You Can’t Catch Sin Like a Cold

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It?s my favorite time of year. That time when we send our children off to slap five, share books, and suck on the same water fountains as hundreds of other little germ carriers at the Petri dish we call ?school.? Every time one of my daughters comes home and says a classmate went home sick or missed school my wife wants to boil her in bleach, wrap her in Clorox wipes, and lock her in a hyperbaric chamber. If only we could quarantine them to keep them safe from all those nasty germs.

Sadly school is a necessary evil so we have to expose them to the ills and ailments. This is much the way many Christians think of ?the world? ? that necessary evil that we must be exposed to full of evil and vices and insidious temptations. If only we could quarantine ourselves from that too.

And many Christians do live in cultural quarantine, shutting themselves off from what they see as sinful influences. They avoid ?bad? people and even places. They talk about those people and places like they are disease carriers ? ?We can?t have them around? or ?We couldn?t go there.? They act like someone can sneeze sin onto them, that they will catch the bad decisions and guilt of another through physical proximity. What does his shunning communicate to those we have labeled ?unclean?? Exactly that, Christians think they are unclean. Not the ideal way to draw people to Jesus. But sin is not an infectious disease

We don?t ?catch? sin. It?s in us from birth. We are sin carriers. It?s only by the grace of God that we can become immune to the virus that lives in us, that we can live a life without its symptoms oozing and coughing and exhaling out of us onto others. Because of the work of Christ we are able to choose whether or not to sin. It is a decision, one that we often have a very hard time making, but a decision nonetheless. Sin is a theology too. It is a belief, or lack thereof, in the goodness and work of Jesus. It is this theology, this belief that informs our decision and drives us.

So, when we are around obvious sin, those people and places, we can?t catch their sin. We can choose their sin, but that is a matter of decision, of belief, of theology. If we hold fast to Jesus there is no risk of that sin invisibly taking hold of us like a flu bug might. How freeing! We no longer have to keep our distance or live in cultural quarantine. We can engage those people with grace and freedom without fear. Because we are near Jesus we can be near to anyone without fear that they will make us more like them than like Him.

But it would be nice if they used Purel and covered their mouths when they sneeze.

8 Ways To Beat Temptation

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We all face temptations of many kinds. ?God wants us to beat them. We don’t have to sin, as powerful as temptations feel. Here are 8?ways to gain the victory.

1. ?Pray before you are tempted

Jesus instructed his disciples to ask God to pray, “Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil.” ?And as he told us to pray??Give us THIS DAY? our daily bread”, it?s good to ask God to deliver us?from?temptation and evil THIS DAY.

2. Flee.? A good run is better than a bad fall.

Stay as far away sin as you can. Don?t think you won’t?fall. If you hired someone to transport your most valuable possessions, you wouldn?t tell them to see how close to the edge of a cliff they could drive. In Proverbs 7 a ?young man lacking sense? wanders near the house of an woman at twilight, and just ?happens? to run into her. She?s dressed sensually. She says her husband?s gone and describes her perfumed bed. Eventually he follows her like an ox going to slaughter. Eve got into trouble by engaging with Satan and looking at the how delicious the fruit looked. Flee temptation. Stay out of the car in the park in the dark.

3. Quote Scripture

That’s how Jesus overcame the tempter. When you feel like grumbling remind yourself to ?Rejoice always.? When tempted to give a harsh reply think, ?A gentle answer turns away wrath.? When rankling against correction remind yourself, ?God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.? Of course to quote Scripture when tempted means we must know it first, which means we must regularly take it in.

4. Pray in the midst of temptation.

Draw near to the throne of grace for help in time of need. Your sympathetic high priest who was tempted as you are yet without sin will help you. (Heb 4).

5. Get a brother or sister to pray with you.

Ecclesiastes 4:12 says ?though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him?a threefold cord is not quickly broken.?

6. Ask someone to hold you accountable.

A friend once said to me, ?Mark, when I get back from my business trip this week, can you ask me if I watched TV in the hotel room? When I?m alone on trips I can be tempted to watch bad stuff. Knowing you are going to ask me will help me fight temptation.?

7. Remember God’s faithfulness.

?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? (1 CO 10:13). God will never let us be tempted beyond the strength he gives and if we ask he?ll ?provide the way of escape? to get us through it.

8. Remind yourself that sin has consequences.

Remember Galatians 6:7: ?Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.?

