Tag Archives: temptation

Why God’s promise to give you a way out of temptation isn’t working

There are some promises in the Bible which under certain conditions do not work.

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church he shares how Israel’s past mistakes have been written down as a warning to us, so that we “might not desire evil as they did” (1 Cor. 10:6).   He goes on to pen one of the most frequently quoted promises in all of scripture:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to everyone.  God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it (10:13).

I have often hated that verse.

I hated it because as an addict it never worked.   He won’t let me tempted beyond my strength?  I proved time and time again that I had no strength.  I was powerless over my addiction.  When it called, I answered.

I prayed time and time again that God show me a way out next time.  I prayed time and time again that God give me strength to withstand the temptation to use the next time around.  Each and every time I got the same result.

I began to think that this verse, so often quoted and fitting so nicely on refrigerator magnets was a cruel joke.

But Paul writes something immediately after this famous verse which was a game changer for me.  Like the decoder ring I used to find in Cracker Jack boxes, this is the key that unlocks everything else.  He writes,

Therefore, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols (10:14).

The idea that we can resist temptation is sandwiched between these two ideas, that we might not desire evil and that we would not worship other gods. But when we worship something else, or when our heart’s desire is something apart from God, we aren’t in a good place to activate the promise of 1 Cor 10:13.

When Paul says that when we are tempted a way out will be provided, he is assuming that the main desire of our heart is God.  Temptation is the process of being enticed by something less than that main desire of our heart.   When Adam and Eve were tempted in the garden they were being enticed by something other than God, who was their all in all.  Being tempted is about being lured off a path I am committed to be on, whether that path is life, or in the case of addiction, death.

So, when I’m acting out in my addiction the main desire of my heart is not God.  Rather, my compulsion is my god, and when in that state, anything trying to draw me away from acting out in my addiction could be called a temptation.  When I am active in my addiction I am not being tempted to use my drug of choice, I’m being called to worship my god. 

When I am active in my addiction, sometimes I am tempted to go to church.

When I am active in my addiction, sometimes I am tempted to pray.

When I am active in my addiction, sometimes I am tempted to surrender.

Thank God he never answered my prayer to provide a way out of my temptations!   Those temptations were actually wooings of the Spirit, seeking to tempt me away from the god I worshiped  – my compulsion.

If you have been praying 1 Cor. 10:13 till you are blue in the face and frustrated that you keep falling short, perhaps it’s time to be brutally honest with yourself and admit that temptation isn’t your issue,  worshiping an idol is.

It’s not until we admit that we have an idol in our heart that we love more than God that that idol begins to lose it’s power over us.  Naming the gods we love to worship, admitting that we are powerless over them, is the first step towards the sort of worship for which we were created.

And then, when we are absorbed by the one true God, with our hearts delighting in him, having turned our life and our will over to his care, then and only then will we find the power and truth in a promise like 1 Cor. 10:13.  We will find that there always is a way provided for us to walk in the Spirit rather than our flesh.  We will find that God is doing for us what we previously could not do for ourselves.   We will be making the connection.  We will be home.

Therefore, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols.   What if we put that on our refrigerator magnets for a season?

The Anatomy of Temptation

Genesis 3 contains everything we need to know about what goes wrong in all of us.  It contains the anatomy – the inner workings – of temptation, from the beginning seed planted by the enemy to the tragic fall which follows. It’s a fall that need not happen to us because we know how the enemy attacks.  And yet, we fall for it time and time again.

Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthian church that we should not allow Satan to get an advantage over us, for we are not ignorant of his designs (2 Cor. 2:11).   That we are not ignorant of how Satan works may have been true in the first century, but is it today?   Do you know how the enemy sets out to destroy you?   Do you even know that you have an enemy?   Peter, another one of Jesus’ first followers, warns that the devil “prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).   If you don’t know this, nor understand how he works, you are easy pickings.

So, looking closely at Genesis 3, learn this “anatomy of temptation” well so that you can be better prepared to defeat the lion, and even see him coming a mile away.

The Enemy Subverts

  1. Bring into question whether God really said something or not.
    • “Did God really say…?” (3.1)
  2. Twist the command into something absurd.
    • “You must not eat from any tree?” (3:1)
    • Notice how he twisted God’s original command, that they may eat of every tree but one (2:16-17), into one that seems absurdly restrictive.
  3. Implants doubt in the mind that God has my best interests at heart.
    • God must be holding out on me.  He is not a good Father.

