Today we want to start of with a poem by Richard J. Foster [Prayers from the Heart (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994), 4]
“A Simple Prayer”
I AM, O GOD, a jumbled mass of motives.
One moment I am adoring you, and the next I am shaking my fist at you.
I vacillate between mounting hope, and deepening despair.
I am full of faith, and full of doubt.
I want the best for other, and am jealous when they get it.
Even so, God, I will not run from your presence. Nor will I pretend to be what I am not. Thank you for accepting me with all my contradictions.
Last week we took a brief look at the concepts of original sin, acts of sin, temptation and the relationship of those to each other.
We looked at the passages of James 1:13-15 and saw that it is not God who is tempting us – though God does permit temptations and trials but He never tempts us. We further observed that it is our own desires which lead us into temptation and ultimately sin. In the process James is describing we can state that when we are giving into the temptation, an actual act of sin is committed (“desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death”).
Yet we also that neither temptation nor desire in itself is sin! This needs to be stressed – first of all theologically, but also pastorally. Theologically it is nonsense to assert that desires in and of themselves are evil or that temptation necessarily constitutes in sin. The author of Hebrews, for example, wrote when he made the point that we do have a high priest who is very much able to sympathize with our weaknesses that Jesus has “in every respect…been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15). Jesus himself has been tempted, yet he did not sin! If he would have then, he could not have been the unblemished sacrifice for you and me and we would still be in our sins.
That temptation is not to be equated with sin is also of pastoral concern. It is necessary that we do counsel people with truth. People (and we all are people!) are being tempted every day. If we now think that this already constitutes a sin, we do not have victory in Christ! But Scripture does teach that Christ came to get rid of sin and to destroy the works of the devil (see for example 1 John 3:8). We are not bio-chemical creatures who are told by our DNA what to do. We have been set free!
Yet, temptations will always (this side of the parousia) be part of our lives. We are called to overcome them. The question we want to dive in is: “Is falling to temptation inevitable (1) for the believer, (2) for the non-believer?”
To this question we already alluded in the previous statements (see also the previous post). Here it is of necessity to listen to the apostle Paul who writes in 1 Cor 10:13: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” This verse comes after Paul was writing to the Corinthians about the ancient people of Israel and her wilderness wandering in which she tested God. Yet, Paul uses this picture to comfort his brothers and sisters in Corinth. Garland formulates it this way: “When one puts God to the test, it will inevitably result in catastrophic judgment, as it did for Israel. But when one is tested and places one’s trust in God, God provides a way through the testing” (David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians [BECNT; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003], 469).
For the Christian then, who can experience the resurrection power already (via the Holy Spirit’s indwelling and empowerment), temptation does not need to be followed with sin but can be overcome. For the believer it is not inevitable to fall into sin via temptation. There is the power and the way out of it which God graciously provides.
If we turn now to the unbeliever this question demands a different answer. In Heb 11:6 we read that “without faith it is impossible to please him” (Rom 1-3 [esp. Rom 1:18-32] also does not shed a positive light of those who are without God and His Son Jesus Christ). So faith is a requirement to be pleasing to God. If we are not pleasing to God we are in our sinful state and go our own ways.
But how does temptation come into this picture? Following the outline I gave above for the one who is indwelled by the Holy Spirit we need to see that for the unbeliever this empowerment is not available; or at least not available to the same extent as to the believer. God is gracious and merciful and might still help the unbeliever in difficult situations – as He did for us in sending His Son while we were still sinners! – but falling into temptation is inevitable since that is what the sin nature desires.
Coming to a conclusion we want to reiterate the poem from the introduction. Foster wrote: “One moment I am adoring you, and the next I am shaking my fist at you. I vacillate between mounting hope, and deepening despair. I am full of faith, and full of doubt.” At one moment we think to stand firm but the apostle Paul warns us to take heed so that we might not fall (1 Cor 10:12).
Temptation will always be part of our lives prior to the resurrection. Yet, we do have Him ho provides the inner strength and external way of escape. Praise Him for setting us free so that we are no slaves to sin anymore!