For the person genuinely converted to Christ, the person who knows and feels his personal deliverance from sin, there is a unique sense of well-being created by having been baptized into Christ. There is a marvelous sense of freedom, a refreshing sense of cleanliness which results from the knowledge and understanding that the blood of Jesus literally has destroyed all of oneís past sins. That is the most refreshing, revitalizing personal experience which can occur in a personís mind and heart.
This unique sense of freedom from sin and cleansing from all past mistakes can create within a person a false sense of invincibility. He is so thrilled at being a new child of God, so impressed with the power of God, so in love with Christian existence, that he can conclude that sin will never have any attraction and appeal to him again. He enjoys freedom from guilt so much that he has no desire to sin again. Godís forgiveness has such a powerful impact on his awareness that he can believe that it will not be difficult to give up past sins and evil habits. With Godís help he can do anything! The devil has no chance in his life!
A new convert who concludes that the combination of Godís power and forgiveness will render temptation impotent in his life is opening his life to major disillusionment. Satan never surrenders any portion of his kingdom or any of his subjects to the Lord without a fight. Satan exists for one reason aloneóto oppose God. He cannot be victorious over God Himself. Satan forever lost his war against God with Jesusí resurrection from the dead. There are only two ways in which Satan can oppose God effectively. By ruling the hearts and minds of the lost, he can keep them from turning to God, from accepting the sacrifice of Godís Son, and from receiving salvation. Or, he can succeed in causing people who have turned to God to fall away from God. Separating people from God is the only means Satan has of opposing God.
Satan is an accomplished adversary. He is cunning, skilled, and constantly searching for persons that he can devour (1 Pet. 5:8). Baptism into Christ intensifies the conflict. One who was his subject has dared to renounce his control and accept a new Master. Satan will be determined to regain control over the Christianís life. The new convertís struggle with temptation will not diminishóit will escalate and intensify.
Considering the intensity and the seriousness of the Christianís personal conflict with Satan, it is fitting and accurate for Scripture to characterize that struggle as a war. God is at war with Satan, and all of those who belong to God live on the front line of that war. A Christian must not forget that he is at war with the worldís deadliest enemy.
Paul declared in 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 that, though Christians are fleshly beings, their war is not a physical warfare. They do not fight with earthly weapons of war. The arena of this spiritual conflict is in the heart and mind. It centers in the reasonings of man and the knowledge of God. The object of the war is to bring the thoughts of the mind into captivity to God resulting in obedience to Jesus.
In Ephesians 6:10-20 Paul urged Christians to take their strength from the Lordís might. They must wear the armor God has made available. Only the Lordís strength and Godís armor are adequate to enable a Christian to do battle with Satan. He is not fighting against a flesh and blood opponent. He is struggling against principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Only the Lordís might and Godís full armor will equip him to withstand the evil and to quench the fiery darts of Satan.
Peter declared that the Christian must understand that he is a stranger and a pilgrim in this world. He does not belong to or in this world. It is not his home; it is only the scene of his pilgrimage. Recognizing that truth, the Christian will abstain from fleshly lusts. He will understand that Satanís most effective weapon against his spiritual well-being and relationship with God is the lust of the flesh (1 Pet. 2:11).
James graphically depicted how effectively Satan can utilize fleshly lust to battle a Christian (Jas. 4:1-4). The lust for pleasure will create the battlefield within the personís desires. Because a mind craving pleasure has taken control of his body, he loses his godly perspective and involves himself in pursuits and actions contrary to a godly lifestyle. His ineffective prayers are not answered because he seeks to pervert Godís blessings to achieve his lustful ambitions. The end result is spiritual adultery. He again makes himself Godís enemy by becoming the worldís friend.
There are some basic facts that the Christian must understand about Satan. Fact one: Satan will never fight fair. He honors no code of justice. He is the perfect example of the ďwin at any costĒ philosophy. Fact two: Satan never has the slightest interest in a personís well-being or best interests. The final result of anything Satan desires for a person will be his spiritual ruin. Fact three: Satan will never tell the truth. He is the master liar. Any time he uses any element of truth, his objective is to deceive. One of his highest ambitions is to deceive Christians. Fact four: Satan will inflict as much pain and hurt as possible in a Christianís life to disillusion him with God and spiritual existence. Death, illness, injustice, betrayal, pain to loved ones, and physical abuse are but a few of the weapons in his arsenal. Fact five: Satan will make belonging to God as costly as possible. If he cannot disillusion a Christian, if he cannot seduce him through his own lust, if he cannot intimidate him through fear, then he will make him pay as dearly as possible for his relationship with God.
