Avoiding Temptation

God does not promise that we will never be tempted, but that when we are, He does provide a way of escape. However, there are things that we can do as a Christian to avoid unnecessary temptation. Many times temptation can be completely avoided by following these simple tips.

Pray: In the model prayer that Jesus gave to his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount, He taught them to ask God to lead them away from temptation (Matthew 6:13). A daily relationship with God in prayer is a first step to avoiding temptation. It’s hard to sin while you’re praying!

Use the Word of God: There are many good verses that will help you overcome certain temptations. Memorizing Bible verses targeted to combat your areas of temptation will be a protection and defense. 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 talk about pulling down things that get a stronghold in our life.

You need to work on memorizing a list of Bible verses that will help you avoid temptation. You can’t rely on finding a Bible at the moment of temptation. These verses have to become second nature to you.

Spend time in God’s word daily. Make it a habit. By knowing you will be confronted by the Bible in your reading tomorrow it can help you stay focused on God today.

Understand Your Personal Weaknesses: Not everyone is tempted in the same way. What is a struggle for one person may not be the least bit tempting to another person. For example one person may be tempted with smoking. For the next guy, smoking has never had a foothold on the person and therefore is not at all tempting.

James 1:14 says that we are drawn away with our own lusts. This indicates that each person has their own weak areas to deal with. You need to understand your own weakness so that you will know how to combat and avoid it.

Flee Temptation: God has promised to make a way to escape temptation. If you will look for the escape route, then you can flee the temptation. Many times this way of escape is to literally walk (or run) away. Temptation often comes when you find yourself in certain situations or places. When you recognize one of those situations it is time to pack up your stuff and get out of there. (1 Corinthians 6:18; 10:14; 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:22)

Create an Accountability Network: As Christians we have direct access to God. There is no place in the Bible where we are taught that we must confess our sins to others to have forgiveness from God. However, the Bible does teach that creating accountability with someone else can help you in your struggle against temptation (James 5:16).

You do not need to go into detail with your accountability partner about about your struggles, but they do need to know how to pray for you. Find someone who is a mature Christian. Find someone who knows you, loves you, and whom you trust. Tell them that you are struggling in a certain area. Look through the Bible together finding verses that will be a help to you. Have your friend ask you occasionally how you were doing in this area. Once a week is usually often enough. Make a promise to your friend that you will not lie to them when asked about how you are doing. You only hurt yourself when you lie to the other person. Ask your friend to pray for you—not stand in judgment.

Don’t be Discouraged: You should not become complacent about your sin, but you should also not allow it to defeat you. Sin is much more serious than eating too much dessert, but allow me to make an analogy. If you are on a diet and eat an extra cookie that you were not supposed to, does it make sense to quit your diet and eat the rest of the bag? The truth is that one extra cookie is a minor thing compared to how many good choices you made the previous week. It sounds silly to quit a diet because of 100 extra calories. Yet people do it all the time.

Realize that you probably will fall to temptation on occasion, but that is no reason to quit your Christian walk. Don’t accept your sin as if it doesn’t matter, but also realize that you have a choice in your future actions.

Confess and Repent: When you fall to temptation, go to God and confess. He already knows about your sin. You are not telling Him anything that is a surprise, but for your own sake you should humble yourself before God and confess your sin. The truth is, He has already forgiven you if you’re a Christian. Going to Him in confession makes it easier for you to have clear communication with Him.

I found this information at What Christians Want to Know.

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The Salvation of Sinners

These are notes from my reading John R. W. Stott’s classic book, The Cross of Christ.

“Images” of salvation (or the atonement) is a better term than “theories.” Theories are usually abstract and speculative concepts, where biblical images are concrete pictures and belong to the data of revelation.

  1. Propitiation introduces us to rituals at a shrine
  2. Redemption, to a transaction in the marketplace
  3. Justification, to proceedings in a courtroom
  4. Reconciliation, to experiences in a home or family
  5. Substitution is not a theory, but the foundation of these all

Propitiation: Romans 3:24-25, 1 John 2:1-4, 4:10 – to propitiate someone is to appease or pacify his anger. Remember God’s holy wrath and his loving self-sacrifice of Christ, which was his own initiative to avert his anger.

