“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, “’Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’
Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.’” (John 3:1–21)
Last week we ended our study of this section at verse 9 where Nicodemus, marvelling at what Jesus has just told him, says, “How can these things be?” The whole concept of being “born again” or “born from above” was blowing his mind. For his whole life, he had been told and had taught that the way to please God, get forgiveness, be holy, and have a blessed life, was through rules and religion. He was a Pharisee, a “separated one”, a member of the Sanhedrin, one of the top-dogs of Israel, famous for being a man who not only followed and enforced the Mosaic Laws but all the other extra laws that the Pharisees had since come up with. He was 100% sold out to the fact that it was through stricter and stricter obedience and enforcement of the rules that Israel would be saved.
But Jesus, this newcomer on the scene, who spoke with authority like they’d never seen and backed up His words with great signs and miracles was saying something very different. He was saying that salvation doesn’t come from trying harder and being more religious. He was saying that all of our human efforts to please God through religious fervour were actually working against Nicodemus’ relationship with God. His rules and religion was putting a wedge between him and God, him and others, and was actually leading people into damnation, not salvation. And I think Nicodemus knew it.
When he looked at himself and his fellow Pharisees he didn’t see men that oozed the love of God. He saw people who were harsh, unloving, unkind, ungracious, and who were always worried that God was mad at them because they hadn’t done enough. People who lived in a constant state of either prideful arrogance for being such awesome people – or in fear and deep doubt because they were never sure if they’d done enough. What a terrible way to live. But they were locked into it. Their devotion to traditions, their lust for power, their whole comprehension of God, was locked into this pattern. And I’m convinced Nicodemus felt it.
And here stood Jesus saying that everything he believed was wrong. Jesus said that the only way to find forgiveness, blessing, salvation, and reconciliation with God is to give up being a Pharisee – to totally repent of that way of living and thinking – and to simply ask God to change his heart. I said last week that Nicodemus immediately knew that Jesus was talking about Ezekiel 36 & 27, and I believe that’s what gave Nicodemus the epiphany.
But an epiphany wasn’t enough. It’s one thing to hear the truth – another to submit to that truth. So Nicodemus says in verse 9, “How can these things be?”
The Five Solas
Another way of saying this would be, “How could we get this so wrong for so long? How could everything we’re saying be wrong? Surely there must be some middle ground? I can’t believe that all of my religious fervour, all my hard work, all the self-denial, all the work I’ve put into showing people how to be a good person – counts for nothing?”
This is the problem a lot of people have with Christianity. Christians, atheists, and other religions all take issue. There is something deep inside of us that believes that we can save ourselves, impress God, and earn the right to go to heaven. There’s something deep inside the human spirit that refuses to believe that all our efforts, our good deeds, our self-sacrifice, our worldly success, our passion, our knowledge, our study, our “work for God”, our church attendance, our donations record, our all amounts to nothing in the end.
This was the great work of the reformers like Luther and Calvin who saw the state of the Christian Church – how corrupt and Pharisaical it had become – opened up their Bibles, saw the truth, and began to preach it. They came up with the Five Solas of the doctrine of salvation – the five “Alones” – that were in exact opposition to everything the Roman Catholic Church had been teaching and doing. Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Solus Christus, Soli Deo Gloria. The Salvation that God offers is by Scripture Alone, by Faith Alone, by Grace Alone, through Christ Alone, and to the Glory of God Alone.
The Salvation Jesus offers is described and understood only through the scriptures, the Bible. It doesn’t matter what “makes sense to you” or how you “feel”. God has outlined the way that people are saved from sin and death and the path of salvation is clearly outlined in scripture. Anything different than that is a lie. That salvation is by faith alone, not by any human endeavour. It is given from God by grace alone, not because we deserve any of it, but because, as Ephesians 2:4-5 says,
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…”
And who does scripture point to? Who must we have faith in? Through whom did this grace come? Through Jesus Christ alone. Acts 4:12,
“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” [NIV]
And why did God do it? Why did God make us, let us fall, send prophets, write scripture, save some and condemn others? Why does humanity exist at all? For the glory of God alone. We read that last week in Ezekiel 36. The Reformers weren’t coming up with anything new – they weren’t creating a new church – they were “reforming” the church back to the way it was supposed to be.
Jesus says it this way to Nicodemus in John 3:10-15,
“Jesus answered him, ‘Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.’”
Jesus says, “You’ve read, memorized, and taught every verse in the Hebrew Bible and you don’t still understand God’s will. Your mind is trapped on earth and all the things you think you can do here to try to climb your way to heaven. Take it from me, the only person who has ever come down from heaven, that there is only one path. Remember the story (Num. 21:4-9) of when all the people spoke against God and Moses, and the Lord sent fiery serpents to poison everyone? No one was going to be able to good-deed their way out of being poisoned. They were cursed and already dead – it was just a matter of time before the poison finished them off. Do you remember how they saved themselves, Nicodemus? What did they do? Did they pray a bunch, sacrifice animals, give tithes? No. What was their path of salvation? God told Moses to make a bronze image of the serpent, set it on a pole, and raise it high in the air so that anyone who looks on it, the moment He sees it, would be saved from the poison that was killing them. That’s how it works. Except in this case, the poison is sin and I’m the One who is going to be raised up – on a cross – and everyone who looks to me will be saved – but not just in this life – they will be given eternal life. Do you understand what I’m saying, Nicodemus? You cannot save yourself by any means because you are poisoned with sin. All of your good deeds are corrupted by sin. Your thinking is corrupted by sin. Every convert you make is doubly corrupt because they are following you! There is only one way to be saved. You need that poison dealth with. You need to look to me.”
And Jesus continues explaining this to Nicodemus in verse 16, the most famous verse in the Bible.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17)
The Pharisees were all about judgment and condemnation. They loved popping up behind people, catching them breaking one of their rules (not God’s, theirs) and then using their position of authority to judge and condemn them. Read through the gospels again and see how many times Jesus is walking around, teaching, hanging out with his disciples, and then a Pharisee just jumps out of nowhere and starts condemning Him. It’s quite ridiculous once you see it.
But when God did finally send His Son, the Messiah, the Son of Man, the one the whole Old Testament prophesied about, He didn’t act like a Pharisee. He didn’t come and zap all the bad people left and right, killing Israel’s enemies, blasting everyone who didn’t perfectly follow the law, and passing out health, wealth, and power to all the good and obedient Pharisees. He did exactly the opposite. God the Father sent Jesus the Son to save people, not condemn them. Jesus came with an extended hand, not a closed fist. God loved the world so much – Jews, Gentiles, Samaritans, Romans, Pagans, Tax Collectors, Prostitutes, Adulterers, Drunkards, and yes, even Pharisees – that He was willing to raise up His perfect, beloved, Son on a cross for them.
