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Posts Tagged ‘sin’

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 13:2-18

We’re back into the book of 1 Samuel today, covering most of chapter 13; what is the beginning of the end for Saul’s kingship, at least under the blessing of God.

Just to help you remember where we’re at in the story. Israel requested a king and God chose Saul. And this choice was affirmed in numerous ways in chapters 9-12. He is privately anointed king by Samuel, in a story filled with acts of divine providence that brought them together. And this is confirmed to Saul by three miraculous signs.

Next, Saul was to attack the Philistine garrison near his home, after these miraculous signs, but he didn’t. He hesitated. He was afraid. This was how God’s choice of him was to have been made known, in a military victory. Nevertheless, he is publicly chosen by lots in chapter 10 and he wins a military victory in chapter 11 over the Ammonites. And then finally in chapter 12, Samuel retires from being the Judge of Israel and Saul is established as king.

Our story today connects back to the unfinished business of 1 Samuel 10:8. Basically whenever Saul decided to attack the Philistines, Samuel told him, “go down before me to Gilgal. And behold, I am coming to you to offer burnt offerings and to sacrifice peace offerings. Seven days you shall wait, until I come to you and show you what you shall do.”  (I am indebted to V. Philips Long in his book, The Reign and Rejection of King Saul for this interpretation.)

Let’s look at what happens –

1 Samuel 13:2-18

Our verses today begin with Saul selecting his standing army.

2Saul chose three thousand men of Israel. Two thousand were with Saul in Michmash and the hill country of Bethel, and a thousand were with Jonathan in Gibeah of Benjamin. The rest of the people he sent home, every man to his tent.

Jonathan’s victory. 

3Jonathan defeated the garrison of the Philistines that was at Geba, and the Philistines heard of it. And Saul blew the trumpet throughout all the land, saying, “Let the Hebrews hear.” 4And all Israel heard it said that Saul had defeated the garrison of the Philistines, and also that Israel had become a stench to the Philistines.

It’s interesting that it’s Jonathan, Saul’s son, who fulfills the words of 1 Samuel 10 about Saul doing what his hand finds to do with the Philistine garrison. Although perhaps Saul ordered it. In any case, he certainly gets credit for the victory here.

Jonathan’s act commits Israel to all out war with their Philistine overlords. They are in open revolt. They are a “stench” to the more powerful Philistines.

And the people were called out to join Saul at Gilgal.

Saul goes a ways East to Gilgal, according to the instructions of 1 Samuel 10:8, and to muster the full Israelite army.

And likewise the Philistines gather together their army.

5And the Philistines mustered to fight with Israel, three thousand chariots (NIV) and six thousand horsemen and troops like the sand on the seashore in multitude. They came up and encamped in Michmash, to the east of Beth-aven.

This was a truly massive army, perhaps much more than Israel was expecting. They also had better equipment. They had chariots (the tanks of that day). And as we learn later, among Israel, only Saul and Jonathan had swords. The rest presumably used farm implements for their fighting.

6When the men of Israel saw that they were in trouble (for the people were hard pressed), the people hid themselves in caves and in holes and in rocks and in tombs and in cisterns, 7and some Hebrews crossed the fords of the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. Saul was still at Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling.

If the Philistine response is impressive, the Israelite response is not impressive. They knew they were in trouble, if you just go by the numbers, so they hid and fled as far away as they could. Saul still had some people with him but they were shaking in their boots.

This brings us to Saul’s sin.

8He waited seven days, the time appointed by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the people were scattering from him. 9So Saul said, “Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the peace offerings.” And he offered the burnt offering.

So Saul has finally, through Jonathan, attacked the Philistines and so he knows that Samuel’s instructions from 1 Samuel 10:8 are now in effect. He waited, but not the whole time; not all of the seventh day, as we’ll see.

The offerings are important because they are a means of calling for God’s blessing and help in the battle to come.

10As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came. And Saul went out to meet him and greet him. 11Samuel said, “What have you done?”

So Samuel comes at the last minute, apparently just after the burnt offering, and before Saul finished the peace offerings. Samuel immediately sees that Saul has not done what God commanded. He was to have waited the full seven days, Samuel was to sacrifice and Saul was to wait for Samuel’s instructions for the battle.

This brings us to Saul’s excuse.

And Saul said, “When I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, 12I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the Lord.’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering.”

He actually has three excuses. 1) The army was deserting, so he feels he needs to act quickly. 2) He shifts the blame to Samuel. It’s your fault! You didn’t come soon enough! (The “you” in this phrase in v. 11 is emphatic). 3) And, although there is no indication that this was true, he was afraid that the Philistines would come all the way to Gilgal to attack. So again, he’s in a hurry.

So he felt compelled to go ahead and offer the burnt offerings. He’s saying to Samuel, “Hey, I had no choice!”

Notice how each of these excuses has to do with what he saw (v. 11). He’s focused on the circumstances around him. And he chose to act based on his negative circumstances versus what God has specifically commanded him to do. We have already seen that fear is a core weakness for Saul, and this is surely a part of why he did what he did.

God’s judgment.

13And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”

Samuel reveals that this was a test. If he had demonstrated faith in God, to obey what God said, his kingdom would have endured forever over Israel. But now his descendants will not succeed him; he will have no dynasty.

Why such a serious judgment? He disobeyed a specific command of God that he was well aware of. And he is the king and much is expected of him as the leader of God’s people. And he was given everything he needed, a specific promise in 9:16 that “Saul shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines.” He was also given a new heart by the Spirit of God working in him. And he acted appropriately before in another crisis by relying on God, showing that he can do it.

But this test reveals something deeper, that something is off in him now. 1) His thinking is off. He thinks that giving a sacrifice is more important than obeying God, when it’s obedience that brings God’s blessing, not a mere ritual or sacrifice (1 Samuel 12:13-15; 25). We will see this again in chapter 15 when Saul once again outright willfully disobeys God.

