Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Seeing Temptation in a Positive Light

Screwtape, the diabolical character in C. S. Lewis' book, The Screwtape Letters, notes how humans are naturally prone to “undulation,” meaning we alternate between emotional highs and lows. It's during the low times, he says, that temptation can be most effective. It's hard to disagree with him, even if he is a fictional demon.

Temptation often comes to us when we're least ready to resist. It may come when we're vegging out after a particularly stressful day, or when we're bored or lonely. Sometimes, we can be tempted continuously over several hours, or days. Other times, temptation can come and go incessantly. When these kinds of things happen, it's easy to feel frustrated, and we might be tempted to think things like, 

“Here it is again! It couldn't have come at a worse time!”

“It's still there! I'm so tired already from fighting, and I've got so many other things to worry about.”

“God why are you letting me go through this temptation? Why don't You just change my heart?”

Such fustration may even remain undetected. All the while, we feel vaguely dissatisfied, restless, and tense, and the feeling continues to build up.

All the while, perhaps without even realizing it, we've stopped delighting and trusting in God, our resolve to please Him has weakened, and our fighting spirit has been drained, making us easier to beat.

Where The Frustration Is Coming From

Why do we become frustrated? Essentially, it's because we fail to recognize God's sovereignty in our situation. Consequently, we don't look to Him in trust and dependence. We may even blame Him for allowing us to experience this spiritual struggle. This often builds up to the point of exasperation, when we finally stop fighting and simply give in to our fleshly desires. In extreme cases, we might even feel justified in sinning because “God didn't answer my prayers for help!”

Mercifully, the Holy Spirit eventually convicts us of our sinful attitude, but by then, the damage has already been done.

God's Purpose for Temptations

If only we had realized that temptation is just as much God's will for us as the things we normally consider blessings! Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that God wants us to sin. He wants exactly the opposite! But the Bible indicates that temptations are God's way of testing our faith and refining us. The Holy Spirit “drove” Jesus Christ out into the wilderness to be tempted for 40 days – and by no less than Satan himself! (Mark 1:12) The apostle James wrote, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” The Greek word translated “trials” in our English Bibles is the word peirasmos, which means a testing or proving, and is often translated “temptation” (cf. Matthew 6:13; 26:41; Luke 4:13; 22:28; 1 Corinthians 10:13).

Knowing that the temptations we face aren't random, but occur under the loving sovereignty of our Heavenly Father, should give us hope and keep our minds sharp in such times. God allows us to be tempted in order to test our faith. He's building us up, teaching us to depend on Him, to take comfort in Him, and even to share the comfort that we have received to teach, strengthen, and encourage others (Luke 22:31-32; 2 Corinthians 1:2-3).

We are most prone to temptation when our thoughts are unclear, vague, sweeping generalizations, truisms, cliché. We have to make sure that we are thinking clearly on the truth. And one of those truths is that our temptations are trials. Trials are from God. Trials have a purpose, and that purpose is for us to stand steadfast for the glory of God and the good of all, especially the household of faith.

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