TEMPTATION, SIN AND REDEMPTION
I'm going to start by giving you the title of my sermon. So if you want to make a note of it, the title is: “Temptation, Sin and Redemption”. And we're going to briefly look at all three of these during the course of the sermon.
So first - temptation. In English, we generally use the word to mean “incitement or inducement to evil”. However temptation is also often used to refer to inducements we don't necessarily take very seriously. It can be used of things that in themselves are regarded as not seriously anything wrong, and even – rather fun. Perhaps something like the desire to indulge in a secret bar of chocolate when you are supposedly on diet!
I can remember many years ago going on a church picnic somewhere, and I hadn't really prepared very much in the way of provisions to take with me. So someone very kindly offered me a muesli bar or something similar. And I - always ready to come out with some merry quip at the least pretext - said straight off the top of my head without even thinking about it - “I can resist anything except temptation”! But unfortunately the minister of the church was also there and I remember that he looked at me - and frowned. Ever had the feeling that you rather wish you hadn't said something? Well that's the feeling I had at that particular moment! I discovered long afterwards that what I'd said was in fact a quotation from the 19th century author and playwright Oscar Wilde. Now any anyone who knows much about him will realise that he was someone who didn't take temptation very seriously either – much to his undoing.
Temptation is one of those things that everybody experiences, but people tend not to talk about very much. However, I think that as Christians it's essential that we have an understanding of the subject. Because, as the Bible and as practical experience teaches us, it is something we all have to deal with.
So, what exactly is temptation? Although we said earlier that it meant an incitement to evil, in the Bible the word often has a much more general sense, meaning to “put to the proof," or in other words to “try” or “test” material things or even human beings to determine their value. That is why when the Authorised Version has the word “tempt”, modern translations often replace it with the words “try” or “test”. However, it can of course include the sense of temptation.
In the OT we read
Job 7:17-18 (NKJV)
is man, that You should exalt him, That You should
set Your heart on him,
Job is saying that mankind is the subject of God's special interest and concern. But, the consequence of that is that he wants to try or test us to see our value, or what we've learnt. We might find that a bit disconcerting, but I think we are all used to the concept of being tested from our time in education – schools and colleges routinely test students to see what they have learned.
In the NT we see the examples of
1 Peter 1:3-7 (NKJV)
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honour, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,
1 Cor 3:11-13
11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
12 Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is.
I think there are two things you can get out of these scriptures. Firstly scripture is not saying that we might be tested, it's saying that we will be tested. Secondly, given the references to being tested by fire, it won't necessarily be a pleasant experience.
Now who does the testing? Well it all depends. Because we can see from scripture that both God and Satan try or test people. But they do so for completely different purposes.
What God does is to test, try, or examine people with aim of strengthening and blessing them. Satan tempts people so he can destroy them. God gives trials that people can endure; Satan tries to find temptations that people cannot endure, and the only reason that he does not always succeed is that God limits his power.
We can see the contrast if we look at
brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various
1 Cor 10:13
13 No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
Compare that with the temptations of Job.
6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them.
7 And the LORD said to Satan, "From where do you come?" So Satan answered the LORD and said, "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it." 8 Then the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?" 9 So Satan answered the LORD and said, "Does Job fear God for nothing?10 "Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 "But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!" 12 And the LORD said to Satan, "Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person." So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.
However, Satan's temptations don't work and Job refuses to curse God as Satan said he would. So in Job 2 we read the next episode of the story.
Job 2:3-6 (NKJV)
3 Then the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil? And still he holds fast to his integrity, although you incited Me against him, to destroy him without cause." 4 So Satan answered the LORD and said, "Skin for skin! Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life. 5 "But stretch out Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will surely curse You to Your face!" 6 And the LORD said to Satan, "Behold, he is in your hand, but spare his life."
Notice on both occasions God allows Satan to tempt Job, but sets a “way of escape” by limiting Satan’s power, in the first case by not allowing him to touch Job's person, in the second to spare Job's life. I don't think there is much doubt that Satan’s purpose was to destroy Job, spiritually if he could but failing that, physically, and God has to limit his power each time. I think Satan would have killed Job in the end out of anger and frustration that his temptations weren't working if God had not explicitly forbidden him to do so.
Satan’s prime target was of course Christ as we can see from the NT. In Matt 4 there is the well-known passage about Christ's temptation by Satan in the wilderness. I think we are all familiar with the story of how Satan tried to induce Christ to turn stones into bread, cast himself down from the temple, and bow down and worship Satan.
