December 2012 Issue
Dealing With Temptation:
Reflections from First Corinthians 10
by Steve Gaines
Perhaps you remember the frequent episode in the Charles Schultz cartoon Peanuts.
Lucy: Say, Charlie Brown, I’ve got a football. How about practicing a few place kicks? I’ll hold the ball and you come running and kick it.
Charlie Brown: Oh brother. I don’t mind your dishonesty half as much as I mind your opinion of me. You must think I’m stupid.
Lucy: Oh come on, Charlie Brown.
Lucy: I’ll hold it steady.
CB: [hesitates] No!
CB: You just want me to come running up to kick that ball so you can pull it away and see me land flat on my back and kill myself.
Lucy: This time you can trust me. See? Here’s a signed document testifying that I promise not to pull it away.
CB: It is signed. It’s a signed document. I guess if you have a signed document in your possession, you can’t go wrong. This year, I’m really going to kick that football. [running sounds, crash, screams] Aaaaahh!
Lucy: [looking at the document] Peculiar thing about this document. It wasn’t ever notarized.
The devil is like that. He’s like a boxer with a one-two punch. His left jab sets us up with a temptation: “Come on, you can do it.” His knockout blow is the guilt that comes after we say yes to sin.
But, our loving Father has given us a tremendous strategy for victory over temptation: If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure (1 Corinthians 10:12-13, all verses cited are from the NLT except as noted).
THE DECEPTION OF TEMPTATION
The words be careful mean open your eyes. Temptation is a dangerous illusion. It is like walking around with your eyes shut. Paul’s command is short and simple—open your eyes!
The heart of temptation is deception! First Corinthians 10 opens with a review of Old Testament history. God was with the people of Israel. They saw His miracles when they were delivered from Egypt and when they walked through the Red Sea on dry ground. They had seen God do so much; yet they routinely succumbed to temptation. Their failures served as examples for the Corinthians and, through them, for us. Thus the warning—Be careful not to fall.
Though I love to hunt, I must admit that hunting basically is deceiving an animal to kill it. Good duck hunters master the art of deception. They use decoys. A decoy is a fake bird. Modern decoys look like a duck, paddle like a duck, stir up the water like a duck. But, it’s all a deception. A group of decoys on a lake may look like a flock of ducks from the air, but it’s a lie.
The deception continues. Using a duck call, the duck hunter talks like a duck. Again, it’s deception. It’s a lie. And what does the hunter wear? Camouflage. Where does he hide? In what we call a “duck blind.”
When the duck flies over the lake, it sees the decoys. It hears the duck call. The setting looks and sounds like the real thing. He cups his wings to land—and flies straight into the sights of the hunter. The hunter goes away happy, and the duck goes away dead.
Satan uses similar tactics. He sets out deadly decoys. He issues an appealing call. “Nothing bad will happen. No one will know. No one will be hurt. You won’t get caught. You deserve it. Live a little. Chances like this don’t come very often. Other people do it and are happy. You have no idea what you’re missing.” And you’re drawn in.
Deceived ducks die. So do deceived people.
When we face temptation in our own strength, we’re in grave danger. If you think you can beat the odds, you’re already two-thirds gone. Satan has lured you in. It’s all over but the guilt and grief and regret.
The Lord would say to you today, “It’s a trap. Satan is deceiving you.”
THE PERVASIVENESS OF TEMPTATION
As a pastor for almost thirty years, I’ve heard many people say, “But Pastor, my situation is different.” Verse 13 says it isn’t. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience.
When it comes to temptation, Satan is no respecter of persons. He’ll take you down in a heartbeat. You’re nothing special to him.
You remember Eve. The LORD God had warned Adam and Eve, You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden. Notice how good God is—you can freely eat all the fruit you want of these trees . . . everything except this one.
Satan, camouflaged as a shining serpent, questioned, Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden? (Genesis 3:1). Eve, circling the tree like a duck, failed to discern the decoys paddling on the pond. Seeing how delicious the fruit looked, she gave in. The devil’s deception had worked. Too late, she realized it was the decoy of death.
Satan pulled the trigger. Adam and Eve fell. Overcome with shame, they experienced sudden and immediate spiritual death. They sewed fig leaves to cover themselves. How pitiful. And how like us.
