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The Bible

3) Temptation
2001-08-30

We have been explaining the Gospel as a bridge. On one side is God and on the other side is us. In between is a huge gap which is a result of our sin. On our side we have tried to build our own castle representing a life without God. Here we tried to be our own boss and tried to reject Gods authority. We tried to do things on our own. But it was all empty and in reality we were slaves to sin. But God made a bridge in the shape of a cross and He invited us to have Him carry us across. Many of us accepted His offer and were carried over and we left that old life behind and began a new life with God.

But the battle is not over yet. There are parts of us that just keep looking back at that old life and wonder, Am I missing something? A question which is bizarre because moments ago these things left us in pain and slavery but now that the chains are gone and the pain is forgotten we wonder if we should go back and try again - just to see if it has anything left to offer.

And there are so many temptations we face. One of my greatest temptations is with my tongue. James 3:1-10 - Not many of you.. I know the power of the tongue - to both build up and in an instant tear down and I tell you it takes less effort to tear down. Then there are all those temptations that face us so we can gain acceptance. When I was in high school I thought if I was the class clown people would like me so I did the craziest things but each time they left me more and more empty. And what do you do when all your peers are wanting you do something that you know you should not do? Have you ever faced peer pressure? Do you know what temptation is? Then there is a whole craze with sex, lust and pornography that plagues our society. As an Internet programmer and youth pastor I am discouraged by the number of pornographic web sites out there. I know too many people who out of curiosity just looked once and then were trapped. And they make the pages like that so that if you try to close the browser window it just opens another one and another one till you turn the computer off. And then there is the power of sex. I have friends, very godly friends, who committed themselves to wait till marriage to have sex and then in the heat of the moment they pushed their boundries and broke their promise. And I have not even touched on the topic of alchole, smoking and suicide which are such incredible pressures in some peoples lives. And there are also the spiritual temptation like the temptation to give up on God, or to experiment with the paranormal or to worship anything other than God - including money or clothes.

And in todays session I would like to explain how temptation works so that once we understand how it works we can look at how to overcome it.

James 1:14 says, 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. Temptation begins as a desire. It is that little nudge within us that goes, Hey, wouldnt it be fun to... And then it will usually suggest something small, something almost innocent, something that might not really matter but it is enough to open a tiny crack in the door that will soon burst forth will all sorts of evil thoughts. But it starts small and tries to catch us off-guard. For instance one time in college I had this little nudging, Wouldnt it be fun to wear all plaid one day? Now that is not so bad of a thought is it? A little plaid here and a little plaid there. The only people who would care is the fashion police. So it starts off as a little thought, our evil desires that creep up on us, in this case my rebellion against fashion norms. Now had I just said no to that little thought and pushed it away it would not have ended up so bad but no, not me, I had to think about it, I had to ponder it. And that is the second stage. James says, he is dragged away and enticed That is the stage when we say, Hmm, that might be interesting, let me think about that for a moment. Now I havent said that I am going to wear all plaid yet I am just going to think about it, no harm in that. Ya right, with a creative mind like mine. Well it wasnt long before I figured out if I turned my jacket inside out I could wear all plaid there too and I could use it for a cape and I could even become a super-hero. I could be called plaid man and I could run around campus saving the day. Man, I could go to class like this. Just think of all the attention I would get, I would be the hero of the school. Now we enter stage 3 which we will summarize as That would be a good idea. or as James says, when desire has concieved So it is ready to give birth, I am making a commitment, I am going to do it. Who cares if it 40 below? So out I went and after a few stares from the fashion police and the confused looks of my classmates I found it less exciting as I had hoped.

Now the reason I tell you this story is to illustrate not that I am silly at times but that there are three stages to temptation. Sometimes these stages happen in a flash of second but as we continue to seek freedom over it we will begin to see these stages more clearly.

The first thing that happens is a semi-innocent thought comes into our mind as Hey, wouldnt it be fun to...
The second is that we decide to think about it, the Hmm, that would be interesting, and the more we think about it the more we want it
The third is we decide to do it.

That means there are three choices we need to make in order to fall

Decide to think about it
Decide to want it
Decide to do it
And like those old slides in the park the further you go down the slide the harder it is to stop. But it all starts with our desires and it is at these desires it must stop and so I want to focus our energies on understanding these desires. One of my students send me a story that explains the power of our desires well,

Robert Brownings famous poem, the Pied Piper of Hamelin, was based on a centuries old story. Hamelin, a little German town in the duchy of Brunswick, was overrun with rats. Every home was full of rats, as were the shops and streets. According to Browning..... They fought the dogs, and killed the cats, And bit the babies in the cradles, And ate the cheeses out of the vats, And licked the soup from the cooks own ladles. An odd-looking stranger entered town, promising to rid the town of rats for the sum of one hundred guilders. He was quickly hired, and, pulling a small flute from his pocket, he began to play a shrill tune. As he played, the rats came tumbling out of the homes and shops. As the piper played, he marched toward the river and the rats followed him in an ever-increasing mass until they were all led into the water and drowned. But the mayor began to think to himself, the rats are gone - why should pay and so he told the Piper he would get no money. Without a word, the Piper left the mayors office, took out the flute, and began playing a different tune. This time, the sound was sweet, low and lovely. Instantly, the children of Hamelin came tumbling out of homes and schools, and to the horror of all, they began following the Piper towards a mountain which opened up like a door and all one hundred and thirty children trooped inside...never to be seen again. One child remained....a lame boy who was unable to keep up....he escaped the fate of the others and later told the citizens what he had heard. The Pipers song, he said, was about a land where all things were beautiful, the people were good, the rivers clear, the flowers brighter and the sky was a brilliant blue. In this land, dogs ran faster, bees didnt sting, horses flew with eagles wings and no one was ever sick. Its lure was virtually irrestible, and with this sweet, subtle, soft delusion the Piper led the children toward their doom.