When David committed adultery with Bathsheba and arranged for her husband?s death, God forgave him, but told him the sword would never depart from his house, that his own family members would do him great harm and the child he conceived with Bathsheba would die. (2 Sa 12: 10-14).

So here?s a quick summary:

Pray before you are tempted
Flee
Quote Scripture
Pray?in the midst of temptation
Get a brother or sister to pray with you
Ask someone to hold you accountable
Remember God’s faithfulness
Remind yourself that sin has consequences

Keep fighting the good fight!

2 Mistakes To Avoid When Facing Temptation

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There are two mistakes we can make when facing temptation. Sometimes we can fall off the horse on one side; at other times we can fall off the other side. God?s word keeps us in the saddle when dealing with temptation and its wiles. Paul tells us in 1 CO 10:12-13:

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation 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.

Mistake #1: Underestimate the power of temptation.

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. (12)

Another way of putting this is overestimating your own strength to resist. In 1 CO 10 Paul catalogues a number of sins that Israel fell into, like desiring evil, idolatry, sexual immorality, testing God, grumbling. He says God recorded Israel?s sins for our instruction. Then he gives the above warning – if you think you stand, be on your guard or you?ll fall. We can read about Israel?s sins and think ?I?d never do that. I?d never fall into idolatry. I would never sin sexually.? Paul says you?re about to fall off the horse. We can hear others? sins and judge them thinking, ?How could he do that? How could he start imbezzling from the church? How could she commit adultery? How could he make such a mistake with his kids?? It?s easy to look at others sins and struggles and think we could never be tempted that way. Take heed lest you fall.

I once heard someone say we are all capable of any sin. Don?t ever think I would never do THAT. In Galatians 6:1 Paul tells us:

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

We should deal gently with brothers and sisters ensnared in ANY sin, knowing that someday it could be us who are ensnared. We may think we could never fall into the sin our brother or sister is trapped in, but Paul tells us that we too can be tempted.

Sometimes we think we?re smarter than God. That?we can walk into a tempting situation and not be affected. That we?can watch that impure movie and it won?t bother us. Or?hang out regularly with unbelievers and they won?t influence us, even though the Bible says ?Do not be deceived: ?Bad company ruins good morals.??? (1 CO 15:33).

Don?t underestimate temptation. Don?t overestimate your ability to resist it.

Mistake #2: Overestimate the power of temptation.

No temptation 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. (13)

A friend of mine once heard a pastor say there will always be one or more areas of sin that a Christian can never conquer. That we just have to accept the fact that despite overcoming some sins, there will always be some we can?t. That there will always be certain?temptations that are just too strong for us.

Wrong. First of all, your temptation is not unique. There is NO temptation that is not common to man, no temptation that multitudes haven?t conquered by God?s grace.

Secondly, though your temptation feels strong, God is stronger. He?knows exactly what you can take and he controls even the strength of the temptation. He won?t let you be tempted beyond your ability. For with whatever temptation he allows he also provides ?the way of escape? – the grace?to keep from sinning. He doesn?t always remove the temptation, but gives us the grace to ?endure it? without falling.

Believers do NOT?have to sin because of our union with Christ. Romans 6:6 says because our old self was crucified with Christ,?we?re no longer enslaved to sin. Verse 12 says we must not let sin reign in our bodies. It’s not?easy, but we are not doomed to a life of slavery to sin. We?must fight, pray, flee temptation, cry out to God for help, put sin?to death. But we CAN?overcome it?by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Don?t underestimate temptation. But don?t overestimate it either. ?Stay on the horse. ?Someday Jesus will free us from our temptations and sins when he gives us glorified bodies in the new heaven and earth where righteousness dwells.

2 Keys To Overcoming Temptation

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Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. (Romans 6:13)

God spares us much temptation we?ll never even know about. But when we are tempted, God doesn?t automatically remove it; we must actively fight it. Paul gives us 2 keys for battling temptation – both have to do with presenting the members of our bodies. We can present our members – our eyes, ears, hands, arms, and every part of our bodies – to sin or we can present our bodies to God.

First we must not present ourselves to sin. To present ourselves to sin is to say, Here sin, use my eyes for a while. Use me to sin. Come on in to my thoughts and ruminate around. To not present ourselves to sin is to flee temptation. Get out of there. Turn off the TV.