2) His heart is also off. Obeying God is now to him something to do when it suits him. When it doesn’t create complications for him. But if circumstances demand, then he disobeys. He thinks he knows better than God what to do in a crisis. But God is looking for “a man after his own heart” – v. 14. God is looking for someone who loves him and wants to obey him; who wants to please him; who desires what he desires. And even takes risks to do this. That’s why God has chosen someone else who has this kind of heart, whom we learn later is David. (That this has to do with a different kind of heart – 1 Samuel 14:7, 1 Samuel 15:28, which is in parallel to this; 2 Samuel 7:21; 1 Kings 11:4; 15:3 Jeremiah 3;15; Acts 13:22)

Notice also here how the punishment fits the crime. In v. 13 Saul didn’t keep the “command” or it can be translated “appointment” that God gave him. So in v. 14, using the same word, God has “appointed” or “commanded” someone else to be prince over his people.

The aftermath.

15And Samuel arose and went up from Gilgal.

Notice how in all this Saul in unrepentant. He doesn’t take responsibility. And so Samuel simply leaves without giving him any instructions.

The rest of the people went up after Saul to meet the army; they went up from Gilgal to Gibeah of Benjamin. And Saul numbered the people who were present with him, about six hundred men.

 He went to muster troops but came back with fewer than he had before.

16And Saul and Jonathan his son and the people who were present with them stayed in Geba of Benjamin, but the Philistines encamped in Michmash.

What are they supposed to do? They don’t know.  

17And raiders came out of the camp of the Philistines in three companies. One company turned toward Ophrah, to the land of Shual; 18another company turned toward Beth-horon; and another company turned toward the border that looks down on the Valley of Zeboim toward the wilderness.

If before, after Jonathan’s victory, Israel had the momentum, now the Philistines have it. They send out people to surround Saul, to cut off any reinforcements and to gather supplies for their huge army.

What do we learn from this?

Sin has consequences. When we willfully, knowingly disobey God there will be consequences for us, just as there were for Saul.

Ezekiel 18:20 says, “The soul who sins shall die.” And even when we find forgiveness from God, there is still damage done in our lives. For Saul this meant no dynasty. Sin has consequences.

Our excuses also don’t hold water. In a time of trial, circumstances will be hard, but when God gives us clear instructions, we need to follow them. We can’t say, like Saul, “I had to disobey.” “I had no choice!” To put it in a different set of circumstances we can’t say to God, “I had to lie.” “I had to steal.” “I had to commit adultery.” That doesn’t cut it.

We can rationalize all we want. But God gives us what we need to follow him, even when it’s hard. And when we choose not to obey God that’s on us. And we need to take responsibility for our wrong choice and own our sin.

Finally, our hearts need to be after God’s own heart, to love and obey him, not just when it’s easy.

If you don’t obey God out of love; out of a passion and desire to serve God, you’re an empty shell that will one day be exposed in a time of trial, just as Saul was. Maybe some of us need to find our passion and desire for God, once again. It’s not about being religious, Saul offered a sacrifice. It’s about a heart that yearns to do what God wants. It’s about our heart wanting what God’s heart wants.

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The literary structure of 1 Samuel 4:11-22

We are continuing on with several stories about the ark of God in 1 Samuel that prepare us for the emergence of Samuel as the prophetic leader of Israel.

As you will remember from earlier in 1 Samuel, God has foretold judgment on the high priest Eli and his two sons – Hophni and Phinehas. They treated the offerings of the Lord with contempt, taking the best portions for themselves. And also his two sons treated the women workers at the tabernacle as prostitutes. 1 Samuel 2:12 says of these two, “They were worthless men. They did not know the Lord.”

And so an unnamed prophet came and told Eli that his house would no longer be the high priestly line – 2:27-33. And that the sign that this will surely happen is that his two sons would die on the same day – 2:34. And then the Lord told Samuel as a boy, “11Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. 12On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. 14Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.” – 3:11-14

The title of the sermon is “The other shoe drops.” You know the phrase “waiting for the other shoe to drop” right? It means waiting for something bad to happen. Something bad has happened and something else bad will happen. If these pronouncements of judgment are the first shoe that drops, then waiting for the fulfillment of these words of judgment is the other shoe. And it drops decisively in our text today.

Our story picks up with the fallout of the battle between Israel and the Philistines that we looked at last week, where Israel was severely defeated, even though they brought the ark of the covenant to help them.

Judgment on Eli and his house

4:11And the ark of God was captured, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.

Not only did the use of the ark not bring victory, it was captured by the Philistines. It was under enemy control.

And just as the Lord had said, Hophni and Phinehas died on the same day as a sign to all that Eli and his house were being set aside as the high priestly line in Israel.

12A man of Benjamin ran from the battle line and came to Shiloh the same day, with his clothes torn and with dirt on his head.

So this man ran for some twenty miles from Aphek/Ebenezer to Shiloh, quite a feat. And he comes with torn clothes and dirt on his head as an indicator of mourning for the many who have died.

13When he arrived, Eli was sitting on his seat by the road watching, for his heart trembled for the ark of God.

Eli was devoted to God in his own way. We see this in his teaching Samuel about the Lord and here in his concern for the ark. Despite his sin, he still had this.

And when the man came into the city and told the news, all the city cried out.

As the Lord said to Samuel, God would “do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle.” (3:11). And they must have all been stunned to hear the report. They are crying out not just in general, but because many of their own fathers, brothers, husbands and sons were now dead. And their lives may well be in danger, as we will see.

14When Eli heard the sound of the outcry, he said, “What is this uproar?” Then the man hurried and came and told Eli. 15Now Eli was ninety-eight years old and his eyes were set so that he could not see.

So Eli can hear – he hears the city cry out, but he can’t see, which is why he didn’t see the messenger or how he was dressed. He is still wondering what’s going on. So the messenger comes and tells him the report in person.

16And the man said to Eli, “I am he who has come from the battle; I fled from the battle today.” And he said, “How did it go, my son?” 17He who brought the news answered and said, “Israel has fled before the Philistines, and there has also been a great defeat among the people. Your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured.”