The Unprepared Response

  1. A misquote of the original command, even adding something (we may not touch it) that is not there (3:3).
    • Because we are ignorant of what the bible actually does say, the lies the enemy tells us ring true.
    • How easily we fall into the trap of adding more rules to the perfectly good ones God has already given, thus adding to our delusion that God is not a good Father and is holding out on us.
  2. Water down the punishment.
    • This is more evident in the original Hebrew, but God’s initial command came with the warning that if they disobey, they will surely die.   Eve misquotes the command itself and then diminishes the punishment, essentially saying, “If we do this, God said we might die.”

The Enemy Pounces

  1. Seeing an opening, Satan presses in on the angle of non-punishment.  “You will not surely die!” (3:4).  You will be fine!
  2. He then appeals to our sense of entitlement, desire and independence.
    • You deserve to be happy. Everyone else has it.  You have the right to be your own boss. 
  3. Satan convinces us this will make us like God.  It will give us life.  It’s what we have been missing all this time.

The Fall

  1. After seeing that the thing wanted is appetizing (isn’t all sin?) Eve reaches outside of God’s design and grabs something she shouldn’t.
  2. Result is estrangement from God rather than unity.
  3. Result is shame and guilt rather than a deeper intimacy with God and with each other.
  4. Result is blaming everyone else, never taking responsibility for the choices made.
  5. Result is a sure death, both physical (one day) and spiritual (immediate).

Consider how this plays out in your life.   If you are addicted to something – sex, porn, food, fame, career, money, whatever – then every point above has been compromised as your reaching for something outside of God’s parameters has become habitual.   We addicts have, over time, whittled away at what God has really said about how we should live our lives (if we ever knew it to begin with), convincing ourselves that God is holding out on us and that we must seek happiness on our terms.  Even more, we have watered down the punishment God promised would come to us if we do this.   The enemy has pounced on this and each time we do it without getting caught we think ourselves more and more invincible.

And yet, if we are honest, in the cool breeze of the evening (3:8) when God comes looking for us, we are found hiding.  The intimacy and connection we crave is broken, not only with God but with all our relationships.   Our reaching for life on our terms has not delivered anything the enemy promised.   We are dying, both physically and spiritually, with each successive bite.

Want to be free of this insane cycle of destruction wrought through this anatomy of temptation?   Go and read Matthew 4:1-11 and see how Jesus handles the same cycle.  Jesus knows and respects the words of God and their authority.  Jesus knows where the true source of Life is found and never questions the goodness of his Father (even while he is going to a cross!).   Jesus knows the designs of his enemy well, and comes through temptation victorious.

You and I can do the same.  The enemy is prowling.  Are you prepared to face him?

Feeling Tempted? Rejoice! It means you’re alive.

A common theme I hear when counseling men struggling with pornography addiction is that they feel ashamed over being tempted.   The shame sounds something like this,

Yeah, I thought I was doing pretty good, but, yesterday I woke up and I was just plagued with thoughts and couldn’t seem to get away from it.  I thought by now I would be past that…

temptation

But this is nothing of which to be ashamed.   Being tempted does not mean you have failed.  Being tempted does not mean that you are not making strides in your sobriety or towards holiness.   Being tempted does not mean you are far from God.

Rather, being tempted means you are alive.

How do I know this?  Because Jesus, God in flesh, was tempted.  At the beginning of his ministry, just after his mountain top experience of baptism, he was tempted for 40 days and nights in the wilderness.   And at the end of his ministry, just prior to his crucifixion, he was tempted to let the cup of God’s wrath pass from him.  In both cases he chose the will of God over what his flesh wanted.   In both cases he chose to obey God rather than his emotions.

Because Jesus experienced temptation I know that I will, and you will, too.   In fact, the bible tells us to expect it.  Paul writes to Christians in Corinth,

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it (1 Cor. 10:13).

From this we can learn a couple of things.   First, my temptations and your temptations are not unique.  You aren’t the only one going through what you are going through.  You may feel like you are, but countless others have battled the same thing…and won.   Nothing has overtaken you which isn’t common to all mankind.  Second, you can overcome it.  Not on your own, of course, and not by your own power, but you can resist whatever is raging a war within you.   Yes, it will feel like hell.  Yes, it will be the fight of your life.  Yes, it will feel like you are going against every impulse and desire you have.   But you will endure.  God will make sure of it.

