The Holy Spirit and Temptation

After a break last week, the series on temptation and the tools God has given believers to fight sin continues.  Tonight, the role of the Holy Spirit will be discussed.

Before we jump into the way the Holy Spirit helps us fight back against temptation, we need a quick reminder of who the Holy Spirit is.  The Holy Spirit is not simply an aide sent by God, nor is He an “it.”  The Holy Spirit is God the Spirit, the third person of the Trinity.  At Jesus’ baptism, described in Matthew 3:13-17, Jesus sees “the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him, and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.'”  This is one of the clearest, definitive pictures of the Trinity–God in three persons: Father, Spirit and Son.  The NT clearly says God sends HIS Spirit, not A spirit, or a guidance counselor.  He (God the Father) sends God the Spirit to indwell each believer to obey Jesus as Lord and do the Father’s will.

The Holy Spirit is crucial not just for fighting sin, but for salvation.  The Bible is clear that if you do not have the Holy Spirit, you are not saved, and if you are saved, regardless of how you feel or how much you may be struggling, you have the Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14, Rom. 8:14).  Just like belief in the cross comes before using the cross as a weapon against sin, so the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, a result of God’s grace through faith, comes before our walking by the Spirit in fighting sin.

If we are Christians, then, we need to understand WHY we have the Holy Spirit.    We now know how we received the Spirit, but why?  Ephesians 2:22 says, “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”  The gifts the Spirit gives (1 Cor. 12), the spirit of adoption we receive (Rom. 8:15), the help and teaching the Spirit gives (John 16), all help us be more and more like Jesus, growing in our knowledge of and conformity to godliness.

When we look at the New Testament, especially the writings of Paul, the Spirit’s role is one of assurance and teaching.  Galatians 4:6 and Romans 8:14-17, which almost mirror each other, say that part of the Spirit’s role is to “bear witness with our spirit that we are children of God,” to teach us that because we are children of God, we “are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”  The presence of the Spirit gives us the comfort that we are saved, that God is not just Father, but that He is OUR Father, OUR God, and that Jesus is OUR Savior and OUR Lord.  He takes the objective truth of the gospel and makes it personal.  Why is this so important in the moment of temptation?

Temptation often tries to make us believe that God does not love us.  One of the lies of sin is that we aren’t really His, that God’s not as good as He says, and that the gospel isn’t really true.  The Spirit reminds us of the gospel we have believed, and that those who receive Jesus are children of God.  The Spirit reminds us that, as we discussed in the first post in this series, we have believed Christ, have been forgiven and are now free in God’s love as His children.  In this knowledge, we are free to say “no” to sin, and “yes” to the Lord.

The Spirit is also involved in changing our desires.  A reading of Romans 7 reveals that the Christian no longer desires to sin, but is content to trust his/her Savior and obey Him alone (though we struggle and fail often).  Galatians 5:17 says that “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh.”  One day we wanted to do our own thing, to live for ourselves and not care about the things of God.  Then, by God’s mercy and grace, we trusted Christ as Savior and Lord, to forgive us and give us new life, and the Spirit changed us, from the inside out, to have a desire for holiness, for God’s Word, for joy in Him, and to love Him above all things.

Our struggle with sin is lifelong, but our desires have changed, and in the moment of temptation, one of the strongest reminders the Spirit gives is a simple reminder that this current temptation is not what we want to do.  It’s ridiculously freeing to be able to look my sin in the eye in the moment of temptation and say, “I’m going to do whatever I want,” knowing that what I want is to trust God and honor Him.  This is a gift of the Spirit, who changes us from the inside out.  While we may change some behaviors, it is only the Holy Spirit who changes our desires.

Lastly, let’s look at what Jesus says about the Spirit.  John 16:4-15 describes Christ’s telling of the work of the Spirit to His disciples right before He is arrested.  He says that the Spirit is a “helper.”  Every Christian can testify to this truth.  We’ve all experienced those times where we’ve needed an abudance of God’s grace, the strength and power of God’s presence, whether it be in temptation or another moment in life, and we know that God brought us through that through the Spirit, who never leaves us. 

Jesus also says the Spirit convicts us of sin.  Now, in this passage, Jesus specifically speaks of the sin of not trusting Him as Savior.  This is, of course, what we need both when we initially come to Christ and after, because we still sin.  We have changed, and Jesus is Lord, but there’s a struggle to live out this faith.  The Spirit convicts us, leads us to repentance, to acknowledge our sin and our desire to obey Christ, and leads us to trust Christ to forgive us and stand in our place and continue to change us.

