Posts Tagged With: temptation

Guarding Your Heart

“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23, ESV).

27489072214_02bc4c08ac_bOne of the greatest dangers in the Christian life is the temptation to focus on rules rather than on the relationship with Jesus Christ. We think rules will keep us from sin. Often, they can lead us into sin, because we focus on what we cannot do rather than how a particular area of our life is related to our walk with Christ.

Much of the book of Proverbs contains wisdom that King Solomon sought to pass on to his children. One of his key instructions is, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flows the springs of life.”

Keep your heart: Not your activities. Everything we think, say, and do flows from our hearts. When our hearts are in the right place, we will do the will of God.

John Wesley wrote that heart means “thy thoughts, will and affections.” It sums up our inner life. What do I choose to think about? What do I want or try to do? What spurs my emotions? Define these, and you have described your heart in this biblical sense. Wesley writes that the second part of this verse means “From thence proceed all the actions, as of the natural, so of the spiritual life, which lead to eternal life.”

If we do not guard our hearts, our outward behavior can suffer. Many Christians focus heavily on rules rather than this heart-protection, and as a result they may approach life trying to see how close they can get to sin without actually falling into it. The unmarried couple can try to see how far they can go without actually falling into sexual sin—and then their hormones take over, driving their emotions to take charge and forcing their intellectual agreement with the Bible into the background. The person who is struggling to overcome alcohol addiction may decide, “I can go to the bar if I don’t drink”; but, his desire to fit in and be accepted overtakes his desire for sobriety and he falls off the wagon. Similar examples can be given for a host of human weaknesses.

What are some ways to guard our hearts, so that we do not fall into this trap?

First, change your standard. Numerous churches have a canon of moral and ethical rules they demand of their members. Some are biblical (“do not commit adultery; do not lust; do not steal”); some are logical extensions of biblical rules (“don’t spend time alone with a woman to whom you are not married”); some are man-made rules (“don’t dance; don’t listen to rock music; don’t smoke”). Rules tell us what we can get away with.

The New Testament standard is different: “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up” (I Corinthians 10:23). Instead of asking, “What can I get away with?” we can ask, “What will strengthen me spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, etc.? What is the best way to use my time and resources? How can I best glorify God and build up his people?”

Proverbs 4 adds a few other ways to guard our hearts. Take charge of what you say and hear. Proverbs 4:24 tells us, “Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you.” Do not allow yourself to give in to dishonest, perverted, negative, or hate-filled speech. To do that, one has to avoid listening to such speech. We will end up treasuring the things we focus on in our hearts: “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).

This should probably be the real guiding principle in our entertainment choices. Many preachers talk about the sensuality and vulgarity in popular music, movies, and television. These are serious issues; they influence the values of their audiences. But, what about the anger and negativity on many talk and news shows? What about the quick rushes to judgment whenever a rumor pops up about a celebrity or politician? We seem to think the command to “not bear false witness against your neighbor” does not apply if it involves bad news we want to believe about a celebrity we have never met. However, that constant barrage of negativity into our ears is bound to corrupt our thoughts and feelings and come out in our attitudes and speech.

Finally, let us keep our eyes on Jesus and walk in His direction:

“Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you.
Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure.
Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil” (Proverbs 4:25-27).

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Renewing the mind is all about learning to think like Jesus and know Him better. To do that, we must keep our eyes on Him. We do that by reading the Bible, praying, and worshiping Him. He should be the vision that we place directly before us and, as we follow Him, we must choose not to deviate to the right or to the left.

Following Jesus should adjust our priorities. When we place our eyes on Him, we know the most profitable way to use our time and abilities. It becomes easier to say “No” to good options when we know God’s best plan for our lives. I could easily overburden myself, making more commitments than I can fill. Before I take on a responsibility, I bring it to the Lord in prayer and ask, “Is this Your will? How does this tie in to Your mission for my life? Have you equipped me with the abilities to pull this off?” Being overburdened leads to burnout, which leads to tiredness, depression, and discouragement, along with other negative attitudes that leave one open to temptation.

Temptation hits us hardest when we do not guard our hearts. When we allow Satan to nail us with negativity and discouragement, or hit us in our weak spots, we open ourselves up to temptation, sin, discouragement, and defeat. We can deceive ourselves into thinking that we can play with fire without getting burned. Guard your heart!

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tempted from Within—James 1:13–15

“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” (James 1:13–15, ESV)

“The devil made me do it.” Those words were made famous by Flip Wilson’s brash female character, Geraldine Jones. They have been repeated by numerous people, including many Christians. They echo Eve’s excuse for eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:13).

The devil gets a lot of free advertising these days. A recovering alcoholic yields to temptation, gets drunk, and has a car accident. “I don’t know what happened. I was doing OK, and then the devil got a hold of me.” I recently spoke to a friend who was afraid his church could split because somebody had left, and a few other people were having conflicts. (By the way, there are several hundred people in this church.) In his mind, Satan was causing division.

The devil is real, but he probably had little to do with any of these circumstances. For one, unlike God, he cannot be everywhere all of the time. At most, maybe one of his demon friends could be involved in one of these situations. However, if they are present, they are merely providing added influence. The real problem arises with the people in the situation.

