You Have a Way Out: God’s Answer to Temptation
May 17, 2020
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“I can resist anything except temptation.”
So said British playwright Oscar Wilde, a man who proved the truth of those words.
Then we have this from C. S. Lewis: “No man knows how bad he is until he has tried to be good.”
Oscar Wilde was not an outlier. We chuckle at what he said because we all feel the pull of temptation. It’s easy to resist an evil impulse in the abstract; it’s much more difficult late at night when you have to decide what to do. That brings us to C. S. Lewis, who spoke the truth about that moment of decision when we either give in to our passions, or we do the right thing. After I preached a sermon on purity many years ago, I challenged the men to come forward and take a stand. One man whispered as he passed me in the aisle, “This is the easy part.” He was right.
It’s easy to resist in the abstract
We’re in a series called “Big Promises: God Says You Are, You Have, You Can, You Will.” So far we have looked at two of God’s Big Promises:
You Are Forgiven: God’s Answer to the Problem of Guilt.
You Are Never Alone: God’s Answer to the Problem of Fear.
Now we come to the third promise:
You Have a Way Out: God’s Answer to the Problem of Temptation.
Let’s begin with the fact that we were born with a sin nature that rebels against God (Ephesians 2:1-3). Consider the “heroes” of the Bible. Abraham lied about his wife. Sarah lied to God. Lot compromised in Sodom. Jacob cheated his brother. Moses struck the rock in defiant anger. Elijah complained against God. David committed adultery and then had a man murdered to cover it up. Jonah ran away from God. Peter denied the Lord. These facts should not discourage us, but rather cause us to seriously consider our own spiritual condition. What happened to them may happen to us.
We struggle because temptation tends to come when we least expect it. If we could schedule our enticements, we’d do much better. “I’ve decided to fight against lust next Saturday at 4 PM,” we would say. Unfortunately, those wrong desires often show up unannounced at 9:30 Wednesday morning when our guard is down.
It is precisely at this point that 1 Corinthians 10:13 becomes so crucial. Every Christian should know this verse by heart: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” Note three truths from this verse.
First, temptation is the common experience of all Christians. If you say, “I’ll be glad when I’m not tempted,” you’re really saying, “I’ll be glad when I’m dead,” because you will be tempted as long as you live. Temptation changes shape across the years, but it never goes away completely.
Temptation never goes away completely
Second, God will not allow you to be put in a situation where you must give in to sin. The pressure may be enormous, but he always provides a “way out” sooner or later.
Third, God’s “way out” does not necessarily remove you from temptation, but it puts you in a position to endure it with grace. Sometimes we will be tempted over and over again. Each time God promises to give us what we need to resist successfully.
You’re on the Menu!
Let’s be clear about one thing. You never have to sin. God will never lead you to a place where your only choice is disobedience. We always have a choice. When we do wrong, we can’t say, “The devil made me do it.” Like Eve in the Garden, we choose to eat the forbidden fruit.
Shortly after the terror attacks on 9/11, military strategists developed the concept of “forward-leaning defense.” If you wait for the bad guys to attack you, you’ve made yourself an easy target. Take the battle to the enemy and hit him before he hits you. The Apostle Peter would agree with that. Remember what he said: “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8 NLT). The devil is hungry, and you’re on the menu!
Satan’s #1 tool is discouragement. He’s already won if he can get you to drop your weapons and walk off the battlefield. That’s why he attacks you on a thousand different fronts.
Satan doesn’t fight fair
He doesn’t fight fair!
He’s not going to give you an even break. He is a liar, a deceiver, a diabolical “angel of light” who comes to you in a thousand guises, tempting you to disobey the Lord. He’s a lot smarter than you are. He knows your weak points better than you do. Because he is invisible, he can attack you any time of the day or night.
How will we fight back? Let’s consider five ways to practice “forward-leaning defense” against the devil and his schemes.
#1 Adopt a Warfare Mentality
The Bible says we are to “put on the whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:11). Adopting a warfare mentality means we are always at war, that a battle is raging all around us, and that we ourselves are frontline soldiers. In the old days soldiers were told, “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes.” But that doesn’t work in modern warfare because you rarely see the enemy. In the spiritual realm, we fight an invisible foe, and that’s why it’s easy to forget we are in a battle until the attack suddenly comes.
Colossians 4:2 instructs us to be “alert in prayer.” Think of a Marine sentry standing guard during the night. He stays awake because the lives of his buddies depend on it. Too often we act like we’re a security guard on break at the mall when in reality we’re like a Marine sentry walking the perimeter in Afghanistan.
