A Tempted Savior Is A Helpful Savior

I’ve struggled with anxiety over the years.

Sometimes it gets pretty rough. It keeps me from falling asleep at night and wakes me up in the dark hours of the night. Sometimes it feels like a large animal is sitting on my chest, squeezing the breath out of me. It’s a miserable experience that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

When I see someone else experiencing anxiety I feel compassion for them. I know the misery they are experiencing and my heart goes out to them. I extend them more grace than I normally would because I know how difficult it is to operate in the midst of anxiety. I want to help them and pray for them and let them know that I care about them.

But realistically, there’s not much I can do to help. I can pray and that’s about it. I’ve suffered like they have but I don’t have the power to help them in the midst of their suffering. I’m limited.

Not so with Jesus.

For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:18 ESV)

Jesus suffered like no one else. He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He felt the loneliness of being abandoned by his family and the utter grief of being abandoned by the Father. He had a real human body that was racked with pain and sickness. He had a real back that was destroyed by a Roman whip and a real head that was punctured by massive thorns.

He was tempted in every way that we are. Jesus took on a full frontal assault from Satan, enduring the worst that Satan could throw at him. Jesus knew temptation in a way that we never will.

Jesus suffered alright. He suffered and was tempted.

Because Jesus suffered and was tempted, He is perfectly suited to help us in our temptations. The one who endured excruciating pain can sustain us in the midst of our pain. The one who was haunted by loneliness can comfort us in our loneliness. The one who was mocked and abused by others can strengthen us when we are mocked an abused.

Jesus is not like a football coach who looks upon our sufferings and says, “Suck it up!” Jesus looks on our sufferings and says, “I’ve been through that. I know what that’s like. Let me help you.” Jesus, the almighty, reigning son of God, is waiting to help us.

Are you running to Jesus in the midst of temptation and suffering? To do anything else is crazy. Jesus is full of tender mercy toward us and wants to help us in every trial and temptation.

Note: This is excerpted from a sermon I preached on Hebrews 2:10-18. You can listen to it here.

You Don’t Have To Sin (Even When It Feels Like You Will Explode If You Don’t)

Believers in Jesus Christ don’t have to sin.

Oh but doesn’t it FEEL like we have to at times? Like when you’re tempted to lust.  Or when somebody gets in your face and accuses you unjustly.  Or when that guy behind you lays on his horn the second the light turns green? Or when your kids do something for the 875,000th time when you’ve told them not to?

How can any human being possibly not sin at times like these? Impure thoughts, rage, worry, envy and other temptations feel so strong they feel like they’re just, well….us.  They feel so strong that we have no other choice but to give in to them.  Or do we?

When Christ brings us into union with himself, he breaks our union with sin. He performs a spiritual circumcision, a “putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ” (Co 2:11) – in other words, he breaks the enslaving power of our sinful nature. It still seeks to exert its desires, but now we’re free from the obligation of giving into those desires. We may FEEL like we have to sin, but we don’t.

We’re also buried with Christ (Co 2:12).  We’re to count ourselves dead and buried to sin with Christ.  To count ourselves dead to sin means we don’t have to obey its desires.

And  with Christ, we’ve been raised to his new resurrection life (Co 2:12).  Now the Holy Spirit lives in us, and we have his power to overcome sin, no matter how powerful a temptation feels.

Early on in my Christian life, someone shared this principle with me: Our feelings are a very poor barometer of the truth. God’s word is what is true, not our feelings, no matter how strong they are.

Our feelings might be the truth. But just because our feelings are intense doesn’t mean they’re the truth.  Just because lust feels we must give in to it doesn’t mean we actually have to.

Imagine a slave who served a cruel master for years suddenly finds himself freed by Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. One day as he’s walking down the road his blood runs cold when he hears his former owner scream, “Where do you think you’re going? Get back here!”

Feelings of terror and dread flood his soul. Trembling seizes him.  His breathing becomes rapid and shallow and everything within him screams he has to obey his former owner.

