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The Temptation of Believers


by John Owen


The Enticement of Indwelling Sin

Sin not only deceives, it also entices. People are drawn away "and
enticed" (James 1:14). Sin draws the mind away from a duty, but it
entices the emotions. We will consider three things:
Sin's enticement of the emotions, how sin accomplishes this, and our
need to guard our affections because of this danger.
The affections are snared when they are aroused by sin. For when sin
prevails, it captures the affections completely within it. Sin
continually obsesses the imaginations with possessive images. The
wicked "devise iniquity, and work evil upon their beds," which they
also practice when they are given the chance (Micah 2:1). Peter says
they have "eyes full of adultery, and they cannot cease from sin" (2
Peter 2:14). Their imagination continually fills their soul with the
objects of their lusts.

The apostle describes the things in the world as "the lust of the
flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life" (1 John 2:16).
The lust of the eyes enters the soul, forcing the imagination to
portray its intentions. John speaks of this as the lust of the
"eyes" because it constantly represents these images to the mind and
to the soul, just as our natural eyes present images of outward
objects to the brain.

Indeed, the actual sight of the eyes often occasions these
imaginations. Achan declared how sin had prevailed over him in
Joshua 7:21. First, he saw the gold and the Babylonian garments,
then he coveted them. Seeing them, he imagined their value to him,
and then he fixed them in his desiring heart.

The enticement of sin is heightened when the imagination dominates
over the mind. It implants vain thoughts within the mind, and
delights secretly in its complacency. When we indulge with delight
in thoughts of forbidden things, we commit sin, even though our will
has not yet consented to perform the deed. The prophet asks, "How
long will your vain thoughts lodge within you?" (Jer 4:14). All
these thoughts come and go as messengers, carrying sin with them.
Such thoughts inflame the imagination and entangle the affections
more and more.

As we have already seen, sin always seeks to extenuate and lessen
the seriousness of sin to the mind. "It is only a small offense," it
says. "It will be given up shortly." With such excuses it speaks the
language of a deceived heart. When there is a readiness on the part
of the soul to listen to these silent voicessecret insinuations
that arise from deceitit is evident that the affections are already
enticed.

When the soul willingly listens to these seductions, it has already
lost its affections for Christ, and has become seduced. Sin entices
like ''wine when it is red, when it gives its colour in the cup,
when it moves itself attractively" (Prov 23:31). But in the end, sin
"bites like a serpent, and stings like an adder" (Prov 23:32).
How, then, does sin deceive to entice and to entangle the
affections? First, it makes use of the tendency of the mind. If the
mind is like a sly bird, sin will not capture it. "Surely in vain
the net is spread in the sight of any bird" (Prov 1:17). But if a
bird is distracted, its wings are of little use to escape from the
trap. Thus does sin entice. It diverts the mind away from the danger
by false reasonings and pretenses, then casts its net upon the
affections to entangle them.

Second, sin takes advantage of the phases of life, and proposes sin
to be desirable. It gilds over an object with a thousand pretenses
which the imagination promotes as "the pleasures of sin" (Heb
11:25). Unless one despises these pleasures, as Moses did, one
cannot escape from them. Those who live in sin, the apostle says,
"live in pleasure" (James 5:5). It is pleasure because it suits the
flesh to lust after them. Hence the caution, given, "Make no
provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof" (Rom 13:14).
That is to say, do not nourish yourself with the lusts of the flesh,
which sin gives to you through your thoughts or affections. He also
warns us, "Fulfill not the lusts of the flesh" (Gal 5:16). When men
live under the power of sin, they fulfill "the desires of the flesh
and of the mind" (Eph 2:3). When sin would entangle the soul, it
prevails with the imagination to solicit the heart by painting sin
as something beautiful and satisfying.

Third, it hides the danger associated with sin. Sin covers the hook
with bait, and spreads the food over the net. It is, of course,
impossible for sin to completely remove the knowledge of danger from
the soul. It cannot remove the reality that "the wages of sin is
death" (Rom 6:23), or hide "the judgment of God, that they who
commit sin are worthy of death" (Rom 1:32). But it so takes up and
possesses the mind and affections with the attraction and
desirability of sin, that it diverts the soul from realizing its
danger.

In the account of the fall of man, Eve properly told the serpent,
"If we eat or touch the fruit of that tree, we shall die" (Gen 3:3).
But Satan immediately filled her mind with the beauty and usefulness
of the fruit, and she quickly forgot her practical concern for the
consequences of eating. Likewise, David became so caught up in his
lusts that he ignored the consequences of his great sin. It is said
he "despised the Lord" (2 Sam 12:9).

When sin tempts with such pressure, it uses a thousand wiles to hide
the soul from the terror of the Lord. Hopes of pardon will be used
to hide it. Future repentance also covers it, as well as the present
insistence of lust and the particular occasion or opportunity. Sin
uses many other excuses: extenuating circumstances, surprise, the
balance of duties, the obsession of the imagination, and desperate
resolutions. It uses a thousand such excuses.