This is a critical question: is the object of the atoning action God or man? If the former, then the right word may be propitiation (appeasing God); if the latter, the right word may be expiation (dealing with sin and guilt). Christians are less pacifying the displeasure of God and more as a means of delivering man from sin. At the cross Jesus expiated sin, he did not propitiate God.

Fire and brimstone theology has the idea of appeasing an angry God or that the cross was a legal transaction in which an innocent victim was made to pay the penalty for the crimes of others. This is not Paul’s theology, but came from the minds of medieval churchmen (this is not biblical Christianity).

  1. The reason why a propitiation is necessary is that sin arouses the wrath of God:
    1. His anger is poles apart from ours.
    2. What provokes our anger (injured vanity) never provokes God; what provokes his anger (evil) seldom provokes ours.
  2. Who makes the propitiation? In pagan cultures it is always the human trying to avert the anger of the deity.
    1. The gospel states that nothing we can do or say or even contribute can compensate for our sins or turn away God’s anger. There is no possibility of persuading or bribing God to forgive us.
    2. God is so gracious he gives us the sacrificial blood to make atonement (Leviticus 17:11).
    3. Remember that God does not love us because Christ died for us; Christ died for us because God loves us.
  3. What is the propitiatory sacrifice? Not an animal, vegetable or mineral, but a person. The one person who could step in was God himself.

In Pauline theology, man is alienated from God by sin and God is alienated from man by wrath. It is the substitutionary death of Christ that sin is overcome and wrath is averted. God can now look at man without displeasure and man can now look at God without fear. Sin is expiated and God is propitiated.

Redemption: we move from an image at the temple to the marketplace, from religious rituals to business transactions, from ceremony to commercialism; to redeem is to buy back by purchase or ransom. There is an emphasis that we are more than redeemed by Christ, we are ransomed by him. This comes only at the payment of a price, which then sets us free. The price paid is not “himself” or his “life” but his “blood” (1 Peter 1:18-19). Christ was the victim as well as the priest, entering the Holy Place by his own blood (Hebrews 9:12, Romans 3:24-25, Ephesians 1:7). In communion, we drink the blood of Christ not to participate in the life of Christ, but in his death, appropriating the benefits of his life laid down.

Justification: this image tasks us into the courtroom. Justification is the opposite of condemnation. Forgiveness remits our debts and cancels our liability to punishment; justification declares us in a right standing before God. There have been various objections to justification:

  1. Strong antipathy or dislike to legal categories in talk about salvation; it presents God as Judge rather than as Father.
  2. It attempts to dismiss the doctrine as a Pauline idiosyncrasy, originating in his legalistic mind.
  3. Catholic objection of the reformers teaching on justification by faith;
    1. The Council of Trent (Session 6, January 13, 1547) taught that justification takes place at baptism and includes both forgiveness and renewal.
    2. Also, that before baptism, prevenient grace predisposes people to convert themselves to their own justification by freely assenting to and cooperating with that grace.
    3. Post-baptismal sins are not included within the scope of justification.

Justification declares the person right before God, it does not make them right.

  1. If just means forgiven and accepted and right with God, then we immediately become what God declares us to be. There is a difference between declaring and making us just.
  2. If just is used to signify made new or made alive, then again we are what God declares us to be.
  3. If just means having a righteous character or being conformed to the image of Christ, then God’s declaration does not immediately secure it, but only initiates it. Sanctification is another topic, dealing with growing in holiness.

Faith is of no value in itself. Its value lies solely in its object. The justifying work of Son and the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit cannot be separated. Good works follow justification and new birth. Salvation is never by works but unto works.

God never acquits the guilty (Exodus 23:7) and never condemns the innocent (Proverbs 17:15).

Four of Paul’s key phrases summarize his defense of this divine justification of sinners.