The man tells Eli in ascending order of importance about Israel’s defeat, the death of his two sons and then that the Philistines now have the ark of God.

Eli doesn’t seem that concerned about his sons, for the story continues . . .

18As soon as he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell over backward from his seat by the side of the gate, and his neck was broken and he died, for the man was old and heavy. He had judged Israel forty years.

His sons are dead and now he dies after hearing the fate of the ark. In a way his own sin is a part of this, for he fell off his chair and broke his neck not only because he was old, but also because he was heavy –perhaps related to his eating the best portions of the Lord’s offerings.

This is the only place that mentions Eli as a judge; he ruled for 40 years. The Hebrew word for “seat” here (and also in v. 13) also means “throne.” So Eli is symbolically dethroned and his reign comes to an end.

19Now his daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant, about to give birth. And when she heard the news that the ark of God was captured, and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she bowed and gave birth, for her pains came upon her. 20And about the time of her death the women attending her said to her, “Do not be afraid, for you have borne a son.” But she did not answer or pay attention.

The bad news induced her labor. She was so overcome by what happened that she didn’t even care that she had given birth to a son.

21And she named the child Ichabod, saying, “The glory has departed from Israel!” because the ark of God had been captured and because of her father-in-law and her husband. 22And she said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.”

Before she dies, in the naming of her son she gives insight into the situation that is going on in Israel. Ichabod is taken by her to mean “the glory has departed.” This a reference to God, who is the glory of Israel (1 Samuel 15:29). 1) God was not with the Israelite soldiers, even though they brought the ark; 2) the leaders of Israel are now dead – Eli and his sons, including her own husband; 3) but above all else, repeated twice here (5x in whole story) the ark of God is now gone. God has truly abandoned them. What was apparent, even when the ark was present, is made perfectly clear with the capture of the ark. God had already left them because of their sin and unfaithfulness.

In the phrase “the glory has departed,” the word “departed” can also be translated, “has gone into exile.” God has gone into exile in a foreign land. God is absent. Why? Israel’s sin drove God away.

If the pattern later was Israel left the land and went into exile, here God leaves the land in exile. And they become slaves in their own land (1 Samuel 4:9; Psalm 78:62-64). (But also see Ezekiel 10:18 where the glory leaves and the people go into exile.)

Psalm 78:59-61 says of this event, God “utterly rejected Israel. He forsook his dwelling at Shiloh, the tent where he dwelt with people, and delivered his power to captivity.”

And then we have something that is not recorded in this passage, but almost certainly happened at this time –

The destruction of the tabernacle at Shiloh

In Jeremiah 7:12, several centuries later, the Lord says, “Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it because of the evil of my people Israel.” In other words, God is saying to the people of Jerusalem, “you think I won’t judge you because you have the temple in your midst? I’ve don it before! Just as I destroyed the tabernacle in Shiloh, so I will destroy the temple in Jerusalem. (Also 26:6, 9)

And this fits with what we find in 1 Samuel. Shiloh is never again mentioned as a worship center in Israel; the ark is not taken back there when it is recovered from the Philistines later; and Samuel goes back to his home in Ramah as his center of operations. (Bergen. Even Eli’s descendants are later found in the city of Nob.) 

Given this, along with the capture of the ark, this was surely the lowest point for Israel since their time of slavery in Egypt.

What do we learn from all this?

1. Our sin drives God away from our lives, just as we see in this story. In Isaiah 59:2 the Lord says, “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God.” Our sin creates a barrier or a wall between us and God. And so we have to deal with our sin through confession, repentance and receiving forgiveness from God, so that we can have a relationship with God. This is what Israel failed to do, but this is what the story teaches us. Don’t be like them! Act and make decisive changes so that you can be reconciled with God and experience renewed relationship and help.

2. God keeps his word. Now we like it when God keeps his word to bless us and help us. But God just a surely keeps his word when it comes to judgment and the many warnings that he gives us about walking in sin and unfaithfulness.

In Eli’s case God spoke it through two prophets – and as Scripture says, let everything be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15). And it surely came to pass. And just as surely God will keep his word of judgment if we walk in sin. We may think we are fine because nothing bad has happened yet, so it seems like God doesn’t care or that God won’t act, but the other shoe will drop – whether it is today, tomorrow or on the final day. We will reap what we sow. There are consequences for our unfaithfulness to God. Our sin will find us out. And so this should encourage us all the more to deal with our sin and come back into a right relationship with God.

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Series: Clothe yourselves with humility

Last time we asked, “What is humility?” To put it briefly it means that we lower ourselves before others to serve and sacrifice for their needs. Today our topic is – a little help as we seek to be humble.

And we begin with Romans 12:3, where Paul says, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought to think . . .” This certainly teaches us to be humble. But I also want to be clear as we get started here that this isn’t about saying we have no value. Each one of us has immense value, even beyond our understanding. We are all made by God. We are all loved by God. God has given each of us gifts. And God has a plan and a purpose for each one of us.

So, when Paul says, “do not think of yourselves more highly than you ought to think,” he means have a right view of who you are, that is, use “sober judgment” as he goes on to say. Each of us needs to have a sense of our value before God, without needing then to lift ourselves up in pride over others. In fact, for some of us, our falling into pride may well be an evidence that we don’t have this inner confidence in our value before God, and we are trying to compensate for this lack by boasting or lifting ourselves up to be seen by others.

Whatever the case may be this isn’t about berating ourselves, it is about walking in the truth about ourselves which should lead each one of us to a place of humility. Here are five things to remember that should help us in this.

1. You too have failed

Sometimes we are tempted to think we’re pretty good. Especially when we compare ourselves to others. Right? You can always find someone that’s worse off than you, at least in your mind.

Well, the truth is stated well in Romans 3:23 – “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Each one of us has missed the mark and still do. In this regard we should all be humble. We are only forgiven sinners.

