Tempted, Part I

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God’s opportunities are always coming our way. Weekly, daily, hourly, we are being handed situations by which God wants to manifest Himself through us.

What many believers don’t know is that these situations often take the form of a temptation.

Look at Jesus. He was “driven” into the wilderness to be tempted, as Mark says. Satan came to Him and hit Him with the desire for fleshly indulgence, the desire for accolades, and the desire for power. Satan’s basic temptation was “use your power for yourself. Get what you want.”

Jesus reversed each temptation, each negative, by turning it into a positive. He reversed the flesh-will in Him by saying, essentially, “Not My will, but Thine be done.” He went from a self-oriented outlook to God-vision.

Later He does this by calling Peter, “Satan.” Jesus strengthens His own faith on Peter’s tempting Him to avoid the Cross, reversing the temptation into more faith-power. He reverses Philip’s fear of not having enough bread, culminating in a miracle. He reverses Martha’s fear that Lazarus has been dead too long, and gets her to speak out that reversal for herself, to which He adds, “I am the resurrection and the life.”

Jesus “learned obedience by the things which He suffered.” It was the contrary, negative temptations that were His opportunities to press forward in faith. Walking on water. The Gadarene demoniac. Jairus’ daughter. The woman at the well. The adulterous woman of John 8. The prostitute washing His feet with her tears and drying them with her hair. The Pharisees were shocked, and Jesus reversed the temptation to fear man’s opinion by recognizing that the Father in Him was the for-others Life; God was concerned not about the opinion of self-righteous judges, but the repentant woman.

To the contrary, the disciples were always seeing at situations, but not seeing through. Jesus continually asks them, “Where is your faith?” They weren’t reversing their fear and using it as an engine for faith.

That’s our basic situation in any temptation. We can give it power by cowering, or we can see it as opportunity to advance the Kingdom.

If we cower, the outcome is eventually sin and shame, a weakening of our power, a temporary abdication of our kingship and kinship, our oneness with Christ. The power of sin is the Law; human effort attempting to be good like God. The Pharisees were constantly shocked at Jesus’ behavior; they thought He should run away from sin. And so we lose opportunities, not only for growth but the occasion to be bread for others, when we cower in the face of temptation. We lose the opportunity to show forth God’s love and power in us.

Or we can use temptation as a handle. Like Jesus, we can reverse it.

I can see this when my children are fighting. My temptation is often to rush in there and stop it by using my power, by control, manipulation. Because that’s what fear does in me; that is my particular psychological programming. In that moment I have a choice to either manifest Satan to my children (fear, control, manipulation) or to reverse the fear and see that God has some beautiful thing to teach my children in that moment, not the least that a Father is patient and kind and wise. So I reverse it. I give God my fear, and the desire to control. I say, “Lord, what do you wish to speak through me to my children?” And then I step out in faith that He will do so.

Reversing temptation in this way isn’t merely about our growth, though of course we will grow. It’s about others.

The way I respond in financial difficulty, whether by fear or by reliance on the One who provides, will affect others.

Faith spreads like a good infection. That’s what I want my children to catch. That’s what I want my wife to feel from me. That’s the thing I want to transmit to the world. There is a God. He is faithful. He is kind, wise, truehearted. He indwells the believer, and is readily available in every moment. We can trust Him in each and every situation.

That’s the purpose of temptation. Norman Grubb said, “Temptation is God’s calling card.” The devil is only a pawn in God’s school for us – God’s school of faith.

Winner of 147 Grammys (or so), Ron Block is the banjo-ninja portion of Alison Kraus and Union Station. When he’s not laying down a bluegrass-style martial-arts whoopin’ on audiences around the world, he’s taking care of his donkey named “Trash” and keeping himself busy by being one of the most well-read and thoughtful people we know.


15 Comments

  1. Sally Lloyd-Jones

    Thanks for this encouragement! What a great reminder. Love how you put it: that we can use temptation like a handle. And that the enemy is only a pawn.

    What a great Story we’re part of–and underneath everything, behind it all, God is always turning the tables on what was meant for evil… and water into wine.

  2. Benjamin Wolaver

    Good observations. I’ve never thought of Jesus’ activities in that light. I’ll be chewing on those…

  3. Tony from Pandora

    Ron, I love your essays. I must say, my favorite parts are when the title ends with “Part I”, ensuring that there is more theological goodness to come!

