The Bible and Temptation

Experiences we have in life will impact on our thinking and our understanding.

Early experiences

During childhood and first considerations about Christianity have coloured many people’s understanding of Christianity. For some, guilt was encouraged in their thinking with their impression of God being and angry overseer, always ready to judge and condemn. The keeping of rules is seen to over rule life and freedom is taken from them. A natural desire to rebel from this onerous and unattractive lifestyle arises and faith is abandoned. For others, ancient artworks, classical style music, robes and old-style liturgy can make Christianity seem very out of date, suitable for previous generations or perhaps only for the elderly. For Borg, in his childhood the big question was where we would spend eternity; in heaven or hell. God loves us like a parent and tells us how to behave so that life consists of behaving properly so as to ensure our place in heaven. He knew John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only beloved Son so that whoever believed in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Fortunately, forgiveness is available in Jesus, but the very need for belief and right behaviour meant that the emphasis was the big question of our eternal destiny. As he grew away from a literal view of the Bible his understanding of this changed. My experience of becoming a Christian was quite different and I have described how I became a Christian here. The result is that I have never had any question about where I would spend eternity and my life is lived with that question settled. My interest is in living out my eternal life starting now! I explained this in a previous chapter.

Reading the Bible.

What if the Bible is not inerrant and is not to be taken literally? We can still give it status as the “Word of God” without necessarily believing that the Genesis story did not happen is six 24-hour days, that the story of the Exodus with its plagues and parting of the Red Sea and the Ten Commandments inscribed by God on tablets of stone have some meaning but that they did not really happen? If “the Bible is Christian sacred scripture and the most important book there is” and is in some way still the “Word of God” but is to be regarded as containing mistakes and not to be taken literally, then how do we understand its contents and interpret its message? If some passages are simply to be disbelieved and regarded either having some message and meaning or be put aside as mythical folklore then one person can have an interpretation while another person holds their own, different one. So, if one person takes the Bible on face value while several others have their own interpretations and yet others dismiss the Bible altogether. Perhaps one of these is correct; perhaps none of them. We all live in a state of uncertainty, variety and even of division. Even the purpose of Christ’s death on the cross becomes a matter of conjecture when the straightforward meanings of the Bible passages are opened for dismissal or interpretation. Perhaps it never happened. Perhaps we are not forgiven. Perhaps we are lost. Perhaps we might as well be atheists! I wonder at many of the stories and events in the Bible and cannot explain them or persuade others to believe them but I cannot be confident of any of many interpretations which can be applied is correct. Rather than abandon all hope or to wander in a morass of options and interpretations and meanings I simply accept the Bible as is, on face value, even “literally”. There will come a day when I will know whether I got it right and in the meantime it seems to me I lose nothing by taking this approach. Indeed, with it much is to be gained! Without it so much is lost and I am adrift! With it I have assurance of forgiveness and cleansing and an understanding of my relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and all I can know about my God and Saviour is shown to me in the Bible and I love to have it. It is my confidence in the Bible that lead me to quote from it so much in the previous chapter and I do this without hesitation and with confidence.

Temptation

Jesus urged his disciples to “watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41) The reality of being human is that temptation will certainly come our way – we fool ourselves if we think otherwise. Jesus, being fully human although fully God, knows this. Hebrews 4:15 says of him:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

Unfortunately, this reality of our experience can be too hard for some to cope with and can lead to despair and for some to give up Christianity altogether. As I have explained in a previous chapter, when we confess our sin to God he is gracious and not only forgives us but cleanses us. Because of the extraordinary work of Christ on the cross God now sees us as being as good and acceptable as Christ himself. So complete is his mercy, grace and forgiveness. So that is how God considers us we must learn to accept that wonderful fact and rejoice in thankfulness. At the same time we need to have a clear, honest and biblical view of ourselves. Romans 6 gives us one:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 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. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

It is an appallingly presumptuous thought that since we can be forgiven any time we confess our sin that we should go ahead and sin with the idea that we can give God the chance to demonstrate his grace yet again. No, our understanding of ourselves is that in our baptism we were buried and that our old lives and our old attitude to sin was dead and buried, just as Christ was buried. But just as Christ was raised to new life our baptism illustrates to us that we, too, have been raised to new life. Now when tempted to sin we remind ourselves that so far as sin is concerned we are dead, that sin simply does not fit in our lives. Sometimes there is the need to quite deliberately avoid temptation and certainly not put ourselves in the way of it. We are God’s and meant to be “instruments of righteousness”. The power of sin is simply not great enough now as to have dominion over us. We are not alone with this but we should be encouraged. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

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.

While it is clear that we don’t have to give in to temptation and sin we need to be realistic and be warned: (1 Corinthians 10:12)

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

And 1 Peter 5:8

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

Temptation will come upon us at any time, even when take action to avoid it. Often enough we will be silly enough to walk right into it. Daily and perhaps on many occasions we will fall for it and sin, even though God will always provide an escape route. That is why we so frequently need to repent, confess and seek and receive God’s forgiveness.


312 Modified: 12-10-2023
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