So don’t put on airs or pretend this isn’t true. Take a good look in the mirror and see the whole picture of your life – not just the good parts. Remember, you too have failed both God and others.

2. You too have weaknesses

All of us have strengths, but also weaknesses – areas where we continue to struggle in our lives or where we don’t excel. And it is human nature is suppose, to see this more readily in others, but not in our own lives. Or we compare our strengths to the weaknesses of others.

Well, the great apostle Paul had weaknesses. He proclaimed the gospel but he was not considered to be a good public speaker. As his critics said in 2 Corinthians 10:10 – “his speech is of no account.” The Spirit of God worked through him in power, but he was considered to be a person of weak presence. As his critics said in 2 Corinthians 10:10 – “his bodily presence is weak.”

If this is true for Paul, it is certainly true for each of us. If we stop looking at others and are honest about ourselves we will acknowledge this freely. When you are tempted to think more highly of yourself than you ought, remember, you too have weaknesses.

3. Your obedience is both required and enabled by God

Do you ever think, ‘Hey I’m doing pretty good. I’m witnessing, serving and following God’s will, even when it’s hard. Hey look at me!”

Well, Jesus says this in Luke 17:7-10 – “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” If you have done what God wanted, guess what? You only did what you were supposed to do in the first place! This is no cause to celebrate in terms of being proud. You get no extra credit or brownie points.

And then consider also that it is only by grace that we are able to obey God – as the Spirit works within us to do this. Philippians 2:13 says, “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” If we do what is right it is only because God enables us to do so.

So if you are tempted to think more highly of yourself than you ought, remember, you can’t boast about obeying God.

4. Any good thing in your life is from God

Maybe you have musical gifts and people applaud you and praise you. Maybe you have a spiritual gift that everyone admires – you are an encourager or a great Sunday school teacher. Should this lead you to lift yourself above others? No. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:7, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?”

Or, do you think that you are special or better than others because you have succeeded in life, in terms of finances? The world thinks this way. But should this lead you to lift yourself above others? No. As Deuteronomy 8:17-18 says, “Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth . . ..”

Are you blessed in other ways? Maybe you have had a unique life journey. Maybe you have experienced things that most others haven’t. Should this lead you to lift yourself above others? No. As James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights . . .”

Remember, every good thing you are or have is from God. No matter what it is, it is from God, not us. It is all grace, grace, grace. We have it because of God’s love.

5. Compare yourself to Jesus, not others.

Like I said, if we compare ourselves to others we can always find someone that we think is worse off than us and so we can exalt ourselves over them. But this misses the point entirely. Other people are not our standard. Jesus is our standard!

As the Father said of him on the mountain in Matthew 17:5 – “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased, listen to him.” He is the one who has pleased God. He is the one who is rightly exalted. Not me, not you, not anyone else who has ever lived. We have to get our focus right.

Remember the powerful effect Jesus had on people as the holy one of God? In Luke 5:8 Peter said “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” The presence of Jesus points out clearly how unholy we are.

So listen to Jesus. Study his teaching and example. Spend more time in his presence and you won’t have to worry about pride. If you are tempted to think more highly of yourself than you ought, remember to compare yourself to Jesus and be forever humbled.

So just a bit of help from the Scriptures this morning for all of us on our journey to humility. So that we don’t clothe ourselves in pride, arrogance, haughtiness and conceit – lifting ourselves above others wanting to be served and to have others sacrifice for us. But rather that we clothe ourselves in humility, modesty, meekness and lowliness – lowering ourselves before others to serve and to sacrifice for them.

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(Community sunrise service)

It is an honor to be able to share with you this morning. I want speak on a theme that I believe God has put in my heart – Jesus has overcome!

Scripture portrays three powerful enemies who oppose God and seek to destroy us.

The first is Sin. For sure, Scripture talks about sins in the plural. But it also talks about Sin, with a capital “S.” This is the power of sin personified as a tyrant.

God said to Cain in Genesis 4:7, “sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you.” Jesus said in John 8:34, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to Sin.” Sin is a power that comes to control and destroy our lives.

But we have good news to celebrate this morning – Jesus has overcome the power of Sin! Jesus himself was tested in every way, but without sin (Hebrews 4:15). And when he walked this earth he called all to repentance and forgiveness.

Even on the cross when he bore our sins, Sin could not overcome him, but rather his death brought about the provision for the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus overcame.

And this same Jesus now sets us free from the power of Sin. Paul says in Romans 6:17-18, “thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart . . . having been set free from sin . . ..”And although Jesus tells us in John 8:34 that all who sin are slaves of sin, he also tells us in John 8:36, “if the Son sets you free you will be free indeed.”

Jesus has overcome! Can I hear you say it! “He has overcome.” What has Jesus done? “He has overcome.” He has overcome the power of Sin.

Satan is another powerful enemy. In Luke 11:21-22 Jesus describes him as a fully armed strongman who holds his captives hostage. And John tells us in 1 John 5:9, that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”

But, sisters and brothers, we have good news to celebrate this morning – Jesus has overcome the power of Satan! Jesus himself did not give in to Satan’s temptations and testing, and when he walked this earth he delivered people from the power of Satan, and this was especially evident when he cast out demons.

Because of the cross, as Jesus said in John 12:31, “the ruler of this world (is) cast out.” And this should not surprise us for 1 John 3:8 tells us that “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” If at the beginning of the gospel of Matthew Satan is portrayed as having authority over all the kingdoms of the world, at the end of the gospel of Matthew, after his death and resurrection, Jesus tells us, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Things are quite different – now Jesus has all the authority!

And this same Jesus now sets us free from the power of Satan. As Jesus went on to say in Luke 11, Satan may be a strong man, but Jesus is the stronger one who “attacks him and overcomes him” and sets his captives free! (v. 22). Jesus sets us free from Satan! As Paul says in Colossians 1:13, “God has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.”

Jesus has overcome! What has Jesus done? “He has overcome.” What has Jesus done? “He has overcome!” He has overcome the power of Satan.

