“So let the one who thinks he is standing be careful that he does not fall.” 1 Corinthians 10:12
A couple of weeks ago I posted about grace, and talked about the fact that those of us who have been redeemed are new people. We have new hearts, and are free from sin because of what Christ has done for us. That, of course, is at the heart of the good news that God gives us new life and transforms us into people who can enter in to his presence and live with him. And yet, I find that I still manage to fall flat on my face pretty much constantly. I know that I am a new person, that my heart has been made holy so that it can be the place that God dwells. Then I turn and look at the shambles I make of my life and relationships, and I have to wonder.
Why do we do the things that we do? Why do we struggle with coveting, even though what we have is perfectly good? Why do we react wrongly to the things people say to us? Why is pride so quick to well up in us, and trust and faithfulness so vaporous and elusive?
The answer lies in the sinful nature of our flesh, of course. Romans 7 talks about how I am still tied to my old flesh, with all its failings. We know from the passage as it goes on that our old nature isn’t the end of the story. In the meantime, though, we still struggle to live the lives we should. We are all faced with temptation daily, and if you’re at all like me you find yourself failing far more often than you would hope.
So I’ve been thinking this week about the nature and role of temptation in our lives. Temptation can be slow and subtle, building in us over time until we find ourselves thinking and doing things we didn’t even notice at first. Our culture provides lots of this type of temptation, slipping wrong thinking into our minds and hearts over time so that we hardly notice. Temptation can also be lightning quick, sparking a reaction in an instant that is vastly shorter than the regret and damage it leaves behind.
All of us are tempted, pretty much all the time. Your particular temptations are slightly different from mine, because we are tempted by the things that appeal to us. The lure or bait on the hook for you is different from what is there for me. Still, the temptations we face are not unique. All of our temptations are common to humanity (1 Corinthians 10:13). There is nothing new, nothing you or I face today that hasn’t been the struggle of humans throughout history. Even Jesus was tempted in every way just as we are (Hebrews 4:15). The bait is flavored just for you, but the hook is the same.
Temptations are trials or tests. The same verb is used of our temptations to do evil (James 1:13), of when the scribes and experts in the law tested Jesus, of when Jesus was tempted by Satan, of how Israel tested God in the wilderness (Hebrews 3:9), of how some Christ followers are thrown into prison or tortured or killed in order to be tested (Revelation 2:10 and Hebrews 11). Often, trials that are not themselves temptation come closely tied to temptations: temptation to react in unjustified anger, to lash out, to resent, to lust for what isn’t ours. Sometimes the test is so subtle we don’t even realize it has happened. The test of comfort too often results in us choosing to rely on finances and good planning for our security, rather than relying on God.
The verb used in those Bible passages for trials and temptation is the same, but I am convinced that temptations and other trials are connected much more profoundly than an accident of vocabulary. James 1:2 tells us to consider it all joy when you are encompassed by various trials. The testing of our faith produces endurance, which results in maturity and in our completion in Christ. It isn’t the trial itself that produces the results. The trials are a test of our faith, of our response to the circumstances that face us. Hebrews tells us that even Christ was made complete by his suffering and obedience through his trials. Trials and temptations are an opportunity.
So how do we turn the corner from temptations leading to a disastrous crash in our lives, to the point that these trials instead lead to our growth and maturity? How do I stop looking so much like my old self, and instead look more like Christ, who was made complete by his suffering and obedience?
God has promised to make that possible. In 1 Corinthians 10:13 he promises to never allow us to be tested beyond what we are able to bear. He provides us an escape. The trick is in taking the escape he provides.
We tend to think that the escape he promises means we’ll be free of the temptation. God doesn’t actually promise that. He promises that we won’t be given what we cannot bear, and that he will provide an escape “so that you can stand up under it.” The promise is not that the lure will be removed, but that we will (if we accept the escape he provides) be able to live with lure getting pulled past us without getting hooked. In fact, the promise isn’t even that God will make it easy. He just promises that he will make it so that we can endure.
The question remains: how do we endure? It turns out, I think, not to be a trick at all. Its about walking, about a relationship that we build with God. Its about being able to listen to the promptings of his Spirit. Its about knowing and living in his Word. Psalms 119 puts it this way: “I have treasured your word in my heart, so that I might not sin against you.” To avoid being overtaken by the trials, instead we need to be overtaken by God’s Word. We need to see our whole lives as a pursuit of God.
Part of that, I think, is following the advice at the start of James 1, considering it all joy when we are faced with all sorts of trials, because we know that they are God’s way of refining us through discipline and testing our faith to produce endurance and maturity. Such trials, as 1 Peter 1:7 tells us, show the proven character of our faith.
Trials, and even temptations as a part of the trials all of us face, are an opportunity. An opportunity for faithfulness, for growth, for obedience. If we want to survive the trials and temptations without stumbling, the answer is to throw ourselves into a pursuit of God. That relationship, like all relationships, takes time. It takes commitment to get to know him well, which we do by spending time reading, studying, and meditating on his word, and in prayer.
Then it gets easier, right? Not so much. Remember that he never promised to make it easy. He is always there with us, making sure it is not too much and offering us the way to allow us to stand under the trials. If it seems to be getting easy, look out! Watch for the subtle tests that you might otherwise get hooked on. Let the one who thinks he is standing be careful that he does not get blindsided, and fall. Our training is like that sometimes. But God is always faithful.