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Monday, December 16, 2013

Temptation or Trial?

If you have never read the account of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness just before he launches out into his "public" ministry, it is worth a read.  As the Devil tempts Jesus, he puts him through three tests - one aimed at his physical hunger with the intention of getting Jesus to satisfy his needs on his own; a second aimed at getting him to jump off a high place and presuming upon the grace of God to catch him before he fell to the ground; and a third aimed at getting Jesus to "save the world" without really having to go to the cross by accepting an alternative to God's divine plan.  After all three of these temptations, we find the words, "That completed the testing."  Lest we think the Devil is all done with us when we don't give into one or more tests, remember the rest of the passage - he retreated TEMPORARILY.  His "retreat" is always only temporary at best.  He actually is looking for the next opportunity to interject himself into our lives again - hoping the next time we will be "hungrier", "more prideful", or willing to "be outside of God's will" for our lives!

That completed the testing. The Devil retreated temporarily, lying in wait for another opportunity.  (Luke 4:13 MSG)

I think it is important to recognize that the Devil doesn't just attack us in one area of our lives - he has a full battery of tests at his disposal and he cycles through them over and over until he "hits" on one which just may trip us up a little.  It is his hope that he "hits" one and that we stumble and fall.  In falling, he hopes we will stay down - but if we trust God's grace in our lives, we know any stumble is not permanent - it is unfortunate, but it is not permanent!  Some of his tactics include coming with his attacks when we are overly tired.  Ever noticed when you are far too extended in your life and then you allow that lack of balance to begin to affect your words, actions, and even your thoughts?  I have - and I don't like that feeling of being "out of balance" because it affects others in my life, not just me.  Before I go any further, let me just put something out there - God doesn't tempt us.  He might put us through tests which will try our endurance and increase our faith, but he doesn't tempt us.  The difference is in the outcome.  Testing produces the characteristics of Christlikeness in us.  Temptation actually encourages us to do things in our own way, by our own devices, and with our own intent - all contrary to the development of righteousness God wants to see within our lives. 

Trouble tempts us.  We are tempted to act bad in the worst times, aren't we? It doesn't matter what we SAY we know, it has t be proven in our lives, doesn't it?  In times of trouble, we have an opportunity to see if what we SAY actually matches up with what we DISPLAY.  The Devil hopes to tempt us to respond out of our "troubled" state in any manner which shows we don't actually walk in the way we say we believe.  Now, God tests us in ways which will reveal to us how well we are apply what is we have been taught - Satan hopes we just hear and never become "doers" of what we are taught.  The hope on Satan's part is that we will dismiss the things we are "hearing" from God's Word as too hard, not necessary, or just plain not making sense.  That way, when he comes to tempt us, we don't have a defense to use against him.  Jesus used the Word as a defense each and every time - not because he had just memorized it, but because he lived by it.  We will only be able to resist the temptations Satan sets in our path to the degree we are living by the truth we have been given.

Lest we think there is absolutely no benefit to temptation, let me assure you there is great benefit in it!  Temptation actually can be a mirror to reveal to us areas in our lives where we have been deceived - where it is we have heard truth, but chosen to think it doesn't apply to us or that it is too difficult to apply it to our lives.  Each of us has "junk in our trunk" which is revealed best in the times we are tempted.  It is in these times of temptation where the "real" us surfaces - the junk in the trunk is no longer hidden.  Until the "trunk" is emptied, there is no room for the fruit God wants to fill our "trunk" with! Pressure from WITHOUT is often what reveals what is WITHIN.  Truth is, we don't know much about obedience until we are faced with the two choices - one leaning heavily on choosing our own devices, the other on denying self and leaning heavily into God for his choices for our lives.  

People aren't perfect, but God has given us the means to behave in a manner which is contrary to our imperfection - through the grace of Christ in our lives. It isn't the problems we face, it is the reaction to the problems that provides us the opportunity to grow.  When we "review" our reactions through the eyes of God's Word (his mirror), we find help in identifying them as godly or kind of selfish.  In time, the continual review of these reactions will begin to reflect a changed pattern of behavior - if we are consistent in using his Word as a means of "reviewing" and guiding our behavior.  Just sayin!