Fruit of the Spirit: Self-Control
Fruit of the Spirit—April 22, 1990
Genesis 3:1–7; 39:6–12
Let me read to you two passages. One really has a lot more to do with the attack of temptation. The other has to do with the defense against temptation. We’re going to spend the first part in Genesis 3:1–7 and the second part of the talk tonight on Genesis 39:6–12.
1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden?” ’ 2 The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, “You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.” ’
4 ‘You will not surely die,’ the serpent said to the woman. 5 ‘For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ 6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
Turn to Genesis 39. Now we all know Joseph was a servant in the house of Potiphar, and we pick up the narrative in 39:6.
6 So he left in Joseph’s care everything he had; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate. Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, 7 and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’ 8 But he refused.
‘With me in charge,’ he told her, ‘my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. 9 No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?’
10 And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her. 11 One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. 12 She caught him by his cloak and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’ But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.
Let’s end our reading of God’s Word right there
The attack, Genesis 3; the defense, Genesis 39. We’re talking about temptation under the general heading of the fruit of the Spirit. We’ve been talking about the last of the fruit of the Spirit, which is self-control. When we think of temptation, almost immediately we tend to think of the most explicit, specific, and physical kinds of sins. We think of the temptation of food, the temptation of drugs. We think of the temptation of sex, but there really are a lot of other temptations. Actually, some of us are giving in to pride. There is temptation to despair. There are temptations to dishonesty.
In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul says, “All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” You know, he’s laying down an incredibly important thing. Anything, whether it’s lawful or good or not, can become addicting, and it becomes your master, and that’s what temptation is about. Temptation is about something which may be good or may be bad but becomes your master, and therefore, it’s bad. He says, “All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” A lot of us know we’re being mastered by things, and we may get out from under them by rationalizing them.
We’ll see tonight how we do that. We’re pointing out the fact that in itself there is nothing wrong with it, and yet we know we’re mastered by it. Now temptation, if you talk about temptation in the Bible, inevitably gets to a subject we have to treat for a minute or two before we get into temptation proper, and that is the Devil. Cardinal O’Connor recently said there were two exorcisms done in the last couple of years in the Diocese of New York. I don’t know if anybody read what the responses were, but he was absolutely taken to the cleaners by the papers, by everybody.
People ridiculed him. Theologians at Notre Dame University said, “Nobody believes in a personal Devil anymore. How ridiculous!” We can’t go further in to the subject of temptation unless we deal with verse 1: And the Serpent said, “Has God said …?” Because the first temptation we’re told about in the Bible involves the Serpent, involves the Dragon, involves Satan, and a lot of us have a lot of trouble even talking about temptation because we don’t like even to think about the subject.
The subject, in many ways, seems primitive. We don’t want to be laughed at, like Cardinal O’Connor was laughed at. First of all, I think there is a real possibility that in New York City there are some things happening that haven’t happened in 150 years. You know, 150 years ago, the churches here were absolutely packed to the gills two, three, and four times. I found a book published in 1859 in our library in Philadelphia where I used to have an office, and it was sermons from the churches of New York City.
It had sermons from 1859 from all these churches up and down Fifth Avenue and Park Avenue, churches downtown, a lot of churches that are still in existence, and a lot of churches that aren’t in existence now. Every one of them was absolutely overflowing with brand new conversions, constantly. Wall Street was jam packed with people (businessmen) who were praying every day. Now for the last several years, the last several decades you might say, there has been almost none of that.
A lot of people have said, “Ha! The church in New York City is dead,” and it’s not true. I have a little poem I put here, one of my favorite poems out of a novel. It has its own place in the plot of that novel, but I put it out here because it tells me a lot about New York, and it tells me a lot about the church. Jesus Christ says in Matthew 16, “… the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Do you see it?
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.
Now, yeah, it has a place in that particular novel in the plot, but it’s getting at something more important. It’s getting at the fact that you can’t kill the church. You cannot, you see. The old that is strong does not wither; deep roots are not killed by the frost, and no matter how bad things seem to get, no matter how much the churches looks like ashes, there are deep embers. No matter how dark it gets, there is a light. No matter how broken our swords are, they can be re-forged, and the King can come back, and we can get our blades out, and we can start doing his work and fight his battles.