Sin then proceeds to present arguments to the mind in order to
conceive the desired sin. This we will consider in the next chapter.

Let us look now at the remedies for avoiding such deception of sin.
Clearly, we need to watch our affections. The Scriptures say: "Keep
your heart with all diligence" (Prov 4:23). We keep our heart in two
ways.

First, we guard our affections by mortifying our members (Col 3:5).
The apostle is saying, "You are to prevent the working and deceit of
sin, which is in your members." He also says, "Set your affection on
things above, not on things on the earth" (3:2). Fixing and filling
your affections with heavenly things will mortify sin.

What are the objects of such affections? They include God Himself,
in His beauty and glory; the Lord Jesus Christ, who is "altogether
lovely. . . the chiefest of ten thousand" (Song 5:10,16); grace and
glory; the mysteries of the gospel; and the blessings promised by
the gospel. If these were the preoccupation of our affections, what
scope would sin have to tempt and enter into our hearts? (See 2
Corinthians 4:17-18.)

Second, let us fix our affections on the cross of Christ. Paul says,
"God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus
Christ, whereby the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the
world" (Gal 6:14). When someone sets his affections upon the cross
and the love of Christ, he crucifies the world as a dead and
undesirable thing. The baits of sin lose their attraction and
disappear. Fill your affections with the cross of Christ and you
will find no room for sin. The world put Him out of a house and into
a stable, when He came to save us. Let Him now turn the world
out-of-doors, when He comes to sanctify us.

Remember also that the vigor of our affections towardheavenly things
is apt to decline unless it is constantly looked after, exercised,
directed, and warned. God speaks often in Scripture of those who
lost their first love, allowing their affections to decay. Let us be
jealous over our hearts to prevent such backsliding.

The Power of Temptation

It is the great duty of all believers not to enter into temptation.
God indeed is able to "deliver the godly out of temptations" (2
Peter 2:9). Yet it is our great task to use all diligence so that we
do not fall into temptation. Our Savior expresses His concern for
His disciples by teaching them to pray, "Lead us not into
temptation" (Matt 6:13). Since our Lord knows the power of
temptation, having experienced it, He knows how vulnerable we are to
it (Heb 2:18). He rewards our obedience by keeping us "in the hour
of temptation" (Rev 3:10).

Let us learn more about the power of temptation in order to avoid
it. Since temptation brings out many basic issues, Scripture has
much to say about it. In the parable of the sower, Christ compares
the seed sown on the rocky, thin soil to those who, "when they hear,
receive the word with joy, but have no root, for they only believe
for a while" (Luke 8:13). The preaching of the Word affects them.
They believe. They make a profession. They bring forth some fruit.
But how long do they continue? Christ Says, "In time of temptation
they fall away" (Luke 8:13). Once tempted, they are gone forever.
Likewise, in Matthew 7:26, Jesus speaks of the parable of the
"foolish man, who built his house upon the sand." But what happens
to this house of professed faith? It shelters its occupant, it keeps
him warm, and it stands for awhile. But when the rain descends (that
is to say, when temptation comes), it falls utterly, and its fall is
great. This foolish man is like Judas, who followed our Savior three
years. All went well for a time. But he no sooner entered into
temptationwhen Satan winnowed himthan he was lost. Demas preached
the gospel until the love of the world entered into his soul, and
then he turned utterly aside as well.

Among the saints of God, we see the solemn power of temptation. Take
Adam, "the son of God," created in the image of God, full of
integrity, righteousness, and holiness (Luke 3:38). He possessed a
far greater inherent stock of ability than we have, since he had
never been enticed or seduced. Yet no sooner did Adam enter into
temptation but he was undone, lost, and ruined, and all his
posterity with him. What should we expect then, when in our
temptations we must deal not only with a cunning devil, but also
with a cursed world and a corrupt heart?

Abraham is called the father of the faithful for it is his faith
that is recommended as the pattern to all who believe (Rom 4:11-17).
Yet twice he entered into the same temptation (namely, his fear
about his wife). Twice he committed sin. He dishonored God, and no
doubt his soul lost its peace (See Genesis 12 and 20).
David is called "a man after [God's] own heart" (1 Sam 13:14). Yet
what a dreadful story we read of his immorality! No sooner did
temptation entangle him than he plunged into adultery. Seeking
deliverance by his own devices, he became all the more entangled
until he lay as one dead under the power of sin and folly.
We should also mention Noah, Lot, Hezekiah, and Peter, whose
temptations and falls God recorded for our own instruction. Like the
inhabitants of Samaria who received the letter of Jehu, we should
ask, "If two kings were not able to stand before him, how then shall
we stand?" (2 Kings 10:4). For this reason the apostle urges us to
exercise tenderness toward those who fall into sin. Paul writes,
"Consider yourselves, lest you also be tempted"

(Gal 6:1). Seeing the power of temptation in others, let us beware,
for we do not know when or how we also may be tempted. What folly it
is that many should be so blind and bold, after all these and other
warnings, to put themselves before temptation.