Then he remembers the truth – he’s no longer a slave. He’s free! He says “I don’t have to obey you anymore – I’ve been freed.  You can rage and threaten and squawk all you want but I don’t need to do a single thing you say.”

Remember – our feelings aren’t necessarily the truth. We don’t have to obey them.  Jesus has broken the enslaving power of our old sin nature. And the Holy Spirit empowers us to obey God’s commands. (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.  John 8:36

The Greatest Defense Against Temptation

What’s the best defense against temptation?  Rebuke it?  Tell it to go away?  Try not to think about it?

Sometimes when we try to resist temptation head on, it’s like trying not to think of the words “pink elephant” for the next  20 seconds – the more you try not to, the more you do.  There’s a better way to fight the allurements of our flesh and the devil.  John Owen tells us:

“Keep the heart full of a sense of the love of God in Christ. This is the greatest preservative against the power of temptation in the world…”

“Store the heart with a sense of the love of God in Christ, and his love in the shedding of it; get a relish of the privileges we have thereby, our adoption, justification, [acceptance] with God; fill the heart with thoughts of the beauty of his death; and thou wilt, in an ordinary course of walking with God, have great peace and security as to the disturbance of temptations.”

One way to keep a sense of Jesus’ love is by thanking him throughout the day.  Thank him for his steadfast love that never ceases and his mercies that never come to an end.  Thank him for taking your place on the cross and paying for your sins to bring you to God.  Thank him for his sympathy and compassion, and that he’s ever interceding for you.

As Jude says, “Keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” (Jude 1:21)

Keep yourself in the love of God today.  He demonstrated his love for you at the cross.  Ask him for more of a sense of it.  And when you’re tempted, don’t fight it head on.  Run to your great high priest on the throne of grace for help in your time of need.

Temptation Promises A Stop to the Burning

I think that sometimes people think about Christianity only in terms of what you aren’t allowed to do. Don’t drink and chew and run with the girls that do. Or something like that. (That ditty must have originated in West Virginia…)

But the reality is, God has created us to be people who have strong, good desires. We’re not robots. We want to eat. We want to have community with friends. We want to have sex. We want to rest our weary bodies. Passions and desires course through us, and those passions are good things.

And God isn’t some sort of sadist deity who gives us desires and then refuses to fulfill them. Every good desire has a God ordained outlet. Our stomachs are filled at the dinner table as we gratefully enjoy our food. Our desires for community are filled when we get together with friends or family. Our appetite for sex is filled in a God-given spouse. All good desires, all good outlets, all designed by God.

Satan however, wants us to find our fill outside of the outlets God has given us. In his book Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ, Russell Moore makes an outstanding point:

The pull of the passions always promises a resolution of the “burning”. I will manipulate my coworker with a morsel of office gossip, just once. I will view this pornographic image, just to see what it’s like. But the passions are a lure. Unless they find resolution in the way God designed the universe by his wisdom, they are perpetually unsatisfied.

Dang that’s good! Often times our desires are so strong that it does indeed feel like a “burning”. Satan promises a quick outlet for the burning. Instead of offering sexual fulfillment in marriage, Satan offers porn and adultery and lust. Instead of offering a satisfying meal eaten with thankfulness and self-control, Satan offers gluttony, or anorexia, or bulimia. Instead of offering the honor and exaltation that come from God, Satan offers self-exaltation and clawing for the top.

When we give into these sinful desires, the burning does stop for a brief moment, but the relief doesn’t last long. It will be back stronger than ever.

That’s why I find the words of Russell Moore very helpful. Fighting against sin isn’t just about suppressing the desires, like some sort of monk. When we are tempted, we need to ask God for the self-control to say “no” to ungodly expressions of godly desires. Then we also need to ask God to help us find a God-honoring way to satisfy the desire in our hearts.

God Loves Our Accompaniment

It might surprise some to know that much of our fight against sin involves worship.

