We may ask for the promised way out of temptation. When the tempter continually achieves his goal in a certain point, we must apply the new life and the power of the Gospel all the more. A lot of people take it all too lightly, get accustomed to sin, go everywhere, even to dangerous places, watch everything, read everything, even immoral things, and thereby entice the tempter. There is always a reason when temptation is particularly strong. We forgot, for instance, to repent over lesser sins. “Flee also youthful lusts; but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). It is also important to pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” because a “leading into temptation” would mean judgment. As God abandons the unbelieving often to their impurity, He can also let us go our own way if we do not want to hear Him.
What we need most is the true “secret” of the new life. Paul writes, “That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man…And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Romans 13:14).
God promises us that we may experience the power of God, the power of the Gospel against sin. Only Jesus can make us free from the yoke of bondage, the experience of shame and guilt. The battle against temptation is mostly lost on account of two mistakes:
1. When we set the bar of the divine measure of holy and what is sin lower or change it.
2. When we trust in false sources of power (ourselves), or when our battle is based on a false motivation.
When we hear reports of how people who once gave themselves to Jesus ultimately succumbed to temptation and a fall, we see time and time again that these are cases of half-hearted battles. It often began with little things, so-called tolerance, permission which they granted themselves, the loss of the fear of God, etc. These things become more and more central and important, and ultimately lead to a catastrophe, even a fall.
We need a new measure of holiness. Ephesians 5:3-4 shows how high God has set the norm: there are sins which should not be named among us. God does not just want us not to do this or that. He not only wants children of God to keep themselves from sins such as adultery, pre-marital relationships, deception, lies, etc., but He also wants there to be no impurity, greed or indecency, no gossip or joking about such things. He wants us not even to concern ourselves with these things or to speak of them. And logically, we should not play with them. One counselor spoke of a “diet mentality” in this respect: we know that we should break with sin, but we keep a few “candies” which taste so good and are “not that bad.”
• People say, “Just a little.”
• They ask, “How far can we go?”
• They allow themselves “only a little bit…a glimpse.”
• They watch a film even though it is more than doubtful and leads to temptation.
• They join in doubtful things and entertain the thought, as in Paradise, “Did God really say, ‘You may eat from all the trees in the garden, only not from the tree in the midst of it?’ Is a little taste really sin?”
This is the attitude of those who play with sin like some people with a diet. They allow themselves “just a little” of that which they know they should not eat. They set the standard of God lower or water down His commandments. The Bible teaches the opposite: already “a little” harms us. We do not need to be surprised about temptations then; they will return. Let us take to heart what Job says, “I made a covenant with mine eyes” (Job 31:1), as well as the words of Paul. He speaks of the thoughts which we should bring into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).
We also need a deeper understanding of what sin actually is. The nature of temptation is the desire to have something or do something which God has forbidden. Temptation always goes beyond the healthy desire for a thing which God has given us, and makes this wish more important than God Himself. We think God is keeping something from us. Such desires aim at getting satisfaction through something which lies outside of the will of God. The Bible calls this ultimately idolatry. “For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 4:7-8). This means that when we decide to commit a sin, we are actively deciding against the person of God! We are rejecting God. Are we conscious of this? Is this what we want?
David was conscious of this after his adultery with Bathsheba, “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest” (Psalm 51:4). David involved others in his sin:
• He coerced Bathsheba,
• murdered her husband,
• was a bad example to the servant who had to bring Bathsheba, and
• involved the captain of the host, Joab, in the matter.
But in the end, he had to account for the fact that this sin in the first place represented a rebellion against God, a rejection of God. When he became conscious of this fact, it led him to thorough repentance.
In the battle against temptation, we need, above all, a new source of power. We need the power of God, for alone we will never be capable of it. Not my will, my obedience, my strength, power or efforts, but the power of the Gospel should be applied in our whole lives and make an impact. God promises us that we can experience His power, the power of the Gospel, against sin. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth” (Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:18, 24).
The perhaps least-known secret of a life of victory we find in Ephesians 4:20-24, where we see that to overcome, three things are indivisibly connected:
1. The putting off of the old man and sin,
2. the renewal of the spirit of our minds, and
3. the putting on of the new man, which is created after God.
Thereby everything depends on whether, after my repentance, I let my old principles, habits and tendencies be exchanged for a new mind, and practice a new spiritual life which is born out of the Holy Spirit. In other words, whether I put Romans 12:21 into practice, “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” It is not merely about being against something or fighting it (for instance, immorality), but it is about being for the new life and letting this life develop. This means renewing our old way of thinking and replacing our old values with new, godly values. It means having new priorities. In practice this means:
– For instance, a new, higher understanding of marriage and sexuality. God is the one who invented it, and He created something beautiful, but the devil used our sexuality so that man would live according to his nature and not according to God’s. “Marriage is honourable in all” (Hebrews 13:4). The NIV translates this, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure.” The proper attitude begins with a greater estimation of what God wants. Our new way of thinking will then have its effect.