We need to examine ourselves to see our own weaknesses, and to note
the power and efficacy of temptation. In ourselves, we are weakness
itself. We have no strength, no power to withstand. Self-confidence
produces a large part of our weakness, as it did with Peter. He who
boasts that he can do anything, can in fact do nothing as he should.
This is the worst form of weakness, similar to treachery. However
strong a castle may be, if a treacherous party resides inside (ready
to betray at the first opportunity possible), the castle cannot be
kept safe from the enemy. Traitors occupy our own hearts, ready to
side with every temptation and to surrender to them all.
Do not flatter yourself that you can hold out against temptation's
power. Secret lusts lie lurking in your own heart which will never
give up until they are either destroyed or satisfied. "Am I a dog,
that I should do this thing?" asks Hazael (2 Kings 8:13). Yes, you
will be such a dog, if you are like the king of Syria. Temptation
and self-interest will dehumanize you. In theory we abhor lustful
thoughts, but once temptation enters our heart, all contrary
reasonings are overcome and silenced.

Inadequate Safeguards Against the Power of Temptation

To be safe from such danger, we need to examine our own hearts. A
man's heart is his true self. If a man is not a believer, but only a
professor of the gospel, what will his heart do? Proverbs 10:20
says, "The heart of the wicked is of little worth." While outwardly
it appears to have value, inwardly it is worthless. Because the
sphere of temptation lies in the heart, an unbeliever cannot resist
it when it comes like a flood.

No one, indeed, should trust his own heart. Proverbs 28:26 says, "He
that trusteth in his own heart is a fool." Peter did this when he
boasted, "Although all shall forsake thee, I will not" (Mark 14:29).
This was his folly, his self-confidence. The heart of a man makes
such wonderful promises before temptation comes. But "the heart is
deceitful" (Jer 17:9). Indeed, it is "deceitful above all things."
It has a thousand shifts and treacheries, and when trial comes,
temptation steals it away just as "wine and new wine take away
understanding" (Hosea 4:11).

We need then to examine some of the inadequate measures we often use
in our attempts to safeguard the heart in the hour of temptation.

1. The love of honor in the world.

By one's walk and profession one obtains reputation and esteem in
the church. So some argue, "Can I afford to lose such a reputation
in the church of God by giving way to this lust, or to that
temptation, or in dealing in this or that public evil?" This seems
so strong an argument that many use it as a shield against any
assaults that come. They would rather die a thousand deaths than
lose their reputation in the church. But what about "the third part
of the stars of heaven"? (Rev 12:4). Did they not shine in the
firmament? Were they not fully aware of their honor, stature,
usefulness, and reputation? Yet when the dragon comes with his
temptations, he casts them down to the earth. Those who have no
better defenses than the love of honor are inadequately equipped to
deal with temptation. Sadly, it is possible for those with great
reputations to suffer destruction when their only defense lies in
their own good name. If this does not keep the stars of heaven, how
do you think it will keep you?

2. The fear of shame and reproach.

Not for all the world would some people bring upon themselves the
shame and reproach associated with certain temptations. Their
concern, however, tends to focus only upon open sins, such as the
world notices and abhors. This motive proves useless when dealing
with sins of conscience, or with sins of the heart. Innumerable
excuses are offered to the heart when one relies on this as the
predominant defense against temptation.

3. The desire not to disturb one's peace of mind,

wound one's conscience, or risk the danger of hell fire. One might
think that this would act as a major safeguard to preserve people in
the hour of temptation. Indeed, we should use this as a major
defense, for nothing is more important than striving to maintain our
peace with God. Yet several reasons indicate this motive alone is
not effective.

The peace of some only provides a false sense of security made up of
presumptions and false hopes. Even believers cling to this. David
enjoyed this false peace until Nathan came to see him. Laodicea
rested in it while on the verge of destruction. The church of Sardis
also claimed this peace while she lay dying. It is only true peace
in Christ that keeps us, and nothing else. Nothing that God will not
preserve in the last day keeps us now. False peace acts as a broken
reed, piercing the hand that leans upon it.

Even the true peace we desire to safeguard our soul may prove
useless as a defense in the hour of temptation. Why? Because we are
so vulnerable to excuses. "This evil is so trivial," we say. Or we
argue that it is so questionable. Or we argue that it does not
openly and flagrantly offend the conscience. We rationalize with
such excuses while maintaining our own peace of mind. We even
rationalize that others of God's people have fallen, yet kept their
peace and recovered from it. Facing a thousand such argumentsset up
like batteries of guns against a fortthe soul finally surrenders.
If we only focus on the one safeguard of peace, the enemy will
assault us elsewhere. True, it is one piece of armor for our
protection, but we are commanded to "put on the whole armour of God"
(Eph 6:11). If we depend upon this one element of defense,
temptation will enter and prevail in twenty other ways.