  1. The source of our justification is indicated in the expression “justified by his grace,” that is, by his utterly undeserved favor, which occurs in Titus 3:7 and in Romans 3:24. No one can justify himself, no one is righteous (Romans 3:10, 20, 24).
  2. The grounds for our justification are that we are “justified by his blood” (Romans 5:9). There could be no justification without atonement. There is no pardon without principle; there is no forgiveness that simply overlooks sin.
  3. The means of our justification is indicated in Paul’s favorite expression “justified by faith” (Romans 3:28; 5:1 [“justified through faith”]; Galatians 2:16; 3:24). Grace and faith belong indissolubly to one another, since faith’s only function is to receive what grace freely offers.
  4. The effects of our justification can be deduced from Paul’s expression “justified in Christ” (Galatians 2:17), which points to his historical death, and personal relationship with him that, by faith, we now enjoy.

Reconciliation: this image is from the home and family and friends; it is the opposite of alienation. It begins with reconciliation to God and then to the community. It has to do with making peace with God, adoption into his family and having access to his presence. Ephesians 2:11-22 refer to the wall of separation, Jews and Gentiles (Ephesians 2:14) but also separated from Christ (Ephesians 2:12).

How does reconciliation take place (2 Corinthians 5:18-21)?

  1. God is the author of reconciliation: it is from his initiative, not ours. We are reconciled to him; he is not reconciled to us. He is always the subject and never the object. Reconciliation presupposes enmity between two parties. The Bible uses words like, enemies with God, enmity, hostility (Romans 11:28, 5:10).
  2. Christ is the agent of reconciliation: 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 make this clear; God reconciled us to himself through Christ (past tense). It was finished at the death of Christ.
  3. We are the ambassadors of reconciliation: (2 Corinthians 5:20).

Summary:

  1. Propitiation underscores the wrath of God upon us.
  2. Redemption, our captivity to sin.
  3. Justification, our guilt.
  4. Reconciliation, our enmity against God and alienation from him.
  5. All of God’s saving work was achieved through blood-shedding, the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ.

The Satisfaction for Sin

These are notes from my reading John R. W. Stott’s classic book, The Cross of Christ.

The way different theologians have developed the concept of satisfaction depends on their understanding of the obstacles to forgiveness which first need to be removed.

  1. What demands are made which stand in the way until they are satisfied?
  2. Who is making the demands?
  3. Is it the devil? Or is it the law, or God’s honor or justice or the moral order?

Stott argues that the primary obstacle is to be found in God himself. He must satisfy himself in the way of salvation he devises. He cannot save us by contradicting himself.

Satisfying the Devil: this teaching was widespread in the early church. It comes out of declaring the devil with power and the cross deprived him of it. Mankind had been in captivity not only to sin and guilt but to the devil. They thought of him as the lord of sin and death, he is the major tyrant from whom Jesus came to liberate us. Here are two mistakes:

  1. They credited the devil with more power than he has. They speak as if he had acquired certain rights over man which even God himself was under obligation to satisfy honorably.
  2. They thought of the cross as a divine transaction with the devil; it was the ransom-price demanded for the release of the captives, and paid to the devil in settlement of his rights.

The value in these theories is that they took seriously the reality, malevolence and power of the devil (the strong man fully armed). We must deny that the devil has rights over us which God is obligated to satisfy. Any notion of Christ’s death as a necessary transaction with the devil is ruled out.

Satisfying the Law: this theory assumes that mankind incurs the penalty of their law-breaking. They simply cannot be let off the hook. The law must be upheld and defended, and its just penalties paid. The law is therefore satisfied. An Old Testament example is when Darius sought to find a way to save Daniel. The law could not be tampered with. God longs to save us, but he cannot do so by violating his own law, which has just condemned us. He cannot just abolish the law he has established. The Bible says that every law-breaker is cursed and that Christ came to redeem us from the curse (Galatians 3:10, 13).