The reason that for a given period of time in a region the church can look dead even though it’s not, and it’s not, is because of what Paul calls the kosmokratōr. You don’t know what that means, do you, but you can tell it’s bad news just by the name, can’t you? The kosmokratōr. In Ephesians 6:12, talks about the kosmokratōr. It’s the powers and principalities. When Daniel, in Daniel 10, is praying and he’s asking God for an answer, after several days an angel shows up. It’s almost funny. It’s absolutely true, but it’s funny.
The angel comes in sort of sweating like this, and he says, “Daniel, I would have been here 21 days ago, but the prince of Persia …” That’s where Daniel was praying. “… kept me from coming to you. I had to do battle with him, and Michael, the archangel, came and helped me, and I’ve come through in answer to your prayer.” What the heck is that? Who is the prince of Persia? Everyone who has studied that passage pretty much comes to agree Daniel was talking about there a regionally based, demonic force, a prince of Persia.
Because later on the angel gets up and says, “I have to go do battle with the prince of Greece.” The idea is there are regionally based (the Bible teaches) demonic forces, the kosmokratōr. Kosmos means cosmic. Krateō means a strong man or a tyrant. Cosmic tyrants. What a vivid name the Bible uses. There are cosmic tyrants who tend to be regionally based and do everything they can to set up a kind of spiritual dome over a city or over a region. What they try to do is simply stir up the pride in us and keep us at each other’s throats, getting us mad at God, getting us mad at each other, getting us mad at ourselves, stirring it up as much as possible.
Daniel punches a hole in the dome over Persia with his prayer, and in it comes, and the angel says, “We got through.” Now a lot of people, as soon as you hear me talking about that, start to get kind of uncomfortable in the pews. You say, “You’re kidding! You sound like a relatively intelligent person with probably at least an eighth-grade education. What are you doing talking about little men running around in red leotards and pitchforks? You’re kidding, right?”
I’m saying no. You cannot even begin to understand what the Bible says about temptation until you understand who it was who said, “Has God said …?” Who was the Serpent? Now I’ll tell you, before we go on, I want you to realize I need to challenge up front any real illogical and irrational bias you might have against the existence of an evil, supernatural realm. I say it’s irrational, and I say it’s biased. Absolutely. You have to realize at the philosophical level, an anti-supernatural bias is out of date.
About 300 years ago, a man named David Hume came along during the Enlightenment. In the Enlightenment, David Hume came up with this basic theory. He says we now know … science has proven to us … that miracles cannot happen. We now know nature is uniform, and therefore, whenever you read in the Bible an explanation of a miracle, we always know there must be a natural explanation for that. We now know nature is uniform and miracles cannot happen.
What happens is, for 300 years pretty much what David Hume said ruled the roost at the highest levels of the knowledge class. They said Hume was right. In the last 20 to 30 years, that consensus has broken up. People have begun to realize what Hume said is absolutely irrational, because even though scientists can say, “We scientists empirically have never seen a miracle, everybody knows you cannot prove miracles haven’t happened where we haven’t been looking or that they’re not going to happen in the future.”
In fact, at this point, scientific philosophers admit we don’t know what the heck the law of nature is, and, you see, there is a bias. When you say miracles can’t happen because nature is uniform, what you mean is miracles can’t happen because miracles can’t happen. That’s begging the question. If there is a God, then miracles are natural. If there is a God, angels and the existence of angels are natural.
If there is a positive supernatural, the existence of a negative supernatural isn’t irrational, but it’s perfectly natural. Let me give you an interesting example. My old friend, C.S. Lewis, who was a Greek scholar, always found it interesting that the Old Testament and Herodotus had two very different ways of understanding the great siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib, the Assyrian general.
The Assyrian king and General Sennacherib went and surrounded Jerusalem with an overwhelming force. The Assyrian army outnumbered the people inside Jerusalem 10 to 1, and all we really know for sure, most historians say, is for some strange reason, that army was defeated, and they ran home with their tails between their legs, and nobody is sure why.
Well, the Old Testament, in 2 Kings 19:35, tells us the angels came down and slew men right in their camps, and the next day they got up and they ran. Herodotus, the famous Greek historian, tells us something different. Let me read you a quote from C.S. Lewis.