A man, for example, may be tempted to worldliness, unjust gain,
revenge, vanity, and many other things. If he focuses his attention
on this one safeguard of peace and considers himself safe, he will
neglect other needs. He may neglect his private communion with God,
or overlook his tendency to be sensual. In the end he may not be one
whit better than if he had succumbed to the temptation that most
obviously harassed him. Experience shows that this peace of mind
fails, therefore, as a safeguard. There is no saint of God who does
not value the peace he enjoys. Yet how many fail in the day of
temptation!

4. The thought of the vileness of sinning against God.

How could we do this thing, when to sin against God is to do so
against His mercies, and to wound Jesus Christ who died for us?
Unfortunately, we see every day that even this is not a sure and
infallible defense. No such defense exists.

Why do these motives fail us in the hour of temptation? Their
sources betray their inadequacy. For they arise either from the
universal and habitual disposition of our heart, or from the
temptation itself. We should remain wary of such counselors.

The Power of Temptation

It is helpful to consider the power of temptation in the light of
what we have just said. The power of temptation is to darken the
mind, so that a person becomes unable to make right judgments about
things as he did before entering into temptation. The god of this
world blinds men's minds so that they do not see the glory of Christ
in the gospel (2 Cor 4:4). Likewise, the very nature of every
temptation darkens the heart of the person who becomes tempted. This
occurs in various ways.

First, the imagination and thought can be so obsessed with some
object that the mind is distracted from those things that could
relieve and help it. Someone might be tempted to believe that God
has forsaken him, or God hates him, so that he expresses no interest
in Christ. He becomes so depressed that he feels none of the
remedies suggested to him will help. Meanwhile, he becomes obsessed
with the temptation that fixates him.

Temptation also darkens the mind by the tragic confusion of the
inclinations of the heart. Look around you and see how readily
temptation entangles people's feelings. Show me someone not occupied
with hope, love, and fear (of what he should not do), and I will
quickly point out his blindness. His present judgment of things will
be obscured and his will weakened. Madness immediately ensues. The
hatred of sin, the fear of the Lord, and the sense of Christ's love
and presence depart and leave the heart a prey to the enemy.

Finally, temptation gives fuel to our lusts by inciting and
provoking them, so that they are embroiled in endless turmoil. One
temptationwhether it is a lust, or a warped attitude, or anything
elsebecomes one's whole obsession. We might cite the carnal fear of
Peter, the pride of Hezekiah, the covetousness of Achan, the
uncleanness of David, the worldliness of Demas, or the ambition of
Diotrephes. We do not know the pride, fury, and madness of a wrong
deed until we face a suitable temptation. How tragic is the life of
someone whose mind is darkened, whose affections are entangled, and
whose lusts are enflamed, so that his defenses break down. What hope
remains for him?

We observe this power of temptation both socially and personally.
Public temptations, such as those mentioned in Revelation 3:10, "try
them that dwell upon the earth." They also come in a combination of
persecution and seduction to test a careless generation of
believers. Such public temptations take varied forms.

First, public temptations come as the result of God's judgment on
those who neglect or disdain the gospel, or who, as false believers,
act as traitors. God permitted Satan to seduce Ahab as a punishment
(1 Kings 22:22). When the world yields to folly and false worship in
their neglect of the truth, and in the barrenness of their lives,
God sends "a strong delusion, that they should believe a lie" (2
Thess 2:11). This delusion comes with a judicial purpose to those
who are selfish, spiritually slothful, careless, and worldly. As
well, those who do not retain God in their hearts, God gives up to a
reprobate mind (Rom 1:28).

Second, some public temptations spread infectiously from those who
should be godly, but who are mere professors. Christ warns, "Because
iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold" (Matt
24:12). When some become negligent, careless, worldly, and wanton,
they corrupt others. "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump" (1
Cor 5:6; Gal 5:9). The root of bitterness that troubles a man also
defiles many (Heb 12:15). Little by little some mere professors of
the truth influence others for evil.

Third, public temptations, when accompanied by strong reasons and
influence, are too hard to overcome. This often takes place
gradually. When a colony of people move from one country to another,
they soon adjust to the customs of the local inhabitants. Likewise,
prosperity often makes people morally careless, and it slays the
foolish and wounds the wise.

We also see the power of temptation personally. These personal
temptations enter the soul by their union with lust. John speaks of
"the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life"
(1 John 2:16). They reside principally in the heart and not in the
world. Yet they are "in the world" because the world enters into
them, mixes with them, and unites with them. By such means,
temptation penetrates so deep into the heart that no antidote
reaches it. It is like gangrene that mixes poison with the blood
stream.

Moreover, it is important to see that in whatever part of the soul
lust resides, it affects the whole person. A lust of the mind (such
as ambition, or vanity, or something similar) affects everything
else. Temptation draws the whole person into it.

But some will argue: "Why be so concerned about temptation? Are we
not commanded to 'count it all joy when we fall into diverse
temptations'?" (James 1:2). Yes, we should accept these trials. The
same apostle admonishes the wealthy to "rejoice in that he is made
low" (1:10). But James adds, "Blessed is the man that endureth
temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of
life" (1:12). While God may try us, He never entices us. Everyone is
tempted by his own lusts. Let us make sure that our own weaknesses
do not entice us and thus seduce us.