  4. Evan Godbold

    I am not disagreeing with you at all, Ron. In fact, I found your post very encouraging, but I do have two questions, which you may be answering in part 2, but just in case, here they are:

    1. This statement sparked my first question: “The Pharisees were constantly shocked at Jesus’ behavior; they thought He should run away from sin. And so we lose opportunities, not only for growth but the occasion to be bread for others, when we cower in the face of temptation.”

    So my question is what, then, do you make of Christ’s line in the Lord’s prayer, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”? I often wonder how to balance that type of prayer request, with your thoughts. I am not at all disputing that God can and does use anything and everything to grow us: trials, temptations, and hardships. But I always wonder if we should welcome them or pray against them. Thoughts?

    2. Maybe this is just me, but there are certain things that I feel like that I must flee from, rather than resist and attempt to turn around for good. One of those is sexual sin. Safe Eyes is on my computer. Best. Filter. Ever. Because that sort of temptation, for me, is too ensnaring. I liken it to the verses in James 1:14-16 – “but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

    That seems to fit at least certain temptations for me pretty well. I find it best to flee. 1 Corinthians 6:18 tells us to FLEE from sexual immorality. Now, I am sure that at that point, it is already sin and not temptation, so maybe it doesn’t apply. But my question is, are there certain temptations (maybe case by case) that actually do require us to flee?

    I would love to hear some thoughts on this.

  5. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Evan,

    Great questions. Here are a few things to think about.

    In Matt 6:13, Jesus says, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” The word “temptation” is peirasmos. It means temptation, trial, proving, testing of virtue. Mark 1:12-13 says that the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness. He was there forty days, tempted (peirazo) by Satan. James 1:2 says we are to “count it all joy when ye fall into diverse temptations.” The word, again, is peirasmos.

    So there appears to be a conflict; Jesus said to pray “Lead us not into temptation” and James says to count falling into various temptations as joy, because it works endurance in us. Jesus said to the disciples to pray “lead us not into temptation” and then there is the Holy Spirit in Mark 1 driving or shoving Jesus into the wilderness for the express purpose of being tempted.

    Jesus spoke His words pre-cross; James spoke his words post-cross. The disciples, pre-cross, were totally unable to handle temptation, as shown by their actions when tempted.

    I don’t see a single instance where Jesus flees from temptation in the sense of removing Himself from a situation where, for instance, there is a prostitute, or people drinking and getting drunk (water into wine), etc. Why?

    The typical answer is, “Well, Jesus was God.” Yes, He was. But He set aside His omnipotence, His omniscience, His omnipresence to become a man. He came here to operate completely and totally as a man is supposed to operate, as a man was designed by God to be. And we don’t see a single instance of Jesus running away from temptation. What we do see is that the Father’s love and power were His refuge; that the Father was His strong tower, His fortress, His hiding place, His rock, and all those other things we sing about on Sunday morning but then forget to access on Monday when we’re tempted by bad drivers or pornography or our children yelling at one another or our bad finances.

    What we do instead is this: “Jesus forgives me when I sin. But now I’ve got to be Christ-like.”

    We think we’re an independent “I” that has to perform good and avoid evil.

    So we hit temptation situations – since you mention it, for example, let’s say a porn email comes in on our nicely secluded computer. No one will know. A couple of clicks and we’ll be there. So we fall for it. Because we fail to trust Christ in us, through us, as us, and fail to access and live from His power in us, we fall prey to temptation, get in bed with it, and sin. And of course, since we have the Holy Spirit in us, we cannot stand that we did that; we know instinctively that we are made for something so much greater than that.

    So we bolster up our human effort and resolve. “I got it this time, Lord. I’m going to have my computer in a room where everyone can see it, install privacy software, and have my five accountability partners call me every twenty minutes to check up on me.” We think we’re smart, but then suddenly we’re on a business trip in a hotel room with the porn channel. Who’s going to know? We fall for it, then the next time we’re on a business trip we call the front desk and lock out the porn. But then we wake up in the middle of the night, start flipping channels, and HBO has something that just walks that fine line of film vs pornography. We fall for it. We repent and try again. Our accountability partners are coming down harder on us. We start lying to them, or maybe even worse, we abstain from pornography because of our pride; we don’t want to be embarrassed, so we avoid porn entirely; as C.S. Lewis said, “The devil laughs. He’s perfectly content to see you becoming chaste and brave and self-controlled provided, all the time, he’s setting up in you the Dictatorship of Pride – just as he’d be quite content to cure your chilblains if he was allowed, in return, to give you cancer.”

    God says this whole system is a bunch of hogwash. What He is aiming for is to be our Life; “The Lord, our righteousness.” Not merely imputed, but imparted. We are partakers of the divine nature, as Peter says. We are reborn as new men in order to be overcomers.