When I was single an attractive girl I worked with invited me to come to her house the following Saturday to go horseback riding. I was thinking about going but could feel I was being tempted toward her. I remembered the Proverb about an adulterous woman (not that this young lady was) that said, ?Do not go near the door of her house.? I thought, if I go to her house, and knock on the door, then I?ll go in the house, then I might go with her to the couch, then?.so I didn?t go horseback riding that Saturday.

Paul told Timothy to ?flee youthful passions? – run! I once heard a preacher say he told young men and women ?Stay out of the car in the park in the dark.? The same preacher said ?A good run is better than a bad fall.? Another young preacher once said he took running from temptation so seriously that when he was tempted sexually he would go for a literal run around a track.

We are like gatekeepers over our minds. We can?t always help what presents itself to us – what comes up to the gate – but we don?t have to let everything in to entertain it. There are times we must quit watching a movie or reading a book rather than continuing to present our minds to temptation.

The second part of battling sin is to present ourselves to God. The first is negative – don?t present yourself to sin. This part is positive – DO present yourself to God.

When tempted, we should turn to God in prayer and worship. When a young believer I experienced horrible fear at night – probably because as a teen I?d watched every horror movie, Twilight Zone and scary show I could watch. I had a real fear of demons at that time – so when fear would come knocking at night I would try to fight it by rebuking fear in Jesus? name over and over. But it never went away no matter how much I rebuked it. Then I heard that rather than continuing to rebuke fear I should turn to God in worship. So I?d rebuke fear once, then start saying, ?Jesus, praise you that you are before me and behind me, on my right and on my left. Praise you that the angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him. Praise you for your protection. Praise you that nothing can separate me from your love.? Within 2 days, fear left me and I haven?t battled that kind of fear since.

When we try to fight temptation head on, it?s like trying not to think of the words ?Pink Elephant? for the next 10 seconds. The more we fight directly, the stronger temptation can feel. The best way to fight lust is to flee and to turn to Jesus in prayer and praise. Ask him to make you pure and holy and deliver you from temptation. Then praise him that he is working in you, keeping you and making you like himself.

Do not present. Do present. Do not present your eyes and ears to impurity or gossip. Don?t present your members to sexual sin. Don?t present your mouth to grumbling and complaining. Offer your lips to God in song. Present your hands and feet by serving someone. Give God your mouth by encouraging a brother or sister. We present our bodies to God when we do our jobs or care for our kids or cut the grass. And as we present our bodies to God it?s actually a pleasing form of worship:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1)

A Tempted Savior Is A Helpful Savior

I’ve struggled with anxiety over the years.

Sometimes it gets pretty rough. It keeps me from falling asleep at night and wakes me up in the dark hours of the night. Sometimes it feels like a large animal is sitting on my chest, squeezing the breath out of me. It’s a miserable experience that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

When I see someone else experiencing anxiety I feel compassion for them. I know the misery they are experiencing and my heart goes out to them. I extend them more grace than I normally would because I know how difficult it is to operate in the midst of anxiety. I want to help them and pray for them and let them know that I care about them.

But realistically, there’s not much I can do to help. I can pray and that’s about it. I’ve suffered like they have but I don’t have the power to help them in the midst of their suffering. I’m limited.

Not so with Jesus.

For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:18 ESV)

Jesus suffered like no one else. He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He felt the loneliness of being abandoned by his family and the utter grief of being abandoned by the Father. He had a real human body that was racked with pain and sickness. He had a real back that was destroyed by a Roman whip and a real head that was punctured by massive thorns.

He was tempted in every way that we are. Jesus took on a full frontal assault from Satan, enduring the worst that Satan could throw at him. Jesus knew temptation in a way that we never will.

Jesus suffered alright. He suffered and was tempted.

Because Jesus suffered and was tempted, He is perfectly suited to help us in our temptations. The one who endured excruciating pain can sustain us in the midst of our pain. The one who was haunted by loneliness can comfort us in our loneliness. The one who was mocked and abused by others can strengthen us when we are mocked an abused.

Jesus is not like a football coach who looks upon our sufferings and says, “Suck it up!” Jesus looks on our sufferings and says, “I’ve been through that. I know what that’s like. Let me help you.” Jesus, the almighty, reigning son of God, is waiting to help us.

Are you running to Jesus in the midst of temptation and suffering? To do anything else is crazy. Jesus is full of tender mercy toward us and wants to help us in every trial and temptation.

Note: This is excerpted from a sermon I preached on Hebrews 2:10-18. You can listen to it here.