The final enemy is Death. Death is also personified in Scripture. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul speaks to Death as if it were a person. And in the book of Revelation Death is the rider of the pale horse rider who comes to bring judgment (6:8). Death is a power that enslaves and destroys us.

But, brothers and sisters, we have good news to celebrate this fine Easter morning – Jesus has overcome the power of Death! Jesus himself was not under the power of Death, but as he said in John 5:26, the Father has “granted that the Son . . . have life in himself.” And when he walked this earth he healed people and raised the dead.

Even though he died on the cross for us, Death could not keep him down. After all, as Peter says in Acts 3:15, he is “the author of life.” And as h also says in Acts 2:2, “it was impossible for Jesus to be held by the power of Death.” As Hebrews 7:16 tells us, Jesus had “the power of an indestructible life.” Jesus really is, as he calls himself in Revelation 1 (17-18) “the first and the last and the living one.” Jesus truly is “the resurrection and the life,” as he himself said in John 11:25.

This same Jesus, who is life, sets us free from the power of Death. Hebrews 2:14-15 tells us that since we are flesh and blood, “Jesus himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of Death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of Death were subject to lifelong slavery.” We no longer need to fear. Jesus sets us free!. For as Jesus said in John 11:25-26, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

Jesus has overcome! What has Jesus done? “He has overcome!” What has Jesus done? “He has overcome!” He has overcome the power of Death.

And if Jesus has overcome these most powerful enemies of God, he can overcome any obstacle that we face and give us freedom, and give us victory and give us God’s blessings. Jesus has overcome. And because he has overcome, we too can overcome through him.

William Higgins

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Series: How to overcome sin

[Also presented with the title “5. The issue of sexual desire and self-control”]

For the full teaching on the five steps to overcoming sin follow this link.

As we end out time together tonight, I want to give a more detailed illustration of how to overcome our sinful behaviors and habits. We have already looked at the issue of faithfulness when facing death with Peter and Jesus, and very briefly at the issue of unrighteous anger. For tonight I have chosen the issue of sexual desire and self-control.

I posted some teaching on this topic on a blog that I maintain and I’ve been amazed by the number of views it’s gotten. In fact, this is my all-time most viewed topic. This tells me that people are struggling in this area. Christians are struggling with this. Listen to some of the search engine phrases used to find and read what I posted: how Christian women can control sexual urges; should a Christian have sexual desires; coping with sexual urges; how to overcome sexual desires as a Christian; how does a man control his sexual urges; how to deal with a spouse that struggles with sexual lust.

People are struggling. As one indicator, according to one set of statistics, 50% of Christian men and 20% of Christian women are regular viewers of pornography. Christians are struggling with this. And this is why I want to talk about this with you, even if it might make us a bit uncomfortable at times.

Let me say two things up front, 1) sexual desire was created by God and is good. Sex is God’s idea, with all of its joys and pleasures. However, like all the desires of our flesh, it often seeks expression in wrong ways. And so 2) it has to be controlled.

But this notion of self-control isn’t a popular idea in our culture, where sexual gratification has been turned into an ultimate good, without which you are not fully human. The message is “as long as you don’t hurt others – go for it. Satisfy your desires.”

Our culture tells us it’s a fool’s errand to even try to control our sexual desires fully. And even some Christians would say, “It’s impossible to be single and not be sexually active.”

But this is a pagan view of sex. We aren’t simply animals who feel an urge and then have to act! We need to recover a Christian sense of the dignity of our humanity, as those who are made in the image of God. We have sexual desires, and they are good. But we are not to be ruled by them. Rather we are to control them and keep them within the boundaries of God’s will for our lives. As Galatians 5:22-23 says, “the fruit of the Spirit is . . . self-control.” This is a mark of the Christian life.

So let’s apply the five steps to our focus tonight on –

Overcoming wrong sexual desires, thoughts and actions

Step #1. Understanding what God’s will is, acknowledge your weakness to do what God says. Scripture has a lot to say about sex. Here are some verses that speak to God’s will in terms of controlling our sexual desires, thoughts and actions:

  • 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 – “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his (or her) own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.”
  • 1 Timothy 5:2 – “Treat . . . older women like mothers, younger women like sisters, in all purity.” And this would apply to women treating men this way as well – as fathers and brothers in all purity.
  • Matthew 5:28 – “I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Again this would apply to women looking at men in this way.

So, understanding God’s will on the issue of self-control, we need to humble ourselves and be totally honest about where we are not measuring up.

Are you lustfully looking at others? Are you allowing yourself to  engage in mental fantasies? Are you viewing pornography? Are you involved in masturbation? Are you sexting? For those who are single, are you engaged in sexual activity outside of marriage – anything from making out to sexual intercourse? For those who are married, are you involved in adulterous activity – anything from flirting to actual acts of adultery?

I can’t stress this enough. The first step to overcoming is humbly and honestly acknowledging your weaknesses and failures. Pride will keep you in your sin. Pride will kill your life with God. But if we humble ourselves and confess our sins, God can help us.

Step #2. Remain alert in prayer for testing and temptation in this area. Since you know you’re weak, and you know that Satan seeks to test you; to tempt you and pressure you to sin, you need to be alert! The danger of sin and judgment looms here.

So look to God for help. And specifically ask God to keep you from testing and times of temptation. Satan asks God for permission to test us. And so we need to be praying, “lead us not into testing, but deliver us from the evil one,” as Jesus taught us in the Lord’s prayer.

“God I am weak, please don’t let the evil one test me, so that I fail. Protect me the assaults of Satan, and from circumstances that would pressure me to sin – images that come up on my computer – and people who will encourage me or entice me to give in to temptation.”

Be alert and pray. And then, even if God allows you to be tested, because he knows you can handle it and he wants you to grow in character and godliness, you will recognize what is going on and be ready for it.

Step #3 in a time of testing– Keep your mind focused on God’s truth. We all, from time to time, have inappropriate sexual thoughts that come to mind. And these thoughts can fuel our sexual desire. What’s important is that we not entertain them.