Satisfying God’s Honor and Glory: Anselm (the 11th century) declared the relationship between the incarnation and the atonement (in Cur Deus Homo?). He agreed that the devil needed to be overcome, but rejects the ransom theories on the grounds that God owed nothing to the devil but punishment.

Instead, man owed something to God, and that is the debt which needed to be repaid. Remember that believing God can forgive sin as we forgive others does not consider the seriousness of sin. So what can be done? If we are to be forgiven, we must repay what we owe. We are incapable of doing this for ourselves or others. There is no one who can make satisfaction for sin except God alone. It is essential that the God-Man make this satisfaction. He gave himself up, not as a debt he needed to pay, but freely for the honor of God.

God Satisfying Himself: these interpretations all represent God as subordinate to something outside and above himself which controls his actions, to which he is accountable, and from which he cannot free himself.

  1. The language of provocation: God is provoked by Israel’s idolatry to anger or jealousy or both. But God is never provoked without reason. It is evil alone that provokes him and God must behave like the holy God that he is. If evil did not provoke him to anger, he would forfeit our respect, for he would no longer be God.
  2. The language of burning: this depicts God as burning in his anger; kindling, quenching and consuming.
  3. The language of satisfaction itself: basically that God must act as himself; what is inside must come out.

God is provoked to jealous anger over his people by their sins. Once kindled, his anger burns and is not easily quenched. He unleashes it, pours it out and spends it.

The Holy Love of God: what does this have to do with the atonement? Just as God chooses to forgives sinners and reconcile them to himself, he must first be consistent with his character. How can God express his holiness without consuming us? How can he love us without condoning our sin? How can God satisfy his holy love? How can he save us and satisfy himself? In order to satisfy himself, he sacrificed or substituted himself for us (which is the next chapter).

The Problem of Forgiveness

These are notes from my reading John R. W. Stott’s classic book, The Cross of Christ.

Why does our forgiveness depend upon the death of Christ? Why does God not just forgive us without the necessity of the cross? Why can’t God practice what he preaches and forgive without condition, as he instructs in Matthew 6:14-15, 18:21-22? If we believe that God can forgive us as we forgive others, we have not yet considered the seriousness of our sin. The obligation of the forgiven is to forgive. God need no forgiveness and we overlook the fact that we are not God. This attitude demonstrates our shallowness. Our sin is not a personal injury toward God, it is downright rebellion against him.

How does God express his holy love? How can he forgive sin without compromising his holiness? How can he judge sinners without frustrating his love? Stott focuses on four concepts:

The Gravity of Sin:

  1. Five Greek words for sin: hamartia (missing the target); adikia (unrighteousness or iniquity); poneria (evil of a vicious kind); paraptoma (trespass or transgression); anomia (lawlessness or disregard of a known law).
  2. The emphasis of Scripture is the godless self-centeredness of sin. We proclaim our independence and autonomy; taking a position reserved for God alone. Sin is defiance, arrogance and the desire to be equal with God.
  3. David’s confession, his sin was against God (Psalm 51:4). Sin cannot be dismissed a simply a cultural taboo or a social blunder. Sin has a willful and defiant or disloyal quality: someone is defiled or offended or hurt.

Human Moral Responsibility:
Is it fair to blame human beings for their misconduct? Are we responsible for our actions? Scapegoats include: genes, chemistry, inherited traits, parental failures, early childhood upbringing, educational or social environment.

Criminal law determines assumes that people have the power to choose whether or not to break the law and treats them accordingly. There is even a distinction between intentional and unintentional homicide (between murder and manslaughter – which is straight out of Mosaic law). Liability also may depend upon moral and mental factors: the intention of the mind and the will. Lack of consciousness and control will always need to be defined. Trying and convicting and sentencing in the courts is based on the assumption people are free to make choices, being free agents.

