A husband got very annoyed with his wife for always coming back with a new dress each time she went out shopping. He told her she must be more concerned about the finances and resist any more purchases. She said it was very difficult as the Devil was always tempting her. Her husband replied “You must say to the Devil next time, ‘Get behind me Satan.’” The next week she came back from shopping with yet another new dress. Her husband was very annoyed. “Didn’t you tell the Devil to get behind you as I said?” His wife replied, “I did, but when he went behind me he whispered in my ear, ‘It looks just as good from the back as it does from the front.”
Tonight we are looking at the topic of temptation. Temptation is something that affects us all. I wonder how many of us can identify with Oscar Wilde when he said "I can resist everything except temptation."
In February 1942, after only seven days of fighting, Singapore, which was considered an impregnable fortress fell to the Japanese, resulting in 80,000 British and Common Wealth troops being taken prisoner. Winston Churchill described the fall of Singapore as the "worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history".
The fall of Singapore came about because the British underestimated their enemy. British troops stationed in Singapore were told that the Japanese were poor fighters, and would never be able to take Singapore. But when the Japanese attacked, it took everyone by surprise, both because of the speed of the onslaught which didn’t give the British forces time to re-group, and also because they attacked from the land, through the jungle and mangrove swamps of the Malay Peninsula, and not from the sea as the military planners had assumed.
Paul in Ephesians writes ‘For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.’ (Eph 6:12). As Christians we are in a spiritual battle, and we must not underestimate our enemy. Jesus likened the devil to a thief who comes "to steal, kill, and destroy" (John 10:10). The Devil wants to destroy our relationship with God, and one of his favourite ways of doing this is through temptation.
Whenever launching an attack, the attacker aims for the weakest part of the defence. The Devil knows where the weak areas of our lives are, where we are most open to temptation, and that is where he will aim his attack.
I know there are some things which wouldn’t tempt me at all. But there are other areas in my life, where I struggle a great deal with temptation, areas of weakness which the Devil focuses his attack on. But if you know what those areas of weakness are in your lives, then you can do something about it.
In 2011 a survey tracked the top temptations Americans face. The people surveyed said they struggled with the following temptations either "often" or "sometimes":
· Worrying or being anxious—60 percent
· Procrastinating or putting things off—60 percent
· Eating too much—55 percent
· Spending too much time on media—44 percent
· Being lazy—41 percent
· Spending more money than they could afford—35 percent
· Gossiping about others—26 percent
· Being jealous or envious of others—24 percent
· Viewing pornography or sexually explicit material—18 percent
· Abusing alcohol or drugs—11 percent
I think one of the biggest areas of temptation, particularly for men is viewing pornography or sexually explicit material. According to a survey which came out this week it is claimed that 70% of men aged between 18 and 34 visit a pornographic website at least once a month, and that its use is becoming more prevalent in society. It is a big issue, which many people wrestle with within church. A Christianet Survey conducted in 2006 found that a staggering 50% of Christian men and 20% of Christian are addicted to pornography and sexually explicit material.
The success of novels such as Fifty Shades of Grey, nicknamed mummy porn, sexually graphic material has now entered the main stream, it’s considered more socially acceptable. And because of the internet and advances in technology, it’s much easier to access. This is why I believe many Christians find sexual temptation one of the most difficult areas to resist.
When thinking about temptation it is important to recognise that
· Temptation itself is not a sin
Jesus himself was tempted, but without sin. In Hebrews (4:15) we read ‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin.’
It is when we give in to temptation that sin arises.
· Temptation does not lessen the more mature we become as Christians.
The fact that Jesus himself faced temptation is a reminder that we too will face temptation. This is why he taught us to pray “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” It doesn’t matter whether you have been a Christian for a short time or long time, we all wrestle with temptation.
A Native American elder once described his own inner struggles with temptation. He said “Inside of me there are two dogs. One of the dogs is mean and evil. The other dog is good. The mean dog fights the good dog all the time.”
When asked which dog wins, he reflected for a moment and replied, “The one I feed the most.”
Satan Will Hit You
It is when we are at our weakest and most vulnerable that Satan will often attack us, particularly when we are hungry, isolated and/or tired.
It was when Jesus was at his weakest and most vulnerable, when he was hungry and tired that the temptations came.
When we are hungry or tired our defences are weakened. We might try to find comfort in food or drink, or sexual sin, or some other area, rather than in Christ.
Satan is the great deceiver and tempter. He wants to plant seeds of doubt and uncertainty in our mind. Notice how the Devil tests Jesus. “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
Satan wants us to doubt who we are in Christ, and he wants to undermine our trust in God. For example when God placed Adam and Eve in the garden, He told them they could eat the fruit of any tree, apart from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But when the devil comes along, in the form of a serpent, he twists what God had said by asking “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The devil plants seeds of doubt in the mind of Eve.
And he also tries to deceive us that if we don’t give into the temptation, we will somehow be missing out. That is why the serpent says to Eve God knows that if you eat the fruit your “eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:5)
Satan tries to deceive us into believing that God wants to kill our joy and rob us of fun and excitement. But it is a lie. When we give into temptation, we are left feeling full of guilt and shame, because as soon as we give in to a temptation, the devil immediately condemns us. Call yourself a Christian, if you were a true Christian, you wouldn’t have done or said that. The Devil wants us to doubt in ourselves, and to doubt in God. He wants to entice and trap us, and when he has done that, he wants to condemn us.
But we must remember that our true identity is found in Christ. We are the adopted sons and daughters of God, loved, forgiven, redeemed. Satan wants us to doubt this, but knowing that your identity is found in Christ, you will live want to live differently.
1. THE TEMPTATION TO DO IT YOURSELF (vv. 3-4)
The first temptation Jesus faced was to turn stone into bread. The temptation sounds innocent enough, doesn’t it? After all Jesus had been without food for six weeks!