You Don’t Have To Sin (Even When It Feels Like You Will Explode If You Don’t)

Believers in Jesus Christ don’t have to sin.

Oh but doesn’t it FEEL like we have to at times? Like when you’re tempted to lust. ?Or when somebody gets in your face and accuses you unjustly. ?Or when that guy behind you lays on his horn the second the light turns green? Or when your kids do something for the 875,000th time when you’ve told them not to?

How can any human being possibly not sin at times like these? Impure thoughts, rage, worry, envy and other temptations feel so strong they feel like they’re just, well….us. ?They feel so strong that we have no other choice but to give in to them. ?Or do we?

When Christ brings us into union with himself, he breaks our union with sin. He performs a spiritual circumcision, a “putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ” (Co 2:11) ? in other words, he breaks the enslaving power of our sinful nature. It still seeks to exert its desires, but now we’re free from the obligation of giving into those desires. We may FEEL like we have to sin, but we don’t.

We’re also buried with Christ (Co 2:12). ?We’re to count ourselves dead and buried to sin with Christ. ?To count ourselves dead to sin means we don’t have to obey its desires.

And ?with Christ, we’ve been raised to his new resurrection life (Co 2:12). ?Now the Holy Spirit lives in us, and we have his power to overcome sin, no matter how powerful a temptation feels.

Early on in my Christian life, someone shared this principle with me: Our feelings are a very poor barometer of the truth. God’s word is what is true, not our feelings, no matter how strong they are.

Our feelings might be the truth. But just because our feelings are intense doesn’t mean they’re the truth. ?Just because lust feels we must give in to it doesn’t mean we actually have to.

Imagine a slave who served a cruel master for years suddenly finds himself freed by Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. One day as he’s walking down the road his blood runs cold when he hears his former owner scream, “Where do you think you’re going? Get back here!”

Feelings of terror and dread flood his soul. Trembling seizes him. ?His breathing becomes rapid and shallow and everything within him screams he has to obey his former owner.

Then he remembers the truth – he’s no longer a slave. He’s free! He says “I don’t have to obey you anymore ? I’ve been freed. ?You can rage and threaten and squawk all you want but I don’t need to do a single thing you say.”

Remember ? our feelings aren’t necessarily the truth. We don’t have to obey them. ?Jesus has broken the enslaving power of our old sin nature. And the Holy Spirit empowers us to obey God’s commands. (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. ?John 8:36

The Greatest Defense Against Temptation

What?s the best defense against temptation? ?Rebuke it? ?Tell it to go away? ?Try not to think about it?

Sometimes when we try to resist temptation head on, it?s like trying not to think of the words ?pink elephant? for the next ?20 seconds – the more you try not to, the more you do. ?There?s a better way to fight the allurements of our flesh and the devil. ?John Owen tells us:

?Keep the heart full of a sense of the love of God in Christ. This is the greatest preservative against the power of temptation in the world…?

?Store the heart with a sense of the love of God in Christ, and his love in the shedding of it; get a relish of the privileges we have thereby, our adoption, justification, [acceptance] with God; fill the heart with thoughts of the beauty of his death; and thou wilt, in an ordinary course of walking with God, have great peace and security as to the disturbance of temptations.?

One way to keep a sense of Jesus? love is by thanking him throughout the day. ?Thank him for his steadfast love that never ceases and his mercies that never come to an end. ?Thank him for taking your place on the cross and paying for your sins to bring you to God. ?Thank him for his sympathy and compassion, and that he?s ever interceding for you.

As Jude says, ?Keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.? (Jude 1:21)

Keep yourself in the love of God today. ?He demonstrated his love for you at the cross. ?Ask him for more of a sense of it. ?And when you?re tempted, don?t fight it head on. ?Run to your great high priest on the throne of grace for help in your time of need.

Temptation Promises A Stop to the Burning

I think that sometimes people think about Christianity only in terms of what you aren’t allowed to do. Don’t drink and chew and run with the girls that do. Or something like that. (That ditty must have originated in West Virginia…)

But the reality is, God has created us to be people who have strong, good desires. We’re not robots. We want to eat. We want to have community with friends. We want to have sex. We want to rest our weary bodies. Passions and desires course through us, and those passions are good things.

