The moment we become God’s friend, we become Satan’s enemy and enter into the battle against temptation. While believers are still inclined toward sin, Alistair Begg reminds us that we are no longer slaves to its power. When we ask that God not lead us into temptation, it is because He shows us the way out of temptation. We can therefore confidently fight skirmishes against sin, knowing that Christ has already won the war.
Father, we come now earnestly to plead with you that we might know the help of the Spirit of God both in speaking and in listening so that we may be able to hear effectively, and that you will help us not to dodge the issue, not to suggest that it’s good for someone else, but to face it dead-on and to take your Word to our lives today in whatever way you bring it to bear upon us. Surely this is a wonderful prospect, that through the voice of a mere man you, the living God, would speak to us as individuals. We ask you to do this for your glory and for our good, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
There is no period in the Christian life when we are exempt from temptation. For those of us who have been hoping that simply by growing old we will manage to get out of it, unfortunately, we have discovered that that is not the case. The older we get, the more we discover that the same old temptations, often in a new disguise, are right there beside us, biting at our heels and seeking to bring us down. That would be bad enough if they were there alone, but they’re joined now by a whole new batch which we have never really faced before and seem peculiar to this point in the journey of our lives. Yes, temptation is a reality, it is unavoidable, and the only time that we will be free of it is when we are eventually dead. So if you are very keen to be done with temptation, be careful how you pray.
On one occasion, a Scottish minister was asked by a member of his congregation when it would be that he would be able to get out (that is, the member of the congregation) of the very difficult terrain—the “battleground,” as he referred to it—of Romans chapter 7. Romans 7, you may recall, is where Paul talks about the fact that the good we want to do we don’t do, and the bad that we don’t want to do we end up doing. He says, “Who will deliver me from this body of death? I’m a wretched man,” he said. Chapter 8, of course, begins, “There is … now no condemnation to them [that] are in Christ Jesus.” And so the congregant said to his minister, Mr. Alexander Whyte, “When will it be that we get from chapter 7 and into chapter 8?” And he looked at the individual and he said to him, “You’ll never be out of chapter 7 as long as you’re a member of my congregation.”
And what he meant by that was simply this: he was affirming what the Bible teaches and what the Westminster Confession of Faith succinctly describes in the phrase, “The Christian is involved in a continual and irreconcilable war.” It is a warfare that we’re engaged in, and any attempt to dodge the issue or to suggest that this is not the case is being offered to us by someone who is not paying attention to human experience, nor are they reading their Bibles with any sense of submission.
Why is it that the Christian would be involved in “a continual and irreconcilable war”? Simply because of this: that the same grace which reconciles us to God, whose enemies we are before coming to trust in his Son—the same grace which reconciles us to God, to whom we are an enemy outside of Christ, antagonizes us to the devil, who is our friend before we come to trust in Christ. So the whole thing changes. I am, before God, not in communion with him. I am, in a sense, just the friend of the Evil One. When God’s grace brings me from here to here and makes me the friend of God, it simultaneously makes me the enemy of the Evil One. And the Evil One cannot prevent that transaction taking place, but once it has taken place, he will then bring all of his endeavors to bear upon the life of the fellow or the girl who says, “Yes, I submit to Christ, and I want to live for God and I want to follow him,” thinking, perhaps, because of the way this information has been conveyed to them, that as a result of making such a statement of faith they will somehow or another now be “[transported] to the skies on flowery beds of ease”; they think that everything is going to be wonderful and plain sailing, and they discover that it is just a great battleground into which they have come.
Now, it is for this reason that when Jesus prays for his followers in John 17, he does not pray that they would be taken out of the world, but he prays that they would be protected from the Evil One: “Father, don’t take them out of the world; leave them in the world, but make sure that they are protected from the evil one.” And this phrase this morning, “Lead us not into temptation,” whatever else it is, is a prayer on the part of the believer to be protected from evil.