– A deeper understanding of ownership: to be stewards of what we possess, to consider the needs of others, share and exhibit faithfulness. In Psalm 24 it says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” The New Testament epistles tell us, “But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Hebrews 13:16). “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth” (Ephesians 4:28). More generally expressed, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8). There is, therefore, no simple recipe and no automatic way to victory, but it demands our complete cooperation and determination, and this extends throughout our lives.
Renewal must begin in the spirit, being motivated by the grace of God (Ephesians 4:22-23) and being consolidated in our will, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1-2).
This is the way it is: when the new, positive Spirit does not find room in you, you will always fall into temptations, because the spiritual life of Jesus cannot be operative.
– Ephesians 5:1-2 shows a higher, a spiritual motivation: we are children, beloved of God. We may and can, therefore, walk in love.
– Ephesians 5:4 shows a transformed attitude, full of gratitude. I no longer think I am lacking something, that sin offers me more than a life with God, or that God is keeping something from me. I give thanks instead of rebelling.
– Ephesians 5:8 shows us a new inner truth (light and truth).
– Ephesians 5:9 shows a new striving after that which is helpful.
– Ephesians 5:10 shows a life that wants to do God’s good pleasure.
– Ephesians 5:16 shows a life which wants to be involved in active service, which takes on responsibility and does not waste time with meaningless things and idleness.
– Ephesians 5:17 shows a life which seeks and understands the will of the Lord.
– Ephesians 5:18-19 shows a life that is filled with the Spirit of God, that seeks fellowship with brothers and sisters, and knows the fellowship with the Lord.
– Ephesians 5:20-21 shows a life of gratitude and in the fear of God.
We must exchange sinful acts, then, with those belonging to the new life (righteousness). The key to holiness is having sufficiency in God. “Thou wilt show me the path of life; in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16:11). God does not withhold anything good from us. When we have these things before our eyes, this keeps us close to Him and far from sin. With the good, the Spirit-produced, the praiseworthy and the holy, and fellowship with one another, we can overcome the depths of sin. But when the new life is practiced, there will always be grave defeats. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Galatians 6:7-9).
How we can practice the spiritual life, Joshua Harris put together in a list that I would like to pass on here:
– Make a daily time with the Lord, to read and meditate on His Word and for prayer; perhaps also in order to fill your spirit with Bible verses you have learned by heart, so that you learn to think as He did. “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word” (Psalm 119:9). You will often forget the Word, and yet it has had a cleansing effect, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness…to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit” (2 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 4:12).
– In moments where sin is at the door, committing Bible verses to memory can be a great power in resisting. The Bible speaks of the fact that we should let the Word of Christ dwell richly in us (Colossians 3:16).
– Fellowship: come together with other believers to a church to worship God together and to encourage one another in our discipleship. Attend church events, “speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” You need other Christians who speak with you, sing with you, repeat the truths of the Bible and pray for you, and encourage you when you are in danger of giving up. The Church is the body of Christ, and He is the fullness who fills everything. Stay in a church where you can have fellowship with others, where you can learn to serve and experience growth with others, where your children are taken care of, and where everything does not revolve around you.
– Take an active part and serve others.
– Read spiritually edifying literature.
– Listen to spiritual songs which really get under your skin.
– Listen to Christian radio and watch Christian TV programs or other edifying programs with positive content.
– Give the Lord first place.
– Live out your calling to fellowship with Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:9), and your daily life will become different. Let the glory of Jesus shine upon you, and then sin will have no more power over you.
– Instead of seeking your own, serve others and do good. According to the measure in which you sow to the Spirit, you will be armed against temptation and experience Jesus’ victory. Then you will be less and less tempted by the things which come from your sinful nature, because the spiritual side has more weight, which makes you strong.
– When you fail, ask for forgiveness and let the Spirit of God make you sensitive to hear His voice again (Ephesians 4:18-19).
– Put the old man off and the new one on continually.
– When you find yourself in situations of temptation, come to obedience of faith and turn your attention to pure things.
– Lastly, a tip from Charles Swindoll: Think in the fear of God of the consequences of your actions.
“Abstain from all appearance of evil. And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:22-24).
Midnight Call - 02/2014
Spiritual Strength For Each Day
by Wim Malgo
#1062 - 400 pgs.
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