You’ve just made some cookies and your young child is wanting with all his little heart to eat too many. As a parent, would it be more productive to set that plate on the table in front of him, tell your child not to eat any and walk away, or would you set the cookies somewhere out of sight?
Temptation. What a sensitive topic for us, and I’m no master on it myself. No sooner will I say I have been doing well and having a good streak than I will be given into it the next day. It frustrates us the most, because it denies our will and shows how out of control we are. But we are not alone, every man in the world including the great apostles fell into it.
Romans 7 ” 14 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. 16 But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. 17 So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.”
When we face a temptation, the first thing we are tempted to do is to throw up a list of rules of “thou shalt not’s”. We remind ourselves of why that sin is wrong and how destructive it is. The sad part about humanness is however, that your lusts don’t always listen to reason or the wrongness of a thing.
This is the situation Paul finds himself in. He has the law right beside him telling him that the very thing he is doing is wrong, but it is not lifting a finger to help him overcome it. This clearly shows us the limitation of the law or that list of “I really should not be doing this.” They are true, but they honestly don’t help.
Colossians 2:23 “These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.”
So what does that leave us with? If the knowledge of good and evil cannot help us overcome evil, then how will we escape sin?
Paul gives us the solution in the next verse.
Romans 8 “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
The solution is grace. When we are dealing with sinful habits, we need to treat the root of the plant and not just the fruit. You can battle the fruit all day, but unless you revive the root, it will keep producing the same kind of fruit. The root is producing wrong fruit, because of a lack of grace. Let me explain with a passage from Luke.
Luke 7:36-48 “When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”
Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.
“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
When you have done wrong and given into that temptation you didn’t want to, you expect judgement and condemnation. But if instead of receiving that, you are shown a richer mercy than you would have ever imagined, if you were shown blessing instead of curse, there is something very deep and transforming that happens in your heart. It happens when you realize that your forgiveness didn’t come for free, Christ had to be brutally killed for you to have it. Your heart suddenly becomes in awe of God (the fear of God) and worships him. Your heart becomes… grateful. It looses interest in that temptation and suddenly wants to live in a way that honors the love you are shown. All of a sudden your eyes are no longer focused on your sin and instead are looking at Jesus and his magnificent love for you. And when your eyes are no longer on your sin, it cannot continue to tempt you.
This brings us back to the story of the cookies. Sin has the strongest effect when you have your eyes set on it. If all you can think about is, “I’m an awful sinner. Lusting is so evil. Lusting is evil. Lusting is evil. I should never do it. I should feel so bad for lusting, etc…” all you are doing is setting your focus on that sin. And in your misery, that sin has the opportunity to pounce on you again.
We need to put that sin out of our sight.
Instead of focusing on how wrong a sin is, how bad we are, how condemned we should feel we need to focus on how amazing God’s grace is for that situation, how much love he shows us.
One of the ways sin becomes powerful is when we let it identify us. When I look at myself and evaluate myself according to my sin, I am letting sin become my master. We must realize that we are no longer identified in Adam, we are identified in Christ. We are justified, holy, and blameless. We are a new creation and we have a new nature. That is no longer who we are and that is not what we do. We must identify ourselves as righteous, holy, and blameless before God. Because our actions are tied to what we think of ourselves. As long as we identify ourselves as a sinner, guess what, we will continue to act like one.
Have you ever watched White Collar? It’s a wonderful story of a criminal who after being caught, lands a job with the FBI catching other criminals instead of serving prison time. His mentor Peter Burke becomes like a father figure to him. However, Neal (the criminal) continues to commit crimes behind the FBI’s back because that’s all he knows how to do. In one episode Peter asks Neal about his past and father. Neal says his dad was a dirty cop. Peter does something very special in that moment, he says, “You’re not your dad.” From that moment on in the seasons you see Neal’s attitude towards crime changing. He no longer wants to be the way he used to, he begins to loose his interest in crime and wants to be a man of integrity.
However, it doesn’t stay that way, as good shows usually don’t. Later Neal gets trapped in a situation where he must commit a crime to save someone he loves. Peter catches him but he gives some harsh words. “That’s because that’s all you know. You’re a criminal, how could I expect any more.” Neal was convicted. Shortly after you see Neal regain his passion for crime and begin plotting a way to escape the FBI.
Neal was driven by identity.
We all are. Who we think we are plays a big role in how we behave. As long as you let sin tell you who you are, you have let it become your master. You must silence the voice of the accuser and listen to the voice of Christ, the voice of Grace.
Romans 6:14 “Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.”
The Apostle Peter says it this way.
2 Peter 1:4-8 “And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires… (Here he lists many wonderful character and faith qualities, then he says)… But those who fail to develop in this way are shortsighted or blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their old sins.
Forgiveness is the foundation that changes your heart and fills you with gratitude, which is the motivation you need to overcome sin. When you get to enjoy a new identity, a grace that never stops covering you, and God’s infinite patience, you have the power you need to overcome that temptation.
Titus 2:11-12 “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age”
1 Corinthians 15:10 “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”
It’s kind of funny and the opposite of what you would expect. But when I’m going through my daily life, when I encounter a temptation, I tell myself. “Thank you God, if I were to do that thing, I would be shown your grace. I ask for a fresh revelation of that grace in order to keep that from being a temptation for me.” All of a sudden what happens in my heart is it becomes amazed at God’s kindness, it relaxes with peace, and my eyes are no longer on that temptation. Instead I have gratitude that keeps me content and the temptation passes by. Now that may not work the same for you, but the principle is still the same.
When I’m dealing with a repetitive sin, the first thing I do… and the first thing that should be done, is pray to God to fix that problem. Instead of dealing with it in your own limited strength, place it into God’s hands and let him through his Spirit conquer those temptations for you. Don’t try to fight alone, you need God’s help. Then trust and wait for God’s deliverance and while you wait continuously give yourself the grace you need.
Git rid of the source of the temptation whenever you can. If your friends are leading you into doing drugs, don’t hang out with them anymore. If people are influencing you in a bad way leave them.
1 Corinthians 15:33 “Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.”
You are not judging your friends or saying God can’t love them by leaving them. You are wisely and appropriately removing yourself from the temptation and that is godly.
If the computer is tempting you, install K9 and/or Adblock or some other filtering and blocking software to keep you from having full access. Don’t let the temptation have free reign right in front of you.
1 Corinthians 6:18 “18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.”
Why would he use such a strong word, “flee”. Why not “ignore temptation”? Why not avoid? Why not walk away? He uses flee because as long as that temptation is in front of you it WILL win. In that case, it doesn’t matter how much grace you have, how well you identify yourself, if you set sexual temptation in front of you continually and keep it in focus it will win. You cannot battle it. Flee. Raise the retreat flag. The same principle applies to other sins to a lesser degree, don’t let them consume your focus, emotions, and mind. Look to Christ for grace and keep your eyes on the one who will still love you, especially when you fail!
Romans 5:20 “God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant.”