The Bible is very clear about the reality of evil. It exists in the world; it does not deny it. The Bible is equally clear about the personality of the one who is behind the evil in the world. 1 John 5:19 has this statement: Satan, the Evil One, is the god of this world, and “the whole world is under [his] control.” From time to time, just engaging in casual conversation with people, they will say, “My, oh, my! Can you explain just why it is that this world is in such a dreadful mess? We seem to go from one disaster to another, whether it is Columbine or whatever it might be. Why are people the way they are?” And the answer is that the god of this world is Satan the Evil One, hell is his domain, hell is what he likes to introduce people to, and hell is where you live when you’re under his control. He is a ferocious lion—at least he’s described in that metaphor. He is ferocious. He’s totally indifferent to the well-being of his victims. The devil, says the Bible, is behind all sin, and before a man or woman is born again of the Spirit of God, we actually belong to the domain of the Evil One. And our evil actions give proof of his ownership.
Now, such an idea is, of course, laughed out of court by most of our contemporaries today. They say, “Oh, goodness, gracious! You don’t possibly believe in that, do you? That there is actually in existence this individual, personalized force, namely known as Satan?” Well, let me say this: for every smart aleck, contemporary, slick chap driving around in his car who thinks it’s bogus, there are a significant number of people who are in absolutely no doubt about the existence of a personal devil, because they have daily business with him. And increasing numbers of our junior population are interested in these things. And any discerning individual will recognize the way in which covens and witchcraft is being mainstreamed through large segments of our population now, not least of all in the media. Whereas once it was a strange thing that happened away down and behind buildings and away in the middle of trees—nobody knows, really, what it’s about or what it is going to be—and all of a sudden, it’s on Larry King Live in full-scale view: “Strange people spoke to the dead. We don’t know who they are or why they do that”; all of a sudden, “At nine o’clock tomorrow evening, you can be introduced to somebody, and if you call in, you can speak to the dead as well,” and so on.
Now, you take the back of certain album covers, as well. I didn’t bring it down with me; it is so distasteful, it is so heinous, that I determined I would not quote it. But just in case you think I say these things for effect, it’s upstairs in my files, and the back of the album cover is unbelievable. It is an unbelievable, unequivocal expression of satanic warfare. It has Christ upon the cross; it is totally opposed to everything true, moral, pure, righteous, and everything that the Bible conveys. And where does it come from? “Oh,” says the smart aleck politician, “it just comes from somewhere. We don’t know where it comes from.”
Now, the same time that our friends are pooh-poohing the idea of a personal devil, they’re at a loss to explain just why it is that we’re able to master technology, and yet we are unable to control the sinful impulses of our own lives. We do not understand why it is that after all of these years of such tremendous advance in the realm of technology and science, we can put a man on the moon, but we still have hell on the earth. We can do unbelievable things with computers, but we can’t deal with the computer of our own minds. We can bring together vast companies of people to communicate with them by means of all kinds of interstellar communications, but we cannot sit across the breakfast table with the one with whom we’ve determined that we will live all of our lives and engage in a meaningful conversation. Why is this?
Well, you see, that is actually the basic question. And I sense that I may be leaving some of you behind already; I’ve run four laps ’round the track, and you didn’t even hear the gun go off to get it started. So let me just ask a foundational, basic question, so we leave nobody behind: Why is it that as individuals we tell lies, cheat, steal, grow envious, proud, selfish? Why is it that we are so intrigued by immorality? Why is it that we so enjoy slander? Why is it that it is easier to exalt ourselves and put others down than it is to exalt others and put ourselves down?
Now, the Bible answers that question. Men and women may disregard its answer, but this is what the Bible says: When Adam sinned, he took the whole of humanity down with him. When Adam sinned, we all sinned. Now, the Bible doesn’t tell us why God allowed the fall of man. There is, without question, a mystery there that our human faculties cannot penetrate; God has determined that we should not be able to. One day it will become plain; for now, it is mysterious. But there is much about life that is mysterious that we freely acknowledge.
