Clayton Bell, the former pastor of Highland Park Presbyterian Church once said, "There are two big lies that Satan has been perpetrating ever since the Garden of Eden. The first is that God is mean, vindictive, a spoilsport whose main role in life is to keep us from being fulfilled and happy--when we step out of bounds, he takes delight in making us pay. The second lie is that God really doesn't care what we do--probably doesn't know. And if he does, his business is to forgive us. He'll always forgive no matter what, so it really doesn't make much difference how we live and what we believe." Personally the first lie is seen among those who paint everyone who claims the title "fundamentalists", evangelicals or religious conservative with the same brush as the Islamist jihadists of the last 30 years or the radical Zionists of the 1940's and 50's. You also see it in the lives of those who dwell among the church and claim they aren't subject to the same rules as others because "they're saved."
Time has come to set both sets of people straight. Time has come to realize that sin, temptation, and fallenness is not only pervasive in Humans but a universal trait. And it is time for us to realize that we can face such temptation with the same sort of resolve with which our Lord did.
God does not tempt us. God does allow temptation to come against us. Genesis 3 is a prime example. A tree has been created that we are not allowed to consume. In Deuteronomy 8, a passage which Jesus quotes from in Matthew 4 tells us that "the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands" v.2
Matthew 4:1 says, "Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil." Jesus didn't wander into a nasty situation in which temptation took advantage of Him. Jesus didn't fall in with a bad group of friends who led Hid down the wrong road. Jesus was taken by the Holy Spirit to a place where the Father wanted the Christ to be for the purpose of testing.
Often however we enter into a place where we no darn good-and-well we shouldn't be. And instead of running away we sit down to enjoy the party. That's not God's will for us and we know it. Immature believers say, "If God doesn't want me to sin he shouldn't make temptation so attractive." Growing believers recognize that there is a personal component to sin which we do well to admit too up front. Phyllis watched "High School Musical 2" this past week and in there's a line in the song Bet On It in which Zac sings Did you ever? Blame the world and never blame you. I will never try to live a lie again. Giving into temptation is giving into a lying lifestyle.
Testing and temptation can be two sides of the same coin. What those of us on the receiving end perceive as a temptation may be used by God to test us, try us, refine us, and make us stronger. Israel didn't trust God. They sinned. They refused to take the land too which God had led them. The temptation to turn away was embraced and they were judged for it. They failed God's test of faithfulness and their next lesson took a generation to teach and learn.
If we've followed Jesus for any length of time we've most likely got times when we've faced a choice and chose wisely. We fled a bad situation. Words came out of our mouths that had to be from the Lord. We demonstrated a sense of resolve and spiritual strength we never could have imagined. Isn't that a good feeling to know you did what Jesus told you to do, that you were faithful to the one who died for you? There is a sense you've learned something significant about yourself and, more importantly, about God whose love has adopted you as His child and heir of His Kingdom.
Yet a day, a week or even an hour later another temptation, sometimes even the same one, comes on us and we fold without a second thought. The event, the test, the trial is the same but our failure makes it a temptation vs. a teaching.
God's word is key in dealing with temptation. When preparing to do a funeral I sometimes remind those who are left that Jesus cried at the tomb of his best friend. And these tears flowed even though Jesus knew he was going to call Lazarus back to life. Now, it seems to me that if Jesus quotes the Bible to Satan when confronted with temptation it just might be a very good idea for us to do the same thing.
Need another reason why to read the Bible this year? Here it is! Defeat Satan. Live a life that honors God. Don't get sucked into the spiritual scam which separates us from our souls, sense of integrity and the like.
Guarding against sin is a long, hard, tiring and often thankless job. So let me offer a couple of pointers. Tests become temptation when we are worn. Jesus is hungry after a forty day fast. Alcoholic's Anonymous use a lot of acronyms and one which I've learned to use is HALT. The meaning I heard for the letters was "Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired" and if you're any of those things you'd do well to not make crucial decisions and certainly don't put yourself in a place where temptation can happen.
When do we give into our pet sins? Is it when we're stressed out, fallen down tired, angry with a friend or boss? When we are emotionally, physically, mentally, or spiritually at a hard place it is no unusual to find the opportunity to sin. To combat temptation we need to be aware of when we're vulnerable because Satan certainly knows when we're vulnerable.
Temptation also seems to offer a simple, shortcut to the answers for all our issues. I love Murphy's Law and among them is Grossman's misquote which says, "Complex problems have simple, easy to understand wrong answers." Every watch a home improvement show that shows how easy it is to tile a floor? Ever try to tile a floor? In the show you don't see the group behind the scene cutting the tile, and cleaning up the grout. Quick, half-hour, ten-step fixes don't work with home improvement, childrearing and dieting and it certainly doesn't work with spiritual growth.
Eat the fruit and you'll be like God, sound familiar? Just say this prayer ten times a day, pass on this chain email, rub Buddha's belly, or whatever the fad is and you'll be successful. Folks, it doesn't work that way.
To grow in Christ takes work. To follow Jesus is to be tested. Jesus said it, "if they persecuted me they'll persecute you." But the fact is God isn't surprised, disgusted, dismayed or shocked when we're tempted because He knows that's what Satan and our own nature lead us toward.
What God does know is that in His Son, Jesus, we have the example of someone who faced all the same types of temptations and didn't give in. In Jesus we have one who met temptation head on, time and time again and stood strong.
Don't sell out this Lent. Don't give up something that is worthwhile for a momentary quick-fix answer. Don't lose the most valuable in order to grab hold of a mere trinket. To do that is to fail, to doubt that God has the best in mind for us, to give up the glory of the race for the sideline and bleachers.
God's called us to stand firm and to do that He's given us His Son, who is the truth, the way and the life. Isn't that quite a contrast with the lies of our world and the evil one.
 Many Happy Returns," Preaching Today, Tape No. 135