As well, the objection may be raised that our Savior Himself faced
temptation. Is it evil to find ourselves in a similar state? Hebrews
2:17-18 makes it clear that it is advantageous to us that Christ was
tempted. He uses, as the ground of great promise to His disciples,
the fact that they had been with Him in His temptations (Luke
22:28). Yes, it is true that our Savior experienced temptation. But
Scripture reckons His temptations among the evils that befell Him in
the days of His flesh, coming to Him through the malice of the world
and its prince. He did not deliberately cast Himself into
temptation. Instead He said, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God"
(Matt 4:7). Moreover, while Christ only had the suffering part of
temptation, we also have the sinning part of it. He remained
undefiled, but we become defiled.

Finally, some may argue, why should we be so careful about
temptation when we have God's assurances? "God is faithful, who will
not suffer us to be tempted above what we are able, but will with
the temptation also make a way of escape" (1 Cor 10:13). "The Lord
knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations" (2 Peter 2:9).
Yes, God has given us these assurances, but it is questionable
whether God will deliver us if we willingly enter into temptation.
"Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?" (Rom 6:1).
It is wrong for us to enter deliberately into temptation and to
think only of the near escape of our souls. We need to regard the
comfort, joy, and peace of our spirits, and to realize that we
sojourn here for the honor of the gospel and the glory of God.

The Dangers of Temptation

Having surveyed the power of temptation, we now want to consider the
dangers of temptation's inception. Often we wonder if we have
committed a specific sin. Rather, we should ask, "Have I entered
into temptation?" We enter into temptation whenever we are drawn
into sin, for all sin is from temptation (see James 1:14-15). Sin is
the fruit that comes only from that root. Even to be surprised or
overtaken in a fault is to be tempted. The apostle says, "Consider
yourself, lest you also be tempted" (Gal 6:1). Often we repent of
the sins that overtake us, without realizing how temptation starts
in the first place. This makes us vulnerable to fall once more into
sin.

Entering into temptation occurs in various ways. It often begins in
a concealed and subtle way. For example, a man begins by having a
reputation for piety, or wisdom, or learning. People speak well of
him. His vanity is tickled to hear it, and then his reputation
affects his pride and ambition. If this continues, he begins to seek
it actively, using all his energies to build up his own esteem,
reputation, and self-glory. Having this secret eye to its expansion,
he enters into temptation. If he does not deal with this quickly and
ruthlessly, he will become a slave to lust.

This happens to many scholars. They find themselves esteemed and
favored for their learning. This secretly appeals to their pride and
ambition, and they begin to major on promoting their learning. While
they do good things it is always with an eye on the approval of
others. In the end it is all carnal, making "provision for the
flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof" (Rom 13:14).

It is true that God in His mercy sometimes overrules such false
motives. In spite of the ambition, pride, and vanity of the servant,
God comes in grace to turn him to Himself and to rob him of his
Egyptian lusts. Then once more, God consecrates the tabernacle which
once housed idols.

But it is not only learning which temptation subtly corrupts.
Temptation makes every profession and vocation a potential snare.
Some find themselves the darlings, the celebrities, the popular ones
in their own circle of friends and associates. Once these thoughts
enter into their hearts, temptation entangles them. Instead of
seeking to gain more glory, they need to lie in the dust, out of a
sense of the vileness in themselves.

Likewise, when a man knows that he likes preaching the gospel or
some other work of the ministry, many things begin to work in his
favor. His ability, his simple presentation of the message, his
constant exposure before the public, and his success in it all,
expose him to temptation. These things become fuel for temptation.
Whatever we like to do tends to feed our lusts and tends to cause us
to enter into temptation, whether it is initially good or bad.
A man enters into temptation whenever his lusts find an opportunity
for temptation. As I have already stated, to enter into temptation
is not merely to face temptation, but to become entangled by its
power. It is almost impossible to escape from temptation if it
appropriately meets one's lusts. If ambassadors come from the king
of Babylon, Hezekiah's pride will cast him into temptation. If
Hazael is made king of Syria, his cruelty and ambition will make him
rage savagely against Israel. If the priests come with their pieces
of silver, Judas's covetousness will immediately operate to sell his
Master.

We see many examples of this situation in our own day. How mistaken
people are who think they can play over the hole of an asp and not
be stung, or touch tar without being defiled, or set their clothes
on fire and not be burnt. So if something in your business, your
lifestyle, or your culture suits your lusts, you have already
entered into temptation. If we have a propensity for unclean
thoughts, ambition in high places, sexual passion, perusal of bad
literature, or anything else, temptation will use various things in
our society to entrap us.