The Bible emphasizes original sin, as an inheritance, so we are tainted and twisted from the start (Mark 7:21-23, John 8:34). We are enslaved to the world (public fashion and opinion), the flesh (our fallen nature) and the devil (demonic forces). At the same time the Bible tells us that while our responsibility is diminished, it is not demolished. We are morally responsible. We are to choose between life and death, good and evil, between the living God and idols (Matthew 23:37). Yet no one may come unless the Father draws him (John 6:44, 5:40). If men do not come to Christ, is it because they cannot or they will not? This is the debate between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Man does not sin out of weakness but he chooses to let himself go into weakness. There is always a spark of decision.

True and False Guilt: If humans have sinned, and they are responsible for their sins, that makes them guilty before God. There is a guilt that is deserved (John 3:19, men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil). This is a deliberate rejection of truth and goodness. False guilt looks at the cross and senses sorrow and guilt for Christ dying on the cross. We must understand that we did this, we are guilty. But it is false guilt to leave it there, and not talk about forgiveness of that sin. We must not look at the cross and only feel the shame for what we did to Christ, we must see the glory of what he did for us. Like the Prodigal Son, a guilty conscience is a great blessing, but only if it drives us to come home.

If there is false guilt (feeling bad for what we have not done), there is also false innocence (feeling good about the evil we have done). False contrition is unhealthy (ungrounded weeping over guilt) and so is false assurance (ungrounded rejoicing over forgiveness).

To say that someone is not responsible for their actions is to demean him as a human being. Eve blaming the snake, Nazis blaming they were only following orders.

Holiness and God’s Wrath: Our sins separate us from him, his face is hidden and he does not hear our prayers (Habakkuk 1:13, Isaiah 59:1-2). Moses hid his face. Isaiah had a sense of uncleanness. Job sat as a despised man. Ezekiel saw only a likeness of God’s glory. Peter recognized his sinfulness. John fell on his face as though he were a dead man. Closely related to God’s holiness is his wrath, which is the only reaction to evil.

The impersonal character of God’s wrath: this makes wrath not a divine attribute, but it is transformed into a process. Perhaps Paul’s adoption of impersonal wrath is not to affirm that God is not angry, but to emphasize that his anger is void of any personal malice. It is a fact, a process. Perhaps speaking to God’s anger is legitimate anthropomorphism.

Metaphors to God’s separation from sin: height (high and lifted up); distance (we dare not approach too close – Moses, Isaiah, the Tabernacle, and Uzzah); light and fire (a consuming fire that we cannot approach); and the most dramatic is vomiting (idolatrous practices were abhorred, disgusting, loathed, and lukewarmness was to be spit out). The point is that God cannot be in the presence of sin. We must hate evil and be disgusted with it. We cannot walk the road of moral compromise. Sin does not often provoke our anger and we then we do not believe our sin will provoke God’s anger.

This is essential to understanding the cross: balanced understanding of the gravity of our sin and the majesty of God. Diminish either and we diminish the cross. Forgiveness for God is one of the most profound problems. God must not only respect us as responsible beings, but also must respect himself as the only holy God. Before a holy God can forgive us, there must be some kind of necessary satisfaction.

Why So Many Moral Failures?

John Edwards, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and now NY congressman Anthony Weiner is the latest public figure in the news who has fallen due to a moral failure. I don’t know his spiritual situation and would never judge someone else with a superior attitude, but we all ask the question, “What was he thinking?” Did he really think he could behave like this and not be caught, embarrassed or even blackmailed? Since there is no one who is righteous, no not one, we MUST set up a system around us that helps protect us from moral failure.

The old phrase goes, “There, but by the grace of God, go I.” I’m not sure if this line is humbling by saying that we all can fall just like this guy, so don’t think you’re above the temptation, or arrogant, indicating an attitude similar to the Pharisee and the tax collector in (Luke 18:11). It’s hard to check our motivation sometimes.

So, why do these public leaders fall to such stupid decisions?