Ephesians 6:13 says we are to stand our ground, which speaks of hand-to-hand combat. No one said being a Christian is easy. Any representations to the contrary are false and dangerous.
You’re in the army now!
You’re in the army now.You signed up for front line duty in the Army of Jesus. He doesn’t have any desk jobs where you can stay far behind the lines and let others risk their lives. We’re all in this together as soldiers of Christ.
There is good news and bad news here. The bad news is, no one gets a break from the battle. We are under attack 24/7/365. Because Satan doesn’t sleep, we don’t have the luxury of going to sleep spiritually. The good news is, God has provided everything necessary so that we might fight and win every battle we face.
# 2 Confess Christ Openly
I used to listen to a preacher who liked to say, “If you’re going to be a Christian, be one!” That’s wise advice. You’ve got to make up your mind because a man who tries to have it both ways will end up destroyed. Compromise leads to destruction in the spiritual realm. Remember what Jesus said:
Therefore, everyone who will acknowledge Me before men, I will also acknowledge him before My Father in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).
In the early days of the Christian church, baptismal candidates were asked, “Do you renounce the devil and all his works?” It is entirely biblical, and we should ask it of ourselves daily.
Do you renounce the devil and all his works?
We all wonder how we would respond if our faith was put to the test. Would we have the courage of our convictions, or would we give in to save our life? For our brothers and sisters in China, India, and the Middle East, that question is not theoretical. We may face that in the West sooner than we think. Here’s the best way to be ready: Confess Christ every day right now!
The devil hates it when we sing because godly music rouses our souls, lifts our hearts, and restores our faith. When God’s people sing together, we invade the devil’s territory.
In my pastoral ministry, on many occasions I went to church on Sunday morning feeling weak and tired. Perhaps it was because of a busy week, or perhaps I was carrying a particular burden. Sometimes my mind would race in a thousand different directions. Then the worship service would begin. It might be with the mighty pipe organ playing “Come, Thou Almighty King,” or it might be with the worship band leading “How Great Is Our God” or “Blessed Be Your Name” or “He Will Hold Me Fast.” Or it might be singing “Like a River Glorious” or “Down at the Cross” or “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah,” or perhaps it was a new worship chorus I was learning for the first time. As the congregation worshiped, my mind cleared, my doubts departed, my worries vanished, my faith swelled, and my heart was lifted to heaven. When the time came to preach, the Holy Spirit came in great power. This happened so many times that I cannot believe it was by chance.
Ephesians 5:19 tells us to “speak to one another” in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. As we do that, we are singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord. Through our singing, we honor God and we strengthen those around us.
The devil hates the music God loves
Parents, sing to your children and to your grandchildren. Make sure they hear you singing in church. Teach your children and grandchildren to sing hymns, gospel songs, and choruses.
Sing while you are in the shower.
Sing while you ride your bike.
Sing while you listen to the radio.
Sing while you work out.
Drive the devil nuts.
He hates the music God loves.
So sing out and make the devil mad.
#4 Memorize the Word of God
Psalm 119:11 says, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Jesus prayed, “Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth” (John 17:17 NLT). The Word of God not only tells us how to live; it also gives us the power to make the right choices.
A young man came to see me because he had been struggling to keep his thought life pure. Though he was bold about his faith on the job, he felt utterly defeated because of his inner struggles. “I want to be married someday,” he said, “but how can I be a Christian husband when I’m not the man I want to be right now?” As I talked to him, I sensed two things that gave me hope—his utter honesty and a deep-seated desire to do whatever it took to put his life on a new course. I challenged him to begin memorizing Scripture, but he seemed skeptical it would make any difference. When I told him his life would not change overnight, he asked where he should begin.
I suggested starting with Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible—176 verses. It’s all about the power of God’s Word. Few would have the courage to tackle such a huge project, and fewer still would finish. But I suspected this young man was different. Before leaving my office, he promised to check in with me every Sunday. Over the next few weeks, when I saw him in church, I asked him how he was doing. He would say, “I’m on verse 25” or “Listen to verse 43” or “I love verse 72.” That was in the spring. I didn’t see him during the summer months because he served as a counselor at a Christian camp. When he came back in September, he had about 40 verses left to memorize.