When you are tempted, you are being given an opportunity to obey God rather than the enemy who is pursuing your soul so long as you are breathing this side of heaven (1 Peter 5:8).   Your success of failure is not to be found in the temptation itself – we are all tempted – but in your response to it.   And the longer you walk in obedience to God the stronger you will become at warding off not only this present temptation nipping at your heels, but future ones as well.

Some practical helps with tempted:

  • Keep focused on good thoughts.  It’s imperative that you be rooted in God’s word and preach the gospel to yourself at all times.   You must be renewed- and continue being renewed- in your mind (Rom. 12:1-2) or you won’t make it out the gate.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things (Phil. 4:8).

  • Get a spiritual partner.   Find someone you can confide in and who will hold you accountable.   Rigorous honest with another human being (and with God) is a must.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor.  If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.(Eccl. 4:9-10)

  • Pray the Mercy Prayer.  When I was tempted and battling a war in my head I prayed this prayer sometimes a thousand times a day.  I went to bed exhausted from the battle, but victorious.  This prayer will change your heart if you take it seriously.   Learn more about it HERE.

God wants us to become like His Son, Jesus Christ.   That means you and I will experience all that Jesus experienced, which includes temptation.   But you need not be a victim. With Christ, you can be more than conquerors (Rom. 8:37).

God Wants to Make You New, Not Better

My pastor’s sermon yesterday at Riverstone UMC touched on the power of the Holy Spirit to change our lives.  One of the Scriptures he read was Acts 1:5-8, which is Jesus’ promise to send the Spirit.   Jesus said,

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you

More and more professing Christians today seem to lack power.  I know this was true in my own life for many years and as I look around at the rates of addiction, divorce, depression, suicide, relational woes, church splits, gossip, fears, anxiety and so on within the church world I am left to conclude one of two things:

1)  Jesus overstated his case, or,

2)  The Holy Spirit hasn’t come upon many of us.

I have no reason to call Jesus a liar but I think I have every reason, based on what I see in my own heart, to believe many of us approach the things of God with an attitude that says,

I’ve got all I need, thanks.

And in so doing we grieve the Holy Spirit.

The greatest news on earth is that even while we are here we can be made into new creations through Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).  This is tremendous news for the addict who thinks he or she must forever identify themselves with their addiction or be chasing after the idol called recovery.     God doesn’t just want to make you better.  He desires to make you new.

And He has the power to do so.

It’s my testimony that God meets us in our deepest need and becomes that need fulfilled.    Christ truly is our “all in all.”    It’s also my testimony that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).   We must come to God as empty vessels, with nothing in our hands but our brokenness and a willingness to surrender all that was and is about us.

God can’t fill us if we already think we are full.

So how do we walk in the power Jesus promised us as Christians?

What I am about to say would have greatly offended the “me” of a year ago but I have come to see it as truth and power.

First, we must humble ourselves before a holy God and reckon our addiction not as a “hang-up” or a “struggle” or a “thorn in our flesh” but as sin which offends God and makes a mockery of grace.    Jesus did not hang on a cross for us to be saddled with an addiction for the rest of our lives but he came to “destroy the works of the devil.”   No one born of God makes a practice of sinning (1 John 3:8-9).

The beautiful thing about naming it for what it is – sin – is that sin, unlike “addiction,” has a cure.   The same power that rose Christ from the dead will make a home in the  one who truly repents and agrees with God that the reason we continue to stumble is because we love our sin more than we love God.

When I was in the pig sty of my addiction I was still convinced that God and I were OK.   Nothing could be further from the truth!  In the same way that God had departed from King Saul in his sin (1 Sam. 16:14; 18:12), God departs from the one who continues to walk in the flesh.

The second thing we must do is stay needy.    We must learn to stay at the foot of the cross, which we now see as our only hope.    As we fix our gaze upon Jesus we will find it natural and necessary to let go of the things of this world which used to fill our lives as well as find the energy and will to invest ourselves in the lives of others, extending the same mercy to others that we have been so graciously shown on the cross.

This is the beginning of walking in the Spirit, which is power and life, versus walking in our flesh, which is death.   I know that in my own life, the extent to which I denied these truths is the same extent to which I lived a defeated Christian existence.    I had no power.   I had no self-control.    I had no will to please God or serve others.

But all that has changed, praise be to God, and I know the same can be true for you, too.

God doesn’t desire to make you better.  He wants to make you new!