And instead of the path of salvation being an impossible list of rules that no one could keep. He showed that the Law only had the power to condemn (Rom 8:4), but He – the only person who would ever keep the entire Law, perfectly – had the power to forgive and exchange Himself for sinners. Just as anyone who looked to the serpent was saved, so would any who look to Him. Just as the Israelites in Egypt believed that the blood sacrifice of the spotless lamb would allow death to Passover them, so the blood of Jesus would do the same. Just as anyone who believed that on the Day of Atonement, the bloody death of bulls and goats, and the sprinkling of their blood on the altar, mercy seat, and people, would atone and mane propitiation for – or make reparations for and appease God’s wrath for their own sin – so the blood of Jesus would do the same.
Jesus wasn’t there to bring final judgement. Not this time. He was coming to offer salvation to any who would believe in Him.
Nicodemus’s mind must have been reeling at this point because it went against everything he had ever believed. All the words of the prophets he’s memorized must have been racing through his mind with new understanding, new interpretation, knowing that Jesus was speaking the truth. His guilt and shame for being so wrong must have been immense. But there was that human side that made him want to refuse Jesus’ words, refuse to believe he wasn’t at least partly responsible for his own salvation.
And Jesus doubles-down in verse 18,
“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
Zero wiggle room. Salvation comes by the Word of God alone, through faith in Jesus alone, by the grace of God alone, through the Son of God alone, and for the glory of God alone. No other options.
Turn with me to John 14, but keep your thumb in John 3. Jesus is in the upper room preparing his disciples for what is going to happen that night. He will be leaving them because he’s about to be betrayed, falsely accused, condemned, and murdered. They’re obviously freaking out and Jesus says, “‘Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:1–7)
I’m the way, Thomas. You can’t get there unless I take you there. You can’t know truth unless I tell it to you. You can’t have life unless I give it to you. No one can come before God, no one can be saved unless I am the one who brings them.”
That’s what Jesus was telling Nicodemus too.
Turn back to John 3. The natural question that comes to most Christians at this point, I think, is “Why would anyone reject this message?” It’s beautiful, simple, and generous. People everywhere struggle with guilt, shame, and fear. They want to be right with God and others. They want to know forgiveness and hope. They look at their lives and know that this isn’t all there is, that their habits are ruining them, and all the stuff they are amassing is empty. All the things they’ve tried to do to kill the pain, ignore the shame, and distract from the emptiness and hopelessness they feel, isn’t working.
Then they hear the gospel. You’d think that it would come as a welcome relief to them! Hope, help, forgiveness – all for free because Jesus paid the cost. Connection to God, the gift of the Holy Spirit, a cleansed soul, and the knowledge that no matter what happens in this world, it will work out for our good and God’s glory – and that the sufferings of this blip of a life will be nothing compared to the glory that is coming (Rom 8:18). Seems pretty, “No duh.” to me.
Why would anyone reject this? Why would Nicodemus hem and haw? Why would the Pharisees condemn Jesus for this message and ultimately betray and murder Him? Why would generations of Christians after be martyred for spreading a message of amazing grace, free salvation, eternal hope, and a renewed spirit, for anyone who would believe in Jesus alone? Why, if Christians have some of the greatest philosophers, scientists, apologists, writers, thinkers, and agents of mercy of all time and in the whole world, would people reject what we have to say with such vehemence?
Jesus answers that question in verses 19-21,
“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
The reason is that they love their sin and themselves. They prefer darkness. God wants to expose their sin to the light, expose their deeds, expose their thoughts, and let them see how evil they are. But they want to stay in the dark because they don’t want to be exposed. Accepting Jesus’ message means admitting and exposing sin. It means saying, “I’m wrong. I’m a sinner. I’m an addict. I’m a gossip. I’m controlling. I use people. I’m lazy. I’m critical. I’m superstitious. I want glory for myself and don’t want to share. I have hate in my heart that I don’t want to let go of. I don’t want to submit to authority. I love money more than people. I want power. I want to hurt people. I want to use people for my own gratification. I want to steal things because I think I deserve them. I want to do what I want, when I want, and be the ultimate arbiter of what is good and right for me and everyone else. I don’t want God, I want to be God.”
To come to Jesus means coming to the light and having everything exposed. That’s why they won’t come.
Consider your own sins for a moment. Where and when do you do them? Out in the open? Lights on? In front of people? Or do you find a corner, turn off the lights, and get alone?
When you’re about to gossip or slander, do you speak in a loud voice for all to hear, or do you find a corner and whisper? When you want to control and manipulate someone, do you do it in front of their friends, family, and church – or do you do it alone, through e-mail, and tell them to keep secrets? Where do you keep the things you sin with; on a shelf for all to see, or tucked away in a dark place? Where have you gotten in the most trouble, and have had the most problems – with things that people did and said in the open for all to see and hear or the ones that happened during secret meetings, private messages, dark places, and back-room encounters? Sin hates the light, because the light causes it to wither and die.
If you are doing things in the darkness right now, what you are doing is not only dangerous but foolish. Your deeds are only secret from some. God knows, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the news lately, you will eventually be found out.
Isaiah 29:15 says,
“Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their work in darkness and think, ‘Who sees us? Who will know?’”
In Luke 12:1-3 Jesus says,
“Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.” (also Luke 8:17)
I’m telling you the truth.
Turn with me to Ephesians 5 and listen to what the Apostle Paul says,
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’ Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesians 5:1–17)
I’ll leave the rest of the passage for you to read on your own time.
But let this be our conclusion today. Jesus is inviting you to the light but your sin loves darkness. I beg you to expose all your dark things to the light. James 5:16 says to
“confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”
Do you want healing in your soul, your marriage, your family, your church? Start confessing your sins to one another.
Now, expect resistance. Satan really hates it when Christians do this. He’s going to give you every excuse in the world. “Now’s not a good time.” “They won’t be able to handle it.” “It’s too risky. I might lose my friend, marriage, job, position.”
Something will come to mind, maybe even now, and automatically you’ll hear, “It’s not that big of a deal. You don’t need to confess that one. It’s between you and God.” That’s Satan. Do you want to be free of that sin? Do you want salvation? Do you want healing?
“…Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”
To whom? First, to Jesus. Use your voice, out-loud, and confess that sin, out-loud, to God and ask for forgiveness in Jesus’ name. God is the one you’ve offended most and who you need to deal with first.
Then, confess the one you sinned against. Confess to the people you affected. Confess to the ones who felt the ripple effects. Confess your sin to your Christian friend. Then tell your mentor, deacon, elder, and pastor. Drag that sin, kicking and screaming, into the light and keep blasting more and more light on it until it is shrivelled and dead. That’s the only way to be free.
Ok, just for fun we’re going to start today with a True or False test of some random questions I found around the internet:
- Approximately one-quarter of human bones are in the feet. (True – 52 bones in the feet and 206 in the whole body.)
- In ancient Rome, a special room called a vomitorium was available for diners to purge food in during meals. (False – It was the name for the entranceway to a stadium, nothing more.)