    What is the response, then, to temptation? We replace the little human me with Christ living in me, through me, AS me. That’s what the devil is really dealing with. He wants to convince us that we’re just little human selves trying to make life work on a wing and a prayer. We are, in and of ourselves, capable of producing no thing. Nothing. “Of mine own self I can do nothing,” said Jesus. But God has rebirthed us as new creations – as creatures in union with the Creator, indwelt by Him, operated and empowered by Him.

    If fleeing from temptation is necessary in the way you describe, I would have to say it would be in immaturity, and not from a Christ-relying standpoint. It may be that we must do that for awhile until we learn we have no power over sin unless we rely on Christ. We can’t run; we can’t hide from sin if we are relying on our little, weak humanity to manipulate, control, and avoid sin.

  6. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    As long we think our power over a sin comes from controlling our circumstances, we will never have power over that particular sin. We will be constantly trying to control our circumstances rather than standing in Christ’s overcoming power and “reigning in life through the One Man.” We will never know, at least not until it is too late, that Christ was our way of escape from every temptation, every snare of the enemy. We will lose out on the eternal glory of having trusted Christ within us as our righteousness rather than trusting our limited human viewpoint, infected by the satanic world-system.

  7. Evan Godbold

    Thanks for your answers to my questions, Ron. I am totally tracking with you. I think the times when we flee temptation are more necessary at outset. I hope that the things that I currently struggle with now will not be what I am struggling with 20 years from now. Hopefully, my life will look more like Christ after following him for 20 years! So I agree, I think it is an issue of maturity and your carnal patterns of your life before Christ. The more we let Christ move through us, the less we have to worry about in the realm of temptation.

    I loved the Lewis quote. We can be as disciplined as we want if we never walk in the reality of who we are in Christ. As long as we keep leaving in the flesh instead of by the Spirit, we always leave room for massive failure in the face of temptation.

    And Pete, if I am not mistaken that appears to be a screen shot from the video game for LOTR: The Two Towers. That looks like Eomer, but I could be wrong.

  8. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Evan: Yes – the only truly safe haven in temptation is Christ. When we rely on Him in us to live through us, as us, the devil’s machinery is turned back on his own head; temptation becomes opportunity to manifest the power and love of God. When we abide in this way during a temptation, the devil cannot stand; he always gives way, and so he is the one who cuts and runs, not us.

    But of course I am not saying that we put ourselves in temptation’s way on purpose. The alcoholic who has recently quit doesn’t need to be hanging out at the bar. It may be perfectly prudent to put the computer in the kitchen for awhile. But after we learn who we are in Christ, and learn to live from His life in us, we don’t need the crutches anymore.

    What we really do need is to have people in our life who speak from that position of power in Christ, and encourage us to trust, rely, abide; we need people to speak faith into our minds and hearts, rather than Law.

  9. j9

    OMGeeWillyWonkers… I think I have enough thoughtful insight to last me for another month! Thanks for the original essay… for it’s thoughtfulness, for the responses, for the responses to the responses etc… I’ve been trying to get my head around this for a while and I feel like I’ve just been offered the heart of God on a silver platter with these issues.God often uses trials to grow us and this is a very expansive way of seeing the strength he gives us and the love that he wants us not only to have but to use (yes I said “use.)

  10. Tony Heringer

    1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

    This is a passage I always try to have in view when temptation comes around. The passage, like many others in Scripture, is explicit that temptation will come and implicit in our need for readiness. However, the readiness is our reckoning of God’s promises. He is faithful. He is caring and capable of carrying us through anything. This is exactly the mind of Christ when He faced the Evil One. All of Christ’s responses to Satan were the Sword of the Spirit – the word of God. This reinforces a theme you’ve extolled before about being men and women of the Word.

    I also like the word picture of providing a way out (or ‘make the way of escape’ in NASB) by allowing us to stand up under (or ‘endure’ NASB) the temptation. The Greek is hupophero and one author says it literally means to “get under it and carry it.” I picture here the shield of faith Paul talks about in Ephesians 6. It’s a battle plan for every temptation because we are enabled by the Spirit’s power to act and react fearlessly because ‘perfect love drives out fear’ (1 John 4:18).

  11. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Tony,

    Perfect. Thank you!

    When we count our indwelling God as faithful in temptation, the whole scheme explodes in the devil’s face. Rather than falling into sin or running away, we end up manifesting the power and love of God in the situation.

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