If you do have inappropriate sexual thoughts, use the name of Jesus to rebuke wrong thoughts. Satan will often put these in our minds to tempt us, or he will tell us that it’s alright to indulge in our own sexual thoughts with all kinds of rationalizations and justifications to give in. And he often does this through other people, and in general through the influence of “the world.”

So we need to rebuke Satan, so that he has to leave. The name of Jesus is powerful. In Luke 10:17 the disciples said, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” All the powers of evil have to yield to the name of Jesus. When we become aware of inappropriate thoughts say, “Depart from me in the name of Jesus!”

And then, use the word of God to keep your mind focused on God’s truth. This is what Jesus did when he was tested in various ways in the wilderness (Matthew 4:4-10). The Word is powerful and can bring us back to a right mind when we are being tempted and pressured. And it will remind us of God’s truth and will in this area. Use the passages I noted above. Memorize them, say them, even out loud, if you need to.

Step #4. in a time testing – Receive strength from the Spirit to control your sexual desires. Even if we control our thoughts we will still struggle at times with sexual desires. As Jesus said, “the flesh is weak” – Mark 14:38. Our fleshly desires often seek to find expression in unrighteous ways.

But Jesus also said, “the Spirit is willing” – Mark 14:38. The Spirit, who lives within us, can strengthen our desires for righteousness so that they are stronger than the desires of our flesh. As Paul said in Galatians 5:16, “walk by the Spirit (the power or strength of the Spirit) and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” So when you are struggling with sexual desires, call out to God in prayer for strength from the Spirit to do what is right.

As the Spirit strengthens us, we are then able to deny ourselves, or crucify or kill the inappropriate desires of our flesh – our fantasies or lusts. 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 (the strength the Spirit gives us) we put to death the deeds of the body (we deny ourselves, we crucify or kill the desires of our flesh), in order to follow God.

There is death and resurrection here – death to inappropriate fleshly sexual desires and the further manifestation of the new life of God within us, in this case, self-control.

Step #5. Endure the test. Keep your mind focused on God’s truth and controlling your thoughts as long as Satan is trying to lead you astray. And keep receiving strength from the Spirit to do God’s will for as long as the wrongful sexual desire persists. Keep doing these things until the immediate test or temptation passes. God doesn’t allow us to be actively tested continually.

As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation (or testing) 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.”

And then,  if you are putting the five steps into practice and continuing to fail, you will need to –

Deal with some deeper concerns

I will mention just three tonight. Sometimes wrong sexual desires and practices are connected to our inner brokenness. For instance, if you suffer from the mental health condition of mania, it can lead to reckless behavior, including promiscuity. If this is the case, then this inner brokenness needs to be dealt with, if at all possible, for the sake of Christian faithfulness.

More commonly, we need to cut off stumbling blocks. These are things that are not necessarily sinful in themselves, but they lead you to sin. So, access to the internet is fine, but if it leads you to give in to viewing pornography – it is a stumbling block for you. Friends are fine, but if certain ones encourage you to see inappropriate material they are a stumbling block for you. Being with your date is fine, but if spending too much time alone with him/her leads you to act in inappropriate ways, this is a stumbling block for you.

Jesus said, talking about lustful looks, “If your right eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” – Matthew 5:29. We have to cut off what leads us to sin. This can mean making deep changes in our lifestyles and behaviors, for instance how we interact with the internet, what friends we hang out with and how we date.

And then, sometimes we have indulged our wrong desires, thoughts and actions for so long that our sin has become ingrained within us. It is an entrenched habit. And this kind of sin is harder to overcome. If this is true you may well need to ask someone to hold you accountable, to check in on you to see how you are doing regularly. This can be a powerful help to overcoming our sexual sins.

A final word

Find righteous expression for your sexual desire in marriage. This is where our sexual desires can rightly be expressed in sexual actions – as a part of a loving, committed, life-long relationship between a man and a woman.

God gave us our sexual desire, in part, to cause us to seek out a relationship with a spouse. If we are struggling with our desire and are not married, Paul says, (famously) “it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion” – 1 Corinthians 7:9.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:3; 5 – “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. . . . Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”

So work on your marriage, grow in love for your spouse. Create the kind of relationship that is mutually satisfying, where both of you can find fulfillment for your sexual desires.

I pray that God will help us in this area of sexual desire and self-control. Our culture has it wrong and so many people are hurting and wounded because of this. May God help us, his people, to be a light to the world of a different and better way to approach sex, one that is governed by God’s will, the one who thought of sex in the first place.

William Higgins

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Series: How to overcome sin

Our focus is, ‘How to overcome sin in our lives.’ We have been looking at five key steps in this process, that we learn from the example of Jesus as he overcame his test of the cross. And tonight I want us to move into looking at some deeper concerns that can trip us up in our quest to overcome sin.

But first, here’s a very brief review of the five steps, using the example of unrighteous anger.

Step #1: Understanding what God’s will is, acknowledge your weakness to do what God says. The Word says in James 1:20, “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” This is anger that is according to the flesh which hurts and tears down others. Jesus likens this to murder in Matthew 5, or verbal murder, when our words destroy others.

God gives us anger to stir us up to act when a wrong has been done. But so often, once stirred up, we act in the flesh and not according to God’s will. We return harm for harm and tear down those who have wronged us or those we love. Rather than this, we are to trust God with our grievances and desire for justice, so that we can be free to focus on being Christ-like as we address the wrongs that have been done –  with love and gentleness (Matthew 5:44; Galatians 6:1). If you struggle with unrighteous anger, you need to humbly admit this, so that God can help you.

Step #2: Remain alert in prayer for testing and temptation in this area. Since Satan will seek to pressure you in your area of weakness, pray to be spared people and situations that might trigger your wrongful anger. Maybe that someone won’t slander you so that you become enraged. Or maybe that someone doesn’t start an argument with you on a particular topic that would trigger your anger. But if God allows you to be tested, at least you will be ready and know what is going on. It’s not that this person is trying to start an argument with me – this is a test from Satan!