And God isn’t some sort of sadist deity who gives us desires and then refuses to fulfill them. Every good desire has a God ordained outlet. Our stomachs are filled at the dinner table as we gratefully enjoy our food. Our desires for community are filled when we get together with friends or family. Our appetite for sex is filled in a God-given spouse. All good desires, all good outlets, all designed by God.

Satan however, wants us to find our fill outside of the outlets God has given us. In his book Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ, Russell Moore makes an outstanding point:

The pull of the passions always promises a resolution of the “burning”. I will manipulate my coworker with a morsel of office gossip, just once. I will view this pornographic image, just to see what it’s like. But the passions are a lure. Unless they find resolution in the way God designed the universe by his wisdom, they are perpetually unsatisfied.

Dang that’s good! Often times our desires are so strong that it does indeed feel like a “burning”. Satan promises a quick outlet for the burning. Instead of offering sexual fulfillment in marriage, Satan offers porn and adultery and lust. Instead of offering a satisfying meal eaten with thankfulness and self-control, Satan offers gluttony, or anorexia, or bulimia. Instead of offering the honor and exaltation that come from God, Satan offers self-exaltation and clawing for the top.

When we give into these sinful desires, the burning does stop for a brief moment, but the relief doesn’t last long. It will be back stronger than ever.

That’s why I find the words of Russell Moore very helpful. Fighting against sin isn’t just about suppressing the desires, like some sort of monk. When we are tempted, we need to ask God for the self-control to say “no” to ungodly expressions of godly desires. Then we also need to ask God to help us find a God-honoring way to satisfy the desire in our hearts.

God Loves Our Accompaniment

It might surprise some to know that much of our fight against sin involves worship.

And every stroke of the appointed staff that the LORD lays on them will be to the sound of tambourines and lyres. Battling with brandished arm, he will fight with them. Is 30.32

God’s job is to crush our enemies.? Our job is to worship, celebrate and trust him. ?While we worship him, he lays his strokes on our foes.

When I first got saved, I struggled a lot with fear at night, probably because a teenager I’d watched every horror movie I could. At times in the middle of the night I’d feel a presence in the room. The more I rebuked a spirit of fear, the more I felt gripped by fear.

Then someone told me I should pray, resist the devil, then begin to praise and thank God.

So when I experienced fear at night I’d pray then praise: “Father, thank you for your protection.? Praise you that you are my refuge and strength, my strong fortress. Thank you that you say in your Word that you give your beloved sleep and the angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him and delivers them.?

When you’re tempted to fear for the salvation of your loved ones, in addition interceding, praise God for his great power to save, that he is greater than their sin, that he doesn’t want any to perish but all to come to the knowledge of the truth.

When you’re tempted to lust, pray, ?Jesus, deliver me!”? Then say, “Praise you that you will cleanse me and make me pure.? Thank you that you will give me victory and make holy as you are holy.?

Obviously, the Bible commands us to put sin to death.? But ultimately, the Lord fights the battle.? And let us not forget to add the sound of tambourines and lyres to our requests.

He loves to be accompanied by our worship while he is conquering his enemies.

photo by MarkyBon

Jesus Temptations Were Not the Same As Mine

Have you ever read the accounts of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness and immediately made the connection to the temptations you face? In other words, you see Jesus’ battle against temptation as primarily a lesson on how you should fight temptation. I know I have.

But we shouldn’t be too quick to identify with Jesus. In the wilderness Jesus was doing something unique. Sinclair Ferguson writes:

But whatever exemplary lessons may be appropriately learned (and there are many), it must be emphasized that this event is…of a unique kind. It is deliberately set before as a recapitulation and a rerun of the Eden temptation.? (For the Fame of God’s Name, 176)

In other words, Jesus wasn’t primarily giving us lessons in how to overcome temptation. Jesus was conquering where Adam had failed. Adam succumbed to the temptations of Satan, bringing death into the world. Jesus overcame the temptation of Satan, bringing life into the world. Adam, the son of God, failed as a representative of the human race. Jesus, the son of God, succeeded.

I love these words of Sinclair Ferguson:

He [Jesus] appears as the divine champion, as it were, entering into enemy-occupied territory under the guidance of the Spirit as the director of spiritual intelligence. Miss this, and we miss the point of the narrative: it is a declaration of war, an attack on the one who claims to be the ruler of this world (Luke 4:6). Rather than overcome Jesus, Satan is comprehensively defeated, and in a sovereign manner dismissed by his conqueror with the words, “Away from me, Satan!” (Matt. 4:10, NIV) (pages 176-177)