The front line in the war against Satan is called temptation. Shortly after baptism the euphoria of having been cleansed will be replaced with the sober reality of the struggle against evil. One does not cease being impressed with the power of God; he simply confronts the frailty and weakness of his own flesh. Rather than being more than a match for Satan, he begins to wonder if he will ever be a fit, worthy opponent. The appeal of old sins did not die at baptism. Evil attitudes did not wither and die at baptism. He is not only faced with the continuing process of crucifying the flesh with its lusts and passions (Gal. 5:24), but now he has whole new areas of temptation. His commitment to build godly attitudes, to think godly thoughts, to learn and to live by godly values, and to treat other people in accordance with Christian ethics creates struggles that are completely new. Suddenly he finds that he does not have less temptation because he is a Christian; he has more temptation.
With this discovery comes a critical vulnerability. Many Christians begin to believe that they are on their own as they wrestle with temptation. They convince themselves that God cannot help them with their temptable natures. They conclude that since God did not destroy temptation upon their conversion, God virtually is powerless to help them with their temptations. They may even conclude that God could help them with the problem, if they were not so weak and sinful that they are beyond Godís help. Satan is quite close to victory when any Christian begins such reasonings.
Godís Promises Regarding Temptation
Temptation in a Christianís life is real. The struggle is real. Its demands unquestionably exceed mere human willpower, determination, and commitment. However, Godís power in a Christianís life is equally real. His ability to help far exceeds mere human willpower, determination, and commitment. The simple truth is this: when the Christian does what he can do, God will do what the Christian cannot do. There are specific promises made to the Christian regarding temptation which assure him that Satan cannot master him.
The first promise to consider is found in 2 Peter 2:9. Peter revealed a somber picture of realities those Christians would confront. Just as in Israel of old, false teachers were going to arise in the church. They would bring in destructive heresies, some of which would even deny the Master. These covetous men would deceive many as they exploited their followers for material advantage.
In the face of those bleak realities, Peter offered two powerful encouragements. First, the wicked have never prevailed. The advantages they gain and the power they hold are temporary. Just as wicked angels, the ungodly people of Noahís day, and the evil people of Sodom and Gomorrah did not prevail or go unpunished, neither would the false teachers who arose in the church. It was a certainty that they would receive just retribution for their wickedness.
Second, ďThe Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation ...ď Human temptations are not an impossible problem for God. They are an insurmountable problem for man alone, but they are not an impossible, insurmountable problem for the man who has the help of God. God holds the solution for manís struggle with temptation. God promises that He knows how to deliver His people out of temptation.
The second promise to be considered is found in James 1:12-18. James began this passage with a beatitude: ďBlessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he hath been approved, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord promised to them that love himĒ (v. 12). Temptation contains as much opportunity for blessing as it does for failure. The person who succumbs to temptation sins, and if he continues in his sin, he loses his soul. The person who endures temptation receives approval, and as a result shall receive the crown of life. Temptation creates a tremendous opportunity for success and an enormous opportunity for failure at the same time. The single factor which determines if the temptation will become the avenue to the crown of life or the highway to spiritual failure is the tempted person.
Christians must understand that the origin of temptation is not God. God is neither temptable nor tempter. Mankindís temptation does not rest in divine provocation but in his fleshly nature. It is his own lustful desires which make him susceptible to enticement. Yielding to oneís own lust produces sin, and the maturity of sin produces spiritual death. God is the source of every good gift, not the source of manís temptations. The steadfast God of invariable kindness is the source of the ultimate blessing: because God willed it He brought the Christian into being through the Word of truth.
It is Godís promise that He can transform our temptations into a source of eternal blessing. There is no question of His ability to do it; there is only the question of oneís confidence in Godís ability to do it.
The third promise to consider is found in I Corinthians 10:12, 13. The context of this passage rests in a somber warning. Paul wanted the Corinthian Christians to understand that their salvation did not mean that God valued them to the extent that He disregarded their accountability. Israel provided undeniable verification of that truth. They, too, were baptized when they crossed the Red Sea. With the cloud above and the water on the sides they were figuratively buried. The crossing of the sea brought them out of bondage and into the freedom of Godís redemption. It was Godís promise to Abraham concerning the Christ that served as the primary cause for this event. It thus appeared that God had invested so much in Israelís deliverance that God simply could not afford to forsake them. Not so! Those with whom God was displeased in the wilderness were overthrown.
