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rewritten

We are looking at five steps that you can take to overcome sin in your life; to deal with areas where you are really struggling to do God’s will. And we are up to Step 5. When you are in a time of testing – endure.

Endurance has to do with the ability bear up under hardship for a long time. Other words might be persistence, fortitude, stamina, or patience. We need all this because –

Satan tries to wear us down in a time of testing

Even if we are successful at first, he continues to press us to give in so that we will fail – so that he can accuse us of sin before God and seek our condemnation. So we think we are doing fine, but then we realize that the struggle has really just begun. Satan is persistent in tempting us to sin and we must be more persistent in fighting this.

Here is an example for us to work with. A fellow student offers to let you cheat. But decline, and you feel pretty good about it.

But then as you go through the year, you find out that the class is a lot harder than you thought. You know you can get the answers – your classmate is more than willing, But you don’t. You just work extra hard.

And then you fall behind because you had to leave town for a week for a family emergency. And you don’t know if you can catch up. And it’s possible that you will fail the class. And if you fail the class you won’t graduate on time and with all your friends. So you think – ‘I didn’t want to cheat before, but it’s not my fault I’m behind and the stakes are really high now.’

The temptation lingers even as the circumstances increasingly  pressure you to make the wrong choice.

The message today is, whatever the test, however long it goes on, and however hard it gets –

Don’t give in!

What this means is that we keep repeating the previous two steps:

  • Step #3: You keep your mind focused on God’s will. This is the battle of the mind. When you are tempted to rationalize giving in, for instance, to cheat, you use the Scriptures to keep you focused on God’s will. You could think on Ephesians 4:25 which says, “put away falsehood.” It teaches us that we are to be people of honesty and integrity. And then you tell Satan to leave you in the name of Jesus.
  • Step #4: You keep receiving strength from the Spirit to do God’s will. This is the battle of the heart. When you are tempted to give in, to choose what is wrong, for instance, to cheat, you look to God for help to do what is right. And so you deny those desires of your flesh that would lead you to sin – (your desire not to fail, your desire to graduate on time and with your friends).

No matter how long the test lasts, you don’t quit thinking what is right, and choosing what it right. This is what endurance means.

Other Scriptures use different imagery to speak of the same reality. For instance we are to resist Satan and his enticements. 1 Peter 5:8-9 says, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brothers and sisters throughout the world.” James 4:7 tells us simply to “resist the devil.” We resist his lies and we resist his pressuring us to choose the desires of the flesh.

Also, we are to stand our ground. Ephesians 6:10-13 uses military imagery to make this point. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. . . . Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore . . ..” Notice we are not called to take any ground. We only need to stay firm and not give in, in terms of our Christian faithfulness. Satan can only defeat us if we quit; if we stop standing our ground.

How long must we endure?

Mark 13:13 talks about testing and speaks of enduring “to the end” – or until the test is over. You endure until your difficult circumstances change, or until your desire of the flesh to sin is gone, or until you die – as was the case with Jesus, who was faithful unto death.

Having the right perspective

Going through trials, testing and temptation is not easy! Scripture tells us that It “always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time” – Hebrews 12:11 (NRSV). And so we need to have the right perspective on this.

What we must remember is that, although Satan wants us to fail, God uses testing for our own good. God wants us to grow in righteousness and in character. God allows us to be tested “for our own good, that we may share his holiness” – Hebrews 12:10. Such testing, when endured “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” – Hebrews 12:11.

Although Satan uses testing to condemn us and exclude us from God’s blessing, from God’s point of view, as Paul said, testing “is intended to make you worthy of the Kingdom of God” – 2 Thessalonians 1:5.

Because we know that God uses testing for our own good, we can have joy even as we struggle; mixed in with our pain and sorrow. As James says, “Whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy” – James 1:2. God is working in your life. God is making you more and more like him.

Encouragements to endure

Now, remaining faithful in times of trial is talked about a lot in Scripture. And there are many promises and words of encouragement to us in this regard.

