Thursday, November 5, 2009

Temptation

While I was in college, I was told a story of two brothers from Tennessee who received a surprising gift from their father. Their dad brought home a lion cub to the farm as a pet for the boys. They were thrilled of course, but soon realized that the cub was growing and needed a pen of its own. They built a cage for the lion and all was well, until one day they discovered the heads of chickens scattered around the yard. Right away the boys realized that the lion was responsible, but how was he killing the chickens. They decided to set up surveillance. Hidden behind some bushes they saw the lion in its cage feigning sleep. Soon chickens were approaching the lion's cage and poking their heads through to eat from the lion's feeding trough. First timidly, then with abandon, the chicken gorged themselves. At that moment, the lion swiped at the chicken's head and it went sailing through the air and into the yard. The chicken would then run around like the proverbial chicken with its head chopped off and fall to the ground.

The amusement of this (true) story wears off when we see how it parallels our temptations to sin. Satan lures us to taste the forbidden and let's us fulfill our craving until we lose our heads. Peter instructs us: "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8).

How are we to guard against temptation? Jesus warned his disciples: "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation" (Matthew 26:41) The last petition of the prayer he taught his disciples is, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." Jesus is teaching us to pray for protection when we find ourselves faced with situation and enticements that would drag us away from loyalty to him. He was tempted in all points as we are--yet without sin. Jesus answered each temptation with truth from God's Word. He resisted the liar by speaking truth.

We will fall to temptation unless we see our need for God to protect us from it. We need to recognize our weakness. We must never think that we cannot be tempted in certain ways. We must never say, "That could never happen to me." John Owen warns:
Do not flatter yourself that you can hols out against temptation's power. Secret lusts lie lurking in your own heart which will never give up until they are either destroyed or satisfied. "Am I a dog, that I should do this thing?" asks Hazael (2 Kings 8:13). Yes, you will be such a dog, if you are like the king of Syria. Temptation and self-interest will dehumanize you. In theory we abhor lustful thoughts, but once temptation enters our heart, all contrary reasonings are overcome and silenced.

John Bunyan, in 1684, published a short article to be posted on the walls of homes called A Caution to Stir Up to Watch Against Sin. The second verse (of the sixteen-verse poem) goes like this:
Sin, rather than ‘twill out of action be,
Will pray to stay, though but a while with thee;
One night, one hour, one moment, will it cry,
Embrace me in thy bosom, else I die:
Time to repent [saith it] I will allow,
And help, if to repent thou know’st not how.
But if you give it entrance at the door,
It will come in, and may go out no more.

Why do we have to go through temptation? Why is there still a struggle? Derek Thomas answers: "God allows us to experience...temptation's attraction because he wants to engage us in living the Christian life. He actually wants us to battle because it is through the experience of battle that we often grow. Just as unused muscles atrophy, so spiritual maturity is stunted by passivity. God wants to develop in us the skills of resisting the devil so that he will flee from us (cf. Jas. 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:9)."

How do we resist the devil? How did Jesus respond to temptation?
1. He recognized the devil's subtle villainy. "Surely God wants you to eat. Why don't you just turn these stones into bread? Use your miraculous powers for self-satisfaction." Most temptations are subtle.
2. Jesus asserted the truth of God's Word. He charged and rebuked Satan out of the Scriptures. Jesus replied that he needed (to trust and obey) God's Word more than physical nourishment.
3. Jesus recommitted himself to God. He had come, not to do his own will, but the will of his Father. We are to follow the same example. It is interesting that Jesus quotes Deuteronomy, the book of covenant-renewal, which taught him to yield his entire life to God and his ways. Saying "No!" to temptation means saying "Yes!" to God's will.

It is the grace of God, Paul says, that "teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good" (Titus 2:12-14).

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