God has imputed to us Adam’s guilt, just as in grace he imputes to believers the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. Each of us was born as a fallen man or woman. We were sinful before we sinned. And that is why you do not have to teach a child to be defiant. That is why you do not have to say to them, “Now, I got you a lovely book at the store today, and this is going to show you how you can be a complete aggravation to your school teacher. We’re going to go through this in the evening, I’ll just work through a few pages each night, and you’ll be able to go out and do that.” No! You get a telephone call from the schoolteacher saying, “Why is this… this child of yours such a jolly nuisance?” And at its base it is this: because he was born as a juvenile delinquent, and he is just working it out as he goes through his days.
Now, this is unappealing, of course, in a generation in which we believe that we were given perfect children. Everybody has a perfect child. That’s why the perfect child is a perfect nuisance: always in the place of position; always in the place of priority; never put through to be quiet, as a child should be seen and not heard; always exalted to the place of significance. Why? Because the people do not believe that what they have in their hands here is something that needs to be disciplined and nurtured and cared for and subdued. It is a bundle of sinful potentiality. And it doesn’t express itself in every life in the same way, but the Bible says the reason this child is a sinner, the reason this child sins—does sinful things, says no, sticks its tongue out, cusses, does all that stuff—is because he was born having had the sin of Adam imputed to him. And unless something happens in this individual’s life, then it’ll just be more of the same, and worse and worse and worse, catered to simply by expedience, and by schooling, and by lifestyle, and by all the other things that we try and put around like pillows ’round our children’s life to try and take care of all of the nonsense.
Now, this makes sense of what Jesus says: “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’” Remember, he said this to the Pharisees, because the Pharisees were saying things like this: “If you do the right religious stuff, if you wear the right religious clothes, if you essentially clean up all of the outside, eventually God will look at you and say, ‘You’ve done a wonderful job. Why don’t you come into my heaven?’” Jesus says to them, “Fellows, you got it absolutely wrong. It is not what goes into a man that makes him unclean; it’s what comes out of a man that makes him unclean.” And then he gets specific: “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder,” and then all the way down through this dreadful litany in Mark’s Gospel, chapter 7.
“The heart,” says the Bible, which represents the center of our inner life—the core of our being, our feelings, our longings, our decisions, etc.—“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” “The heart [of man] is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” And part of the deception of our hearts is to listen to an individual such as myself saying this and encouraging you to read the Bible and consider it—part of the deceitfulness of your heart is saying, “You don’t have to listen to that jazz. Whoever he’s referring to, you were not in that group. This is for someone else; it is not for you. I am not remotely like that.”
Our contemporary emphasis on education… and I think you would agree there is an emphasis on education. And none of us is opposed to a good education; we want our children to do the best they can do. But the contemporary emphasis on education is based largely on the notion that by increasing knowledge we will be able to solve most of the problems that curse our lives and make them seem so futile. Listen: education is not the answer, because ignorance is not the problem. It is not that man is ignorant and needs to be educated, and if the education takes place then he will become the perfect being in the new utopia. Nor is it that man is simply in need of a therapist because he’s been hard done by, you know, all of his life. You take the trial of the Unabomber—somebody who is clever enough, smart enough, to rage against humanity, to put together some of the most skillful, meticulous plans to destroy people—and what is his defense? That he’s nuts! He’s not nuts. He’s bad! He may be a little nuts, but his problem is not that he needs a therapist; the problem is he needs a Savior. And all day long, millions and millions of dollars are spent by Western governments in order to educate sexual immorality out of the lives of its children. Can’t be done! In order to “educate” drug addiction out of the lives of its children. Can’t be done! Why? Ignorance isn’t the problem! “For from within, out of a man’s heart, come all these things.”