First of all we learn that if we fight back, Satan will flee. James 4:7 says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” He doesn’t have unlimited access to us, but must eventually yield.

We also learn that God watches over us in testing. 1 Corinthians 10:13 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 has regard both for how much we can take, he does not let us get in over our heads, and he provides a way out for us.

After a time, God will renew and restore us. 1 Peter 5:10 says, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”

Finally, our endurance will be rewarded. Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up” (NRSV). 2 Timothy 2:12 says, “If we endure, we will also reign with him,” speaking of the life to come. And James 1:12 says, “Blessed is anyone who endures testing. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” (NRSV).

It’s hard to go through testing, but we can overcome and we will be blessed.

Once again I want to illustrate this step with –

The examples of Peter and Jesus

– as they were both tested when Jesus was arrested and taken off to die.

Peter’s failure. He sinned. He denied that he knew Jesus in order to save his life. As Jesus said in Mark 8:38, “Those who are ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” Peter was ashamed of Jesus. This is, perhaps, the worst thing you can do as a Christian. When Peter realized what he had done “he broke down and wept” – Mark 14:72.

Jesus’ example. He endured his time of testing. He endured through arrest, beatings, mockery and crucifixion. He endured even when the test was so hard that he cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – Mark 15:34. Jesus endured, faithful to God – and this is the key phrase – until the end. Not for part of it or for most of it, but until the end. Mark 15:37 says, “Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.”

And as the Scriptures teach, he received God’s blessing for enduring. Jesus was raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of God as Lord of all things. As Hebrews 12:2 says, “for the sake of the joy set before him Jesus endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God” (NRSV).

Let me end by encouraging you to –

Endure in times of testing

Keep your mind focused on God’s truth, and keep receiving strength from the Spirit to do God’s will. It is worth it!

The same Jesus who endured to the end and was raised to new life; who knows how all this works from experience, says to us, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” – Revelation 2:10. Just as he was faithful unto death and was blessed, so if we are faithful, he will bless us with life everlasting.

William Higgins

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[rewritten]

We are looking at five steps that you can take to overcome sin in your life; to overcome in the area where you struggle to do God’s will. Today we look at step #4. Once you are in a test, receive strength from the Spirit to do God’s will. Now, we need strength in a time of testing, because not only does Satan attack our mind, he attacks our heart – our desire to stay true to God.

 Satan pushes hard to get us to choose sin

And we are weak and prone to sin. As Jesus said, “the flesh is weak” – Mark 14:38. And this is especially the case when we are put under pressure to do what’s wrong; when we are in a test. Satan wants to make it so that it is really hard to follow God and easy to sin.

When the pressure is applied, what happens is that there is a conflict between the desires of the Spirit, who encourages us to do God’s will even if it is hard and requires sacrifice, and the desires of the flesh, which want us to take the easy way out even if it means sinning against God. It’s like Paul said, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other” – Galatians 5:17.

We have to choose which way we will go – the desires of the Spirit or the desires of the flesh.

Let me give you an example of this conflict. I worked as a house painter when I moved to Boston in my 20’s. Well, when tax time came around I asked for my information and I found out that most of my pay was meant to be “under the table.” So I am on the phone with my boss and he is telling me this and I realize that he expects me to go along, because it helps him save money and if I don’t then my coworkers might have to start declaring their income and paying more taxes as well.

I was under pressure and I felt the conflict. I knew I should pay my taxes (Romans 13:7) and that this was a matter of integrity. But I didn’t want to lose the job; I didn’t want to cause my coworkers trouble; and I was poor and the thought of having more money was pretty appealing. I should probably just go along and get along. It’s just the way things are done, right?

This is a conflict between the desires of the Spirit and the desires of the flesh. We have all experienced this many times and in different ways.