The Word had done its work
The day came when he sat in my office and said, “Check me out.” I sat and followed along in my Bible as he recited all 176 verses. What a treat to hear this young man recite God’s Word with confidence and joy. Something had happened in his heart as the Word had taken root. From time to time, he stopped and commented on how powerful this verse was or how much that verse meant to him or what amazing truth this verse contained.
Clearly he had memorized more than words on paper. The life-giving Word of God had entered his soul. All that Psalm 119 promises had come true in his life. He was not the defeated man who walked into my office in the spring. The Word had done its work. As he was leaving, I asked him about the struggle that had brought him to my office in the first place. With a smile, he replied, “It’s gone.” Why should that surprise us? The Bible says, “The entrance of Your words gives light” (Psalm 119:130).
That was many years ago. Today he is married to a wonderful Christian woman, and together they are raising their family for the Lord. Memorizing Scripture changed his life.
#5 March in Tight Formation
You will never defeat the devil on your own. That’s why the New Testament has so many “one another” commands:
Love one another.
Pray for one another.
Serve one another.
Build up one another.
Confess your sins to one another.
Encourage one another.
If you’re by yourself, you’re done!
The devil loves to attack Christians who get separated from their brothers and sisters. If he can get you alone, you’re a prime target for his attacks. I remember talking with a young man who had served in the Marines during the war in Iraq. He was stationed in Fallujah, scene of some of the worst fighting. His sergeant used to say, “Two is one, one is none, and if you are by yourself, you’re done.” When you go into battle, you can’t wander off on your own or you’ll soon be in big trouble. But “two is one” if you stick together, and “one is none” if you don’t. That’s excellent advice for the spiritual battles we all face. Remember, if Satan can discourage you, he’s already won the battle. Don’t fight him alone. Stay tight with your brothers and sisters because two is one, and one is none when you fight against the devil
We need each other more than we know. If we are alone when temptation hits, it is easy to feel like giving up. But if we know others are cheering for us and are there to help us, we can find the strength to keep going even in the worst of times.
We need to pray for one another. As we pray together, we find strength in shared sorrows and joys. As we pray for each other, God sends his angels to help those for whom we pray. Our words uttered in secret move the heart of God, and friends in the battle are made strong once again.
Settle in for the Long Haul
Don’t be surprised by sudden attacks or discouraging events or personal disappointments. We call it spiritual warfare for a reason. We all have our share of victories and defeats. Some days it feels like we are fighting a losing battle. Often it seems like we are battling on a thousand fronts at once. Remember that God measures our spiritual progress not by huge battles won or lost but by a thousand daily skirmishes no one else knows about.
Two Final Thoughts
1. We are at war with an enemy far stronger than we are. He stops at nothing, he lies, he cheats, he deceives. If we defeat him today, he’ll be back tomorrow morning. In fact, he won’t wait until tomorrow. Satan comes to us in a thousand guises, most of them hard to spot, all of them deadly to our soul. If we fight him in our own strength, we will lose. If we ignore him, he has already won the battle.
2.We have a Savior who is far stronger than our Enemy. He fought and won the battle 2000 years ago when he died on the cross and rose from the dead. He is the Undefeated Champion. Ponder these words from the hymn A Mighty Fortress:
And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
One little word shall fell him
His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.
Martin Luther was right. This world is “with devils filled” who would undo us if they could. The forces of evil strike at our weak points and come to us in unexpected ways. Though they cannot utterly defeat us, they can wear us down until we feel like giving up. None of this should surprise us or discourage us.
Luther says when we face the devil, “one little word” will fell him. Jesus is that “one little word.” The cross proved our Lord is the victor over the devil for time and eternity. That’s where our study of temptation comes to an end–on a note of triumphant victory.
Satan is the Ultimate Loser. Jesus wins in the end, and he wins big! Everyone joined by faith with Jesus wins because he is the Captain of our Salvation. The forces of evil cannot stand against him.
So here is the Big Promise for today. When you feel like giving in to anger, lust, greed, or any of a thousand other sins, remember this: you have a way out. Take that way out and don’t look back.
Stand and fight!
Are you under attack from the enemy? Never give up!
Do you feel like quitting? Never give up!
Are you fighting for your marriage? Never give up!
Are you trying to be strong in the face of temptation? Never give up!
Are you discouraged about your children? Never give up!
Do you face a barrage of criticism for doing right? Never give up!
Are you tired of the struggle? Never give up.
Are you tempted to quit?
Have you already fallen?
Pick up your armor and get back in the battle.
When the day is done, you will be standing on the victory side.
Stand and fight, child of God.
The Lord is on your side.