- A slug’s blood is blue-green. (True)
- Sir Paul McCartney’s middle name is James (False – James is his first name, his middle name is actually Paul)
- The Guinness World Record for most fingers and toes at birth is held by an Indian man born with 14 fingers and 20 toes in total. (True)
- The ‘black box’ in an airplane is black. (False – it is orange.)
- Centipedes always have 100 feet. (False)
Truth and Philosophy
I know this sounds like I might be stating the patently obvious, but truth is important. Going a step further I will state something else that seems obvious: believing that truth exists is important. When you look up the definition of “truth”, but first, definition is the one we usually understand: a truth is something that corresponds with facts and reality. It’s accurate and exact.
Most people, if you sat them down over coffee and talked face to face with them, would agree with those statements. Truth is important, believing in truth is important, and truth is something that represents accurate reality. A lot of people still find these things so obvious that they are unnecessary to even state, but there is an ever-growing contingent of people that no longer believe that there is such a thing as truth. From mainstream media to politics to religion, the mere existence of truth is being debated in all circles of our lives.
The problem here is that the concept of truth is a philosophical one. A good scientist wants to conduct his research without bias. A good news reporter wants to tell a story that corresponds to the facts. A good politician wants to make decisions based in reality. A good theologian wants to learn about God without importing their own preconceptions.
But the philosopher’s job is to go deeper, which is why Philosophy is called the mother of all sciences. (Theology is the queen of all sciences by the way.) Where a scientist seeks truth, a philosopher has to ask, “What is truth? Why is truth important? How can we even know truth exists?” Big, huge, complicated concepts that have captured a lot of attention recently and have been used by a lot of people as a way to dismantle seemingly rational arguments from the inside out.
Someone will stand up and say, “I have evidence that this is true and I have a hundred people to back me up.” And for whatever reason, someone else disagrees with them. Maybe they don’t like the implications of the truth, maybe it forces them to change something or give something up that they don’t want to, and so they disagree. Now this person has a choice. They can either try to find more evidence that counters the other person’s claim, and therefore produce a better, more consistent, more realistic truth – or they can dismantle their argument with philosophy.
They’ll say things like, “You may have a hundred people that agree with you, but I have 10,000 that agree with me.” Does the number of people that agree have anything to do with the actual facts? No. Even if get 10,000 people to believe a lie, that doesn’t make it the truth.
Or they’ll say, “Your truth is only true for now. People in the past didn’t believe that, and people in the future won’t believe it either.” People use this one all the time. Historians say… futurists say… but does the opinions of historians or futurists make the truth any less true? No, but it seems persuasive.
Or how about, “That’s true for you, but it’s not true for me, because I have something that negates your truth. My feelings and my perceptions cancel out your truth.” This is a big one too.
When is an Apple an Apple?
Let’s do a scenario for fun:
A science-type-man goes to a science-type-conference and wants a guaranteed win, so he decides to present something simple that everyone can agree on. He lifts up an apple and says: “I present this apple. This apple is red, crunchy, smooth and delicious.”
That seems like something everyone can agree on, but it doesn’t work. Why? Well, let’s ask the question: is what he has said, true?
Well, unfortunately, they’ve already made a mistake. “Delicious” is an opinion – which will be immediately grabbed onto by their detractors. “You can’t tell me what is delicious and what isn’t! Your opinion is biased! How can we believe anything you say if you believe apples are delicious! I don’t like apples! With your obvious bias, how can we believe it’s red or crunchy either!?”
So the man apologizes and tries again. They say, “I’m sorry. You’re right. Ok, this apple is red, crunchy and smooth.” Someone else stands up and says, “I’m colour blind, and so is my whole group of friends. We cannot see red, and therefore it is not only wrong but offensive to say that apple to be red because there are people who are biologically unable to see it that way! Plus, how can you be sure that everyone sees it as red, maybe some people would call it green! Colour is a construct of the human mind!” The colour-blind side starts to grumble loudly so the man tries to explain, “Yes, I know you don’t see it as red, but let me explain how colour works. This isn’t my opinion it’s based on how light waves reflect off of the surface…” And before he even finishes the leader yells, “Oh, this coming from the guy who thought that all apples are delicious! Your conclusions are bunk and your bias against colour-blindness is hateful. ”
Fearing potential for violence he backs off. “Well, at least we can agree that this apple is crunchy and smooth.” Someone else yells, “I have an electron microscope and I have seen what an apple looks like at an atomic level! It’s not smooth! It’s all rough and bumpy! His science is wrong!”
Someone else cries, “And compared to eating rocks or hard candy, that apple is nowhere close to crunchy!”
“Yeah”, someone else says, “I’ve been eating apple fritters at Tim Hortons for years and there’s never been a single crunch!”
The scientist sputters for a moment and says, “Yes, but I’m not talking about apple fritters!” Another person yells, “He hates apple fritters! He hates Tim Hortons! He’s against Canada!” Three-quarters of the room stands up in disgust and walks out on the presentation. Only a small group is left now, and most of them aren’t very happy.
The man lets out a deep sigh saying, “Ok, so, we can’t agree that it’s smooth, or crunchy, or red, or delicious….. then can we simply agree that this is an apple.” A Sunday School teacher in the front says, “It was an apple that tempted Eve in the garden. We shouldn’t be eating apples.” And walks out.
Another says, “Well, that’s your opinion. I was watching a documentary last night and they said that there are over 7500 varieties of apples throughout the world, and some varieties of pears and other fruits that look like apples… did you know that?” The man says, “No, I didn’t.” To which the reply comes, “Well, then how can you possibly even know that’s an apple?” At this point now, he’s not even sure.
That’s a fictional story, but it represents a very real thing happening in our world today. There is a philosophical war against truth, and it all sounds very, very convincing. And there are a lot of emotions wrapped up in it, and so people take it very personally, and that makes it very hard to keep talking about truth because it can offend people. But we cannot simply give up the fight for truth because when we do that, we give up the very foundation of our lives. If we stop believing in truth, then we will have nothing to stand on.
And turning now to a spiritual reality, that’s exactly where Satan wants us – foundationless. We are much easier targets for temptation if we don’t believe in truth, if we cannot state truth, if we do not know the truth. We are much easier to manipulate, to trick, to confuse, and to use for nefarious schemes, if we don’t have the truth within us and have not built our lives on the solid foundation of the truth.
Answering With Truth
Open up to Luke 4:1-13 and let’s read the passage we started studying last week again.
“And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’” And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.”
This is our last sermon in this depression series. Last week we looked at this text from the perspective of learning that, when you are sad, grieving, or truly depressed, Jesus really does know what you are going through. He’s felt what you are feeling and experienced the same weakness. We coupled this with the passage in Hebrews 4:15 which says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” We talked about how Jesus can “sympathize with our weaknesses” and “in every respect has been tempted as we are”, but how did He do it “without sin”?
The answer is complicated, but today I want to talk about one way, which is that He knew and used the truth.