In Luke 22:39-43 we read
out, He went to the Mount of Olives, as He was accustomed, and
His disciples also followed Him. 40 When He came to the
place, He said to them, "Pray that you may not enter into
temptation." 41 And He was withdrawn from them about a
stone's throw, and He knelt down and prayed,
You certainly get the impression that Christ was being tempted at that point. But Jesus triumphed over Satan on the cross and showed who he was and that He was fit to be our Saviour and High Priest in heaven.
Heb 4:14-15 (KJV)
14 Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.
15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
So far we've seen that everyone is tempted, that is tried or tested by Satan. And that Jesus was tempted himself, but yet he did not sin, and triumphed over Satan.
But, what about us? Can we also triumph over Satan and, if so, how?
Well this is the cue for us to move on to the second section of the sermon - Sin
Because as the Bible tells us and practical experience confirms, when temptation comes calling, sin is all too often not far behind. To illustrate this, you really could not do better than to go back to the book of Genesis and the garden of Eden.
Genesis 2:15-17 (NKJV)
Genesis 3:1-13 (NKJV)
Now given that we talking here about the first sin ever committed by human beings, we shouldn’t be too surprised that it tends to reflect the pattern of all the sins that human beings have committed subsequently. In other words, the motivation and development of every temptation and sin is really much the same. And, let's be even more specific, since we know that everyone sins it, alas, also reflects the pattern of our own sins as individuals. My sins – and your sins!
The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church
2 Cor 2:10-11 (NKJV)
10 Now whom you forgive
anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven
anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence
Temptation is one of Satan's devices to lead us into sin, so if we are ignorance of how it can happen it will unfortunately give him an advantage. So I think it's worth looking at the process of how and why temptations lead to sin to give us a few pointers as to how we ourselves can deal with temptation.
1 John 2:15-17 (NKJV)
15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world--the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life--is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.
I think the resemblance of that to the account in Genesis is fairly obvious. Eve saw that the tree was good for food – the lust of the flesh - that it was pleasant to the eyes – the lust of the eyes - and a tree desirable to make one wise – the pride of life.
Well, that's a description of the motivation for temptation. But let’s also look at the process.
James 1:12-15 (NKJV)
12 Blessed is
the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he
will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to
those who love Him.
Now there is an old statement which people who come from a religious culture have sometimes made when they've been caught committing a crime and maybe are up before a judge, which is “the Devil made me do it!” It's more or less a music hall joke, used by comedians for describing someone who won't admit personal responsibility for their own wrongdoing. It actually goes right back to the Garden of Eden itself. You'll probably recall when God confronts Eve in particular about what she has done, she says “the serpent beguiled [or deceived] me, and I did eat. [Gen 3:13]. Or, in other words, “the Devil made me do it”.
However, far more than it is comfortable for us to realise, I think that we participate actively in our own temptation. Yes, Satan may put the suggestion of sin in front of us, in the same way as he suggested it to Adam and Eve but we decide whether or not that suggestion is going to be a temptation for us, and whether or not that temptation is going to turn into sin. In fact, we largely tempt ourselves. You can see this in James 1:14 where it says that when we are tempted we are “drawn away by our own desires and enticed. It's us who are doing the drawing.
In fact if you look at verses 14 and 15 closely, you can see that there is a distinct and logical process at work in which we are heavily involved ourselves.
It starts with the temptation itself (verse14). This is not itself sin. Christ himself was tempted or tried, yet sin was not involved.
However, we can see what begins to start the process whereby temptation turns into sin is the next phrase, “drawn away”. What this is refers to is a strong, prolonged or repeated imagination in the mind of the thing or action about which we are being tempted. This is the first wrong step down the slippery slope that leads from temptation to sin, but at this stage it is a completely voluntary process. We can if we wish nip it in the bud a that point. In that case, the temptation will die, simply through lack of nourishment.
On to the next stage…
We read in Gen 3: 6
6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise...
So Eve examines the temptation without any attempt to evaluate it in the light of the revelation she has received of God’s will. But, at this stage, she is not so much defying God’s will as simply ignoring it. And, as a result, she is being “drawn away”. Again, a completely voluntary process. She could still, even then, have recalled to mind God’s command not to eat of the forbidden fruit if she had wanted to, and rejected the temptation at that point.
The next stage referred to in James 1:14 is “enticed”. This can be defined as the progressive consent of a person’s will to the temptation, and the weakening, diminishing or rationalisation of any remaining contrary will. The tempted person has slipped still further down the slippery slope, but even at this stage it’s still voluntary. Stronger measures are going to be needed to reject the temptation, maybe to physically remove yourself from the source of the temptation, but it’s still possible.