Furthermore, when someone acts weak, negligent, or casual in a
dutyperforming it carelessly or lifelessly, without any genuine
satisfaction, joy, or interesthe has already entered into the
spirit that will lead him into trouble. How many we see today who
have departed from warmhearted service and have become negligent,
careless, and indifferent in their prayer life or in the reading of
the Scriptures. For each one who escapes this peril, a hundred
others will be ensnared. Then it may be too late to acknowledge, "I
neglected private prayer," or "I did not meditate on God's Word," or
"I did not hear what I should have listened to." Like Sardis, we
maintain dead performances and duties in our spiritual life (Rev
3:1).

In the Song of Solomon, the bride acknowledges, "I sleep" (Song
5:2). Then she says, "I have put off my coat, and cannot put it on,"
which speaks of her reluctance to commune with her Lord (5:3). When
she finally answers the door, her "beloved had withdrawn himself"
(5:6). Christ had gone. Although she looks for Him, she does not
find Him. This illustrates the intrinsic relationship of the new
nature of the Christian and the worship of Christ. The new nature is
fed, strengthened, increased, and sweetened by Christ. Our desire
focuses on God, as the psalmist describes throughout Psalm 119. Yet
temptation attempts to intervene and disrupt this relationship and
desire.

Vigilance Against the Dangers of Temptation

How then can we be vigilant, so that we "watch and pray"? (Matt
26:41). This injunction from our Lord implies that we should
maintain a clear, abiding apprehension of the great danger we face
if we enter into temptation. If one is always aware of the great
danger, one will always stand guard.

1. Always remember the great danger it is for anyone to enter into
temptation. It is sad to find most people so careless about this.
Most people think about how to avoid open sin, but they never think
about the dynamics of temptation within their hearts. How readily
young people mix with all sorts of company. Before they realize it,
they enjoy evil company. Then it is too late to warn them about the
dangers of wrong companions. Unless God snatches them in a mighty
way from the jaws of destruction, they will be lost.

How many plead for their "freedom," as they call it. They argue that
they can do what they like and try what they want, so they run here
and there to every seducer and salesman of false opinions. And what
is the result? Few go unhurt, and the majority lose their faith. Let
no one fear sin without also fearing temptation. They are too
closely allied to be separated. Satan has put them so close together
that it is very hard to separate them. He hates not the fruit, who
delights in the root.

We need a moral sensitivity to the weakness and corruption within
us. We need to guard against the reality and guile of Satan. We need
to recognize the evil of sin and the power of temptation to work
against us. If we remain careless and cold, we shall never escape
its entanglements. We need to constantly remind ourselves of the
danger of the entry of temptation.

2. Realize we cannot keep ourselves from falling into temptation.
But for the grace of God, we will fall into it. We have no power or
wisdom to keep ourselves from entering into temptation, other than
the power and wisdom of God. In all things we "are kept by the power
of God" (1 Peter 1:5). "I pray," our Savior says to the Father, "not
that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou
shouldest keep them from the evil" (John 17:15). In other words,
Christ prays that the Father would guard us against the temptation
of the world to enter into evil and sin.

Let our hearts admit, "I am poor and weak. Satan is too subtle, too
cunning, too powerful; he watches constantly for advantages over my
soul. The world presses in upon me with all sorts of pressures,
pleas, and pretenses. My own corruption is violent, tumultuous,
enticing, and entangling. As it conceives sin, it wars within me and
against me. Occasions and opportunities for temptation are
innumerable. No wonder I do not know how deeply involved I have been
with sin. Therefore, on God alone will I rely for my keeping. I will
continually look to Him."

If we commit ourselves to God in this way, three things will follow.
First, we will experience the reality of the grace and compassion of
God. He calls the fatherless and the helpless to rest upon Him. No
soul has ever lacked God's supply when he depended upon God's
invitation to trust in Him absolutely. Second, we will be conscious
of our danger, and of our need for God's protection.

Third, we will act in faith on the promises of God to keep us. To
believe that He will preserve us is, indeed, a means of
preservation. God will certainly preserve us, and make a way of
escape for us out of the temptation, should we fall. We are to pray
for what God has already promised. Our requests are to be regulated
by His promises and commands. Faith embraces the promises and so
finds relief. This is what James 1:5-7 teaches us. What we need, we
must "ask of God." But we must "ask in faith," for otherwise we will
not "receive any thing of the Lord."

God has promised to keep us in all our ways. We shall be guided in
such a way that we "shall not err therein" (Isa 35:8). He will lead
us, guide us, and deliver us from the evil one. Base your life upon
faith in such promises and expect a good and assuring life. We
cannot conceive of the blessings that will ensue from this attitude
of trust in the promises of Christ.

3. Resist temptation by making prayer of first importance. Praying
that we enter not into temptation is a means to preserve us from it.
People often talk about their wonderful experiences in maintaining
this attitude of prayer, yet less than half its excellence, power,
and efficacy is ever known. Whoever wishes to avoid temptation must
pray. "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that
we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb
4:16). By doing this, our souls are set against every form of
temptation.

After Paul instructs us to "put on the whole armour of God" (that we
may stand and resist in the time of temptation), he adds: "Praying
always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching
thereunto with all perseverance and supplication" (Eph 6:11,18).
Without this attitude, we lack any real help.