Step #3: In a time of testing – Keep your mind focused on God’s truth. Rebuke Satan as he tempts you and offers up rationalizations to give in to your anger. “Hey that person who wants to argue with you – he needs to be put in his place!” Tell him to go away. You can respond by countering with the Scriptures – “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” And “the fruit of the Spirit is love . . .patience . . . gentleness . . . and self-control.” – Galatians 5:22-23.

Step #4: In a time of testing – Receive strength from the Spirit to do God’s will. Pray for the Spirit to fill you and help you. In this way you can put to death your desires to engage in wrongful anger and respond to every situation with love for others.

Step #5: Endure the test. Continue on until the testing and temptation passes – keeping your mind focused; receiving strength from the Spirit.

My point this evening is that sometimes, we work hard at all this and still consistently fail. And when this happens we need to look at some deeper concerns in our lives.

Here are six things to check:

1. Are you double-minded?

To be double minded means you are torn between two things; you have two minds on an issue. You know, you want God to help you with one problem in your life, but not others. For instance, “God help me overcome my anger issue, its destroying all of my relationships!” But you don’t mention your sexual immorality, because you happen to like this sin.

We have to stop playing games. If you’re only trying to stop sinning in one area of your life, while knowingly continuing in sin in other areas, God can’t help you. James 1:7-8 tells us that a double-minded person “must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.”

We find God and his help when we seek God with our whole heart, not part of it. Deuteronomy 4:29 says, “you will find the Lord, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

So if you are struggling with anger and calling out to God for help and no help seems to be coming, check your heart. Be rid of any double-mindedness and give your whole life over to God. Then you will seek and find the help that you need.

2. Are you the cause of broken relationships?

If we don’t act to deal with relationships that are broken by our sin, this will break our relationship with God and cut us off from God’s help. Our horizontal relationships with others affects our vertical relationship with God. These can’t be separated.

So, if you have sinned against someone, make it right. Jesus said, “if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, (that is, you have sinned against him) leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” – Matthew 5:23-24. The broken relationship with the brother or sister must be dealt with before we come to God in worship. Why? Because this affects our relationship to God. Now, we can’t control whether they are willing to reconcile with us, even if we come in repentance seeking to make things right, but the rule is ‘do what you can from your end’ to restore the relationship and then you will be free to come before God in worship and to receive his help and grace.

Also, if someone has sinned against you and seeks forgiveness, forgive. Don’t keep the relationship broken through the choice to withhold forgiveness. Jesus said, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” – Matthew 6:14-15. If we don’t forgive, this breaks our relationship with God.

With both of these situations, if you have caused broken relationships, seek to make things right. And then your relationship with God will be right, and God can help you, for instance with your weakness in the area of anger.

3. Do you expose yourself to stumbling blocks?

According to Scripture we are not only to stop sinning, we are to separate from what leads us to sin. This is what a stumbling block means – something that trips you up and gets you off the path. It is not a sin in itself, but something that leads you to sin.

Jesus says in Mark 9:43, “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.” What this means is that we are to create righteous boundaries that keep us away from sin. And we must do this even if what is cut off is precious to us, like a hand.

Now these boundaries are different for each of us, since we all have different weaknesses and triggers that can lead us to sin. For instance, if debating certain topics triggers your wrongful anger response, you need to avoid these for the sake of righteousness. Or if working in a certain job environment causes you to give in to sinful anger regularly, seek a new job. This job might not be a problem for someone else, but for you it is.

The rule is – ‘separate from whatever encourages you to sin’ – relationships, activities, jobs, personal freedoms, whatever. Even if the item isn’t a problem for others, if it causes you to stumble, cut it off.

4. Are you dealing with an ingrained sin?

By ingrained I mean something that is firmly fixed; a sin that is deeply rooted in your life. We practice some sins for so long that they become a part of us as negative character traits. You say, ‘Yeah, I’m a hot-head,’ because you have made a practice of outbursts of anger for so long. It’s a part of how you think of yourself now. And some sins even create physiological addictions, like drug and alcohol abuse.

These kinds of sins are difficult to break. You may well need to take drastic measures, and in the case of addictions seek medical help.

One thing that can really help is intense accountability from other disciples – who can check with us on a regular basis. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” We all need this kind of fellowship to be strong. But this is especially needed with ingrained sins.

If you know that at any time someone will be asking how you are doing in your area of struggle, it can make a real difference. Both to encourage you and certainly to keep you accountable.

5. Are demonic powers involved?

When we allow sin in our life, we open up our lives to Satan and his demonic powers. They can gain a foothold, as it were. Sometimes this is just a general influence, but sometimes we can come into bondage to demonic powers in areas of our life. Our sin is energized by a supernatural evil power.

If this is the case, the demonic power must be sent away by the authority of Jesus. Say something like, “Evil spirit, I break your power over me in the name of Jesus. Leave now!” Jesus tells us, “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy . . .” – Luke 10:19. Then submit that area of your life to God, so that the Spirit of God is filling every part of your life.

I’m not saying this is a common thing, but if this is a part of your struggle, for instance, with anger then you need to act. I would just add here that it might be wise to seek the help of a mature believer or a Pastor as you work at this.

6. Is your sin connected to inner brokenness?

By inner brokenness I am thinking of mental illness or just the inner woundedness that comes from life experiences of pain, heartache and tragedy. And inner brokenness can make it much harder for us to do God’s will. For instance if you want to overcome anger, but have borderline personality disorder that leads to expressions of intense anger, this is a much more complicated situation.

If you are struggling with these kinds of weaknesses, pray for God’s healing so that you can do God’s will. But if there is no relief (I Timothy 5:23), learn to manage these issues through treatment so that you can do God’s will.

Once again Jesus’ words in Mark 9:43 are relevant. Our inner brokenness is not itself a sin. But if it leads us to sin, we must cut it off by seeking reasonable treatment – counseling or medication. In either case, through miraculous healing or treatment, seek healing for your inner brokenness so that you can do God’s will. This is a matter of Christian faithfulness.