The alcoholic drank because, to some extent, he wanted to drink. Maybe there was a false sense of comfort in the bottle; perhaps he felt like he needed beer to relax. Satan was not in the bottle, though. He had been lured and enticed by his own desires.

When relationships are strained, it is usually not a demon who is to blame. It is the sinful attitudes, or the history of hurt in the hearts of the people. One person is overly sensitive and takes it as a personal attack if things do not go their way or if people disagree with them. Another assumes they know what is best for everybody around them. Still another is easily offended if people do not do the things they ask. Often, past hurts are replayed in current conflicts. Friendships, families, and fellowships fall apart.

So, just to be clear:

  • If your car breaks down, it is probably not caused by a demon. It is a mechanical problem, caused by the laws of physics. It may have been expedited by your careless stewardship of the things you own (e.g., if you were too cheap or lazy to do regular maintenance).
  • Your emotional reaction to the car breaking down is not caused by a demon. You said those words yourself. A demon did not jump into your mouth to say them.
  • If there is fighting and division in the church, it is caused by the same things that cause fighting and division throughout society (James 4:1–3). Greed, pride, ego, passion, selfishness, hatred, unforgiveness: These are human character defects, manifestations of sin, and indications that people are not perfect. Hostility and fighting are manifestations of human sin: you do not need a demon to break up a church. [Besides, Jesus Himself said that the church would prevail against the gates of hell (Matthew 16:18); if Satan is defeating your church, it is still a reflection of weakness in the congregation. The Body of Christ should have the victory, because Jesus said we would!]
  • If you are in financial trouble, make sure it is not caused by your sin. Yes, there will be hard times when money is tight. But, many people get into financial problems because they buy things they want when they cannot afford them. If you are living beyond your means, the problem is probably your greed: It is not a demon eating your bank account.

I hope you get the point. The root of your temptations usually lies within your heart. Yes, demons and circumstances may edge us closer to temptation and sin, but only by exploiting our own weaknesses. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8–9, ESV). “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16, ESV). Acknowledge that it is truly YOUR sin, YOUR temptation, YOUR weakness, and then turn to Jesus to receive the forgiveness that He is offering to YOU.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Character and Values, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Scripture Sabbath Challenge—1 Corinthians 10:13

“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NASB)

1-corinthians-10-13-1024x768This verse does not say that your temptations are easy. It just promises us that God will provide the way of escape out of your temptations. I share that observation right from the beginning, because there are times when I have been discouraged by temptation. If this verse is true, why did I fail? Did God actually allow me to be tempted beyond what I am able to handle?

The temptations Paul’s audiences faced were, at times, incredible. Corinth has been called “the Las Vegas of the Ancient World,” due to the prevalence of brothels, saloons, and other forms of wickedness and immorality. With top-flight athletes competing nude at the Isthmian Games, a temple devoted to the worship of the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, etc., sin was rampant. A committed Christian would find it difficult, if not impossible, to walk out of his or her house without being offered the sinful pleasures of this world.

Actually, as I wrote that last paragraph, I thought, “That sounds like New York!” Professional athletes here may not compete naked: We have the Internet and cable TV to provide that temptation. So, we do not even need to leave our houses; debauchery can get pumped directly into our homes if we are not careful.

In addition to such moral challenges, Christians in Paul’s day faced other temptations. Christianity was viewed by many as a threat to the social order, so persecution was a real concern. Christians were not only tempted to drink excessively, engage in sexual immorality, or things like that. They were tempted, by public pressure and government force, to denounce Jesus and return to their pagan roots.

In spite of that, Paul told them that they had not encountered any temptation except those that are common to people, and that God would provide the way of escape. That does not mean the temptation will be easy: Some temptations are ruthless, and we cannot face them alone or in our own strength. A few of our escape routes from temptation may be:

  • Flee the temptation: 1 Corinthians 6:18 urges us to flee sexual immorality, but the “flee” principle applies to a host of other sins. Are you tempted by internet pornography? Get away from the computer: Go for a walk (leave your smartphone home, if necessary). Are you tempted to get drunk? Do not stick around in a bar or at a party where there is a lot of alcohol.
  • Phone a friend: In Galatians 6:1-2, we are told to restore a person who is caught in a transgression “in a spirit of gentleness.” I will take it one step further: Find that gentle fellow believer—someone you can trust—and ask them to pray with you. Perhaps you know someone who has struggled with your temptation in the past and found victory. (Do not look for the person who will tear you down and treat you poorly: Look for the person who understands your temptation, knows how to overcome it, and will love you through it all.)
  • Renew your mind: James 1:14 tells us that a person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own evil desire. Before we blame the devil, we need to remember that he will only use the ammunition we have placed in our own minds. Therefore, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Studying Scripture and prayer are a great place to begin. As we allow the Holy Spirit to renew our minds (transforming our thinking) through the Word of God, we defuse some of the ammunition that Satan will try to use against us.

I would love to hear some other suggestions for resisting temptation. Feel free to share your spiritual resources and escape routes in the comments.

This post was written as part of the Scripture Sabbath Challenge.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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