They Have No Personal Boundaries
Call me legalistic, but I am a freak about personal boundaries, like:

  1. I don’t ride in a car alone with a woman other than with my wife or daughter. I used to share a ride, and it always felt uneasy for me. And never forget, just an accusation can ruin your ministry or reputation.
  2. I will not counsel a woman alone, my office door is open, or I go to the Welcome Center, or the Library with all that glass around us.
  3. I will not share a meal in a restaurant with a woman, just the two of us, under any circumstances, (and don’t justify that lunch by calling it “business”).
  4. I don’t use a computer late at night, or in a non-public place. Men, it just makes sense. Our family computer is in the living room. If your wife or daughter could walk in at any time, makes your commitment to purity much stronger.
  5. I don’t post anything on Facebook or Twitter that I woundn’t want my wife or pastor to see; wait a minute, they CAN read it, along with all the people on my friends list. And don’t think it ends there. Re-postings can keep negative stuff online forever, for my congregation and even future employers to see.

Those are just a few of the examples, but the bottom line is this, you can’t commit adultery with a woman if you are not alone with her. Too many men have sold their marriage, reputation or ministry down the river just to have an orgasm. It’s not worth it men. We’ve got to make tough decisions now and be willing to experience some “inconveniences” for the sake of our family, marriage and the kingdom.

They Think They Can Handle the Temptation
One of the Bible verses that has always sticks out for me on the issue of temptation is 1 Corinthians 10:12. Paul warns us to always be careful because the minute that we think we have a particular sin mastered, we are in danger of that very sin actually becoming our master.

I once read about Gordon MacDonald, pastor and author of Ordering Your Private World. Billy Graham said of one of his books: “It struck me right between the eyes with conviction and I wish that I had read it many years ago.” Another prominent Christian leader described him as “one of the most Godly men I have ever met.” He was the pastor of the largest church in New England and taught at the local seminary.

He became the president of the Intervarsity evangelistic organization, one of the biggest in America. Then it came out around 1987. A sin from a few years previously was exposed, and MacDonald was forced to resign. The sin was adultery. His wife was so shocked she has never trusted him since, and it’s been over ten years.

He was forced to step down as president of Intervarsity. It made most pastors aware of our own spiritual frailty. If this man, with all his much vaunted spiritual discipline, could fall so hard, then no-one was immune from danger, ever. He would never live it down.

Later he said, “The most costly sins I have committed came at a time when I briefly suspended my reverence for God. In such a moment I quietly (and insanely) concluded that God didn’t care and most likely wouldn’t intervene were I to risk the violation of one of His commandments.” Years later, he authored a sequel called, “Rebuilding Your Broken World,” which is confessional and a book of hope for others who have fallen.

They Stop Pursuing Jesus
If these public figures are professing believers, they begin to pursue other things. It is a fact that no one can pursue Jesus and sin at the same time. If someone is trying to get in the pants of a woman who is not his wife, then he cannot claim that his eyes are on Jesus.

This is why the Word of God is essential for anyone who wants to keep a pure heart. Men, we are called to pursue Jesus, and doing so will always lead us away from sin, not towards it.

They Allow Stress to Bring Weakness
When a man experiences a time of intense stress and anxiety he is way more vulnerable to be lured into sin. We’ve got to take the fourth commandment seriously (the one about rest). We’ve got to take care of ourselves emotionally, spiritually and physically, and if we neglect these things, we become an easy target of the enemy.

They Believe They Have the Power to Get Away With it.
It is amazing the arrogance of so many men in power, that they can do something so devastating and sincerely believe that there will be no consequences. Adultery is a big deal, why throw your life away on something so preventable?

They Have No Accountability.
This topic is going to be a kick I will be on for the next few months; just so you will understand and realize where I’m coming from. When there is no accountability, we begin to live secret lives: hiding from our wives, kids, friends and other men. Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17). We need each other. How can we move toward more accountable relationships to keep us on track, out of trouble, and living in integrity? Who do you know that needs an intervention or rescue? Do you need help? This can change everything we know about the church.

Men, I want us to make it, so keep your eyes on Jesus. If anyone is struggling in this area and feel like you are about to sin, get help, call me, let’s talk (at least talk to someone).

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