. 

But that doesn’t mean we need to be walking around in fear all the time. 

Peter goes on to say, “Be self-controlled and alert.”  Further, Peter says, “Resist [the devil], standing firm in your faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of suffering. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” 

Also, James 4:7 teaches that we can submit ourselves to God, resist the devil, and he will flee from us.  James goes on to teach that we should come near to God, and God will come near to us.  So while Satan is real and powerful, our response should be to grow closer and closer to God, who is infinitely more powerful than Satan! 

We are not alone in this.  God is with us! 

Consider how Jesus himself resisted temptation.  We read in the Gospels that Satan tempted Jesus, and each time Jesus resisted Satan.  But Jesus chose a very interesting method of resistance.  Jesus could have simply overpowered the Devil, as he is infinitely stronger.  It is a no-contest.  But Jesus chose a method that fit quite well with his humanity.  Each time Satan tempted Jesus with a way Jesus could sin, Jesus resisted Satan by quoting from the Bible!  Jesus countered Satan’s lies with truth from God’s word.  Satan’s lies were incredibly similar to the lie the serpent told Adam and Eve in the Garden: “There is a better a way, God’s way is not the best way, indulge yourself.”  That lie sounds so good.  But Jesus shows us that we can stand firm on the truth of God’s Word.  Jesus serves as an example for all of us.

So we can make a practice of knowing the word of God! Study it, learn it, and become familiar with it.  Employ it, say it, use it to declare truth to a temptation.  As Psalm 119:9-11 says, “I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”  Memorizing is a practice we ask children to do, but what about teens and adults? 

Sometimes we need to be reminded of the basics.  In God’s word we have gift.  Most ancient Christians had very little access to God’s word.  What they were required to do was memorize it.  So I would encourage you to consider your level of interaction with the Bible.  We can fool ourselves into thinking, “I know where it is if I need it…it’s on the shelf…or on my phone app.”  The reality is we so rarely go to it.  The Bible is not God, so we need to remember that we are in relationship with Jesus, not with the Bible.  We can grow our relationship with Jesus by studying the Bible.  That’s not the only way, but it is an important way.  It is especially helpful to do so in groups.  If you are not part of a small group for Bible study, I encourage you to consider it. 

Remember that Jesus himself gives us an example of knowing the Bible, and finding great help in the Bible to resist temptation. But what about when it seems that God’s help is not working?  Have you ever felt that?  Maybe you’ve prayed for victory over temptation, and you have prayed and prayed and prayed, and you just keep struggling. 

And you keep failing.  You keep indulging the temptation.   Frankly, that giving in to temptation may have even hurt you personally, and it may have hurt your relationships.  The pain has been real.  But still you can’t stop.  Still you give in to temptation. 

Maybe you’ve thought the next statement:

We can think like that, can’t we? 

I’ve mostly heard people use this statement two ways.  Both are dangerous.

The first way is almost a proud owning of a tendency in our lives.  For example, a person might say, “I’m just an in-your-face person, and that’s how it’s going to be.  You don’t like it?  Tough.  The truth hurts.  Deal with it.”   This kind of person knows their issue, and doesn’t seem to care that it might leave wreckage in their wake. 

The other way I’ve heard this used is by a person who doesn’t want to be a certain way, but after trying hard to change, has made little or no progress and feels hopeless.

The first person might say, “Well, God made me with free will.  If he didn’t want me to sin, he shouldn’t have given me the option.  That’s just the way I am.”

The second person might say, “Well, God made me with free will. And I don’t like it, but I’m afraid that’s just the way I am.”

In both people, there is a clear indication that it is God who made us this way, and though they don’t say, it is implied that it is God’s fault. 

Or sometimes we think in terms of biology and genetics.  “Well, I am predisposed to it, it’s been in my family for generations, so it’s not my fault. It’s God’s fault.  My dad was an alcoholic, and so was his dad before him, so that’s just the way we are.” 

For me, this one is personal, because I struggle with anxiety.  My mom does too.  It very well could be genetic.  The more researchers learn about DNA and the human genome, the more they are finding about how so many issues are genetic and passed down.  It would be very easy to say, “Well, I guess that’s how God made me, and therefore, that’s just the way I am, so deal with it”?

