Each one of us faces challenges each and every day to remain true to who God calls us to be in Christ. Christian writers write a lot about the battle Christians face with the World, the Flesh, and the Devil. These three opponents make the Christian’s life really difficult – especially when pursuing a life of righteousness, godliness, purity and holiness. Some write about the battle that goes on within with pride, vanity and sensuality; others the battle with the temptations of money, sex and power. Irrespective of our weakness, and each one of us is especially susceptible to temptations in at least one of these areas, we have our own times when we face periods of strong trials and temptations.
Learning Your Own Rhythm
How do you cope with an intense period of temptation or trial? Personally speaking, and I suspect this is the experience of many, there are times when I am really good at resisting, keeping my eyes on Jesus, digging in, holding on and triumphing over the test. There are other times when I seem to be particularly susceptible to the enticement, open to the attack, particularly weak, vulnerable and not very good at resisting. Experience has taught me that personally there are three times when I am particularly open – the following are very personal to me, but may be off help to you as you read this:
i. When I don’t practice the self-control that the Spirit has taught me is particularly important for my spiritual health. Self-control is basically, and this is a very simple generalisation, ‘not doing that which is destructive for my soul.’
Again personally, it includes things like stopping work on something when I know that I should leave it for now; ensuring I am in bed by 11:10pm (just seems to be the perfect time for me to be in bed) so I don’t get overtired; limiting my time in front of the TV; not reading endless articles about military history, about present military developments, about the international geo-political situation, about the economy, about popular or cultural history.
ii. When I don’t apply the self-discipline that is absolutely necessary for me to keep up my fellowship with God – I am vulnerable. Self-discipline is basically, ‘doing that which is good for my soul.’
Self-discipline ensures that there is an ongoing renewal of my spiritual vitality. It can be very hard because we need a good level of self-motivation and commitment in order to continue to do the right things – even when we don’t feel particularly motivated to do so.
Personally, it means praying consistently, including praying in tongues each day; ensuring that I am reading a wide variety of Christian books; that I take time to speak to people – I have always found it much easier to get lost in my books, articles, in messages to people rather than talking to them; practice a wide range of the Christian Disciplines; ensure that there is sung worship in my life – I have always been much more word-based than song-based; that I step away from work and go for a walk or change the scene.
iii. After what I consider to be a good achievement. What I mean by this is that I will have worked towards something for a while, it has been delivered, sometimes even successfully, and I feel a strong sense of achievement. I know that this is a dangerous time for me. Entering God’s Rest, and practising biblical Rest are important means for me to negate the negative aspects of this time. Therefore, I am careful to take one day a week away from my normal work and routine – for me it is a Monday. I have tried doing it on other days of the week, but they didn’t work. I am very fortunate to be able to choose which day to have off.
Monday is my Day of Rest. Therefore, on Mondays I ensure that I have a focus, an aim and a way of engaging my brain; if I don’t, I feel more tired, more lethargic and am more open to temptation. I have learned to celebrate an achievement, recognise it, take time to enjoy it, to allow myself a few days before refocusing on the next thing – this has been very helpful for me…
Why is Sin So Bad?
Sin is the greatest human problem. Not only is our own sin terrible in God’s eyes, our very nature, as Human Beings, is also a huge problem. We are born with a sinful nature – sin finds receptive, good soil in the human heart. The outworking of the consequences of the Original fall of Adam into sin takes place in each of our lives in unique ways throughout the whole of our lives. Sin always leads to death – spiritual and physical.
On Sunday morning at 10am, Pastor Ben and I are preaching together during a Live online service D.V. We are continuing the sermon series theme of, ‘Jesus is..;’ this week ‘Jesus is Perfect/sinless.’ My part of the sermon includes exploring a number of the different biblical words for sin and what they mean. The following are my notes on what the Bible says about sin – I thought this may be helpful for us to consider at this point as we explore, ‘The Battle with Temptation.’
