Thursday, January 6, 2011

Overcoming Temptation (Part III)

"For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Eph. 6:12).

Indeed, we are in the midst of a war, in which earthly weapons are rarely used.  It is a war of ideas and worldviews, and the stakes are much higher than money, resources, or lands; we fight for human souls, our own and of those around us.  This is why overcoming temptation and sin is so important.

"Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin" (Heb. 12:1-4).

God calls for us to endure to the end of the race, and to avoid temptations, which can so easily ensnare and derail us from the mission that He has set before us.

"Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed. Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears" (Heb. 12:12-17).

As I was preparing for this message, the following acronym came to me, which I will share with you: SPAR.  It certainly reminds me of Eph. 6:12 (see above).

S = Submit
In thinking back on my own life, I had little trouble with temptation while I was still under my parents' roof, because I knew I would get in trouble if I disobeyed.  Being under their authority contributed greatly to my ability to resist a great variety of sin.  However, when I went to grad. school, I was out on my own for the first time and not under anyone's authority.  I neglected my studies and started going to bars with my friends.

God will hold all of us accountable for our actions in the Last Day, but it greatly helps if we have people we can trust here on earth, to whom we are also accountable.  This takes submission, not only to God, but to those around us: our parents, our pastors, our brothers and sisters in Christ, and our spouses.

P = Pray
All these acronyms are helpful, but ultimately, we are powerless against sin, unless we have a close relationship with the One who has already bruised Satan's head under His heel: Jesus Christ.  We get closer to Him through prayer and studying His Written Word.

A = Avoid
If you have a weakness for ice cream, don't keep it in your house!  Likewise, you need to analyze the things, people, or places that are a snare to you, and do your best to avoid them.  This may not be always possible, but it's a lot easier to avoid the quicksand, if you stay out of the swamp.

R = Rest
As a direct response to the T in HALT, you need to rest.  Physical rest is crucial, because you need a sharp mind and healthy body to withstand the firey darts of the enemy.  Just as important is spiritual rest in Jesus.  Remind yourself of Jesus' promise to take care of you, which is found in Matthew 6:25-34.

Finally, I leave you with what is perhaps the most famous verse on the subject, which needs no further comment from me: "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it" (1 Cor. 10:13).

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Overcoming Temptation (Part II)

"To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it" (Rev. 2:17b).

Before we can overcome temptation, we need to know our enemy... that is to say, we need to know ourselves.  Think back to the times you gave in to temptation.  What sequence of events led up to your fall?  Is there a pattern that you can learn something from?

A few years ago, I happened to hear a portion of a radio program, in which the topic was temptation.  The speaker suggested an acronym to help us remember four common weaknesses in the Christian's armor: HALT.  It's catchy, because it reminds you that when you feel you're about to give in to temptation, you need to halt!  Here is what each letter stands for:

H = Hungry
You know what happens when you go grocery shopping on an empty stomach, right?  You often end up buying several items not on your list, which you either don't need or that are bad for you (or both!).  And who can forget poor Esau, who infamously sold his birthright for a bowl of lentils (Gen. 25:29-34).

But beyond literal hunger, we humans tend to lust after things.  God knows that, which is probably why He devoted three of the Ten Commandments (adultery, stealing, and coveting) to the problem.  But Jesus, when He was tried by Satan, at the end of His 40 days in the desert, had the stamina to refuse offers of bread and entire kingdoms.

The lesson for us is to learn to be content with what the Lord has provided us and to lean on Him when trials arise.

A = Angry
Paul tells us, "Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath" (Eph. 4:26).  In-of-itself, anger is not always a sin, especially if it is for a good reason.  Jesus, for example, was clearly very angry at the merchants in the temple, because they were trying to profit from those who came to worship God. He overturned their tables and chased them out of the place with a whip He made Himself.  We can be angry at sin around us and those who wrong us, but we need to (1) be careful that you do not sin in your anger (i.e. saying or doing things you will later regret), and (2) that you quickly replace that anger with forgiveness, even if the person who wronged you does not apologize.

I believe that anger stems from things not turning out according to our plan, and people not behaving the way we want them to.  But we need to remember that we are not the ones in control.  God is still on the throne, and no one has ever or will ever interfere with His perfect plans.  Diffuse your anger before it gets out of hand, by remembering that God knew from before time began that you would face this trial, and He has had all eternity to work out the resolution.  All we need to do is trust Him and follow His plan.

L = Lonely
We are social creatures.  Most of us crave companionship, friendship, love, and approval.  Closely tied to hunger, this desire to belong and be loved can drive us to do things we would hardly consider otherwise.  Ugly examples abound, but a simple one is the peer pressure we feel when part of a group, to do things that group is doing, just to feel like we belong.

No man has ever been more lonely than Jesus on the cross.  "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34).  The accepted interpretation is that since Jesus had taken all the world's sins upon Himself, God the Father could not look upon Him.  He had been abandoned by his closest friends, shunned by His family, and tortured by those whom He came to save.  And yet, He also said, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).  Even in His most desperate, loneliest hour, He thought of others first and sinned not.

In truth, we are never alone, because God has promised never to leave nor forsake us.  Nevertheless, surround yourself with other sincere Christians, who will encourage you and be encouraged by you.

T = Tired
This is an ironic one, because I am typing this at 3:15 in the morning!  LOL!  But I have certainly found that I do not think clearly when my body craves sleep.  My judgment is impaired, and my defenses against temptation are compromised.  But sleep improves not only our body's ability to stay healthy, but also the toughness of our Godly armor.

Yup!  Time for bed!

Next, I will introduce my own four-letter acronym...