Well, in times of testing, when we are struggling, what I am saying is that –

The Spirit can help us

So in your moment of weakness pray, “Spirit fill me and empower me. Give me the strength I need to do your will.” The Spirit is powerful and can enable us to overcome.

When we do this there is a death and resurrection that takes place within us. The wrongful desires of our flesh are crucified and the new life that God is raising up in us is more fully manifested.

Although the flesh is weak, Jesus also said, “the Spirit is willing” – Mark 14:38. That is, the Spirit is willing to help us. How does this work? Well, it is the Spirit of God that first gave us a new heart with new desires when we were born again. And the same Holy Spirit can strengthen our desires for righteousness in a time of testing, when the desires of the flesh seem to be prevailing so that our desire for righteousness is greater than our fleshly desires and so we choose to do God’s will.

As Paul said, “Walk by the Spirit (the power or strength of the Spirit), and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” – Galatians 5:16 (NRSV). The power of the Spirit gives us the strength we need to override the desires of our flesh.

What we are really doing when we do this is putting to death the desires of our flesh that oppose God. Paul writes in Romans 8:12-13, “we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh – for if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” By the Spirit, that is, the strength the Spirit gives us, we put to death the deeds of the body; we deny or say “no” to our fleshly desires that oppose God, so that we can do God’s will in our lives. As Jesus told us, we are to deny ourselves and take up our cross in this way daily – Luke 9:23.

Another way?

Now, often we try to overcome the desires of our flesh on our own. We don’t look to God for help. Sometimes we use rules or being hard on ourselves; sometimes even religious rules. Paul talks about, “self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body” and he says these, “are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” – Colossians 2:23.

Sometimes we rely on our own good intentions and will-power. And we may make some progress here or there, but there will always be areas where we fail. Paul describes such a person, “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. . . Wretched man that I am!” – Romans 7:18-19; 24.

The problem with these other ways is that the flesh can’t fix the flesh. The power of sin is too strong. The flesh is too weak.

It is the Spirit alone who can set us free from the power of sin. As Paul says, “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” – Romans 8:2. The Spirit sets us free! The Spirit enables us to do “the righteous requirement of the law,” that is, God’s will – Romans 8:4.

How do we receive strength from the Spirit?

We ask for it. We pray for the Spirit to come and fill us and empower us. This is the promise regarding receiving the Spirit, “For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” – Luke 11:10

We should pray this, opening ourselves up to the Spirit to change our hearts and strengthen us in righteousness.

Now, let’s illustrate this step with –

Peter and Jesus

First, Peter’s failure. He tried to stay true to Jesus, but he only relied on the power of the flesh. As you remember, he secretly followed Jesus after he was arrested and was outside in the courtyard where Jesus was being tried – Mark 14:66-72. Satan used the world to pressure him. The crowd put him on the spot. They said, “This man is one of them!” – Mark 14:69. And they did this three times. The third time it says, “Peter began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, ‘I do not know this man (Jesus) of whom you speak’” – Mark 14:71.

Despite what he had said earlier, Peter wasn’t prepared to die for Jesus. When it came down to it he denied Jesus in order to save his life. Only relying on the power of the flesh and under pressure – he gave in. To use the words of James 1:14-15, Peter was “lured and enticed” by his desire to live. This “desire gave birth to sin.” He denied Jesus to save his life.

Jesus’ example. He received strength from the Spirit to do God’s will. Jesus didn’t want to die on the cross. He didn’t want to be abandoned by God. He didn’t want to come under the judgment of death.

But Jesus received strength from the Spirit. Again, “the flesh is weak,” but “the Spirit is willing” – Mark 14:38. And the Spirit was at work in him. You can see this in his prayer in Gethsemane, “not what I will, but what you will (God)” – Mark 14:36. His desire to do God’s will was greater than his desire to stay alive.

He received strength to undergo arrest, false accusation, mockery, torture, crucifixion and death. Jesus crucified the desires of his flesh in his heart, which led, in this case, to him offering up his body for literal crucifixion.