What about you?  It could be an anger problem.  It could be an addiction.  It could be an attraction.  Perhaps our bodies are guiding us and we have less free will than we think?

In James 1:13-15 we read that God doesn’t tempt us, but “each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” 

See what James is saying?  Temptation is so often not an attack on us from the outside, as if we are being assaulted by temptation, and it is just too strong.  James is saying that temptation so often comes from within us.  We have desires in us.  And we allow them to control us, giving them control.  We indulge them, and they grow and grow.  James is very clear that we shouldn’t be blaming others. 

So while there is a sense in which free will could mean that we do have an option to indulge temptation, we have to see that it is an option.  Giving in to sin is not just the way we are.  We can say no to temptation. 

And that leads us to our next phrase:

It sure feels like temptation is this strong powerful force, doesn’t it?  It feels like it is outside us and pulling us in.

Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 10.  He refers to episodes in Israel’s history when they indulged in sinful pagan revelry.  Paul is reflecting on times when Israel worshiped false gods and idols, when they committed sexual immorality, and even when they grumbled.  We don’t often think about grumbling and complaining as much of a temptation, but Paul mentions it in Philippians 2:14 where he adds arguing.  How often do we consider that we are tempted to be complainers, grumblers and arguers?  Here in 1 Corinthians 10, I’m glad Paul brings it up, because usually we only think of being tempted to steal or lie or lust or overeat or something like that.  We can also be tempted to complain, grumble, and argue.  We can be tempted to be jerks. 

What is Paul’s response to this?  He does not want the Christians to be anything like the Israelites.  Instead, in verse 11, he says that the Israelite stories serve as examples to us, as warnings.  In particular, they are warnings to us to be humble and teachable, so that we don’t think things like, “Well, that’s just the way God made me,” as if we are destined to give in, as if we cannot change.  I get it.  If you are a person who has a proclivity to a certain sin, it can seem impossible to overcome. 

Some of you have battled and battled.  Some of you, after reading biblical passages like the ones mentioned above, feel convicted about a certain behavior, and you pray to God for help, you receive his forgiveness to start fresh, and in fifteen minutes, you’ve committed the sin again.  It can feel so frustrating.  So hopeless.  In frustration, and maybe spiritual depression, we can say “That’s just the way I am.” 

To that God says in 1st Corinthians 10:13, through Paul, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” 

There is hope.  God is stronger than your sin.  There is a way out. 

Notice the imagery that Paul uses.  It is not an image of removal of the temptation.  That’s what I wish he said!  I wish he said, “But when you are tempted, God is faithful, and he will eliminate the temptation and you will never struggle and life will be easy.” 

Nope.  He said, God will provide a way out. I love that! Yes, give me an escape hatch, a way out, far far away from the temptation.  The way Paul is starting this image awesome.  But then Paul surprises us.  He says that the way out is not an escape hatch, but something that will help us stand up under the temptation. 

Wait?  Did Paul just bait and switch on us?  He gets us all excited and happy for the way out.  We who are so frustrated and worn out by temptation, and longing for a way out, are thanking God for the way out, but then Paul says, the way out doesn’t remove the temptation.  It is strength to endure. Strength to say no.  Strength to deal with it.  Strength to resist. 

Hmm…I’m not sure I like that.  I don’t want to have to resist!  Who is with me?  We are so used to life being easy and comfortable in our society, that we don’t want to stand up under anything.  We want to sit on a recliner or sofa or bed and lounge.  And that goes for the way we approach sin.  We don’t want to struggle with temptation. We’d rather it be easy to defeat.

But God says, “No, temptation will always be there, but not more than you can handle, especially because I will help you stand up under it.” 

What does that look like?  What is this help, this empowerment to stand up under it?

It could be the community of believers we call the church family.   We need one another.  We can and should encourage one another to stand strong.  We can and should hold one another accountable.  We can and should confess our sins to one another, and ask for prayer, for advice, for help.

It might need deeper attention though.  If you are battling and addiction and losing, you may need professional help.  Go get that help.  I’ve personally gone to counseling in two different periods in my life.   Six sessions each time.  Both counselors were incredibly needed and helpful.  You might need to see a counselor or a spiritual director too. In conclusion, let us know that there is hope and strength and provision when we face temptation!

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