Information in the mind cannot of itself satisfy the needs of the heart, nor can it tame the unruliness of the soul. So what are you supposed to do? Is it all just bad news? No, it’s actually good news! What we need is a change from the inside out. We need a heart transplant. Have you had a heart transplant? I don’t mean physically; I mean spiritually. Have you ever prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O [Lord]; and renew a right spirit within me”? Have you ever come to God and said, “You know, that makes sense to me. I do have a deceitful heart. I always try and make myself look better than I am. I always try and grade myself on the curve. And even when I think of you, God, I tend to think that the good things that I’ve been doing for the last few days must surely outweigh the bad things, and I’m deceiving myself. I have a deceitful heart. I want to have a heart in which you live. On the throne of my heart, Lord Jesus, is me. There’s no question about that. My siblings know it. The people that work with me know it. My friends at school know it. I’m a selfish person. I disguise it by saying all the right things and doing the certain things that you’re supposed to do in a contemporary environment such as our own, but I am before you, God, tonight, a selfish person. And the reason I’m so selfish is because I sit on the throne of my heart. Now I want you to come and sit on the throne.” Have you ever said that? Have you ever invited Christ to take total control of your life, to acknowledge you make a royal hash of it on your own? This is something very different from saying “Well, I think I’ll go back to church,” or “I think I’ll get a little religion,” or whatever it might be. Have you ever come and said, “God, give me an absolutely new heart”? Have you been converted?
Some years ago, when Sue and I were living in Scotland, they “converted” us. Indeed, they put signs—the signs came through the letterbox. It said, “On such and such a day and such and such a month, you will be converted.” “Oh,” I said to my wife, “this is good.” What they were referring to was the fact that the discoveries as a result of American investment on the North Sea had yielded not only oil for the world markets, but had yielded natural gas which could be used in Scotland. And so we were going to make the move from coal gas to natural gas. And it involved a conversion. You could not run the coal gas through the new mechanisms that were made for natural gas. It could not be done. Without the conversion, it was impossible, and so they came and converted us. And it was clear as a bell: from old coal gas to brand new gas. “Have you been converted?” people would say to one another in the streets, and everyone knew what they meant. Can I ask you today, have you been converted?
You say, “Well, is that really what this church is about?” Without question. Is it about just building a congregation of nice people who can all come and live, lost in their niceness? Building a congregation of people who have a religious interest so that they can die as religious people? No! It’s about seeing the Bible come alive to us and say, “You know what? Frankly, that is true: I do live on the throne of my heart. And I need Jesus to live on the throne of my heart.”
Well, that’s the starting point. Because you see, until we get there, everything else that we then say about temptation in the life of the believer is totally irrelevant to the person who still does not believe. For believing in the New Testament is not simply assenting to truths in our heads, but it is actually basing our whole life, our whole death, our whole eternity on the fact that Jesus Christ offers to put into our account all of the benefits of his righteousness to take the place of all of the stain of the debit that is there as a result of being part of Adam’s race.
Well, you know, we could stop there, actually. That would be a fair place to stop. But it’s not the instruction of this phrase, and I need to get to that. Some people may say, “Well, I’m prepared to really consider that if that will allow me to be free of temptation.” Well, no, it won’t allow you to be free of temptation. If it would, then there would be no reason for Jesus to provide for those who follow him a part of his prayer which says, “Lead us not into temptation.”
Well, why is it, then, that if my life is converted, that I still face temptation? For this reason: that when we are regenerated—which is a technical theological word for “made new by God, born again from the inside”—when we are regenerated, the nature of sin does not change; what changes is its status in our lives. In Romans chapter 6, Paul says, “Sin shall not be your master, for you are not under law, but you’re under grace.” So when a person comes to trust in Christ, sin no longer reigns, but it remains.
And it is on this front that the battle rages. Traditionally, theologians talk about the battleground of Christian experience as being waged on three fronts: Against the world—all that is out here that says to us, “This is wonderfully attractive, and if you have all of this, you will be fine, and you will enjoy life and go eventually to heaven.” The world. The devil comes, and he presents all of this to us, and he says, “Wouldn’t you like some of that, and wouldn’t you like to spend your life here and there and do these things?” And where, then, is the appeal made? Well, the appeal is made to our flesh, to our sinful nature, to the gravitational downward pull which is not eradicated as a result of trusting in Christ.