Do you receive strength from the Spirit?

When you are in a time of testing and you feel weak, do you ask God to empower you and enable you to do his will?

This is absolutely the key to overcoming sin in your life, above anything else we will talk about. Even if you want to do God’s will, you will find yourself in situations where you don’t have what it takes. You are too weak. And if you don’t access God’s power, you will fail.

The Spirit gives us power beyond what we have in ourselves – to do what is impossible in our own strength. And by this power we can deny any fleshly desire in order to do God’s will. Even when it is extremely difficult and involves self-sacrifice.

William Higgins

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[rewritten]

Last week we began looking at five specific steps that we can take to overcome sin in our lives.

The first two steps have to do with getting ready for testing. First, we need to understand what God’s will is, and acknowledge our weakness to do what God says. Second, we need to remain alert in prayer for times of testing and trial. We have to be vigilant and ask God to spare us testing lest we fail him.

In a test –

Satan will attack our thinking

He seeks to deceive and confuse us; to twist up our thinking so that we will fall into sin. As Jesus said, he “has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him” – John 8:44.  Revelation tells us that he is “the deceiver of the whole world” – Revelation 12:9.

He will try anything and everything to make us doubtful about God’s path. He will put thoughts in our head, speak to us through other people, and he will even quote Scripture, in a distorted way, as he did with Jesus in the wilderness – Matthew 4. Whatever it takes.

He wants to get us to think that it’s alright to sin. You know how we often rationalize our wrong choices. We offer up “reasons” to justify why we are doing what it wrong. We might ask, ‘it isn’t really a sin, is it?’ Or we might say, ‘certainly under these circumstances it’s OK.’ Or, ‘so and so does it and they are Christian.’ He will do whatever it takes to get our thinking distorted. He uses the influence of the world to deliver these messages.

It’s a battle that goes on in the mind. And let’s face it, when we are in a test; when we are in a difficult situation that is putting pressure on us – we want to find a way out. Our flesh is weak and this is the kind of thing we do all the time.

Here are some examples of this:

  • Drug/alcohol abuse. You have just had a bad family fight, and you think, ‘It’ll just be this one time to get me through. Then I’ll stop again.’
  • Sexual temptation. You know pornography is wrong but you innocently stumble onto some online. You think, ‘I wasn’t looking for it.’ And then you linger for a while and enter into lust.
  • Anger. You struggle with outbursts that hurt others and damage your relationships and you have committed to stop. But then, you are in a situation where feel someone has really falsely accused you. You think, ‘God will understand. I’m just correcting an injustice. This is different.’ And then you blow up.
  • Gossip. A friend entrusts you with their private information. You know gossip is wrong, but when you are with some other friends and they start to ask you about this person, pushing you for something juicy, you think, ‘The information isn’t really that bad and besides, these people can pray for my friend.’

In each of these cases, we know what is right. But we allow our thinking to become distorted, and in this way we excuse our sinful choices.

Learning from Jesus

Jesus faced this battle of the mind throughout his ministry. Satan sought to get him to put aside God’s will for his life. We learn from Jesus’ responses, how to respond ourselves. Two things stand out:

1. Counter Satan’s deception with the truth. In Matthew 4:4-10 Satan was trying to cause Jesus to stumble away from the path of the cross. For instance, in the third test he basically says, ‘If you worship me, I will give you the power and authority of the nations.’ In other words, you don’t have to die to get it.

Well, each time Satan came at him, Jesus responded, “It is written . . ..” He countered Satan’s suggestion with the truth of the Scriptures; by quoting Scripture.

In the same way, we can quote or read aloud or meditate on Scriptures that pertain to what we are  struggling with. To use our previous examples:

  • Drug/ alcohol abuse – Galatians 5:19-21. It is written about drunkenness, “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” This lays out God’s will in quite black and white terms. It is not God’s will for me to abuse drugs.
  • Sexual temptation – Matthew 5:28. It is written, “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” This is not God’s will for me.
  • Anger – James 1:20. It is written, “for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires.” There is another way than angry outbursts.
  • Gossip – Romans 1:29-32. It is written of those who gossip, “those who practice such things deserve to die.” It is serious and it goes against God’s will.