The Bible has many words for sin. These cover the vast range of the different inflections of sin; and remember, all sin is sin no matter whether a slight indiscretion right up to murder. These words include the following:
Ra – sin is bad or evil. It carries the idea that sin breaks people, and breaks communion with God
Rá – a slight variation on ra, sin causes a mark or blemish that ruins the perfection of something
Hamartanw – sin causes us to miss the mark like a faulty arrow misses the target, or to miss the right road because we fail to take it. Sin causes us to do that which we do not want to do (Romans 7)
Rasha – means to wander away from the right path – a wicked or criminal things to do in the eyes of God’s word
Havon – sin is depraved and causes people to act in depraved ways depraving our very human nature
Pasha – the compulsion to rebel against authority, particularly God’s authority
Parabaino – to overstep God’s word, to transgress His ways
Opheilema – indebtedness – being unable to pay that which you owe to God or another
Shagah – an intoxication with something that is destructive for our souls
Poneros – the nature of sin – it is evil and sinners are oppressed by years of hardship and toil from their sinful actions
Asebeia – a lack of reverence or fear for God
Anomos – sin is lawlessness – it causes people to break all God’s rules
Adikos – an unjust person who does not act justly
Kakos – Sin is evil – it is evil in the human heart and causes people to then act with evil intent
Enochos – sin makes us guilty before God and subject to punishment
All of these words combine to mean that sin separates us from God – only Jesus, the Perfect sinless One can unite us with God…
Reviewing Past Failures and Triumphs over Sin
Hindsight is a wonderful thing – but only if our hindsight is calibrated by the Holy Spirit and God’s word. If it is not, then our hindsight can teach us lies putting our past mistakes and sins into the context of either hopelessness and a sense of despair about our progress in becoming more godly, or an overinflated view of our personal strength and ability to resist. This latter view can make us believe that we were better than another and that is why we didn’t fall into that sin – unlike the one who fell.
If we are of a worldly disposition, we can frame our past failures in the Humanist rationale of, ‘it’s just who I am – it doesn’t really matter in the long run because a leopard can’t change its spots,’ or an Religious one, ‘I will have to try harder in the future, be more religious, more devoted and try to work harder at not sinning.’ Both the Humanist and the Religious reactions set us up for defeat in the battle with temptation.
A Better Way
The examples I have just given above misread the reasons for our past successes in combating temptations, or our past failures in falling into sin. It is much better to look back through the lense of…
i. God’s mercy and grace
ii. His Spirit and Word’s work in our lives
iii. the assistance of the godly example of mature believers.
As we do so – we become more able to understand the nature of the temptations we face and therefore able to resist temptation today. At this point we have the chance for progressing in our sanctification…
i. in Christ-honouring ways
ii. of developing into a more godly person
iii. becoming a more worshipful, servant-hearted disciple
iv. a stronger Christian with a Scripturally defined worldview
v. being renewed in Christ
…then we gain a better understanding of how to defend ourselves against Temptation.
When we do so – we place redemption, renewal by the Word of God, the support and assistance of the Spirit, and God’s mercy and grace at the very heart of our struggle with sin. Then both our failures and our successes all come under the cleansing and renewal of the blood of Jesus. This releases us to deal biblically with our past without allowing it to hold us back in the present. All of this equips us to live more intelligently and wisely today, and be confident about our salvation and personal integrity for tomorrow.
In order to learn from our past sins and mistakes – we have got to have a good foundation in God’s word, be talking to and listening to wise, godly people who have been there before us, and maintain an open healthy relationship with the Lord Himself. When these things are in place in our lives – then we can understand why we were so susceptible, why so weak in a particular area, and hopefully guard ourselves against future attacks.
The battle with temptation will continue as long as we live; however, as we submit to God, resist the Devil and stand in the armour Christ gives – we can become much better at overcoming temptation and walking each day in Christ’s light, sinning less and living more righteously.