That’s one of the things that people will say: “Well, I’ve trusted in Christ. Why is it that I still fancy the idea of sinning?” Because your whole bent is to sin! You have a gravitational pull that brings you down. The law of the Spirit has set you free, and this is, if you like, the law of aerodynamics, which lifts the 747, fully laden, right up off the ground and makes it fly. But once turn those engines off, and what will happen? It will hit the ground so fast it’ll make your head spin. Why? Because of the law of gravity. The law of gravity is still in existence; the law of aerodynamics overcomes it. And the Christian pilgrimage is essentially this: Am I going to obey God’s Word and submit to God’s Spirit, and thereby fly? Or am I going to let my engines flop, and am I going to go bouncing off the tarmac Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday? And there is everything in society warring against our desires to live for Christ—everything within us saying, “Go on, fly, fly, fly,” and everything around us saying, “Dive, dive, dive.”
Now, as strong as the appeals of the Evil One may be, and they are strong, they do not in themselves have the power to compel us to succumb to temptation. So Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer is not able to weasel out of it, in terms of biblical instruction, when he says, “The devil made me do it, Aunt Polly. The devil made me do it.” And she beats his ears and says, “No, the devil didn’t make you do it. Tom, the reason you did it is because you wanted to do it.”
Every sin is an inside job. Every time that you and I sin, it is an inside job. There is no “The devil made me do it.” The devil has the power to come and bring the world to us and say, “Would you like a little of that?” but he does not have the power to make us sin. “Greater is he that is in [us], than he that is in the world.” You need to understand that. We’re not paralyzed by fear. We’re not waging war to see if we’ll win or if we’ll lose. It’s checkmate. The devil is a defeated foe. It’s the difference between D-Day and V-Day. The war is over. Victory is assured. There are skirmishes still going on on the fringes, but it cannot affect the ultimate conclusion of the battle. The devil is a defeated foe. And yet still he wages war, seeking to bring down, to paralyze, to debilitate as many of the foot soldiers of Jesus as he can on any given day of the week.
So when you get up tomorrow morning, know this: that wherever else you’re going, you’re going into battle. And you need to have on your lips, as I do, this phrase: “Lord, lead me not into temptation.” In other words, “Protect me, Lord. I know how powerful sin is, and I know how weak I am. I’m asking you, Lord, in this phrase, to help me escape from the trap. I’d rather avoid temptation than have to defeat temptation.” In a sense, it’s a similar tenor in prayer to that of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, where he prays to his Father, “If it [is] possible, let this cup pass from me.”
But those of you who are thinking must inevitably ask the question, “Why would we even pray like this, since we just read in James chapter 1 that God is not the author of our temptations?” Isn’t that what we just read? “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.” Fact. Back to Luke 11:4: “Lead us not into temptation.” What are we asking God to do? If God doesn’t do this, why do we have to ask him not to do it?
Now, part of the problem here is that I think we get just a little too theological. I know that will sound funny coming from my lips, but what I mean by that is this: Just take the broad drift of what’s being said. What is the person saying in this prayer? “Lord, don’t let me make a hash of things.” Isn’t that it? “Lord, don’t let me foul up. Lord, don’t let me come a cropper. Lord, help me so that I don’t enter into temptation. I can’t avoid temptation, and temptation in and of itself is not sin, but Lord, don’t let me get sucked in by it and beaten by it.”
Because we know that God uses testings in our lives. He uses them to improve us and to prove us. And it is in this subtle distinction between testing and tempting that this issue resolves. Indeed, the word here in Greek is peirasmon, which can be used to describe a test or a temptation, and the context determines whether the intention is evil or otherwise.
And this is really how it goes. For example, God tested Abraham. He puts Abraham and Sarah to the test, and he says, “Now, listen, I promise you a son, but you’re going to have to wait.” And the test is in the waiting. What happens? Abraham decides to take matters into his own hands, so that Satan comes along, takes the test which God brings, and says, “You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to turn the test into a temptation.” And so he tempts him, and Abraham listens to his wife, refuses to listen to his conscience, and fathers a child through Hagar. And all of the chaos and sadness and disaster that emerged from that was as a result not of God tempting Abraham to sin with Hagar, but as a result of Abraham’s own selfish individual propensities taking a test which came from God and succumbing to the temptation to do the job himself. Most of us can identify with that. The good news, of course, is that God wasn’t finished him. And his testing of him brought him to the high point where you find him discovering the provision in the prospect of the death of Isaac. And so the story goes on.