By repeating the truth of God is this way, we keep our minds thinking God’s thoughts and dispel the deceptions of Satan.

We also learn from Jesus to 2. Tell Satan to stop and go away. In Mark 8:31-33 when Jesus told his disciples that he must die on the cross, Peter came to him and rebuked him, saying that this must never happen. Jesus heard the voice of Satan as Peter spoke to him.

So he rebuked Peter and Satan as well. He said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” – v. 33. He is saying to Satan, “No!” “You are wrong!” And he tells him to “get behind me,” that is, to go away. We also see this in the wilderness testing of Jesus, where he said to Satan, “be gone” – Matthew 4:10.

In the same way, we can also tell Satan to stop and go away when he tries to confuse and deceive us. We have the authority to do this in Jesus. As he said in Luke 10:19, “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy.” We can simply say, “Depart from me in the name of Jesus!”

A note: Often when people talk about speaking to or rebuking Satan, things can get kind of crazy. You often hear Satan ridiculed, made fun of, or put down in various ways. I just want to be clear – we are never to do this. It’s not our place. It is God’s place to do this.

We should learn from Jude 1:9 which says, “But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” (NIV). If Michael is careful how he speaks to Satan, so should we be. The proper response is simply to rebuke Satan. That’s all that’s needed.

I want to continue to illustrate each step that we look at with –

Peter and Jesus

 First we look at Peter’s failure. Peter was not focused on God’s truth. In fact, he didn’t even think that it was God’s will for Jesus to die on the cross. Earlier, when Jesus first told his disciples that he had to die, Peter responded -”Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you” – Matthew 16:22. At Jesus’ arrest he still believed this. . Thinking that Jesus was about to start a war, he acted in the flesh to cut off the man’s ear, who had come with those who sought to arrest Jesus – Mark 14:47. He entered the test confused, and so he had no chance. He had already lost the battle of the mind.

 Jesus’ example. Jesus, however, stayed focused on God’s truth. After he prayed three times to see if God would change his mind, and God did not, Jesus went forward to do God’s will.

As the soldiers arrested him he said, “let the Scriptures be fulfilled” – Mark 14:49. And he carried this attitude all the way through to his death on the cross.

Not that he wasn’t tempted further to rationalize a way out:

  • Jesus certainly would have heard the voice of Satan when the Jewish and Roman authorities asked him to defend himself at trial. ‘You don’t have to die! Just say the right words and you can live.’ And he probably could have.
  • And he certainly heard the voice of Satan when he was on the cross and various ones said to him, “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” – Mark 15:32. They were mocking him, but what if he had come down? He could show them the truth once for all.

But Jesus didn’t listen to Satan. He didn’t listen to the world. He kept his mind focused on God’s truth and he walked the path of the cross.

Let me end by asking –

Are you focused on God’s truth?

When Satan tries to get you to rationalize choosing to sin:

1. Do you counter with the truth of Scripture? Do you know what the Scriptures say in your area of struggle? When you are in a test do you bring these Scriptures to mind?

2. Do you tell Satan to stop and go away? Do you follow the example of Jesus? And do you stand in the authority of his name to tell Satan to leave?

I encourage you to put this step into practice this week.

William Higgins

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[rewritten]

Let me begin with a question – What sins are you struggling with? You know, things you know are wrong, but continue to choose to do. Is there one in particular?

Perhaps you feel like you don’t even have control over it anymore; that you are a slave to your sin. Like Paul says in Romans 7:19 – “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want, is what I keep on doing.”

In the next few weeks, I want us to look at five specific steps that you can take to be free; to overcome your sin. These steps come from looking at Jesus as he faced the cross -primarily from Mark 14:26-72. Here he was tested as to whether he would stay true to God and go to the cross. And we learn from his example, how to overcome in our own areas of struggle.