And this story illustrates the power of our desires. It is as if we are standing on that other side looking back and wondering if there is anything left for us on that side we left behind.

And yet we also desire for God. When we used to live in sin we had that emptiness within us which only God could fill. Then we cried out for God because we wanted to be made right with Him. He saved us and set us free and filled that hole with Himself. Nothing in all the world can now compare with what we have with God and there is something within us that desires Him more than anything else. So there are two desires within us battling it out and every temptation comes down to a choice, Which do you love more, God or your sin?

This is the classic struggle, even Paul, the man of God who was inspired of God to write much of the New Testament epistles says in Romans 7 that he is torn between the two. He says he really wants to follow God but he just keep finding himself sinning over and over again. He says, (Rom 7:21-24) So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in Gods law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?

Do you hear his struggle? And I love what he says next, Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! and then right away he moves into the beautiful Romans 8 , Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. And Paul has found comfort and freedom in Christ. For he knows that although he continues to struggle with his desires Christ has paid the debt for Him and in Christ he is perfect and so he no longer has to struggle and strive to keep the old law but can now rest in Jesus.

But how can we be free from our sin and love God instead. The Bible says we are freed from our sin and yet we still struggle with these desires. How do we live in the freedom Christ has given us and stop sinning?

So, I say, live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other so that you do not do what you want. (Gal. 5:16-18)

Okay, but what is the difference between living in the Spirit and living according to the sinful nature. Paul goes on in this Romans passage we have been reading., Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. (Rom 8:5)

And here we see the difference between those who live according to the sinful nature and those who live according to the Spirit, it is all about mindset. If we are always thinking about sin and how we can please sin, guess what, we are going to be sinning a lot. But if we think about God and all the things that make God happy, guess what we are going to be doing. In mountain biking we have a very practical saying, You will go where you are looking If you are looking at the tree as you come down the hill and say to yourself, Im not going to hit the tree, Im not going to hit the tree Guess what youll hit. Thats because you keep staring at it. But if you focus on where you will go the bike will follow.

So where should we set our minds? Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (Col 3:1,2 ) and Finially, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things. (Phil 4:8 )

A simple formula is this: The more we desire God - the more we will pursue Him and the more we will become like Him - that is GODly. The more we desire sin - the more we will pursue it and the more we will become like it, SINful

So here is the crunch, if we are supposed to love God and not sin we still have this problem. All our life we have been living in that camp of rebellion, doing things on our own, it is hard to give it up and those old desires keep calling us to turn our eyes away from the God we love and look at the sin we are supposed to have left behind. If only we could get rid of those evil desires then we could be free.

Well, there is really good news. Although there is no super-detergent that wipes away all our bad desires in an instant so it never bothers us anymore there is something else that we received when we were saved that gives us power to position ourselves so those desires are no longer part of our lives.

Paul writes in Romans 6 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? .... {Quote Rom 6:1-14,19} What we learn here is that when Jesus carried us over we died with Him on that cross. And what I mean by died with Christ is that we left that old life behind, Gal 2:20 says, I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Anyone who has died has been freed from sin. (Rom 6:7) Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature (Col 3:5 )

So what does this mean, are we supposed to kill ourselves or something, that sounds like a cult. No, it does not say we are dead but we are dead to sin. It is talking about your attitude to count or to consider yourself dead to those things that used to tempt you. (Rom 6:10) So when they come knocking on your door you simply say, You are not part of my life anymore That guy is dead, this new guy is raised with Christ and belongs to Him.
To die to our life is like taking a rocket launcher and firing at that old castle where we used to live and blowing it up. In our mind that door has been shut, welded and painted over, never to be opened again. For as long as that castle still stands we will keep looking at it. And from out of that castle comes all sorts of sinful desires like jeaolousy, drugs, sex, selfish-ambiton, pride, hatred. The only way to get rid of it is to bomb the source of it all. And if our attitude towards that old life is that we have burnt it up and closed the door on it forever then wed stop turning back because we know that we have left it behind.
So now when temptation comes knocking on our door and says, Hey wouldnt it be fun We do not even listen to it. There is no more door there for it to come in. We can reply, Go away, that old friend of yours is dead and I want nothing to do with you.
Too often we fall into sin because we forget that we got rid of the door, we forget that we died to that old life. But dont you realize that now that you have tasted of God that those old things will never satisfy. If you want to be free from your sin then you must die in your heart to it. You must repent. That means fire the missile, blow up that old life, close the door, weld it shut, determine never to open it again, and then fix your eyes on Jesus and fall so in love with Him that when temptation comes it does not even compare to the beauty and joy and fun of Jesus.
And I close with the words of Jude as he writes under the inspiration of God, Jude 24,25

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