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. 

The Cross of Christ and Temptation

If a 17-year old throws a fit in the grocery store because mom won’t buy them candy in the checkout line, you usually don’t hear the mom saying, “Become a 17-year old!”  You never hear the mom tell her son or daughter, “Why can’t you just become a 17-year old?”  Instead, the line we’ve all been told and overheard since we’ve been on this earth is: “Act your age!”

There’s a great deal of logic in this statement.  After all, you don’t need to tell a 17-year old to become a 17-year old, for that would be redundant.  It would be pointless for someone to tell me, “Neal, you just need to be 23.  That’s what you need.”  I am 23.  What I need to know is how to ACT like it.  In other words, we need to be who we already are.

This applies to our spiritual lives as well.  If you are in Christ, you are in Christ by God’s grace, through faith.  You do not need to work any harder to become in Christ.  You are in Christ–you need to act like it!  We are in Christ–we need to act like it!

Becoming who we are requires fighting sin that remains in us after we become Christians.  We are saved when we trust Christ as Savior and Lord, but there is still sin and temptation left to fight as we learn to be like Christ.  And it is this fight that I will focus on for the month of November here on Philippians411.

Today starts a blog series that will run on each of the five Sundays in November.  This series will cover five weapons we use as Christians against temptation.  My hope and prayer is that we use these tools to grow in our Christlikeness.  I hope we are more obedient to Jesus Christ because of this series.  But first, a gospel reminder:

The gospel is the grounds for our obedience.  We live for God’s glory, advance His kingdom, obey His commands, and seek to live holy not in order to gain salvation, but because Jesus is our salvation and He is our Lord.  We don’t earn righteousness, we live out His righteousness!  In fact, Jesus Himself commands that after He becomes our God, the first thing we do is believe the gospel (Mk. 1:15).  If we are following Christ seeking to earn God’s love, we are in disobedience to the Lord, who commands us through the apostle Paul to work OUT our salvation, not work FOR it (Phil. 2:12).

So, with submission to the Lord Jesus, trust in His grace, and joy in His love, we move forward, with a God-given, gospel-driven desire to be like Jesus and fulfill this high calling to reflect the glory and holiness of our Creator.

The cross is our first and foremost weapon against temptation.  But in order to wield it properly, we must understand what happened at the cross.  There are three key things to be discussed here (though we could spend our lives exploring the depths of what God has done at the cross and still not understand it fully).

1) Forgiveness: This is what we think of most when we think of the cross, because it is such a crucial part of our deepest need–being reconciled to God.  Jesus has bought our forgiveness for us at the cross.  Believer, your forgiveness and mine is not dependent on how good our prayers sound, how faithful our church attendance, or how far we have progressed spiritually.  Our spiritual progress is an indicator of salvation, but our actual right standing before God, and thus the motivator for our progress, is the finished work of Jesus Christ.  We know that “in him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:7).  We do not just trust God to forgive us through Christ’s blood, we can (humbly) expect God to forgive us our sins because God would be unjust in punishing the believer who has trusted Christ as Savior and Lord.

2) Death:  Not just His death.  But our death–our death to sin and our lives now bound to Christ.  There exists no room in Scripture, or in the kingdom of God, for those who would trust Jesus to “save” them without trusting Him as King.  You can’t possibly be in the kingdom if you aren’t for the rule and reign of the king in your own life.  Paul writes in Romans 6:3-4, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”  At the cross, Jesus was purchasing our death to sin with His death for our sin.

3) Ransomed to belong to God: Staying in Romans, Paul writes one chapter over: “You also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.”  Notice the order laid out here: First, Christ dies for our sin and then we die to the law, trusting His righteousness, forgiveness, and Lordship, and in that, we know we belong to God, who is not dead.  All of this leads to bearing fruit for God.  When thinking about the order of salvation, we can overthink it, in questions like “Does repentance or faith come first?”  Honestsly, it doesn’t matter whether or not repentance or faith comes first, what’s important (eternally so) is that they both happen.  Don’t tell me Jesus is Lord if you aren’t trusting His salvation.  Don’t tell me you trust Him as Savior if He’s not Lord (because part of His work as Savior is to become Lord, to lead us out of sin and into holiness).  But we do need to emphasize that fruit for God and obedience to God comes AFTER salvation, because we now, through the cross, belong to God.

So now, how do we apply the cross?  We apply it by believing God’s promises and putting them into action.

If I am forgiven in Christ, why would I commit the very sin I’m forgiven of?  If Jesus has died for my sin, why would I go back to it?  It’s not being counted against me, so why go back to it?

If I’m dead to sin and alive to Christ (which is a reality and then a “reckoning” of this reality in our daily lives), then sin has no right to tell me what to do.  I am dead to it.  We use the phrase, “You’re dead to me” to express to someone we hate that they have no impact or meaning or significance in our lives anymore.  Instead of saying that to people, let’s say it to our sin.  We need to say that to our sin and not people.  If Jesus is Lord, and our hope is in Him for salvation, we have new spiritual life.  2 Corinthians 5:17 says that “anyone in Christ (is a) new creation!”  Paul understands the link between what Christ has done, our response of repentance and faith, and our new identity as a response to receiving salvation.  Let us understand it, as well.

Lastly, we are ransomed.  We are not our own.  Christ has bought us with His precious blood.  We owe Him our allegiance because of His cross, and we dare not listen to or go after another lover.  So when we are tempted, we remember that we’re forgiven, not under sin’s guilt or rule.  We remember that we have new life, that our hearts have changed because of grace, that we’re forgiven and following Jesus, and that we belong to our loving Lord.

May we never take the cross for granted, Lord Jesus.  May we never forget the price you paid for our sin.  May we be quick to repent, confessing our sin, submitting to your rule and trusting that you really are as gracious as you say you are.  May we use the cross as our boast before the Father, our defense before the enemy, and our weapon against our sinful flesh.  May we learn to love you more and more as we wait for the day where we sin no more, the day where sin and temptation die forever.  May you be glorified in all we do.

Next week, we’ll examine the Word of God and its role in fighting temptation.

God bless,
Neal E.