All that happened to Israel was to stand as an example to the Christian. The Christian is not to conclude that because God has made an enormous investment in him through the death of Jesus that He could not possibly forsake him. If the Christian reverts to a lifestyle of lust, idolatry, making trial of God, and murmuring against God as did Israel, the Christian will as surely perish as did the offending Israelite. Israelís failure was to serve as an admonition for the Christian living in the last age.
In regard to human temptation and human proneness to sinfulness and rebellion, the Christian needs two basic understandings. First, the Christian who has developed great confidence in his own strength and ability to stand is the prime candidate for falling into sin. Human self-confidence is not the means to acquiring victory over temptation. Self- reliance is the guarantee that temptation shall gain victory over the Christian.
Second, the fact that God continues to hold the Christian accountable for his life and his decisions does not mean that the Christian is at the mercy of temptation. The problem does not rest in the power of temptation. The problem of the Israelites who were overthrown was not found in the fact that their problems and temptations were mightier than their God. The problem confronting the Christian is not that his problems and temptations are mightier than his God. In both instances the problem is found in people placing their confidence in themselves rather than God.
The most wondrous promises God made regarding temptation are these: (a) God will not permit forms of temptation to exist which exceed humanityís capability to endure; (b) God promises (He is faithful!) that He will not allow ďyouĒ to be tempted above ďyourĒ ability to endure; (c) God promises that there will be a way of escape provided when any temptation occurs, thus assuring the Christian that he is able to endure.
As wonderful as this promise is, it must be correctly understood. The fact that temptation will not exceed humanityís or the individual Christianís ability to endure is not the promise that all temptations will be simple and easily conquered. It means that there will never be a situation in a Christianís life when yielding to temptation and rebelling against God is his only option. Godís promise is that the Christian will always have and be able to exercise the option to do that which is godly. The option may be costly. It may mean forfeiture of a privilege, of a right, of a cherished aspect of oneís lifestyle, of a prized relationship, or of life itself. The cost may be great, but the option always will be there.
Again, the promise that the way of escape exists does not mean that the route will be simple and easily traveled. For many persecuted Christians of the first century the way of escape was death. However, God promises that escape from temptation rather than surrender to temptation always will be possible.
Jesus the Verification
The greatest hours of temptation in Jesusí earthly life were found on the night of his betrayal and the day of his death. Hebrews states concerning those hours,
Who in the days of his flesh, having offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and having been heard for his godly fear, though he was a Son, yet he learned obedience by the things which he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became unto all them that obey him the author of eternal salvation (Heb.5:7-9).
Jesus was tempted as severely as flesh can experience temptation in his betrayal, in Peterís denial, in his unjust trials, in his physical abuse and mockery, and in his execution. He plead with tears to God for deliverance, and God heard Him. God not only heard Him; God also provided Him the way of escape. God gave Him the strength to die. Though Jesus faced the severest temptations, He did not have to sin. He had an option. It was a costly option, but He exercised it. He placed His confidence in God, and He died without sinning. The same God who sustained Jesus in His darkest hour and delivered Him from temptation without sin can sustain any Christian in his darkest hour and deliver him from temptation without sin.
A Matter of Faith
A Christian is deceived when he cries, ďGod cannot help me. I am too weak to overcome my temptations. My trials are greater than my strength to endure. I am beyond hope and help. People like me are far gone for even God to help.Ē He sees Godís ability to help him as being limited to his own human ability. He is convinced that God can function only through his personal will power and human resolve.
This personís crisis is not created by human weakness. The issue is not his insufficient, inadequate strength. His problem lies in the fact that he does not trust Godís promises concerning temptation. The issue is his inability to have confidence in the God who knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation.
Chapter Nine Questions
Discuss in detail how a genuinely converted sinner feels after having been baptized.
Why might he conclude that he will never be tempted to sin again?
How does a sinnerís conversion affect Satan?
What do the following passages say about the Christianís war? 2 Corinthians 10:3-6; Ephesians 6:10-20; 1 Peter 2:11; James 4:14.
What basic facts must a Christian understand about Satan?
What is the front line in the Christianís war with Satan? Explain how being a Christian intensifies the struggle with temptation.
Discuss in detail Godís promises regarding temptation in the following passages:
a. 2 Peter 2:9
b. James 1:12-18
c. 1 Corinthians 10:12, 13
Show how Jesusí experience in Gethsemane illustrates the genuineness of this promise.
Explain why the Christian who thinks God cannot help him with his temptations is having a faith crisis.
As a class, discuss why Christians often are afraid to trust Godís promises as they struggle with temptation.
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