There is Something Greater Going On
I don’t want to go through all the temptations in detail again today, but consider how Jesus answered Satan when he said, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” He was attacking Jesus’ identity, using His hunger against Him, trying to get Him to show some weakness. His statement was a manipulation of the truth. Of course Jesus is the Son of God, and of course, He has power, but Satan stated it as doubtful… “how can you really be sure that apple is an apple?” Satan suggested a course of action to Jesus that was actually doable and would have satiated Jesus’ physical hunger. It almost seemed like a caring plan.
Sure, Jesus was hungry, but there was something greater going on. Jesus knew what Satan was trying to do and answered with truth: “Man shall not live by bread alone.” Jesus was quoting part of Deuteronomy 3:8 which says, “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”
The real truth, the full truth, is that sometimes God leads us into the wilderness, into difficult places, and makes us hungry on purpose because He knows that is the only way we will be humbled enough to turn to Him. So long as we are fed, fat, and happy, we rarely turn our attention towards God or the condition of our souls. And so there are times when God makes us uncomfortable, hungry, longing, desperate, pleading – so that we turn to Him, and so we can know that He is the provider. We need to know that life isn’t about feeding our stomachs, but about feeding our souls, and that requires us coming to God. If we get distracted by pleasures, then we could lose our immortal soul.
Jesus said it this way to his disciples in Mark 8:34-37:
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?”
Satan will come to you in your depression and whisper all kinds of temptations to you meant to make you hate your time in the desert, to do anything to distract yourself from your hunger, thirst, and discomfort. He wants you to concentrate on your hunger, on your longing for bread, on just removing that bad feeling.
Whereas, Christians, because of God’s Word, have a totally different perspective of suffering. The truth is that the road of hunger, suffering, and the cross is often exactly what we need to walk in order to learn how to humble ourselves and depend on God, how to pray, how to find Jesus.
So when you are grieving, sad, or going through depression, don’t be so short-sighted to only seek out worldly comforts to make the bad feelings go away. Drinking, drugs, entertainment, and more are always at your fingertips and will feed your hunger for a moment – but what if something greater is going on and there is something better for you. What if you are not meant to simply live from distraction to distraction? What if this time is Jesus asking you to take up your cross, follow Him, and find true life?
And for those who are walking with those who are facing depression and sadness, don’t try to fast-forward it or deny it. Don’t stand there and offer them bread when God wants them to wait for what He has prepared for them. Don’t be like Job’s wife and say something like, “Why are you waiting on God? All suffering is bad. Curse God and die and get it over with.” (Job 2:9ish) Maybe this is a long road they must walk so they can be humbled in spirit and learn how to depend on Him and His Word more.
Resolve in your mind to believe the truth that in your suffering, or theirs, that something greater is going on.
There is Something Worse That Can Happen
In the second temptation Satan said, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”
Satan here tempts Jesus to give up His mission and not go through all the suffering His life would bring. He offers a “better plan” that fast forwards what God wants to do, but gets rid of the hard parts. The idea here is that the worst thing in the world is suffering and everyone should try to avoid it.
Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6, which I will read more of here,
“It is the LORD your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you—for the LORD your God in your midst is a jealous God—lest the anger of the LORD your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth.” (vs 13-15)
The idea here is that there is something worse than going through some human suffering. There is something worse than depression. There is something worse than physical and emotional pain. That that is to have God angry at us. Jesus said it this way to his disciples in Matthew 10:28:
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Jesus had just given a warning about how bad it was going to get for those who faithfully followed Him. There would be rejection and pain. They would be delivered to courts, flogged in public, even in the synagogues. They would do nothing wrong, but they would still be dragged before governors and kings to face trials and punishments. And all this would be part of God’s plan so they could witness to more and more people about salvation. Jesus tells them to consider how much evil He has and will endure – and know that they will face even more. You think I came to bring peace, but you will know more pain than peace in this world. Even your family will turn against you. (Matthew 10:16-38)
No doubt, fear filled their faces, because they knew what Jesus said always came true. And Jesus’ response to their fear was twofold. Of course, we know He said things like, “God knows what you are going through. He is with you. You will be rewarded…” But along with that He also said, “…do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” In other words, there are worse things than floggings and rejection. It is far worse to face God’s wrath. Obey Him first.
This is something we don’t talk a lot about, but it’s really important. When you are facing depression, and even when you are not, you will face all kinds of temptations to make it easier despite what God wants to do with your life. Satan will offer all kinds ungodly, unbiblical, unhelpful of ways out of your pain. He will lie to you and tell you that you deserve temporary relief, that God won’t mind, that it doesn’t matter because He’ll just forgive you anyway.
A Christian’s response must be, “That’s a lie. Sin always has a cost. It always echoes farther than I imagine. There is no such thing as a safe sin. Yes, this hurts, but there is something worse than this – I don’t want to face my Father’s wrath against my sin. I don’t want to face the discipline He will have to do to break this temptation. I have committed my life and soul to Him. It was my sins that made Jesus die for me. It was my sins that nailed Jesus to a cross. I don’t want to add more. I will not give up my faith for a moment of relief, especially since the pain will only come back again. No. You’re a liar. The truth is that there is something worse than pain – and that is turning my back on God, His Son, His Spirit, and His Word.”
In the third temptation Satan “took [Jesus] to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and ‘‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’’ And Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Satan quotes the Bible. The Bible is the source of truth. Remember my apple illustration? Satan is an incredible liar and manipulator of truth, which is why we need to listen to the voice of God and know our Bibles. He will tell us the truth so we can combat Satan when He shows up as an angel of light.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15,
“For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.”
This world is full of liars, so we must know the truth well, and listen to the one who will always speak the truth to us – and that is the Holy Spirit in prayer.
Jesus here quotes Deuteronomy 6:16, which says in full, “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.”
The command to not test God is all over scripture. It was at Massah that Israel accused Moses, and therefore God, of bringing them out of Egypt just to kill them with thirst. They were ready to kill Moses and then go back to Egypt because they had lost their faith that God would take care of them. This was after all the miracles they had seen in Egypt, after seeing the pillars of fire and cloud lead them around, and after they had literally just been fed by miraculous bread that fell down from heaven. God had already demonstrated His ability to care for them, but now, because they had gotten thirsty, they doubted if God was even real or not. They had lost their faith, so they demanded that Moses prove, once again, that God was real. They demanded of God to prove once again, that He was real. They were testing Him.
This is another temptation for people who are facing difficult times, especially people of faith. While they are feeling God, God’s presence is unquestioned. They say grace at mealtimes, tell people how blessed they are, thank God for parking spaces and all sorts of small kindnesses. They talk about Jesus and pray to Him with ease.
And then suffering comes, depression sets in, grief and sadness take up residence in their heart and home. Now it’s harder to find things to thank God for. They feel hungry, angry, lonely, tired, despondent, attacked, afraid, even suicidal. They turn to their Bible, but it only reads as a list of demands they can’t fulfill and promises that God doesn’t seem to be good for. They can’t find hope, and all their old, favourite verses seem trite and powerless.