But the temptation was for Jesus to use his power to serve his own needs, rather than to rely upon the care and provision of God. It was a test of trust.
This is one of the ways the Devil tempts us, to rely on ourselves rather than God, to use our power and influence to serve our own interests. To assume that we need to do things on our own, because we think that God does not care or maybe does not know about our needs.
But Jesus’ response to this test was to turn to Scriptures, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone.’”
Jesus makes it clear doing the will of God and being obedient to His every word is more important than food or any other material thing. We are called upon to trust God to provide our needs in His time and in His way.
Jesus’ response to temptation also illustrations the importance of knowing what scripture says and teaches to take root in our lives, to build our lives on the truths contained in scripture. It is why Paul when talking about the armour of God in Ephesians says that the first thing we should put on is the belt of truth (Eph 6:14). When preparing for a battle, the belt was the first thing a soldier put on, because it was designed to keep the other pieces of the soldier’s armour in place.
Satan is the great deceiver, who often attacks truth with lies. We need to put on the belt of truth. We need to be firmly established in the truth of God’s word, so that we can resist Satan’s lies and deceit. Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)
This is why knowing God’s word is so important, so that we can resist the attacks of the enemy. As followers of Christ we are called to abide in the truth, walk in truth, and speak the truth. If we do that, we are spiritually ready in every circumstance.
THE TEMPTATION TO TAKE THE EASY WAY (vv. 5-8)
The second temptation Jesus faced to worship the devil in return for earthly power. Worship me and “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them.” The devil is seeking to tempt Jesus to find a way to gain the acceptance and loyalty of the world without having to suffer rejection, betrayal and death on the cross, by worshipping him. But a crown without the cross would mean that there would be no forgiveness for our sins.
Sometimes we face the same temptation to take the easy road. To go with the flow, to follow the path of least resistance. Because let’s be honest, being a Christian isn’t always easy. Wouldn’t it be easier if we just chose those bits of Christianity we like, and ditch the bits we don’t like? But if we are not careful, we end up worshipping things other than Christ.
Jesus responds “You must worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” (Lk 4:8) We cannot worship more than two masters. Jesus’ calls us to give ourselves to him in worship and service. Jesus said we must take up our cross and follow him, discipleship can be difficult, demanding, and costly, but it is also the path that leads to life.
THE TEMPTATION TO NOT BELIEVE IT UNTIL YOU SEE IT (vv. 9-13)
The third temptation Jesus had to face was to throw himself off the Temple.
Notice how the devil changes his attack, this time quotes scripture, saying “If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written:" 'He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”
Ahead of Jesus was 3 years of ministry, in which he would have to face opposition, misunderstanding, rejection, and ultimately death on the cross. To do something dramatic, as suggested by the devil, surely would have been tempting. This would be a show of Jesus’ power, and there would be no mistaking Jesus’ true identity. But it would have also been putting God to the test, and so Jesus refused to take this shortcut.
There are many subtle ways that we can put God to the test. We may not jump from the top of the church – but we do it in other ways. We do it when we do not put the worship of God and attendance at church as a priority – and yet we expect God to bless what we are doing – that is putting God to the test. We do it when we ignore God’s will, and follow a path of our own choosing, and then cry out to God to bail us out. We do it when we test the boundaries of what we know is wrong, and are surprised when we fall, and we blame God. That is putting God to the test.
Jesus’ response to the Devil is to say ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’. Instead it comes down to trusting God.
In verse 13 it says ‘When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came.’ This verse reveals that the Devil will always be lurking in the shadows, watching, waiting for the next vulnerable moment. These forty days in the wilderness weren’t the only times Jesus faced temptation.
From these temptations that Jesus faced, we can see how the devil works, but also how to resist temptation. Paul writes “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (I Corinthians 10:13).
There are people here tonight who have been wrestling with temptation for a long time, which has left you feeling ashamed and full of guilt. And you believe that you can never get free of it. But there is a way out.. ‘when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.’
The first thing we need to do is to acknowledge the times we have succumbed to temptation. We need to ask for God’s forgiveness and mercy. We need to be honest with ourselves & with God about those areas of our live where we struggle the most, and we need to hand them back over to God.
Once we have done that, we need to learn how to resist temptation. We have touched on some of these already:
- · Prayer
- · Studying & knowing God’s word
- · Being accountable to others
- · Avoiding compromising situations
- · Look to God – ‘Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.’ (Col 3:2)
Think about the areas of your life where you face trials and temptation? Are you doing any of these things, to try and deal with them?
We need to recognise that we are in a spiritual battle, and that Satan will try to tempt us, in order to lead us away from Christ. But the choice to give in to temptation or not is ours. The Apostle James writes, ‘Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.’ (James 4:7). Satan has no power over us, apart from what we let him have.
Remember too that through the Holy Spirit Jesus is with us. He is with us in our hour of temptation, in our moment of trial and testing and difficulty, as the one who has defeated evil and overcome temptation. It was the Holy Spirit that helped Jesus resist temptation for forty days. And you have the same presence and power of God the Holy Spirit in you that Jesus did. You can live as he did. You can defeat the temptation that comes to you as he did by the presence and the power, by being filled and led by God the Holy Spirit.
The greatest way to resist temptation is to open ourselves to God, to seek him first above all us, to learn to trust him and to be obedient and faithful. When Martin Luther was asked how he overcame the devil, he replied, “Well, when he comes knocking at the door of my heart, and asks ‘Who lives here?’ the dear Lord Jesus goes to the door and says, “Martin Luther used to live here, but he has moved out. Now I live here.” Satan may try come knocking on our door, but if Christ fills our lives, there will be no room for Satan.