We will also look at Peter as a contrast case. He was tested to see whether he would stay true to God by standing with Jesus, even if it got him killed. He did not overcome. We can also learn from, and identify with him.

I encourage you to keep in mind the area of weakness you have identified and as we go through this, apply it to your situation.

We begin with –

Step #1. Understanding what God’s will is, acknowledge your weakness to do what God says

We learn what God’s will is primarily through studying the Scriptures. As Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” We especially need to learn from Jesus and the New Testament, since Jesus gives us the complete and final revelation of God’s will for us.

Once we begin to understand God’s will, it will become apparent that we don’t measure up.

It’s just like Jesus said, “The flesh is weak” – Mark 14:38. Weak that is, in terms of doing God’s will. We sin very easily, especially in a time of testing when we are put under pressure.

In humility we need to recognize this. As Paul said, “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” – 1 Corinthians 10:12. As Proverbs says, “Pride goes before a fall” – Proverbs 16:18. Our pride will kill us.

But if in humility we are rigorously honest with ourselves – God can help us.

Peter’s failure. He was confused about God’s will. Before he got to Gethsemane, he didn’t think Jesus had to die on a cross. In fact, he rebuked Jesus when he said he had to die – Mark 8:33. Despite hearing Jesus’ repeated teaching, he thought Jesus would be a warrior Messiah and he would fight alongside him.

But not only is he confused, he was overconfident. He saw himself as strong. He said to Jesus, “Even though they all fall away (the other disciples), I will not.” – Mark 14:29. And he said, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you” – Mark 14:31. Peter doesn’t acknowledge his weakness.

Jesus’ example. He knew God’s will for his life. Before he ever got to Jerusalem he told his disciples, “The Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him.” – Mark 10:33-34. (In our story Jesus quotes Zechariah 13:7 – Mark 14:27)

And Jesus was upfront that this would be hard. Just as he said to Peter and the others, “The flesh is weak” – Mark 14:28. Jesus didn’t want to die the shameful death of a criminal on the cross. He didn’t want to be abandoned by God. He didn’t want to come under the judgment of death. Mark tells us that he “began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.’” – 14:33-34. He knew it would be hard.

Step #2. Remain alert in prayer for times of testing and temptation

At Gethsemane Jesus told the disciples “keep alert and pray that you might not enter into testing” – Mark 14:38.

As we saw last week, Satan comes before God requesting permission to test us. He wants to test us in order to cause us to sin, so that he can condemn us before God. 1 Peter 5:8 tells us that he “prowls around like a lion, seeking someone to devour.”

So, since we know that we are weak and the enemy is trying to destroy us, we should look to God in prayer (Ephesians 6:18; Colossians 4:2) and specifically we should ask to be spared testing and temptation. We need to counter Satan, by asking God, “do not lead us into testing but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13), as Jesus teaches in the Lord’s prayer, and as he told the disciples in our story. We are saying, ‘God, the enemy is powerful and I am weak. Have mercy on me. Don’t let me be tested, lest I sin against you.’

Now sometimes in mercy God will answer our prayers and we will be spared. And who doesn’t want to be spared going through difficult situations? Why wouldn’t we be praying this all the time?

But even if God allows us to go through testing, because he knows we can handle it, and he wants us to grow in character and godliness – we will be ready, being alert and prayerful. We will recognize what is going on when it confronts us.

Peter’s failure. He was not spiritually alert to what might come his way. In fact, he was literally asleep – Mark 14:37. Jesus found him asleep three times.

Although Satan had obtained permission to test him, as Jesus said in Luke 22:31, he didn’t ask God to spare him testing, asking for God’s mercy.

The final time that Jesus woke Peter up he said, “The hour has come” – Mark 14:41. It was too late to get ready. There Peter was in the test of his life – confused and unprepared.