Now, when you begin to wrestle with that subtle distinction, you understand this: when we pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” this is what we’re saying: “God, help us so that we do not let the testing which comes from you become a temptation from Satan to do evil.” We will never be free of this until we’re with the Lord, so we need to be praying regularly, “Do not allow me, Lord, to be led into the power of temptation, where I may be caused to do evil and fall. Lord, if it please you, do not even lead me into trials, when necessary for my discipline, without your presence with me and without your power keeping me.” That’s the flavor of this petition: “Lord, if I’m going into a severe test here, don’t let me go without your power and without your protection.” In other words, we’re not asking so much that we should not be tempted as we’re asking that we should not give in to sin’s seductive allurements.
And the reason this phrase is so important in the prayer is because it reminds us, and necessarily so, of the reality and the proximity of temptation. Back in Genesis chapter 4, the Word of God says, “Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you.” “Sin is crouching at the door; it desires to have you.” It’s just waiting there to jump on you. And how does the verse finish? “Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”
You see, there is no great gain made in the Christian life by sitting on a big easy chair somewhere and asking God to simply do everything : “‘Lead me not into temptation.’ Okay, done! Took care of that. Not a problem. Dealt with the temptation thing. Chapter 11, verse 4: ‘Lead me not into temptation.’” No, you didn’t. I’ll tell you why: because my conduct has to correspond with my prayer. My conduct has to correspond with my prayer. To pray sincerely “Lead me not into temptation” means, then, that I will not put myself heedlessly, needlessly, or willfully in the way of temptation. Do you understand that? If I am really praying “Lord, I don’t want to be tempted, I don’t want to fall into temptation, I don’t want to become a castaway, I don’t want to violate your holy law, I don’t want to grieve the Spirit of God in my life”—if I am really praying that, then my conduct must jive with it.
So, for example, in a trivial illustration that I use all of the time so that you won’t discover some of my worse propensities for sin, let’s take the Planters illustration again. Okay? Planters Peanuts. Now, I’m virtually over this one, so I’m going to have to go for a new illustration, but there again, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he falls.” But I have confessed in the past a significant love affair with Planters Peanuts—that I like the boxes, I like the feel of the paper, I like the way the plastic top goes over the metal top, I like the way when you pull the thing it goes ksssmmmm, like that. And I eat all the whole ones first. All the halves are on their own. Whole ones, whole ones! Find them all, eat them all!
Now, for me to pray “Lead me not into temptation” and then put myself willfully in a place where I may be tempted is akin to me sitting with a lovely unopened box of these babies on my lap, on the couch, singing “Yield not to temptation, for yielding is sin,” all of the time rubbing the box, touching the top, just toying with the little opener… so, “Oh, don’t tempt me, lead me not into temptation!” A person’d come along, say, “Are you an idiot? What is your problem? If you don’t want to be tempted, get the things as far from you as you possibly can!” Do you see?
So we’re not really praying “Lead me not into temptation” when the thing that represents temptation to us is such that we can’t get back to it, or to him, or to her, fast enough. Temptation is not in itself sin; succumbing to temptation is sin . But listen carefully: it is a sin when I place myself deliberately in the place of temptation, either because I enjoy the prospect or because I am not determined enough in my desire to overcome it. Do you understand that? You say, “Well, I haven’t succumbed to temptation. I just dance around on the fringes of it.” Be very, very careful, don’t do that. That in itself is a sin. Because what we’re doing is we’re playing with it, very often, in our minds, and it is in our imaginations that our problems are most forcibly encountered.
“Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.” And we cannot, dare not, play with things in our minds—troublesome memories, replaying the videos, or memories of sin that we asked to be forgiven of, but frankly we quite liked it, so we’re going to go back and replay the video of it again; then we never really asked to be forgiven of it, for repentance means that not only I ask forgiveness of it, but I turn away from it, and I learn to hate the very sin that marred my life and made God sad. Fantasies, thoughts, coming at the strangest times: in the middle of worship, while you’re preaching, while you’re reading your Bible, while you’re trying to tell somebody about what it means to be converted. Why is that? Because the devil doesn’t give a rip. He has no respect for our worship or our Bible reading or our singing. He’s a ferocious lion. Imagination unchecked leads to disaster. Pride unchecked will bring us down. Behind every succumbing to temptation, inevitably there is pride.