The Spirit is vitally connected to the Word.  The Spirit teaches us to follow Christ and fight the lies of false gods by using the Word of God.  We cannot separate the role of the Bible and the role of the Spirit.  Without the Bible, there’s no ammo.  But without the Spirit, the Word is worthless.  We need the Spirit to change our desires and to help us know and apply the Word of God.  Ephesians 6:17 describes the Word of God as the “sword of the Spirit.”  The Spirit wields the Word of God and allows us to use the truth of God’s Word and His goodness to fight back against the lies of sin.

I hope we see how vital the Spirit is.  Let this lead us to worship God the Father for giving us God the Spirit.

May we continue to lean on your Spirit in our fight against sin, Lord.  May we trust what you’ve done for us, and by the power of the Spirit, grow in godliness.  May we seek to live by the Spirit and not the flesh, until you come back and finish our salvation, bringing us home safely to perfect holiness and joy in your presence.

God bless,
Neal E.

The Word of God and Temptation

Today I’m continuing the blog series on temptation and the tools God has given us to fight it.  Last week, we examined the cross and how what Jesus has done for us on Calvary impacts our fight against sin.

This week, we’re looking at the Word of God and how the Scriptures help us fight our sin and grow in obedience to Jesus Christ.

Back in the 1990s, there was a popular bracelet/saying/shirt that read, “WWJD?”  The abbreviation stood for, “What Would Jesus Do?”  The idea behind the movement/apparel was to make Christians think about, in every situation, what Jesus would do?

I’m usually not a big fan of trendy Christian things, seeing as how all that’s produced over the years is some really cheesy music, really cheesy (and not necessarily biblical) sayings, and a slightly blasphemous “Jesus is my homeboy” t-shirt, but that saying isn’t too far off.  While the Bible, and the Christian life, finds its emphasis and foundation on what Christ has done for us, we certainly, in working out our salvation, want to do what Jesus would do so that we look more like Him and bring Him glory.

In fighting temptation, if we are to do what Jesus would do, we absolutely MUST know the Word of God.  If you are not consistently in God’s Word, you will never grow as a Christian.  I preach to myself, as much as anyone else, because this year has not been the most shining example of Bible study for me.  We have to understand just how crucial it is to be in God’s Word, and specifically in fighting temptation.  Jesus sets the example for us in this area in Matthew 4, as He battles the temptation of the devil.

Satan’s first temptation was to try and make Jesus use His authority and power as the Son of God for selfish needs.  Whenever we see Jesus using His authority and power as God (healing, miracles, etc.), it is always within the context of His ministry  to reveal Himself as the promised Messiah and Lord, and it is always done according to the Father’s will.  Jesus never uses His divine power to meet needs like food, drink or housing.  He never just plays around with His power, a la Jim Carrey in “Bruce Almighty.”  He knows that the Father will provide for Him, which is why He is able to tell us to not be anxious but trust the Father in the Sermon on the Mount.  And He knows that the Word of God says, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” in Deuteronomy 8:3.  Jesus is able to use the truth of God’s Word to fight back against the temptation to meet His own needs in a sinful way when the Father has told Him to trust Him.

Satan then tempts Jesus to test God’s love and care for Him by telling Jesus to throw Himself off the temple.  Satan himself uses Scripture to try and trick Jesus, saying that the Bible says “He will command his angels concerning you,”  and that “On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.”  Here is another reason we must know God’s Word for ourselves–If we don’t, we can be sure that our enemy will use our lack of knowledge of God’s Word to our destruction by twisting His Word and making us believe it says something it doesn’t, doesn’t say something it does, making us believe that we are doing God’s will when we are not.  Jesus sniffs out Satan’s plan and uses another Scripture to rebuke the devil: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”  Jesus again knows what God’s Word says and combats lies with the truth.

Lastly, Satan tempts Jesus with the kingdom He is promised if He falls down and worships him.  We need to understand what’s happening here:  The devil knows that Jesus will reign as King for eternity.  He (and Jesus) also knows that in order for that to happen, though, Jesus must go to the cross.  And the devil knows that at the cross, his accusations against God’s elect will fall short, for our sins were paid for, and he knows that because Jesus reigns, he does not.  He knows that if he can get Jesus to skip the cross and all the suffering Christ endures for our salvation and His kingdom, he has defeated God.  In this moment of temptation, all of eternity is at stake.  This is a battle for the future of the entire universe.