And it’s in those times when Satan comes in and gently says, “Maybe God isn’t real. Maybe you made it all up. Maybe it was a phase, a good idea, but really, it was just an emotional high. How can you be sure He’s real, that He’s listening, that He cares what you do.”
This is the Devil’s way of trying to destroy your foundation. “If there is no God, then all of your strength, your hope, and your truth goes out the window. God’s Word is fiction and can’t help or bring light. God’s people are idiots who are believing a lie. God’s Spirit doesn’t exist and you really are alone. There’s no such thing as good or bad, sin or righteousness, heaven or hell – all you have is now and how you feel in this moment. You are foundationless, hopeless, truthless.”
And so you want to get God to do something spectacular to prove Himself. Now, He’s asking you to come to Him humbly, to wait on Him, to trust Him, to listen to Him, to continue to take up your cross and walk faithfully, to endure suffering so you can build character and spiritual strength, to pray to Him in your heart, to be with Him and allow His presence be enough for you, to get quiet enough to listen to His still, small voice…
But that’s not what you want. You want a spectacle. You want a display. You want Him to perform for you, to dance for you, to show off for you. You want to command Him to do as you will. You want to be God and for Him to be your subject. You want Him to be your magic genie, your Santa Clause, your rich uncle… not your God.
And so, I caution you during your time of depression, not to put God to the test. Don’t listen to the voice that tells you God isn’t real and that the only way He could be is if He would do whatever you say. That’s arrogant, idolatrous and demonic. Instead, allow this time of suffering to humble you, to drive you to your knees. Don’t fast forward it. Don’t deny it. Don’t resent it. God is doing something in and through it. He won’t waste it.
He promises that if you will trust Him, He will use your suffering for your good, your churches good, and His glory. But you must trust and believe. I cannot do that for you. No one can. I cannot make you believe, nor can I make you stop fighting God in your Spirit and submit to Him. You must do that. It is you who must put down the sin that has entangled you. It is you who must choose to read, believe, and speak God’s Word when Satan tempts you. It is you who must resist the devil so He will flee from you (James 4:7). It is you who must get quiet and listen to God’s voice, pray to Him, and come to the church for help. It is you who must choose to be honest about your struggles, your weakness, and your temptations. It is you who must choose to drag it into the light. No one can do that for you. God can show you the truth, I can tell you the truth, your friends can tell you the truth, but it is you who must choose to stop believing the lies and embrace the truth. As you do that, you will experience the presence of God. He is there.
Our “live and let live”/”everyone has their own truth” culture isn’t very good at calling out or confronting sin, but scripture is clear that Christians are supposed to be holding one another accountable to God’s Word. So, what should a believer do when we see a friend caught in sin?
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I recently sent this to a struggling friend and was convicted to share it on the blog in hope of helping others. These are practical ways that I’ve learned to combat the temptation to view pornography. Hopefully they will help you too.
1. Have Consistent Daily Devotions – If you’re reading God’s Word and talking to Him every day (putting on “the whole armor of God“) then you are a billion times more likely to have the strength to fight temptation. The more you love God, then more you’ll hate sin. The brighter God shines, the darker sin looks. (Here’s a method if you’re looking for one.)
2. Get an Accountability Partner – Find a Christian brother or sister of the same gender, whom you see often, and confide in them about your struggle. Ask them to pray for you and give them permission to regularly ask you about porn (“Have you looked at pornography lately?”). Once you drag your sin into the light, the shame and fear associated with it will dissipate. Satan wants you to be alone and afraid, but James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
3. Use Effective Porn Blocking – I’m really good at using computers so finding a way to block porn was a tough one — but I figured it out. The best/easiest way I’ve found to do it is to use OpenDNS on your router. It’s super easy to setup and has the advantage of blocking all kinds of pop-ups and other weird internet stuff. Once you’ve set that up, and this is important, give your router and OpenDNS password to your accountability partner. Make it impossible to remember (or have them enter it in) and then you can’t access it or change it. And since it’s based in your router, “Incognito Mode” doesn’t work. (And if you know your way around a router, do this to prevent it from being circumvented by local DNS changes.)
4. Enable/Force Google Safe Search – This is important because enabling Google Safe Search will help keep you from stumbling across images and sites that get your motor running. (If you know your way around a router then do this too as it will force every device connected to the router to use Google Safe Search.)
5. Remove Web Browsing From Portable Devices – This one might be painful, but trust me, you’ll get over it. If you have an Apple device, then use “Restrictions” to disable Safari and give the password to your Accountability Partner. Most of the stuff you want to do uses an app anyway, right? (Sorry, I don’t know how to do this on an Android or Blackberry device.)
6. Learn to Hate Porn – You cannot kill a sin that you do not hate. One of the reasons people keep falling for porn is that they think it’s their own private problem and doesn’t affect anyone else. That’s a damnable lie. Here’s some things to read so you can learn to hate pornography: “Porn Fuels the Rape Culture“. “Pornography and Human Trafficking” (also here). “19 Year Old Commits Suicide After Shooting First Porn Scene“. Porn Destroys People, Families and Communities. Also check out Porn Harms.
7. Remember You’re Forgiven – If you hate your sin and ask Jesus for forgiveness, He will absolutely forgive you. He loves you so much that He took your punishment for that very sin. Yes, sexual sin is bad, but Jesus was crucified to pay for that sin too. Remember 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Take some time to read Romans 8 to really understand the depth of forgiveness. When you fall, Jesus will forgive you.
8. Remember Temptation Isn’t Sin – Satan wants you to believe that you must sin. He wants you to think that depravity is part of you and you can’t get away from it. He wants you to think that since you’re tempted too look at porn then you aren’t a real Christian. And if you’re not a Christian, then you don’t have access to the power of Christ through the Holy Spirit. He wants you to think you’re alone and that you have no choice but to give in. Remember, even Jesus was tempted! Temptation isn’t sin. You are a child of God and a new creation and you do not have to sin. That’s why you’re fighting against it! You have the strength, in Jesus, to fight temptation.
The Bug Zapper
Have you ever sat outside next to a bug zapper? My parents have one. It’s a little gadget that hangs from the roof of their patio and glows. And the light that emits from it attracts bugs… and when they get close… ZAP!
I know exactly how those little bugs feel, because a couple of days ago, during that big thunder storm on Thursday, I was hit by lightning. I was sitting at my computer, in my basement – which is next to the window on my driveway – and all of a sudden, ZAP! I got absolutely fried. It killed my car, my computer, and scared the heck out of me. I walked upstairs shaking and texted my wife. A neighbour took us to the hospital and I was checked out, so I’m fine now… but it’s something I’m never going to forget!
