Tuesday, March 31, 2020

DISCOURAGEMENT AND HORROR




Scripture is healing. Jesus had taught that if we continue in His teachings, His Word, we will know the truth and it will gradually set us free (John 8:31-32) from the darkness of our sinful lives. However, if we are honest with ourselves, we see a lot of ugly desires within ourselves. What makes this even more depressing for us are the many Bible verses that condemn these temptations:

·       But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts…For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. (James 3:14, 16 NKJV)

Such temptations seem to be unescapable. Consequently, we become discouraged and think, “Something must be terribly wrong with me or with the Christian faith, because I haven’t been set free from my many temptations to sin.”

We feel condemned already, but should we feel this way? I want to argue that our problem is not with our many temptations and even our evil desires but with our response to them. Do we yield to them or do we resist and flee from them? Do we embrace our evil desires or do we reject them? As the saying goes, “We cannot prevent the birds from flying over our head, but we can prevent them from making their nest in our hair. This is what it means to have “evil envy…in your hearts.” It is a matter of allowing sin to find a nesting place in our heart where we say “yes” to sin.

Let me try to demonstrate this distinction to you. For one thing, the Christian life is always a struggle against our inner desires and temptations:

·       I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. (Galatians 5:16-17 NKJV)

Our fleshly nature isn’t pretty. It always resists the leading of the Spirit. Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised by the intense and unceasing battle raging within. Nor should our identity, our self-concept, be based upon the temptations arising from this sinful nature. I like the way Paul put it”

·       For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I [refuse] will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. (Romans 7:15-20)

Paul refused to identify with his sinful temptations, even though he would sometimes give way to them against his will. Instead, Paul regarded the real Paul, the “I,” as someone who wants to follow the Word of God, but sometimes fails.

It’s like having a vicious pit bull on a leash. This dog is not you, but you have responsibility for it and must take responsibility for any injury the dog might cause. However, there is a world of difference between you and someone who purposely allows the pit bull loose to cause injury, especially when this sin is his chosen lifestyle, as John had taught:

·       Those who have been born into God’s family do not make a practice of sinning, because God’s life is in them. So they can’t keep on sinning, because they are children of God. (1 John 3:9 NLT2)

Therefore, to pursue a sinful lifestyle is in opposition to faith and a life in Christ (1 John 1:7; 2:3-4)

We are not our ugly sinful temptations, at least, not until we embrace these temptations as our masters or friends. Here is the distinction James made:

·       Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. (James 1:13-15)

Therefore, we cannot say, “God gave me this desire; so it cannot be a sin to have a little fling.” Instead, these are our own evil desires, but they do not become sin until they have been embraced by us and “conceives” and “gives birth to sin.” Having the evil desires, therefore, was not sin until we give them birth.

Jesus too, God incarnate, had been afflicted with sinful desires, but without succumbing to them:

·       For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15 NKJV)

This proves that experiencing all forms of vile temptations is not sin, because Jesus in the flesh also experienced these temptations. Therefore, we are not our sinful desires but a new creation in Christ who want to please our Master above all else.

Before I understood these principles, I had been tormented by my fleshly sinful temptation that such things could be inside me. However, now the Word has reassured me that it is no longer I who sin but the sin which resides in me. Therefore, I no longer have to be horrified by what I find within.


6 comments:

  1. I've noticed that over many years I have been continually more resistant to sinful temptations. Part of that process has been learning to recognize the sinful lifestyle habits which I had been rationalizing. And I learned those things by continuing in reading The Word, and reading and listening to faithful people of The Word. njp

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    1. Exactly! And I would guess that you are more at peace as a result of this.

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  2. Most of the time yes. It is an ongoing process. Prayer and focus on The Word is so important. njp

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    1. It is the trials that force us back into the Word, as they should:

      Psalm 119:71-72 (ESV)
      71 It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.
      72 The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.

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  3. Neal, So sorry - I think I deleted your last reply on Racism and cannot retrieve it.

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  4. It's okay. I was somewhat ambivalent about what I wrote but was hoping for some guidance. I often read and hear things from people who quote Scripture that get me confused. Also many footnotes in some translations citing different ancient manuscripts get me confused. I want to believe that The Lord is guiding me. Your more recent essays are helpful. njp

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