Sunday, July 20, 2014

Can We Resist Temptation?

Temptation is a fact of life. Throughout our day we are tempted. To eat what we shouldn't. To say what we shouldn't. To indulge our physical desires in innumerable ways. And to overstep bounds we know exist.

Can temptation be avoided? In a word, no. Temptation is all around us, and for those who believe God sets limits on our behavior, and who have accepted those limits for ourselves, we are very aware that all that is outside those limits lies in the realm of "temptation." In many cases these temptations are in the category of "sin" because God does not wish us to engage in these behaviors. Among them are adultery, theft, lust, coveting and lying.

But while temptation is all around us, we can indeed RESIST temptation, if we keep our hearts focused upon God, the One Who fashioned our spirits and Who knows us best.

Some will be quick to deny that we can actually do this, citing favored sayings that imply that the "flesh is weak" (which is indeed true, in a sense) but that because of this, they claim, we are utterly UNABLE to resist temptation.

These same people might point to the cause of this "weakness" a "fall of man" in the infancy of our human race, which CAUSES our "human nature" to be totally unable to resist temptation, and the sin that often (inevitably, they say) WILL result from it.

And yet, the Scriptures do not back up these negative assertions, nor does it, or God, give us excuses to fall into temptation and to sin.

While Adam and Eve are shown as "falling" out of the Garden, this apparently didn't affect their son, Cain, from having the ability to resist sin (or, as he ultimately did, to freely choose to indulge in it) because God Himself is recorded as saying to him, "If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but YOU MUST RULE OVER IT" (Gen. 4:7.)

David writes in the Psalms, "I will guard my ways so that I may not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth with a muzzle as long as the wicked are in my presence" (Psalm 39:1.)

And again, "How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands." (Psalm 119:9-10.)

And the Proverbs also speak to this, saying "Those who guard their lips preserve their lives." (Prov. 13:3.)

God does not give us any excuse or permission to sin. But how do we KNOW that we can do what God has required of us?

Because Jesus - the man whom God has ultimately chosen and anointed as His spokesman and our example - lived in perfect obedience, doing in all things that for which he was sent by his Father, and showed by his example that all are able to obey God.

He was tempted in all things just as we are. He was even tempted to avoid going to his death (Matt 26:39) - the supreme moral example of self-sacrifice and obedience to his message. But instead, he obeyed God and remained true to the Gospel message.

Jesus says, "Pray that you will not fall into temptation" (Luke 22:40) and that while he says "the flesh is weak" (Matt. 26:41) this is the same one who said "If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commands and remain in his love" (John 15:10) and "You must be perfect just as your Father in Heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5:48.)

The language of defeat and inevitable sin is never found on Jesus' lips, nor must it be found in our hearts.

To be tempted isn't the same thing as sinning. But to give in to temptation is. And we can resist giving in to temptation.

James writes (echoing Genesis) that if we resist evil, it will flee from us, and "Blessed is the man that endures temptation, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him (James 1:12-14) And he says we CAN control our tongues, and must, if we claim to be religious (1:26.)

If we believe that Jesus did not give in to temptation, and told us to follow his example in all things, and if we believe that God spoke through scripture, telling us that we CAN resist temptation, then we must believe that we can resist temptation. And when we fail to live up to that high standard, know that we may seek God's forgiveness as we progress towards to life He wishes us to lead.

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