Satan tempts everyone in these same three areas—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life (1 John 2:16, NKJV). The NLT puts it this way: A craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions.
The devil is a hunter. You and I are his prey. Temptation is inevitable. Anyone can succumb to any temptation. Regardless of who you are, who you have been in the past, or who you hope to be in the future, you’ll be enticed into sin. Think about Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Samson, Samuel, David, Elijah, Peter, Paul, John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, Billy Graham, R. G. Lee, Adrian Rogers, Steve Gaines, and yes, you.
We’re all tempted to sin. We have that in common. Your situation is not different. My situation is not unique. When it comes to temptation, we are all in the same boat.
VICTORY OVER TEMPTATION
Praise God for the end of 1 Corinthians 10:13: And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, He will show you a way out so that you can endure.
God always provides a way out.
Several years ago Discipleship Journal asked its readers to rank the greatest spiritual challenges they face. These Christian leaders listed a litany of sins—materialism, pride, self-centeredness, selfishness, laziness, anger, bitterness, sexual lust, envy, gluttony, and lying.
In a follow-up question, 81 percent of the respondents said, “I deal with [temptation] better when I am having my quiet time with God every day. When I don’t have my personal time with God, I’m more susceptible to temptation.”
More than half added they were more susceptible to temptation when they were physically tired.
How did they resist temptation? Their top answers were prayer, avoiding compromising situations, meditating on the Word, and being accountable to someone else.
How do we overcome temptation? I close with twelve steps to victory over temptation.
1. Know You Are Saved.
That has to be the bedrock. You have to know that Jesus Christ died for you on the cross, that He paid the price for your sin.
2. Live in the Bible.
The Bible can’t just be a book that you refer to for a sermon or small group lesson. You need to read it throughout the week. Dawson Trotman, founder of the Navigators ministry, said years ago, “This book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this book.”
3. Pray without Ceasing.
As mentioned above, more than 80 percent in the survey said they were better able to deal with temptation when they were praying. Jesus said to His sleeping disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, Keep watching and praying. (Matthew 26:41, NASB). Why? That you may not enter into temptation. And then He added something we all know by experience: The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. So pray.
4. Seek God’s Way of Escape.
The Lord always provides the way of escape! Victory is possible. Ask the Lord to show you the way of escape. He will show you.
5. Renounce “the Sins of the Fathers.”
We all inherit physical DNA. We have also inherited a spiritual propensity towards certain sins. This is often generational. Abraham lied; so did his son, Isaac. Aaron was an idolater; and his sons Nadab and Abihu died when they gave strange fire to the Lord.
6. Tear Down Personal Strongholds.
We all have developed in our lives some persistent sin that entangles us (Hebrews 12:1). We must tear down these strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). How? We repent. Then we renounce it—slamming the door, bolting it shut, welding the bolt, and throwing away the key. Then we resist the devil and his allurements when faced with it in the future. And then, we thank God for His restoration.
7. Draw Near to God’s Throne of Grace.
The devil wants to beat us up with condemnation; but our Lord is a high priest who sympathizes with our weaknesses. He invites us to draw near with confidence to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). Knowing our sins, sufferings, and even temptations, He gives us mercy and grace to help when we need it most.
8. Ask God Daily to Guide You.
I regularly pray God’s promise in Psalm 32:8: I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go. I will counsel you with My eye upon you (NASB).
9. Avoid Evil Paths.
Begin your day with this prayer, “Lord, is there anything potentially evil, a place that I don’t need to go, a person that I don’t need to be with, whatever it might be?” He will guide you aright.
10. Choose the Right Places.
Walk in righteous paths. Isn’t that what the Psalmist said in Psalm 23:3? He restores my soul; He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake (NASB).
11. Dedicate Your Body to the Lord.
Every member of your body—the visible and the hidden. Romans 6:13 reminds us, Present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God (NASB).
12. Associate with Godly People.
Scripture teaches, Flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace. And then he says to enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord from a pure heart (2 Timothy 2:22, NASB).
Satan is a shrewd hunter. He is out to destroy us (see John 10:10). He has us in his sights. Before we cup our wings to come in for a landing, let us be sure we have looked to our Lord for deliverance, victory, and strength. He has provided a way of escape!
Steve Gaines is senior pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tennessee.
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