And in relationship to the concerns of passion, in a sex-crazed society we have to be particularly on our guard here. C. S. Lewis in The Four Loves, I think it is, says, “When two people discover that they’re on the same secret road…”—in other words, he says, when a man and a woman discover that they’re both walking the pathway of faith—“the friendship which arises between them will very easily pass—may indeed pass in the first half an hour—into erotic love. Indeed, unless they are physically repulsive to each other or unless one or both already loves another person exclusively, it is almost certain to do so sooner or later.”
And so we look at the Muslim world and we say, “Isn’t that ridiculous, all those women going around like that, all dressed like that?” Well, to the extent that it is an expression of repression of women, yes; but to the extent that it is an expression of wisdom, no. We’ve just determined in our Western culture that everybody’s able to see everything anytime they want to see it. In Eastern culture—certainly in the culture of the time of Abraham and Sarah—there would have been no such thing. You couldn’t have had the chaos involving Laban and Rebecca and all those folks if they’d all seen the goods before they happened. How do you end up in a tent one night with a girl’s sister? Because you never saw what you got, because it was all completely covered, so you weren’t going for it in that way!
We don’t understand this in a sex-crazed society. You can’t buy tires, you can’t buy a golf magazine, you can’t buy a thing without having to wrestle with this. You can’t stand in a news agent’s in England with your nieces and buy a magazine without falling foul of just about every temptation known to man! That’s why, when you go and watch Jane Eyre—go get the movie Jane Eyre—why do they call each other “Mr. So-and-so” and “Miss So-and-so”? Out of a sense of propriety. Because it is an expression of intimacy for you to call me in the way my wife calls me, or for me to address you as a woman with the phraseology of your husband, if you like. But this is so far removed from our culture it just passes right over our heads. C. S. Lewis was onto something, wasn’t he?
Beware the dangers of pride. Beware the dangers of passion. Beware the dangers of proximity.
Now, let me end on a note of victory, which I hope will be an encouragement to some. Back to 1 Corinthians chapter 10, for some of you are saying, “Goodness, gracious! Is there any way out of this?” Yes! Yes, we’re all in the canyon, and the Indians are all around the top, and we’re looking like we are completely done for. But the guy with the tiny little cigar, you know, and the beard that he’s been nurturing for weeks, he hasn’t come along the dirt yet, on his hands and knees. He’s coming. And why is he coming? He’s coming to tell us that although we think our end is inevitable, that though we are trapped and that though there is not a possibility for us to have any victory at all, he’s coming to tell us there’s a way of escape. Which is the way they were always able to end the western movies that I used to watch at my grandmother’s house on Saturday nights. We loved them; they always had a good ending, before the cynicism of the late ’60s and early ’70s set in. The bad guy lost, the good guy won, and you could always escape.
Listen, 1 Corinthians 10:: “If you think [you’re] standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall [on your face].” Recognize this: you haven’t had some severe temptation that no one else knows, because “no temptation has seized you except what is common to man.” So don’t start that stuff, “If you’d seen what I’d seen, and you’d been where I’d been, then you would have done what I’d done.” Listen, you can’t play that game. It’s the same deal for everybody. “And,” furthermore, “God is faithful.” Is this good news? Yes. Why? Number one, because “he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” “Well, you don’t understand why I did that. It’s because it was unbearable.” No, it was not unbearable. It was attractive, it was desirable, it was compelling, but it was not unbearable. There has never been an occasion in my life when I willfully sinned because the temptation was so strong that I could not bear it. In every instance, it was because I wanted to do it. God “will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear,” and furthermore, “when you are tempted,” he will send that guy with the stubbed out cigar and the big beard crawling on the ground so that you have a way of escape. You understand the analogy, right? In other words, he comes to us and he says, when you think it’s all done, “It’s over here, you go out through here,” and then they all go out like this while all the guys that’re trying to get them are all up on the things, and then they look down—they’re all having a cup of tea, and they look down—and whew! they’ve gone. Why? Because there was a way of escape.
