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Last Tuesday afternoon, I put myself in a position to be tempted. I broke one of the commandments; the one that states: “Thou shall not go to the grocery store hungry.” My granddaughter Kate was with me and I told her we were breaking that rule and that it was probably going to be difficult getting out of there without buying some kind of bad for me snack food to satisfy my hunger itch. And I kept telling her all I needed was oatmeal and blueberries for my breakfast. As Kate and I passed by the potato chip aisle, my feet made an inexplicable right turn. And there they were, my current favorite brand of chips, Cape Cod Chips, and lo and behold, they were on sale, two bags for $5. As I reached my hand for a bag of chips, Kate simultaneously grabbed my arm and said, “Don’t do it, grandpa.” She swung me around 180 degrees, and there I was, face to face with a bright yellow bag of Peanut M & M’s in the candy aisle. As I lunged for the M & M’s, Kate insisted, “No grandpa, I’m getting you out of here now.” And she took me by the hand and led me to the self-check, whereas I paid for my blueberries and oatmeal those Cape Cod chips were, like the Sirens who called to Odysseus, “Come back, come back.”
You know what I’m talking about. You struggle too. I don’t need to remind you that every day, maybe every hour of every day, most of us struggle with temptation.
And if all we had to tussle with was candy and potato chips, we would count ourselves blessed. Because the truth is we brawl with much more insidious temptations.
And as Christians, we sometimes wonder, ‘why.’ If I have faith in Christ and I attend worship faithfully and read the Bible and pray, why does God still allow me to struggle with temptation? Why doesn’t He just take it away? Because when I do battle with temptation, only to yield to it, I get discouraged and begin to doubt my faith, which just makes it easier to give up and give in the next time. And there will always be a next time.
On the night before Jesus died, prior to being betrayed by Judas and being arrested, Jesus retreats to the Garden of Gethsemane where two struggles with temptation begin to take place.
The more significant of the two struggles concerns Jesus being tempted and I will return to visit that scene in a few minutes.
The lesser struggle involves Peter, James and John and their inability to comply with the request of Jesus “to keep watch and pray lest they fall into temptation.” For “although the Spirit was willing, the flesh was weak.”
Hey, I have a question: ‘If Jesus really needed them to pray so that they wouldn’t fall prey to temptation and dessert Him when the chips were down, why didn’t He use His power to give them a caffeine buzz so they could stay awake and pray?’ And the answer is because God is going to use temptation to build them, and us up, to make them, and us stronger to assist them, and us, in becoming more and more like His Son.
Be careful now, I am not saying God actually causes temptation for this purpose. We just heard in James 1:13 that God “tempts no one.” Temptation is a lure to sin and sin is anti-God. Therefore, God will never lead someone to sin. That would go against His very nature. But obviously God does allow or permit temptation.
Do you recall from the last couple of weeks that Romans 8:28 says, God doesn’t cause all things, but He “does cause all things to work for the good.” Here is another example. He is again taking something that can be bad, temptation, if we give into it and making it into something good. In this case, the something good is that we can through the power of Christ, win the battle over temptation and consequently grow stronger in Christ.
I guess we could say that God is our personal spiritual fitness coach.
And by permitting temptation, He not only gets us in shape but provides opportunities to flex our spiritual muscles, not only for our best interest, but for His greater glory!
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles (trials, temptations) of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. (James 1:2)
There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a time These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. (I Peter 1:6-7).
Each time we win the battle over temptation, we gain confidence in the Lord’s ability to help us overcome and; therefore, we grow stronger and winning the next round with temptation becomes a little easier. And eventually, we will be enabled, by His grace, to claim victory over that which had mastery over us.
What is your greatest temptation? Maybe ‘greatest’ is not the best adjective to use to describe a temptation. Let me rephrase: What is your most seductive temptation?
In a recent Barna survey top five self-reported temptations in America are:
- 60% battle the temptation to anxiety or worry.
- 60% battle procrastination.
- 55% struggle with the temptation to eat too much.
- 44% admit they face temptations to overuse electronics and social media.
- 41% are tempted by laziness. 1
What temptation do you more often than not yield to? Regardless of what it might be, God’s goal is to use that situation to make you a better person by helping you overcome and thereby, increasing your love for Him.
“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12). Wait a minute how did James end that verse? “To those who love Him.”
James is saying that our response to temptation is measuring the quality of our love for Him.