And our King wins.  How does He win?  By knowing the Word of God.  Jesus Christ overcame the devil’s temptations, continued His life of perfect obedience to God, securing our righteousness, suffered the cross in obedience to God, securing our forgiveness, and rose again from the grave, securing His reign in our lives and in this world and the world to come, all due, in large part, because He knew and trusted God’s Word.  In the moment of temptation, Jesus yells, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”  Jesus knew that God was God, that Satan was not, and that no matter what happens, He refuses to worship another God.

Hopefully in looking at Christ’s example, we now understand how vital, how crucial, it is that we know God’s Word if we are to work out our salvation in obedience to God and fighting back against Satan and our old sinful flesh.

So what specifically do we look for and utilize in God’s Word in “fighting the good fight of faith?” (1 Tim. 6:12)

First, we look for and trust in God’s promises.  Sin tries to make us believe false promises like: “Looking at that picture won’t kill you.”  “Go on and be angry–you have the right to be angry.”  “No one will know that you do (fill in the blank).”  “God doesn’t: care about you, love you, satisfy you.”  The list goes on and on.  We must know that these are false promises, and we must fight them with the promises in God’s Word.

One of my favorites is Psalm 37:4–“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”  The idea behind this verse is that if you delight in God, He will give you Himself, because He gives you the desires (Him) of your heart! 

Another one that has been of great use lately is Romans 8:6–“For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”  Couple this with verse 13: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live.”  So, according to this promise, if we set our minds and walk (behave) according to our (sinful) flesh, we die.  But if we set our minds and walk (behave) according to the Spirit, we will have life and peace, we will live.  That is, we will have the joy of knowing we are living life the way God intended, we are honoring Him, and it is a sign that we possess eternal life.  We have peace with God through Christ, as Romans 5:1 makes clear, but we have more and more peace as we walk by the Spirit.

Secondly, we allow God’s Word to shape our view of truth.  Just as we fight sin’s false promises, we fight lies and deceit with knowing God’s truth.  In the Garden of Eden, Adam believed a lie instead of believing God (“In the day that you eat of it (the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) you shall surely die.”)  If we are to be renewed in God’s image, we need to encounter God in His Word and grow in our knowledge, faith and obedience to His truth. 

We have our minds, our beliefs, our worldviews, what we believe is true (and not true) changed as we know God’s Word.  So as our sinful flesh or Satan tries to deceive us and make us believe and act according to falsehood, we are now able, in knowing God’s Word, to fight back with the truth, because we know the truth.  But if we don’t know the truth, we cannot live by it.  So we must know the truth. 

Satan may lie to us to make us think that we can now use our freedom in Christ to do whatever we want.  But the New Testament is clear that we belong to Jesus:
“You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body”  (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
“Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God” (1 Pet. 2:16). 
“For you were called to freedom, brothers.  Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13).

The truth of God’s Word is that those who are free from guilt and shame, from the wrath of God, through the blood of Jesus Christ, now belong to God.  We know this truth, we love this truth, and we live out this truth.

Brothers and sisters, join me in knowing God’s promises, knowing His truth, and using this great weapon God has given us to fight against sin and be obedient to the Lord who has saved us by His obedience for His glory.  And let us remember when we do fail, which we will, more than we care to admit, to trust the promise found in 1 John 1:9–“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  When we fail to obey God as we should, we remember our salvation, humbly repent, acknowledging our sin before God and agreeing with Him about it, and trusting Him to forgive us of our sins and to change us by His grace, by His Spirit, and we get up and pursue Jesus, confident that we are forgiven by grace and that Jesus will finish what He started (Phil. 1:6).

May we trust your promises, Father.  May we know your truth and live in it.  May we never forget that we are righteous before you through faith, and may we continue to learn to live out the salvation we have in your Son.  May you give us strength, faith and grace for the battles that lie ahead.  May you be glorified in our gospel-believing, grace-driven and faith-driven efforts to be more like Jesus and honor your great name.  Amen.

God bless,
Neal E.

Next week, we examine the role of the Holy Spirit in fighting temptation.  As always, if you have any comments, questions, concerns, etc., feel free to leave them here or email me at nembry@charter.net.  You can also find me on Twitter at @NealEmbry.