Those bugs though… you’ve got to wonder about what’s going through their little brains. I didn’t know I was about to get zapped, but that little bug has some time to think about it. It’s flying along, minding its own business, when it sees this light and thinks, “Hey, that’s cool! I’m going to go check that out!”And the closer he gets to the light, the more he hears ZAP, ZAP, ZAP! He notices that the air is filled with the smell of burning bugs. You’d think the little bug would start to wonder what’s going on. But the light is so pretty that he keeps moving forward. And as he gets closer, the ZAPS get louder. He looks down and sees hundreds of bugs lying around, dead, and sizzling. There’s his Aunt Mildred and Uncle Lou… and they’re whole body is smoking.
You’d think that at this point he would stop and think, “Hey, maybe this isn’t the best idea. Maybe this light isn’t as great as I think it is. Maybe this pile of fried bugs should tell me something about this light.” But nope. And ZAP goes the bug.
We’re Not That Dumb, Right?
Bug’s are so dumb. I mean, humans are so much smarter, aren’t we? It’s not like we would ever do something like that. Can you imagine a human being flying mindlessly into the same trap that so many others have been destroyed by? No way! We’re so much smarter! We’d look at that light, we’d hear the warnings, we’d see the carnage it was causing… and there’s no way we’d just keep going… would we?
Honestly, I’m not sure we can think ourselves much more intelligent than the bug sometimes. We live in a world where people are constantly getting zapped, over and over, in the exact same way.
Pastors and politicians are getting zapped for all the same reasons. Business leaders keep getting zapped and ruining their lives, their families and the people that work for them. Famous athletes and celebrities go flying into the same light over and over… ZAP! Stay at home and working moms get zapped every day! Plumbers, carpenters, evangelists, school teachers, computer techs… ZAP, ZAP, ZAP! All of them flying into for the same foolish light.
“Hey look, drugs or alcohol! That seems like a good idea! I’ll be the exception to every other person whose life has been destroyed by it.”
“Hey look, money! I’m sure my life will be super-great if I’m at work all the time, or spending it all the time, or hoarding it in great piles!”
“Hey look, porn! I’m sure I can keep it a secret, and that it won’t affect my present and future relationships, or my future / current wife, or my kids, or my job.”
“Hey look, anger, or guilt, or unforgiveness, or jealousy! I’m sure that if I hold this inside of me it won’t consume and destroy me, or make me like so many others that live with bitterness all their lives. I’m different!”
ZAP, ZAP, ZAP!
Satan’s Favourite Weapon
We talked a lot last week about the Biblical understanding of Satan and Demons. We learned a bit about their back-story, how people perceive them today, and what they are really like. The Bible is crystal clear that we have an enemy who is bigger, stronger, faster, and smarter than us, and who has been lying and manipulating people for thousands of years. He devotes time, energy, resources and all the forces of hell to destroying you, me, our family, our friends, our church, our town and our country.
The final point was about working in God’s power to “Go on the Offensive” against Satan’s plans. I talked about the Armor of God and how each piece represents a way that we can combat all that Satan and his demons want to do in this world. And though we talked about a lot of ways he works, today, I want to talk a bit about Satan’s favourite weapon against us – temptation.
Secure in Jesus but Oppressed by Satan
If you know Jesus as your Saviour today then Satan can’t touch your soul. You are absolutely secure in Jesus. Think of John 10:27-30 where Jesus talks about a Christian’s relationship to Him as their Good Shepherd,
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? You can see Jesus flexing His muscles a bit here, and talking about the kind of power that He has over His enemies.
But even though a Christian’s salvation is secure, that doesn’t mean you are off the hook from being affected by Satan. Remember last week when I said “demons cannot possess a Christian, but they can oppress them.” We talked about a lot of ways Satan attacks us – by inflicting physical and mental illness, or by being the voice in a person’s head that is constantly accusing and heaping ungodly guilt, fear and shame on them. But Satan’s favourite tactic isn’t something so obvious as trying to harm us physically or even emotionally. His favourite thing to do is to use temptation so we will destroy ourselves. If he can get us to do that then his work is a lot easier.
You Are a Target
If you are a believer, then, to some degree, you are a target of Satan. He hates your guts and though He knows He can’t touch your soul, he wants to destroy your joy in God and minimize any damage you can do to his kingdom.
Satan doesn’t want you to be a good mom or dad, brother or sister, aunt or uncle or grandparent. He wants to ruin your influence among your friends and family, wreck your confidence in God, shut you up, shut you down, and keep you from fighting against to him.
He doesn’t want you passing along your faith to people who are lost and without hope. He doesn’t want you being a peacemaker in all of the relationships that he’s destroying. He doesn’t want you setting up barriers to keep people from sinning. He doesn’t want you to study the scriptures and teaching the truth to people because he doesn’t anyone to see through his lies. He doesn’t want you to show that it is a wonderful thing to live in simplicity and humility because he’s trying to hard to convince people that this world is all about pride and indulgence. He doesn’t want you to be a person of prayer, living in the power of God, because then you will be a real threat to him.
And so, every time you oppose him: by committing yourself to daily bible reading and prayer, giving generously, teaching the truth, sharing your faith, serving others, asking or seeking forgiveness, attending church, or any other way you grow in Christ, the big red bulls-eye on your back gets bigger, and Satan wants to eliminate you. That’s why those things seem so difficult. He has limited resources. He doesn’t want to have to fight you. So if he can get you to quit doing things that fight against him, then you are no longer a threat. But he doesn’t usually work against you in the way you might think he would.
Sure, he’ll use fear, threats and false promises to try to stop you. He’ll put thoughts in your mind like:
“You’re going to look weird, so don’t take this religion thing to seriously.”
“That church is going to let you down, so keep them at a distance.”
“That addiction is no big deal. Everyone has their vice. Don’t worry about it.”
Or “If you give up that sin, I’m going to make your life miserable – so just keep doing that and I’ll leave you alone.”
Satan will threaten and lie, but for many believers that won’t work – so for most of us, he has another, more preferred weapon – temptation.
Jesus calls Satan the “father of lies” and says that “lies are his native language” (John 8:44). Now, even though Satan’s does have great strength, his preferred method of harming humans is not physical. His preferred methods are much subtler and far more underhanded. Once he can get people to buy into his lies, he doesn’t need to expend a lot of physical energy, because they be more than willing and able to destroy themselves.
All Satan does is give us a little push in the wrong direction, and we take over from there. This little push is called “temptation” and the Bible says that these temptations find their roots in the desires of our heart (James 1:14-15). The demons watch us, get to know how we tick, and then designed a way to present something to us that is very desirable (something we want to have – like pleasure, security, meaning, distraction, wealth, fame), but ensure that the pursuit of that desire will ultimately lead to our destruction and/or the destruction of others. Sometimes the desires are good things – like the desire for love, or happiness, fulfilment or companionship. God invented pleasure, even sexual pleasure and the wonderful feeling we get from eating tasty foods, but the demons are experts in helping us fulfil our desires in a way that ruins us, rather than builds us up.