Consider Paul's exhortation. "Praying always" means at all times and
seasons (compare 1 Thessalonians 5:17). "With all prayer and
supplication in the Spirit" implies expressing desires to God that
are suited to our needs according to His will, by the assistance of
the Holy Spirit. "Watching thereunto" means we are never distracted
from this essential stance. "With all perseverance" means this is
more than a passing whim, but a permanent inclination. By doing this
we will stand.

If we do not abide in prayer, we will abide in temptation. Let this
be one aspect of our daily intercession: "God, preserve my soul, and
keep my heart and all its ways so that I will not be entangled."
When this is true in our lives, a passing temptation will not
overcome us. We will remain free while others lie in bondage.

4. Christ's word of patience includes God's pledge to keep us.
Christ solemnly gave this promise to the church at Philadelphia. In
Revelation 3:10 He promises to keep those who keep His word from the
great trial and temptation which was to come upon all the world. The
fulfillment of this promise involves all three Persons of the
Trinity.

The faithfulness of the Father accompanies the promise. We shall be
kept in temptation because "God is faithful, who will not suffer you
to be tempted" (1 Cor 10:13). "He is faithful who promised" (Heb
10:23). "He will remain faithful; he cannot deny himself" (2 Tim
2:13). When we stand under this promise, the faithfulness of God
works on our behalf for our protection.

Every promise of God also contains the covenant grace of the Son. He
promises, "I will keep you" (Rev 3:10). How? "By my grace that is
with you" (1 Cor 15:10). Paul suffered intensely from temptation. He
"besought the Lord" for help and God answered, "My grace is
sufficient for you" (2 Cor 12:9). Paul could add, "I will glory in
my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." The
efficacy of the grace of Christ becomes evident in our preservation
(Heb 2:18; 4:16).

The efficacy of the Holy Spirit accompanies God's promises, as well.
He is called "the Holy Spirit of promise" (Eph 1:13). This is not
only because He promised the advent of Christ, but because He
effectively makes good the promise within us. He preserves the soul
of the one who follows these promises (Isa 59:21).

5. God preserves us as we keep the word of Christ's patience. When
we keep Christ's word, we guard our heart against temptable
tendencies. David prayed, "Let integrity and uprightness preserve
me" (Psa 25:21). God gave him a disposition that left no entry
points for temptation to penetrate. In contrast, we read: "There is
no peace for the wicked" (Isa 57:21). The wicked face temptation as
a troubled sea, full of restlessness and storms. They have no peace.
God delivers us from such troubles as we guard our heart to keep
Christ's word.

Negatively, we guard our heart by mortification. The apostle James
indicates that temptations arise from our own lusts (Jam 1:14). By
eliminating them, we destroy the entry points for temptation. Paul
says, "I am crucified with Christ" (Gal 2:20). To keep close to
Christ is to be crucified with Him and to be dead to all the carnal
desires of the world. Achan failed to mortify the lusts of his
heart. When he saw "a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred
shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold," he "coveted them" first,
then he "took them" (Josh 7:21). Sin seduced him. But a mortified
heart and a crucified life will preserve us from these things.
Positively, we guard our heart by filling it with better concerns
and values. The apostle Paul reckoned the things of the world mere
loss and dung (Phil 3:8). The new is so much better. As we daily
taste the gracious goodness of the Lord, all else becomes worthless
in comparison. One fills his heart with these better things by
maintaining three concerns.

His first concern is Christ Himself. The love and presence of Christ
always stay with him. He knows Christ is concerned about his honor,
and that His plan is to "present him holy, and unblameable, and
unreproveable in his sight" (Col 1:22). His Spirit is grieved when
this work is interrupted (Eph 4:30). Because he knows Christ's
intention, he avoids resisting His purposes, expressing contempt for
His honor, despising His love, or trampling His gospel into the mud.
Dwelling in his heart is the constraining love of Christ (2 Cor
5:14).

His second concern is Christ's own victories over temptations.
Christ's life on earth included His triumphs over the frequent
assaults of the Evil One. He resisted all, He conquered all, and He
has become the Captain of salvation to those who obey Him (Heb
2:10). How can any follower of Christ deny the reality of His
victory by living as a defeated Christian because of temptation in
his life?

His third concern is approval. He has learned to enjoy the favor of
Christ, to sense His love, to appreciate His acceptance, and to
converse with Him. He cannot bear to become separated from Christ,
as the spouse declared in Song of Solomon 3:4. Once she recognized
Him, in no way would she let Him out of her sight. Never again would
she lose His presence.

When a believer keeps the word of Christ's patience, it does not
merely influence his concerns. It also affects the governing
principles of his life.