Until we get to the next point (Verse 15) – the desire is “conceived”. Conceived is not a good translation. The Greek word really means to “seize” or capture something by force, rather like a predatory animal seizing its prey. It’s not voluntary any more. The will is simply overpowered by the desire.
Sin: evil act is committed. Which leads to death: the final result of actual sin (v. 15)
It’s a curious thing that each act of sin seems to lay the groundwork for further sin. Temptation seems to gain power from each sinful act, whereas the will is further weakened and is less able to resist in the future. There is distinct tendency for sin to become habitual. In the final extreme, it is possible for a person’s capacity to make their own decisions to be so reduced by repeated defeats at the hands of temptation that their will loses its independence and becomes the permanent slave of sin. This reminded me of:
Romans 6:16 (NKJV)
16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?
Sin leads to death, exactly the thing we have just been reading about in James 1.
Now, I realise that all this may seem a bit heavy, and not too pleasant for us to think about. And that’s true. It would have been a lot nicer to have talked about a different subject. But, unfortunately, temptation and sin has infected the whole human race down through history, starting with Adam and Eve and continuing down to us. So we simply can’t ignore it.
I thought I would try to Illustrate the subject further via another passage from the Bible. However, given the subject, I think it might be appropriate to try to find an illustration from elsewhere. As temptation and sin involves the history of the whole human race, there ought to be plenty of them! Perhaps, something that could serve as a kind of modern-day story or parable, of the kind Christ himself used to use in the New Testament.
So I've decided to use this book I have here, by the 19th century author Robert Louis Stevenson. Now Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a number of novels. Probably his most famous work was “Treasure Island”. It’s ages since I’ve read it, but I remember Long John Silver, and the parrot on his shoulder who repeats “Pieces of Eight, Pieces of Eight”. It’s a good children's story that has been filmed a number of times by Hollywood. Well, this book here is also famous and has also been filmed a number of times by Hollywood, but it's a very different kind of book. The title is “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”.
Now I think we are all familiar with the phrase “Jekyll and Hyde” as it’s gone into the English language as an expression that means someone with two sides to his character – both good and bad. But, personally, I had never read the book itself until quite recently. Maybe some of you haven't either, so let me briefly summarise the plot.
Dr Jekyll is a Scottish doctor living and practising in London sometime during the 19th century. One day, while experimenting with different combinations of drugs, he discovers a cocktail of drugs which has a very strange and unusual effect on him. It, temporarily, radically changes both his behaviour and also his appearance. In fact it effectively changes him into quite another person – evil, ugly and shrunken in size, and now called Mr Hyde - until he drinks something else which counteracts the effect of the first drug which changes him back into Dr Jekyll. I recall occasionally seeing on television, and maybe you do too, clips from an old Hollywood film dating from the 1920s in which the actor playing the part of Dr Jekyll stands in front of a bubbling or steaming glass of the drug. He takes it and drinks it, and in front of the camera - using his best acting skills - supposedly turns into Mr Hyde.
Now I had always thought that, in the story, what was happening was that the drug was making Dr Jekyll evil – and thus turning him into Mr Hyde. But the story is much more subtle than that. What the drug actually does is to destroy the good in Dr Jekyll, so that only the evil is left. It's really a story about the fact that even in the best of people, evil is present.
Of course, the first time Dr Jekyll does it, its very shocking experience to him. But, somehow, he just can't resist the temptation to try it once more, and then again, and again. The experience of – temporarily – being and doing evil is just so thrilling to him. He also believes that he can give up the experience of becoming Hyde any time he wants to. However, he begins to notice over time, as he repeats the experience, that it is progressively becoming easier and easier for him to turn into Mr Hyde, and harder and harder to turn back into Dr Jekyll.
Although the book doesn't really tell you anything about the evil activities Dr Jekyll gets up to when he is Mr Hyde, you gather that his evil behaviour is becoming worse and worse and it culminates in him committing a murder. On occasions, he now finds that he turns into Mr Hyde spontaneously and unexpectedly - without actually drinking the drug - and finds it a virtually impossible struggle to revert back to Dr Jekyll. In the end, he makes the final and irrevocable decision to become once more Mr Hyde, knowing that he can never ever return to being Dr Jekyll, and then subsequently is found by an acquaintance to have committed suicide.
OK - this is real piece of Victorian melodrama and probably something that is hard to take very seriously. But when I read the story I was reminded of
I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for
to will is present with me, but how to perform what is
good I do not find.