Jesus’ example. Jesus was alert and knew what was coming. And so he prayed to be spared. He prayed that “the hour might pass from him” – Mark 14:35. He prayed fervently, three times, “remove this cup from me” – Mark 14:36, which is another form of the prayer “do not lead (me) into testing.” He asked for God’s mercy.

And when God didn’t intervene to offer up another way, he was ready and accepted the test.

Now sometimes in mercy God will hear us and answer our prayers. But God will not always spare us testing, as in the case of Peter and Jesus. They were both tested. When this happens, if we have watched and prayed ahead of time, at least the test will not catch us off guard. We will be alert and prayerful as we enter into it.

Let me end by asking –

Are you ready for a time of testing?

Are you acting ahead of time knowing that there will be tests and struggles ahead? So many times the battle is lost before we even get to the test, because we haven’t done what we could have done ahead of time.

  • Do you understand what God’s will is?
  • Are you aware of your areas of weaknesses in doing God’s will?
  • Are you alert in prayer?

These are specific things that you can do before a test, before Satan pressures you and entices you to give in to the weakness of your flesh. I encourage you to put them into practice this week.

William Higgins

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How Satan and Testing Work

[re-written]

We are continuing on in our series – How to Overcome Sin in Our Lives, or how to get rid of sinful behaviors and habits that have taken root in our lives. We have heard the call to stop sinning – to put away those sins that we know about and yet choose to do anyway. And then, what we are doing, both last week and today, is laying some groundwork for understanding how to be free.

Last week the topic was, ‘How sin works.’ We talked about where sin comes from and why we sin. Today our focus is on, ‘How Satan and testing work.’ I want us to see, not just what goes on in our hearts with regard to sin, but what happens outside of us that can influence us to sin.

We have to recognize the reality and power of evil that is around us, that goes beyond just human evil; that is much deeper and darker. We can’t see it with our eyes directly, but it is real nonetheless.

There is a war going on in the spirit realm. And we are a part of it whether we know it or not; whether we act to defend ourselves or simply get swept away by it. Paul says in Ephesians 6:11-12, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” 

But first a brief word about –

God and testing

Even as Christians, who seek to do God’s will, we have to confess that without God’s help we are mere flesh – weak and given to self-centeredness and pride.

But God wants us to grow and to come to a place where we humbly rely on him in our weakness, and to be transformed so that we find our true fulfillment in doing his will. And this is why he allows us to be tested – that is, to go through hard times and difficult struggles. He does this for our own good. As Hebrews 12:10 says, he tests us “for our good, that we may share his holiness.” Even Jesus was tested as Hebrews 5:8 tells us.

Satan and testing

Satan, however, the one who actually tests us, has a different agenda. Being aware of our weakness and pride – he uses testing to lead us to sin, judgment and destruction.

In God’s order of thins, Satan is a prosecutor. His job is to find evil, bring it to God’s attention and then punish it. This is what we see him doing in Job 1-2, seeking to test Job.

Although Satan has a role to play in God’s scheme of things, Scripture is clear that he is evil.

  • Jesus calls him the “evil one” – John 17:15.
  • Jesus tells us that he was “a murderer from the beginning” – John 8:44.
  • And Scripture tells us that he has been “sinning from the beginning.” – 1 John 3:8.

God may use him, but he has his own agenda which is opposed to God – and us. This is how he works:

1. He asks God’ permission to test us. We see this happening with Job in Job 1:9-11. Job is a good man, but Satan thinks that if his life is made hard, that he will show himself to be bad. This is also the case with Peter and the other apostles when Jesus was arrested. Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat” – Luke 22:31. He sought permission to test them.

2. He tries to catch us unprepared for testing. Peter says, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” – 1 Peter 5:8. Satan is like a lion, who picks off the weak and the unprepared. He tries to catch us unaware, off guard, complacent, ignorant, proud or weak, so that he can devour us.