I’ve been doing a lot of fishing lately and his method is a lot like fishing. He dangles the bait, and it looks good so we bite, but just as my intention isn’t to feed the fish something wonderful, but to fool them into thinking it’s something wonderful so I can drag them to shore and eat them, Satan’s intention is never to bring pleasure, but to drag us away from life and lead us to death. He doesn’t want us to experience companionship, he wants to break up relationships. He doesn’t want to give us pleasure, but steal our joy. He doesn’t want to fulfil the deepest desires of our hearts, but to create crippling addiction and teach us to worship created things rather than the creator God. He’ll do anything to make us ineffective in our home, work and ministry. He wants us to be broken, hopeless and unproductive.
That’s why we are told in 1 Peter 5:8 to
“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
He’s not trying to get us where we are strongest, but where we are weakest. He’s not our friend, though he pretends to be: he’s the devourer.
How to Win with a Losing Team
How does this work? Let me give you an illustration:
Imagine a football game, and you’re the coach. You’ve been doing okay in the standings, but you’re about to come against the best team in the league and they are better than you in every way. Their team is stronger, faster, hungrier and more skilled than yours. Their coach is smarter and has way more plays in his book than you do. Their quarterback is the greatest player to ever play the game – He’s never missed a single throw and only been sacked once – and somehow even on that play he ended up scoring more points than any other QB ever!
So knowing all that, how are you going to beat them? You’re not going to be able to get new players, and no matter how much you practice, you’re never going to be good enough to even make a dent in them. You will never beat them on the field. What’s the solution? Keep them off the field.
Do everything you can to make sure they never make it to game day. Now obviously the guard at their door won’t let you in if you’re standing there with a baseball bat, waiting to break their knees. So what do you do?
Use pleasure. Donate a nice, big TV with all the channels and new computers with super-fast internet to their dressing room and to every player’s home. Send them boxes of all their favourite snacks. Send them links to shows they should watch and sites they need to visit. Tell them they’re missing out. Tell them to watch the sports channels all day, because that’s just like practice. Then, even if they make it to the game, they’ll be so they are out of shape that they won’t be able to play.
Then start sending e-mails and making phone calls about the playbook. Start arguments about how to interpret the plays. Remind them that there some players don’t get to be on the field as much as others. Ask who the best player is and who needs more practice… and then let the team argue it out. Get them to fight about the playbook instead of practising the skills within it.
Talk to the defensive-lineman and ask him them why he’s are not the quarterback. Isn’t he good enough? Doesn’t the coach trust him? Why should the QB get all the glory? When’s his turn to shine? Make sure each player spends more time complaining about their positions on the field than practicing what they are supposed to be doing.
Tell the star players that they need to be more humble and stop trying so hard. Or remind them of that time they made that huge mistake, that everyone remembers, and that no matter what they’ve done since, they are really nothing, worthless, guilty, unloved, unappreciated, powerless and broken. They shouldn’t even come out to the game – they shouldn’t even try.
Then have the cheerleaders for your team knock on some doors, send some texts, and “accidentally bump into” whoever is left standing, distract them with all manner of sexual invitations, promises and compromise. Destroy their hearts, ruin their marriages, ruin their reputations, and make them love your cheerleaders so much that they don’t even want to play anymore.
Satan can’t take you off the team. He can’t take away your salvation. But, if he can keep you off the field, or keep you fat, stupid, distracted, self-absorbed, and addicted, then at least he doesn’t have to worry about you playing against him. That’s how temptation works. He gives you that little push, based on the desires of your heart, promising pleasure and fulfilment – but granting only pain and destruction.
The last thing he wants you to be is focused on God, reading the playbook and Powerful on the field. The last thing he wants you to do is learn how to pray, read your bible and serve your church. If he can stop your prayer life, bible study and keep you out of church, then he can put a kink in the hose of your life and stop your connection to God. The water’s there, but it’s not getting to you.
A Christian that doesn’t pray is like a body without a heart to pump blood through the veins… dead. A Christian that doesn’t love scripture is like a body that without a brain to guide it’s functions. A Christian that doesn’t attend and serve a church, is like a body that is missing it’s hands and feet. And Satan will use every manner of temptation to kill your spiritual life.
If he can convince you not work within God’s plan for your life and keep working in your own strength and not God’s, then you become a limited threat to his kingdom. If he can distract you into believing that amassing stuff, building yourself up, or experiencing pleasure is what life is all about, then he wins!
The Truth About Temptations
But Satan’s greatest weakness is the truth. Truth is to Satan what kryptonite is to Superman. If you look through the smoke-screen that Satan throws up when he tempts you, and see the truth, it dismantles his whole plan. So let’s finish off today with the truth behind temptation so you can see what’s really going on there. And we’ll start off at 1 Corinthians 10:6-13.
“Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.’ We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
1. You Are Not Alone In Temptation
Paul gives us a huge list of things that the Israelite fell into and it reminds us that Satan hasn’t changed his play book much. They had a pillar of fire and smoke ever before them to remind them of the presence of God. Moses spoke directly to God and then passed along the messages to the people. They were constantly seeing amazing miracles. And they still fell into idolatry, sexual sin, grumbling, and fear. They were fed by manna from heaven in the mornings, and drank rock from a stone, and then worried that God had abandoned them.
One of the big things we need to get over is thinking that we are the only ones facing temptation. It drives us into secrecy and keep us from strengthening our relationships with God and one another. As long as we believe that we’re the only ones who have to deal with it, and that to admit it would bring shame and ostracism, then we will feel alone and be battling Satan by ourselves – which can’t work. We need to share our temptations and sins with one another because it drags it from darkness into the light, and takes a huge amount of the power away from Satan.
We need God’s help and others. Verse 12 says, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” The Israelites were very sure of themselves, to the point of pride, surrounded by God’s presence – and they fell over and over. We need God’s assistance through prayer and the truth of His word, but we also need the help of our Christian brothers and sisters to overcome temptation.
James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” You are not the only person who is tempted to drinks too much. You’re not the only person who has a desire to look at porn. You’re not the only person who struggles with pride. You’re not the only person who has anger issues. You’re not the only person who has been addicted to something. You’re not the only person who has cheated. And if we work together, as brothers and sisters, dragging those temptations sins into the light, then we will be stronger against them.
2. Being Tempted is Not a Sin
Verse 13 says, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.”. Everyone is tempted. Adam was tempted, Jesus was tempted (Luke 4:2, Heb 4:15), I am tempted, and so are you. But temptation is not sin. Sin is committed when a person gives in to temptation. Don’t be shocked or surprised that you have shortcomings, failures, and predilections toward some sins. Everyone has them. Satan and the demons want you to believe that being tempted is sin because then, if you feel tempted, you think you may as well go all-the-way, because you’ve already sinned anyway. That’s not true. And if you get this confused, thinking that feeling tempted is the same as sin, you will always feel guilty, shameful, weak and defeated. And that will keep you from God and others. Being tempted is not a sin. Everyone faces temptation, every day. And people have overcome this temptation many times – and can help you.