Notice the word “captivity”. When you are a captive you have no means of escape. And what are the results?
Romans 6:23 (first part)
I think a problem we can have when reading Romans 7 is that, deep down, I'm not convinced that we actually believe it. I suspect that we tend to think that Paul is exaggerating when he says that he and by extension, we, of ourselves, are “captives” to the law of sin. OK - we know that we sin sometimes, but we don't really believe that we are captives, and prefer instead to believe that, by our own free will, we have the possibility of avoiding sin. Well, Paul does not seem to think so. Of course, to make it absolutely clear, we are not captives to a habitually sinful way of life. God has set us free from that. But I think Paul is saying is that as long as we are in the flesh sin is not merely possible, but simply inevitable.
One thing that really struck me on reading the novel was that in spite of its universal theme of man's struggle with evil, God is never once mentioned. Now Robert Louis Stevenson came from a Scottish Calvinist background, and clearly had some familiarity with the New Testament, but in the book Dr Jekyll has no one to save him from his own dark side, or if you prefer, “law of sin” - no-one at all, other than himself. And he fails. Because under the surface, what the novel is really all about is the powerlessness of mankind – its complete helplessness, left to itself - when confronted by its own sinful nature. That sinful nature which, when it has run its course, inevitably leads to death. It's really that that gives the book its universal theme, and the reason why it has endured. Because, who really is Dr Jekyll? The answer is that it's all human beings without God. And before God called us, brethren, you and me. Of course, the details differ from person to person, but the result is always the same.
But, the really crucial difference between us and the fictional Dr Jekyll is that we have a great Redeemer who is able to deliver us from the fate that would otherwise await us. In the book of Job [19:25] Job makes the famous statement “For I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last [or “at the latter day”] on the earth;
In Romans 7:24-25 Paul asks the
And gives the
There's no chapter break in the original text, so continuing:
Romans 8:1-4 (NKJV)
1 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Because of what Christ has done, believers are not counted guilty in the sight of God, and will not be punished on the day of judgement. Yes, we sin, but because of what Christ has done, God does not condemn us. Christ has taken our punishment on himself. Because he paid the penalty in full, we do not need to pay it again. Christ has already received all the condemnation that we deserve, so there is no further condemnation waiting for us in eternity.
5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.
Verse 5 describes two ways of life which go in diametrically opposite directions. And they begin with what is in our mind. This includes our conscious goals, interests, desires, attitudes – everything that goes on in the mind.
“Living according to the flesh” describes a life that is dominated by the desires and activities of sinful human nature. It tends to get further and further away from God on its journey towards its only possible destination: death. That's what Dr Jekyll did when he became Mr Hyde. By living that life, a person is showing that he is unwilling to live in the presence of God. He is hostile to him, resentful of his authority.
In contrast, Christians do not, and should not, live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. The person whose life orientation is led by the Holy Spirit is preoccupied with the things of the Spirit. His desires, goals, and interests are determined by the truth revealed in Scripture by the Spirit of God.
So we should not set our minds on what the sinful nature wants, but the things the Spirit wants. As we are led by the Spirit, we think and do the things of God. And, as Christians, the vast majority of the time that is what we do. However, alas, sometimes we don't. Instead we live according to the flesh, and the result is sin - exactly what Paul said in Romans chapter 7.
I say this because I think it's very important to realise that we are not freed from condemnation because of what we do, but because of what Christ has done. It was Christ who was nailed to the cross, not us. It was Christ's blood that was shed, not ours. And as the spring festival season approaches, it will be Christ's death and resurrection we will be celebrating, not anything we have done.
But what we can do is to show that we accept and deeply appreciate what God has done for us through Christ. And the way we show that is through the kinds of lives we live. The more we are led by the spirit (and conversely, the less we are led by the flesh) the more we will show our acceptance on a daily basis of what God has done for us through Jesus Christ.
But don’t we still have a responsibility to resist temptation and sin? Of course we do.
In James 4:7 (NKJV)
7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
However, think it’s important to realise that It’s not really us the devil will flee from us, as though it’s our power that will make him flee. What he will actually flee from is Christ living in us.
We read in 1 John 4:4 …..”greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.”
That’s why in James 4: 7 our submission to God precedes, or is the essential foundation for, our resistance to Satan.
In conclusion, one day temptation and sin will be thing of the past. Because of what God has done in sending Jesus Christ we will live in the presence of God, and these things just won't be around any more. Let’s finish with:
1 Thess 5:23-24 (NKJV)
may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may
your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the
coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.