30 April 2011

Tempted? You sinner!!! Um... Maybe not.

Temptation. How does it make you feel? I'm not talking about how chocolate makes your mouth water. I'm talking about real, full goose bozo temptation, whether it's to slam into the car of the rude driver who cut you off, to jump into the sack with the sexpot who keeps flirting with you, to lie to your boss to get something you want, or to stealthily pick up the money you saw someone drop.

A lot of people feel dirty, as if being tempted is a sin.

But... if that's the case, then Jesus did NOT live a sinless life! Yet we know that he did. Again, we confuse temptation and sin.

Paul wrote to the Hebrew church, "Therefore, since we have a great high priest ... Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-- yet he did not sin." (Heb 4/14-15 NIV)

What does this mean? We know the tempter came to Jesus after 40 days of fasting in the desert. (In fact, Mt 4/1 says the Holy Spirit led him there to face the Devil! Why? Not so that he would suffer, per se, but so that he could lead the way in kicking temptation's butt!)

I think we pass this off too lightly. We see this simply as Satan trying to tempt Jesus. Especially because of the matter of fact way the story is told. But the verb implies that he was tempted.

Let's see, what did he face here?

40 days with no food. "Here. Have some bread. You can turn all these stones into more bread than you could eat in 40 days. Or 40 years." You know Satan had to be giving this all he had. Jesus probably saw the place turn into a bakery before his eyes, each rock a freshly baked, steaming loaf of bread. Do you know how good that smells? How good it would smell to a starving man?

"If you are who you say you are, you can easily prove it, and prove whether your Father really loves you or not at the same time." Are you really God, God's son, anyone at all? Does he really give a damn about you? Prove it. If you dare. Pride, insecurity, a whole rash of hot buttons for us humans.

By this point he had to have some idea of where he was headed (the cross) and what that meant (every sin of every person, past, present and future; separation from the Father and Holy Spirit; his enemies winning). And what does Satan offer? "You can avoid that whole trap. Easy way out. I already rule this kingdom. Bow to me instead of your Dad and all that crap he's leading you into, and I'll give it all to you-- free and clear, no pain, no cross, none of that yucky sin. You do know that stuff never comes off, right? And that the cross is going to hurt like Hell? Trust me on that one. I know Hell like the back of my hand."

Yeah. I'd say he was tempted. Hardcore tempted. Did he waver? No clue. The Bible doesn't say. We only know that he didn't give in.

The other time we hear about him being tempted was at the end. In the Garden of Gethsemane he prayed so hard he sweat drops of blood. I've struggled with things; I've prayed hard-- I have never sweat blood.

So, that's the list recorded-- food, pride, insecurity, fear, idolatry in the
guise of the easy way out.

But... according to Paul he was tempted in all things. Everything. Lust (perhaps when a half naked woman caught in adultery was brought to him); hatred (how did he manage to avoid hate while he was chasing thieves from the temple?); giving up (a million times on his last day before his death-- while being beaten and crowned and spat upon, while carrying that heavy, splintery doom up the hill; while being mocked as he tried to keep breathing as splinters dug into him; or even just when the disciples did something really, really dumb... again); stealing, lying, you name it. Many of these undoubtedly hit as he was growing up; we tend to think of him as a baby, as a twelve year old, and the last three years. But he lived thirty three full years, full of temptation, pain and loss (along with joy, love and peace, but that's another discussion). Complete with puberty, peer pressure, and other tough P words.

But he didn't sin.

Temptation is not sin. Never has been, never will be. Eve was tempted for quite some time. Satan really worked on her. The sin was when she gave in to temptation, not the temptation itself.

Why do we confuse the two? I suspect it's a combination of our fallen nature, lies of the enemy (remember Mt 4?), and a misunderstanding of Scripture. For instance, since lust is adultery and hatred is murder (Mt 5/21-30), we extrapolate too far and think that even the temptation is sinful. It's a fine line but a crucial one. I can be tempted to undress someone in my mind, but so long as I turn away from that train of thought, don't dwell on it, don't encourage it, don't run with it. don't leap on it and ravish it, I haven't sinned. Same with hatred. Same with coveting and stealing. Same with any temptation.

Now let's back up a bit; I think the verses just before Heb 4/14 add to our confusion. This is mainly because they get preached apart from it.

"For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account." (Heb 4/12-13 NIV)

This is "sinners in the hands of an angry God" stuff for most of us. "Oh, no! He knows everything! He's right there when I'm tempted! He saw that thought that flashed through my mind! And he has a sword! Help!"

If we look at this by itself, that's a reasonable response. Abject terror leading to meltdown leading to hopelessness and despair. That way lies madness and running from God. But if we read the two together, where this is immediately followed by the revelation that Jesus experienced all those temptations yet did not sin, where might we go?

Why, right into the next verse. "Let us then approach Gods throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." (Heb 4/16 NIV)

Mercy. Grace. Mmmmm. Those smell yummy. Taste delicious. Feel sooo good. Dad loved Jesus. He let him take the sin of the world. He brought him back from death. He offers us all power in heaven and in earth (Mt 28/18), the keys to his kingdom (Mt 16/19), his infinite love (the Gospels).

How, then, shall we deal with temptation? There have been many ways offered historically. We can flee from it. We can fight it. We can laugh at it and walk away. Lately I find myself doing the latter a lot, but I've had to do all three. The point isn't how you resist; it's that you resist.

Most Christians are reminded all too often in sermons and by well meaning friends that "sin is crouching at your door" (Gen 4/6-7). This often gets mixed with the verse about Satan being like a roaring lion wanting to devour us, so that many of us "know" the Scripture that says "Sin is like a lion crouching at your door, waiting to devour you." Lions are strong. Lions are scary. They're the king and queen of the jungle; they eat people.

So, if we are tempted, we assume we will likely sin, and... our doom is upon

But the reality is, even if we fail, even if we sin, something else is waiting for us besides a hungry lion. Grace. Grace sounds so meek, so sweet but helpless. How is an innocent little girl going to help us with lions? But Grace is far from being an innocent lass. Grace has all the power of God the Father, of Jesus the resurrected, of the Holy Spirit who resurrects, comforts and strengthens. The power of life. The power of purity. The power of holiness. The power of new beginnings. The power of the cross.

Deal with temptation as works best for you, but don't fear it. The only one with anything to fear is Satan. He fears you. That's why he spends so much time tempting you and trying to convince you that you're helpless and doomed. Otherwise, just like Jesus, you'll ultimately kick his butt. And he knows it.

Do you?

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