He wants to know if we only sing ‘I love You, Lord’ and ‘In moments like these I sing out a song, I sing out a love song to Jesus, singing I love You Lord. I love you’ on Sunday, or if we really love Him when the rubber meets the road the rest of the week. For as far as God is concerned, actions speak louder than words. So I guess we could say that God allows us to be tempted so that we can show Him we practice what we preach.
So, you see, it is a privilege to struggle with temptation as temptation is a vehicle to obtaining of the very life of Christ.
Dr. Condoleezza Rice, who served our country as National Security Advisor under President Bush, said the following at a National Prayer Breakfast in Washington:
We are living through a time of testing and consequence and praying that our wisdom and will are equal to the work before us. And it is at times like these that we are reminded of a paradox: that it is a privilege to struggle. A privilege to struggle for what is right and true. A privilege to struggle with the most difficult and profound moral choices. American slaves used to sing, ‘Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen; Glory, Hallelujah!’ Growing up, I would often wonder at the seeming contradiction contained in this line. But as I grew older, I came to learn that there is no contradiction at all. I believe this same message is found in the Bible in Romans 5, where we are told to “rejoice in our sufferings (trials, temptation), knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” 2
It is indeed a privilege to struggle with temptation, because when we emerge from a trial successfully, not only is God glorified, but also we are strengthened for future battle.
It even worked that way for Jesus.
In Luke’s version of Jesus being tempted by the devil in the desert, verse 14 says, “Then Jesus returned to Galilee filled with the Holy Spirit’s power.” Jesus went into the desert at the beginning of His ministry knowing full well He was going to be tempted by the Devil. But He resisted temptation and emerged from the desert trial ready to deal with any obstacle the devil might try to trip Him up with.
Verse 13 says, “When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left Him until a more opportune time.” Many Bible scholars would say that that more opportune time occurred as Jesus struggled in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Which brings us back to that greater scene of temptation where the agony and ecstasy of our Lord is on full display. To be sure, there is no other vignette in the gospels that paints a picture of Jesus in such emotional agony. Luke adds to the drama: “And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground” (22:44).
He knows that death us near; right at His door. No one wishes to die at age 33, much less on a Romans cross after receiving the 39 lashes of a Roman whip. In this scene, Jesus is supremely struggling to submit His will to the will of God. “Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for You. Please take this cup of suffering away from Me. Yet I want Your will to be done, not mine.” (Mark 14:36).
The case could be made that this is the most poignant verse in the entire Bible, for the salvation of human souls hangs in the balance as Jesus struggles with the temptation to avoid what lies ahead.
In agony, He prays, “Please take this cup of suffering away from Me.” And all the angels in heaven wait with bated breath to see what happens.
Until in ecstasy, Jesus prays, “Your will be done, not mine” and a collective sigh emanates across the universe as Jesus rises to courageously face His betrayer who is arriving on the scene. He is ready to face the cross that awaits Him for you and for me.
And we dare not miss the fact that Jesus victory as He faced down the devil in the dessert prepared Him for the mighty triumph over the evil one in the Garden.
I was reading about one of the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson.
In 1933, Wilson was committed to the Charles B. Towns Hospital for Drug and Alcohol Addictions in New York City four times under the care of Dr. William D. Silkworth. Dr. Silkworth’s theory was that defeating alcoholism was a matter of gaining mental control over cravings manifested by an obsession of the mind. Although Wilson placed himself under the doctor’s care, he couldn’t stop. In November 1934, Wilson was visited by old drinking companion Ebby Thacher. Wilson was astounded to find that Thacher had been sober for some time under the guidance of the evangelical Christian Oxford Group. Wilson took some interest in the group, but shortly after Thacher’s visit, he was again admitted to Towns Hospital. Thacher visited again and tried to persuade him to surrender to Christ who he said would liberate him. According to Wilson, while lying in bed depressed and despairing, he cried out, “God, I don’t know if I even believe in you. But if you’re there, if you’re there, God, will you help me please?”
“In that moment I knew I was healed. In that moment I knew that the addiction was broken, that I was a free man, maybe for the first time in my whole life.”
Bill Wilson never drank again for the remainder of his life. He described his experience to Dr. Silkworth, who told him, “Something has happened to you; I don’t understand it.
But you had better hang on to it.” 3
In a later movie about his life, titled, My Name is Bill Wilson, he tells about how he experienced the peace of God, the strength of God, but at the price of surrender, of turning his life over to God. 4
Excerpt from remarks by National Security Advisor Dr. Condoleezza Rice
at National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C.
John Powell, “Prayer as Surrender,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 108.