So these are six additional factors that you may well have to sort through as you seek to overcome sinful habits and areas of failure in your life:

  • Are you double-minded?
  • Are you the cause of broken relationships?
  • Do you expose yourself to stumbling blocks?
  • Are you dealing with an ingrained sin?
  • Are demonic powers involved?
  • Is your sin connected to inner brokenness?

My point tonight and the underlying theme of all of this is that we leave no stone unturned in our pursuit of doing God’s will. We must do whatever it takes.

William Higgins

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Series: How to overcome sin

Tonight we jump into the core of what I want to share with you this week – five steps to overcoming sin in our lives.

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. He overcame. 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, as well as identify with him in our times of failure.

I encourage you to keep in mind the area of weakness you have identified and as we go through this, and apply this teaching 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 14:38. 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, 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 as he seeks permission from Go to test us, 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 and dishonor 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 doesn’t spare us but 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 for the test, 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.”

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

Step #3. In a time of testing – Keep your mind focused on God’s truth

In a test, Satan will attack our thinking. He puts thoughts in our minds and plays on those we already have to tempt us to sin;  to rationalize choosing sin:

–           “It isn’t really a sin, is it?”

–           “Well, under these circumstances surely it’s OK.”

–           Or, “So and so does it!”

–           He will even quote Scripture, in a twisted way, as he did with Jesus in the wilderness.

He also uses the influence of the world to deliver these messages. He will do whatever it takes to deceive and confuse us; to get our thinking distorted.

Jesus faced this battle of the mind throughout his ministry. And he shows us what to do: 1) Tell Satan to stop and go away when thoughts of giving in come to mind. In Mark 8 when Peter told Jesus he must never go to the cross, Jesus heard in this the voice of Satan. So he rebuked Satan’s message that came through Peter. 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, go away. We also see this in the wilderness testing of Jesus, where he said to Satan, “be gone” in 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.” When we hear thoughts that seek to excuse our sin, we can simply say, “Depart from me in the name of Jesus!”

2) Counter Satan’s deception with the truth. When Satan tested Jesus in the wilderness, each time Jesus responded, “It is written . . ..” He countered Satan’s distortion and deception with the truth of the Scriptures; by quoting Scripture.

In the same way, we can quote meditate on, or read aloud Scriptures that pertain to what we are  struggling with. And by repeating the truth of God is this way, we keep our minds thinking God’s thoughts and dispel the deceptions of Satan.

Peter’s failure. He entered the test already confused, and so he had no chance. He had already lost the battle of the mind. 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 (John 18:10).

Jesus’ example. He stayed focused on God’s truth. As the soldiers arrested him he said, “let the Scriptures be fulfilled” – Mark 14:49. And he carried this attitude all the way through.

When he was on the cross and the people said, “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe” (Mark 15:32) he must have heard the voice of Satan in this and he must have been tempted to show them just who he was.  But he kept his mind focused on God’s truth and he stayed on the cross in obedience to God’s will.

Step #4. In a time of testing – Receive strength from the Spirit to do God’s will

This is almost certainly the most important thing I will share with you. Not only does Satan attack our mind he also attacks our heart – our desire to stay true to God. As he tests us he puts us in difficult situations that make it really hard to follow God and really easy to give in to sin.

As we saw, 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, “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. And we have to choose which way we will go.

Well, when we are struggling, what I am saying is that the Spirit can help us. Although the flesh is weak, Jesus also said, “the Spirit is willing” – Mark 14:38.

That is, the Spirit is willing and able to help us. The same Spirit of God who first gave us a new heart with new desires when we were born again, 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 and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” – Galatians 5:16. The power of the Spirit gives us the strength we need to override the desires of our flesh.

What we are really doing 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.

As Jesus told us, we are to deny ourselves and take up our cross in this way daily – Luke 9:23.

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.

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.

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.

Step #5. Endure test

Satan tries to wear us down in a time of testing. Even if we are successful at first, he continues to pressure us to give in so that we will fail. So whatever the test, however long it goes on, however hard it gets – Don’t give up!

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

  • Keep focusing your mind on God’s truth. When the lies and rationalizations come, respond with God’s truth – the Scriptures. And keep telling Satan to leave you in the name of Jesus.
  • Keep receiving strength from the Spirit to do God’s will, denying the desires of your flesh that would lead you to sin.

No matter how long the test lasts, you don’t quit thinking what is right based on the Word, or choosing what it right by the power of the Spirit. This is what endurance means.

James 4:7 calls this “resisting Satan.” And there is a promise in this verse. Just as Satan has to seek permission to test us, he can’t keep actively testing and pressuring us forever. It says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

Peter’s failure. He sinned. He denied that he knew Jesus in order to save his life. 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.”

In all of this I am making the point that – 

Jesus is our example

He shows us how to overcome sin; how to overcome our weakness; how to do what God calls us to do, even when it is really hard.

He models this for us in five steps. And what I am saying is that, if in this way he overcame the most basic desire of the flesh – to live – he surely shows us how to overcome any desire of the flesh that stands in the way of doing God’s will in our lives. Jesus shows us how to overcome in our areas of struggle.

Finally,

A word of encouragement

Keep this in mind when things are really hard. Jesus was blessed for his faithfulness to God. He was raised from the dead (Mark 16:4-7), vindicated and seated at the right hand of God above all where he reigns over all.

And he knew this would happen ahead of time; that it would be worth it to stay true to God. 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.”

In the same way we will be blessed for our faithfulness to God. Testing can be really hard and painful. So we need to keep this bigger picture before us as well. If we endure to the end it will be more than worth it!

Listen to these promises:

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.” We will be rewarded.

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.” We will be raised to new life.

2 Timothy 2:12 says, “If we endure, we will also reign with him.” Just as he endured and now reigns, so if we endure, we will reign with him in the life to come.

William Higgins

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