Now, I don’t where you’re planning on going back to tomorrow, and I don’t know what particular temptation you’re facing, but you do need to understand this: in Christ you’re “on the victory side.” And don’t allow the deceitfulness of your heart to con you into falling into a disaster. Realize that the Bible is full of incentives to holiness, to encourage us to resist temptation and to bring us closer to him. Remember that God provides a way of escape. He may obstruct the power that we have to even sin. He may choose to liberate our wills from within. He may provide external hindrances. He may seek to divert our interests. He may move us in our job. He may move us across the world to deal with it. He may even take us to heaven, for that is how committed he is in his covenant of love to ensure that his loved ones will not fall into the grip of that which would make them a castaway. And he is so powerful that he’s able to call off Satan at a moment’s notice.
Look at Job wrestling with the loss of his stuff, and the loss of his wife, and the loss of his children, and the loss of everything. God was not paralyzed by this. This was not Satan winning and God watching. This was God granting permission to Satan so to put this guy Job through the test that in the end Job might be able to stand up and say, “Even though he slay me, yet I will trust him.” And God eventually says to Satan, “Okay, that’s enough, Fido. Come on, get back in your box for a while.”
Let me give you a hymn that is essentially a poem, and then a prayer. This is John Newton dealing with this subtle distinction between testings and temptations. And this is how he writes in his hymn:
I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith and love and every grace,
Might more of his salvation know,
And seek more earnestly his face.
’Twas he who taught me thus to pray;
And he, I trust, has answered prayer;
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair.
I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once he’d answer my request,
And by his love’s constraining power
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.
Instead of this, he made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart,
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in every part.
“Lord, why is this?” I trembling cried;
“Will thou pursue [me unto] death?”
“’Tis in this way,” the Lord replied,
“I answer prayer for grace and faith.
“These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free,
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou [might] seek thy all in me.”
Every Christian is involved in “a continual and irreconcilable war.” Are there any today who are prepared to sign up for battle?
Let us pray:
God our Father, thank you that you never cause us to be tempted beyond what we are able, but always with the temptation provide a way of escape. We pray this morning that you will so engrain this phrase in our hearts that we never, ever forget to pray it as an expression of our weakness and our need. We pray that you will not allow us to succumb to the insinuations of the Evil One, who comes to accuse, to ruckus around in the old garbage cans of sin forgiven and past. Help us to move forward with a steadfast love.
“And now unto him who is able to keep each of you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, now and forevermore. Amen.”
 See Romans 7:15–19.
 Romans 7:24 (paraphrased).
 Romans 8:1 (KJV).
 Attributed to Alexander Whyte in Michael Horton, “A New Creation,” Modern Reformation 12, no. 3 (May/June 2003), https://www.monergism.com/new-creation. Paraphrased.
 The Westminster Confession of Faith 13.2. Paraphrased.
 Isaac Watts, “Am I a Soldier of the Cross” (1724).
 John 17:15 (paraphrased).
 See 1 Peter 5:8.
 Mark 7:20 (NIV 1984).
 Mark 7:21 (NIV 1984).
 Jeremiah 17:9 (NIV 1984).
 Mark 7:21 (paraphrased).
 Psalm 51:10 (KJV).
 Romans 6:14 (paraphrased).
 1 John 4:4 (KJV).
 Matthew 26:39 (KJV).
 James 1:13 (NIV 1984).
 Augustine, The City of God 1.29.
 See Genesis 15.
 Genesis 16:1–16 (paraphrased).
 Genesis 4:7 (NIV 1984).
 1 Corinthians 10:12 (paraphrased).
 Horatio R. Palmer, “Yield Not to Temptation” (1868).
 Attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Original source unknown.
 C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1960), 67.
 1 Corinthians 10:12–13 (NIV 1984).
 Fanny Crosby, “On the Victory Side” (1894).
 John 13:15 (paraphrased).
 John Newton, “Prayer Answered by Crosses” (1779).
 Jude 24–25 (paraphrased).
Copyright © 2021, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.