This is why Peter says that we are to be sober-minded and watchful. If you knew a hungry lion was in the area looking for food, would you not be alert? Well, spiritually speaking, there is one.

3. He tests us. This is when we are put in a difficult situation that puts pressure on us to sin; where the desires of the flesh and the desires of the Spirit come into clear conflict – and we have to choose. We will either look to God for help or give in to sin. We will either move forward with God or backward with Satan. And he banks on the latter being the more common response.

This might be persecution as in Revelation 2:10, which says, “Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested . . ..”  It might be difficult life circumstances as in Matthew 4:1-11, when Jesus was tested in the wilderness.

4. He distorts the truth. He lies, deceives and in general seeks to confuse us with regard to God’s truth and God’s will for our lives. He can even quote Scripture, but with the wrong sense, to lead us astray, as he tried when he encountered Jesus in the wilderness.

Jesus tells us that he “has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” – John 8:44. Paul tells us that he “has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ”  – 2 Corinthians 4:4. We are also told that he is “the deceiver of the whole world” – Revelation 12:9.

He does all this to lead us to sin. He doesn’t want us to know God’s will, lest we choose to do God’s will; lest we come to understand the gospel and God’s plan for our lives. And if we know God’s will he wants to confuse and deceive us.

5. He entices us to sin. As we struggle during a test, he tells us, ‘It’s OK, it won’t hurt you,” or, “everyone else is doing it.’ He will tell us anything to get us to sin. For instance, he spoke through Peter to Jesus – ‘you don’t have to go to the cross’ – Mark 8:32-33. 

6. Satan uses “the world” as he tries to lull us into complacency, as he distorts the truth and as he tests us.

The world, in the New Testament, often refers to all the people, values and ideas in the world that are not submitted to God, indeed that oppose God and God’s will and walk in their own way.

Satan is closely connected to the world. He is called:

  • the “god of this world” – 2 Corinthians 4:4.
  • the “ruler of this world” – John 16:11.
  • we are told that he rules over the nations of the world  – Luke 4:5-6.
  • And we are told that “the whole world lies under the power of the evil one” – 1 John 5:19.

And the world is all about pressuring us to sin. As Jesus said in Matthew 18:7, “Woe to the world for temptations to sin!” That’s what the world does.

So as it ruler, Satan uses the world as his instrument, to put further pressure on us to sin. The world teaches us that sin is normal and OK. And if we try to live according to God’s will, the world pressures us to conform to it. This is peer pressure to fit in; to go along with the crowd; not to be made fun of, or ostracized.

If we do give in to the desires of our flesh and sin, under pressure from a test and the influence of the world –

7. Satan turns on us and accuses us before God

Zechariah 3:1 tells us about how Satan stood before God and accused Joshua the high priest of sin. Revelation 12:10 calls Satan the “accuser of the brothers” and tells us that he accuses us “day and night before our God.” Again, he is like a prosecutor seeking our condemnation for our sins.

And once this condemnation is secured –

8. Satan becomes an agent of God’s judgment

Paul says that when we sin, “we give opportunity to the devil” – Ephesians 4:27; we open the door to let the destroyer come into our lives. He, then, holds us under his power. Paul talks about those who are snared by the devil; “captured by him to do his will” – 2 Timothy 2:26. Finally, he has been given the power of death to punish us – Hebrew 2:14. In this verse he is described as “the one who has the power of death.” He works in our lives to bring us to the final destruction of eternal death; the final judgment.

Conclusion

In 2 Corinthians 2:11 Paul talks about not being “outwitted by Satan.” He goes on to say that he is not “ignorant of his designs.” I have shared this with you today because I don’t want you to be outwitted or overcome by his designs and schemes.

Yes, we have a powerful enemy; one who seeks our destruction. But the good news is that although Satan is powerful – Jesus overcame him by the authority he has and the truth of God so that he did God’s will. And Jesus shows us how to follow in his path to be overcomers as well. And this is what we will look at next time.

William Higgins

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