3. Temptation Isn’t Complicated
The verse says that these temptations are “common to man”. Satan wants you to think that you are a special case, that no one will understand, that you’re the only one, and that getting out from under the temptation is going to be super complicated.
But 1 John 2:16 says that there are only 3 kinds of sins, and therefore only three kinds of temptations.
“For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.”
Let me read that same verse from the New Living Translation:
“For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.”
There’s your three categories, and all our sins fit into one of them. You are either going to be tempted through “physical pleasure”, or tempted to amass piles of all you see, or to place yourself over God in pride and boasting in all you have and can do. That’s really it.
For Adam and Eve it was all three. They saw the fruit was good to eat, and wanted to physically experience it’s taste. They were jealous that God had something they wanted – knowledge of good and evil. And they pridefully wanted to be god’s themselves.
Same with the temptations of Christ. They were to eat bread and satisfy his physical hunger, show everyone how great He was by dive off of the temple mount and not get hurt, and turning away from God’s plan by bowing His knee to Satan so He could have all the kingdoms of the world. Same three things.
Knowing this allows you to realize that Satan doesn’t have a lot of tricks – He just uses them very effectively. It allows you to open your heart to God because you can know that Jesus was tempted in the same way. It allows you to know you can be forgiven because you’re sin isn’t special. It’s not the worst one. It’s just one version of the same thing that everyone goes though. It might feel big, scary, and complicated to you, but the truth is that Jesus went through it and defeated it, many other Christians have been through it and defeated it, and by leaning on Jesus and His church, you can defeat it too.
4. There’s Always a Way Out
The next lie Satan wants you to believe is that you are trapped. Say you believe the rest of what I’ve said. That you’re not alone, that temptation isn’t a sin, and that it’s no different than anything many other people are going through. That doesn’t mean that temptation isn’t going to come. And when it does, Satan wants you to think that you’re cornered, with no other option than to follow through. Your body will want to, your mind will dwell on it, you’re heart will fail, and it will feel like you have absolutely no choice but to fall for that temptation and sin. Satan wants you to think that it’s inevitable. You’ll fall. Every time.
But as verse 13 says,
“God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
God knows what you are capable of withstanding by His grace, and in His power – which is a lot! God’s promise is that He will always keep the temptation from becoming so strong that you can’t stand up against it. You’re sin is never inevitable. There is no temptation that has not been approved by God and that is not designed to help grow you in character, love, hope and spiritual strength. He promises to use all these temptations to grow you into a stronger Christian, and will never make the task too strong.
We can never say, “I couldn’t help myself. I was overpowered. I couldn’t resist anymore.” God knows what we can handle and will never tempt us beyond what we can take. He might take us to the edge – but only because he wants us to push our boundaries and grow stronger. And He’ll always give you a “way out”.
Sometimes the “way out” is very obvious, even to a thick-headed guy like me. Here’s how it works: You’re being tempted to sin, and you start to mull it over in your mind, and consider your excuses, and just want to quit fighting… and the phone rings, or the internet and e-mail shuts down, or someone comes to the door, or your roommate or kid or spouse suddenly comes in, or you suddenly really have to go to the bathroom. You get interrupted somehow, and there seems to be a hurdle between you and committing that sin. That’s God going, “HEY!!! WALK AWAY!!! HERE’S THE WAY OUT!!!” I’m sure you’ve experienced this too.
Sometimes the “way out” takes more effort. Maybe it means admitting the problem to your pastor or a friend and asking them to walk along side you for a while. Those people are a provision from God. Maybe your “way out” is getting into a program that teaches you some skills about how to kick the problem.
And maybe your “way out” is just practising some common sense like if you struggle with overeating, you shouldn’t have cupboards full of treats. Or if you struggle with anger, you shouldn’t be stimulating yourself with coffee and sugar. Or if you struggle with porn you need to turn off the computer, leave the laptop at work, get a porn blocker or a program that e-mails all of the sites you visit to your mother. Or if you struggle with pride, maybe you shouldn’t put yourself in places where people are going to stroke you.
Maybe your “way out” is exercising the mind God has given you to practice some wisdom. Figure out where you are when you feel the most tempted. Who are you with and what are the circumstances? Are you usually in the same time, same place, doing the same thing? What day of the week are you most likely to fall? If you’re greatest temptation comes when you are in a certain place on Friday nights – then find somewhere else to be in Friday nights. If you struggle with a certain person putting pressure on you – find someone else to be around.
Satan wants you to think you’re trapped, but God promises to give you a way out. This is where we pray:
“Lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil, because I’m surrounded by it right now. I haven’t fallen yet, but I feel like I will. Help me be like Joseph who ran away from Potiphor’s wife, and live like 2 Timothy 2:22 says, ‘[Fleeing] the evil desires of youth, and pursuing righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.’ Father I want a pure heart, and I need your help right now. Deliver me from the evil one who wants to ruin me, my heart, my life, my family, my church, my credibility, my spiritual strength, my mission and my joy.”
And God will always, always answer that prayer. Keep the Armor of God on and keep battling Satan, but always remember: He is defeated and he is a liar.
“God, you are faithful.
You will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear.
But when we are tempted,
You will also provide a way out
so that we can stand up under it.” (1 Cor 10:13)
You are Faithful.
You never change.
You are always there.
You’ve never failed anyone
and you never will.
You are worthy of our worship,
and our attentions.
To you belongs all glory
and we come to you as your children today,
trusting in your faithfulness.
We confess this morning that we have been tempted
and did not take the way out that you had provided.
You offered us the power to stand up under our temptations,
to be strong in our weaknesses,
to be able in our disability,
to mount up with wings as eagles,
to run and not grow faint
– but we did not take what you offered.
Instead we went to idols,
to worldly means,
and even to ourselves instead.
Forgive us for being so short-sighted,
so arrogant and prideful,
so ridiculous as to think that we could find lasting strength elsewhere.
Forgive us, cleanse us, renew us, and deliver us, Lord Jesus.
We come to you in need today.
We are hurting physically
and we need your healing touch on our bodies.
We are hurting emotionally
and we need your special presence and comfort
as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
We are hurting spiritually
as we suffer through a long, dark night of the soul,
and we need your light to guide us out.
We are hurting relationally
and we need your wisdom to guide us to know how to forgive,
to ask forgiveness,
to seek out for mercy
or to seek out for confrontation.
Some of us are hurting in our occupation
and need your help to understand some problems at work.
Others are hurting in their mind
and need your supernatural guidance, strength, knowledge and truth.
We run towards your mercy today.
We lean upon your love.
We dive into your faithfulness.
We fall into your grace.
As we open your word today,Lord Jesus,
help us see you more,
know you better,
hear your voice,
see your hands at work,
and spiritual enlightenment.
We pray this in the name of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen