This morning I preached at Becontree Avenue Baptist Church in Dagenham and dealt with the subject of temptation, something that we all face every day.
Hebrews 4:12 – 16
12 For the word of God is living 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. 13 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. 14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. 16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Over the past few weeks Sue has been talking to us about 1st Letter of John, chapters 1 & 2 where amongst other things we learnt about the Gnostics who claimed they had special knowledge about God. John in his letter deals with the Gnostics and in particular the thought of being without sin. 1 John 1:8 tells us “ If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”
We do sin and get things wrong from an early age. After all no parent every has to teach their children how to misbehave. We have to teach our children how to behave.
Sin is in our human nature right from the very beginning, what the Bible terms the fall, when indeed mankind did fall from grace through listening to the devil. Genesis 3 tells the story when Eve and then Adam gave in to temptation. When God asks what’s going on, Adam blames Eve and indirectly God, whilst Eve blames the serpent. Genesis 3:11-14 “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” 12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me–she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” 13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
Ever since when people have been found out or caught doing wrong the excuse has come “The devil made me do it!”
To be honest unless you are suffering from demonic possession you have control over your actions. So the devil didn’t make you do it, but he could have been very persuasive in making sure you did what you should not have undertaken.
Even Paul the apostle bemoans the human condition and our tendency to give in to temptation and sin. In Romans 7: 18 – 24 we read “18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. 21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”
Recently Sue preached from Ephesians 6 about putting on the armour of God. A lot of our fight with the enemy occurs in our minds. So it is important to have God’s armour to protect us.
The devil is very subtle in his approach. After all we are all different and we have different weaknesses.
You may remember years ago there was an advertising campaign to get us to eat more cream cakes. The tag line on the TV adverts and the posters was “Naughty but nice”. It was clearly meant to encourage you or seduce you into having one or more cream cake no matter how bad it may be for the waist line or the cholesterol levels. As I am lactose intolerant I know what kind of trouble I would be in if I succumbed to that temptation.
Now chocolate is a different matter.
And when we give in to temptation its not just the once, it can be the start of a very slippery slope and once you are on it, its very difficult to stop let alone get off it.
I’ll just have the one square of chocolate. Well ok, there isn’t any harm in having another. And before you know it you’re down to the last few squares and its daft leaving them behind.
Some years ago I knew a man called John. One day on an impulse he bought a scratch card in the local corner shop. He won £20 and he was hooked. When about a year or so later he took his own life he owed in excess of £30,000 to his business partner, his clients at his garage, friends, loan sharks, bookies etc. He took deposits on non existent cars he was going to sell to clients, he did all sorts of things to raise money to feed his gambling addiction. And it all started from a £1 scratch card.
The devil is rather like an angler. He carefully selects the hook and the bait to snare us. If you’ve ever watched a fly fisherman he has a box of different shaped artificial flies which he will use according to the type of fish he is after.
I don’t know if any of you have seen the American TV series “Breaking Bad” but it deals with the story of a high school science teacher, Walter White, who discovers he has cancer but not the money for treatment. So he uses his knowledge to produce the drug Crystal Meth – methamphetamine. As the story progresses he is making $Millions a month and enters a drugs war. He murders anyone who gets in his way, drug dealers, police and even own family members. What starts out as a possibly innocent plan to provide for him and is family turns out terribly wrong.
For some Christians the temptation is to be busy and get over involved in “good works”. I knew one man who confided in me some years ago that as a boy he rarely saw his dad because of work commitments and forever being down that church on committee meetings and so on. We can fall into the trap of doing too much and then our family suffer and we suffer because often our prayer times and bible reading go out the window.
We can also be tempted to hold on to things when it is clearly time to let go. Be that possessions or jobs we undertake. “If I don’t do this, there’s no one else who can do it” But what does God say on the matter. May be he is saying that the meeting or club or whatever has run its course so there is no need for anyone else to take on the work. We have to listen to God to see what he is saying in the matter.
Many people get tempted to go to mediums and spiritists, often when they are bereaved or desperate. The Bible tells us not to do it. But people do. In 1 Samuel 28 we read about a desperate and terrified King Saul who consults a medium known as the Witch of Endor. It does him no good.
I met an elderly lady the other day who told me that she desperately missed her husband who had been gone some seven years and so went to mediums and spiritualists. They must be good as they told her things that no one else would know. She added that during the war she had great fun playing with a Ouija board. She had never been told it was wrong and was surprised when I said that the Bible warns us to stay away from such things so that we are not hurt. I asked the lady is she had let her children stick their fingers in electrical sockets as infants. Of course she hadn’t, and I added neither does God want you harmed hence why he says don’t do this.
All the things that tempt us and lead us astray look so good to start with. But just like all the bargains just in the doors of the supermarket, they are there to draw us into the shop. We go in and fill our trolley with “Buy one get one free” or “Three for two” happily going from aisle to aisle. But there comes a point when we come to the check out and we have to pay the price.
So there comes a point when we have to pay the price for our sins. Its no good saying “I thought it was a bargain” It may be but there is still a price to pay. And some of us run up quite a bill at the check out. To echo Paul’s words from Romans “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me “. You see as opposed to the supermarket where you can put things back on the shelves or leave them at the counter, with sin once you’ve done it, its yours and it has to be paid for.
Some of you may remember the advert that heralded the launch of the Access Credit Card in the 1970’s. “Access takings the waiting out of wanting.” Before credit cards people had to save up for the things they wanted to buy and that concentrated the mind so you would be absolutely certain you wanted it. But with the credit card you buy it and the bill comes in a month or two later presenting you with a horrible shock. Sin can be like that. You forget the true cost in the eagerness to do whatever it is that has tempted you.
In the news yesterday came the conviction of Angus Sinclair for the rape and murder of two teenage girls in 1977. Thirty seven years after the crime, he has to pay for it.
Often we have that little voice that says no one will ever know or find out about this. It will be ok.
But our Bible reading says different. Hebrews 4:13 “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.”
There is a time when the credit card statement comes through the letter box and hits the mat. Just as there is a time when we will have to account to God for our actions.
Of course people can rant against God and say “You don’t understand what it is to be human, how it is to be tempted?”
But we know that is not true. We read about Jesus’ temptations in the desert in Matthew 4:1 – 11. And our reading from Hebrews 4: 15 “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin.”
So Jesus does understand what it is to be tempted, even though he never gave in to temptation. And he sympathises with our weakness.
And the even better news is the encouragement we find in Hebrews 4:16 “ Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
So whilst its better to avoid temptation, if we do sin we know that we can come to Jesus who can and will forgive us if we are truly sorry.