And every stroke of the appointed staff that the LORD lays on them will be to the sound of tambourines and lyres. Battling with brandished arm, he will fight with them. Is 30.32

God’s job is to crush our enemies.  Our job is to worship, celebrate and trust him.  While we worship him, he lays his strokes on our foes.

When I first got saved, I struggled a lot with fear at night, probably because a teenager I’d watched every horror movie I could. At times in the middle of the night I’d feel a presence in the room. The more I rebuked a spirit of fear, the more I felt gripped by fear.

Then someone told me I should pray, resist the devil, then begin to praise and thank God.

So when I experienced fear at night I’d pray then praise: “Father, thank you for your protection.  Praise you that you are my refuge and strength, my strong fortress. Thank you that you say in your Word that you give your beloved sleep and the angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him and delivers them.”

When you’re tempted to fear for the salvation of your loved ones, in addition interceding, praise God for his great power to save, that he is greater than their sin, that he doesn’t want any to perish but all to come to the knowledge of the truth.

When you’re tempted to lust, pray, “Jesus, deliver me!”  Then say, “Praise you that you will cleanse me and make me pure.  Thank you that you will give me victory and make holy as you are holy.”

Obviously, the Bible commands us to put sin to death.  But ultimately, the Lord fights the battle.  And let us not forget to add the sound of tambourines and lyres to our requests.

He loves to be accompanied by our worship while he is conquering his enemies.

photo by MarkyBon

Jesus Temptations Were Not the Same As Mine

Have you ever read the accounts of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness and immediately made the connection to the temptations you face? In other words, you see Jesus’ battle against temptation as primarily a lesson on how you should fight temptation. I know I have.

But we shouldn’t be too quick to identify with Jesus. In the wilderness Jesus was doing something unique. Sinclair Ferguson writes:

But whatever exemplary lessons may be appropriately learned (and there are many), it must be emphasized that this event is…of a unique kind. It is deliberately set before as a recapitulation and a rerun of the Eden temptation.  (For the Fame of God’s Name, 176)

In other words, Jesus wasn’t primarily giving us lessons in how to overcome temptation. Jesus was conquering where Adam had failed. Adam succumbed to the temptations of Satan, bringing death into the world. Jesus overcame the temptation of Satan, bringing life into the world. Adam, the son of God, failed as a representative of the human race. Jesus, the son of God, succeeded.

I love these words of Sinclair Ferguson:

He [Jesus] appears as the divine champion, as it were, entering into enemy-occupied territory under the guidance of the Spirit as the director of spiritual intelligence. Miss this, and we miss the point of the narrative: it is a declaration of war, an attack on the one who claims to be the ruler of this world (Luke 4:6). Rather than overcome Jesus, Satan is comprehensively defeated, and in a sovereign manner dismissed by his conqueror with the words, “Away from me, Satan!” (Matt. 4:10, NIV) (pages 176-177)

Anatomy Of A Temptation

snake

ATTACK:

“God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. (GE 3.3-4)

Tactic 1: Question God’s word. You won’t die. Nothing’s going to happen to you. Lots of people do this and it never hurt any of them.

For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (5)

Tactic 2: Question God’s character and wisdom. God is holding out on you. He’s denying you this good thing to frustrate you.

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (6)

Tactic 3: Present the pleasurable aspects to the imagination. Just look at it – doesn’t it look good to eat? Isn’t it delightful to look at? Just get the customer into the car to smell the new car smell, and grab the steering wheel. Engage the imagination – wouldn’t this be fun to drive?

COUNTERATTACK:

Tactic 1: Don’t reason with the thoughts. Say, “God’s word is true and says this is sin. I believe it. There will be consequences if I disobey God’s word.”

Tactic 2: Trust God’s character. God has a good reason for denying me this. He’s good and wise.

Tactic 3: Quit looking at it. Pray then flee as fast as you can.

photo by goingslo