First, he lives by faith in God (Gal 2:20). Faith works in all areas
of his heart, emptying his soul of its own wisdom, understanding,
and self-sufficiency, so that it may act now in the wisdom and
fullness of Christ. Proverbs 3:5 gives us sound advice to guard
against temptation: "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and
lean not upon thine own understanding." This is the work of faith:
To trust God, and to live in such trust of Him. When a man trusts
himself, "his own counsel shall cast him down" (Job 18:7). Only
faith empties us of our own self-sufficiency. We should not live to
ourselves and by ourselves, but only for Christ, by Christ, and in
Christ.

Second, he lives with concern for others. He shows love for God's
people by not causing them to stumble over his temptations. David
prays in Psalm 69:6, "Let not them that wait on thee, O Lord GOD of
hosts, be ashamed for my sake: let not those that seek thee be
confounded for my sake, O God of Israel." In other words, "Do not
let me so misbehave that others, for whom I would lay down my life,
should be ill spoken of, dishonored, reviled, and condemned because
of my own failings." When someone preoccupies himself with the
well-being of others, God saves him. In contrast, a self-centered
man falls.

If God has promised that He will keep us, why do so many professors
of Christianity fall into temptation? Is it not simply because they
do not keep the word of Christ's patience? Because of disobedience,
Paul says, "many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep" (1
Cor 11:30). God chastens all those who fail to keep Christ's Word
and neglect to walk closely with Him.

It would take too long to cite all the ways professors of
Christianity fail to keep Christ's Word. We can simply summarize
four ways they often fail. First, they conform to the world when
Christ would redeem us from its delights and promiscuous
compliances. Second, they neglect the duties which Christ has
enjoined upon us to fulfill, from personal meditation on the one
hand to public duties on the other. Third, they strive and disagree
among themselves, despising each other and acting indifferent to the
bond of communion between saints. Fourth, they make selfishness the
end of life. When these traits characterize people, then the word of
Christ's patience is fruitless among them, and God will not keep
them from temptation.

Final Exhortations

If we want God to preserve us in the hour of temptation, we will
take heed against anything that would distract us from keeping the
word of Christ's patience. The following cautions will help us.
First, do not trust your own advice, understanding, and reasoning.
Second, even if you discipline yourself earnestly (by prayer,
fasting, and other such measures) to safeguard against a particular
lust, you will still fail if you neglect such other matters as
worldliness, compliance, looseness of living, or moral negligence.
Third, while it is God's purpose to give the saints security,
perseverance, and preservation from general apostasy, yet we must
never use this as an excuse to abuse some other aspect of our walk
with God. Many relieve their consciences with "cheap grace," only to
find their perplexities intensified in other areas of life.

In addition, seek to determine the relevance of God's word to the
particular context of your temptations. First, when you encounter
the cult of celebrities, observe from His word how God overturns the
values of human popularity. Second, consider the ways God sees
things differently from the world. If you do so, you will be content
to remain unnoticed by the world. Third, notice how God emphasizes
faith and prayer. Esteem them better than all the strength and
councils of men. Fourth, seek to recover God's ordinances and
institutions from the carnal administrations that are under the
bondage of men's lusts. Bring them forth in the beauty and power of
the Holy Spirit.

The nature of worldliness is to neglect the word of Christ's
patience. It slights God's people and judges them by the standards
of the world. It relies on human counsel and understanding. It
allows unsanctified people to walk in God's temple and to trample
His ordinances. In all these ways let us remain watchful. Let us
keep the word of Christ's patience if we cherish our safety. In this
frame of mind, plead with the Lord Jesus Christ, in the light of His
promises, to help you in your need. Approach Him as your merciful
High Priest.

If you visited a hospital and asked how each patient fell ill, no
doubt each would reply, "It was by this or that circumstance that I
contracted the disease." After hearing them, would it not make you
much more careful not to fall into their circumstances?

Or if you went to a prison, you might ask different criminals how
they received their sentence. Would you not be warned that sin leads
to certain judgment? "Can a man take fire into his bosom, and his
clothes not be burnt?

Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned?" (Prov
6:27-28). Do we only realize the invincible power of temptation once
it captures us? We conclude with three warnings.

First, if you ignore temptation, even though our Savior commands us
to be vigilant as the only safeguard against it, then remember
Peter. Perhaps you have been fortunate so far to escape trouble in
spite of your carelessness. But wake up, and thank God for His
gentleness and patience with you.

Second, remember that you are always under the scrutiny of Christ,
the great Captain of our salvation (Heb 2:10). He has enjoined us to
watch and pray that we enter not into temptation (Matt 26:41). As He
saw the gathering storm, He alerted His disciples with this warning.
Does not His reproof grieve you? Or are you unafraid to hear His
thunder against you for your neglect? (Rev 3:2).

Third, realize that if you neglect this duty and then fall into
temptationwhich assuredly you will doGod may also bring heavy
affliction upon you. He may even bring judgment, as evidence of His
anger. You will not consider this warning mere empty words when it
actually happens to you. Then what woe will betide you if you are
not found full of godly sorrow.

Let us keep our spirits unentangled by avoiding all appearance of
evil, and all the ways that lead there. Guard yourself especially in
your social contacts and your occupations, which all contain
pitfalls to entrap us.


 

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