“When the Old Testament says that Sennacherib’s invasion was stopped by angels (2 Kings 19:35), and Herodotus says it was stopped by a lot of mice who came and ate up all the bowstrings of the army, (Herodotus, Book 2, Section 141), an open-minded person will be on the side of the angels. Unless you start by begging the question …” (That there is no such thing as a supernatural, and you cannot prove that. That’s a faith proposition.) “… there is nothing intrinsically unlikely in the existence of angels or in the action ascribed to them. But mice just don’t do these things.”
Do you see what he’s saying? How do you know there is no supernatural? That’s a guess. Science can’t prove there’s no supernatural. Science is an empirical science. It observes those thing which you can touch, taste, hear, see, and smell. It only deals with the natural. It can’t study the supernatural. It doesn’t claim to study the supernatural, and therefore, how can you prove there is no such thing as supernatural? You can’t prove that. It’s a faith proposition. C.S. Lewis says if you look at the evidence, what is most likely?
If there is a God, then it’s absolutely natural there might be angels who could do things like that or devils. If you say there is no God … and that’s a faith proposition … then you can say miracles can’t happen, but don’t you see at the bottom of your assumption is a faith proposition? The philosophers of science are agreeing at this point. It’s silly to say religious people can believe in devils but down-to-earth scientific people can’t. They realize there’s no way science can prove or disprove. That anti-supernatural bias is kind of leaving the knowledge classes, but it’s not leaving the man and the woman on the street.
There is still a feeling like, “Oh, my gosh! You don’t really believe in a personal Devil,” and I say, well, wait a minute. Here’s a question: Do you believe in God? Many times they say, “Sure.” Then you’re kidding, right? You believe in God, you believe in a good supernatural, you believe maybe even in a heaven and an afterlife, but you’re telling me you don’t believe in a personal Devil, you don’t believe in kosmokratōr, you don’t believe in an evil supernatural realm, and you’re not even sure you believe in hell?
That sounds to me like you’ve just picked and chosen what you want in the Bible. It sounds to me like a wish fulfillment, and it sounds to me like you invented a religion, and it just makes you kind of comfortable and cozy. There is not only no basis for it, but actually all the evidence is against it. Do you just look out there in the world and say, “Gee, I can just tell if there is a supernatural it must be full of goodness and love?”
Just look out there in the world and say, “I can just tell if there is a supernatural realm it just must be everybody’s going to heaven and everything is good, and there can’t be demons, and there can’t be evil.” Of course you don’t see that out there. That’s the reason it is absolutely imperative for you to understand that there is a Devil, and there is a slew of his followers, and they’re the princes and power of the air.
Secondly, along with that, before you can go on any further, there are two equal and opposite errors into which people can fall when it comes to this whole subject of devils and the demonic. There are these two errors, and you can remember them like this: There is superstition, and there is “substition.” See, superstition literally means over-belief. Super over stition; a belief.
Substition means under-belief and almost all of us, before we’re Christians and after we’re Christians, fall into either superstition or substition. By superstition, we mean an unhealthy over-interest in the subject and attributing too much power to them. Substition is either a disbelief in them at all or generally, a kind of writing them out of your day-to-day existence, saying, “Well, I never have to take into consideration that there’s anything like that there. Maybe in darkest Africa or in the jungles of Borneo there might be two or three people who deal with that sort of thing, but I don’t have to worry about it at all.” Superstition and substition.
The Devil reminds me of a blow snake. Do you know how a blow snake deals with his enemies? When you first come up on a blow snake, it puffs itself up, gets real big and real mean and real ugly looking, and tries to scare you off, you see. If you don’t get scared off, he sucks himself in, flips over, lays down, and plays dead. In other words, there are only two ways he can deal with you. He has to get you into a superstitious approach to blow snakes or a substitious approach to blow snakes.
The Devil is the same way. Now in the Christian life, this works out like this. Christians believe in the Devil in general if you have a belief in the authority of the Scripture. You realize how irrational it is, in fact, how self-serving it is, to decide you like to believe in all the nice things in the Bible and none of the sinister things. You realize that, so you believe in the Devil, but there is a tendency even inside the Christian church … On the one hand, there are Christians who are superstitious about the Devil.
Now what I mean by superstitious, is I mean they tend to attribute too much power to him. They tend to say, when problems happen, “The Devil made me do it. The Devil did that to me. I need some kind of major cleansing. I have to have people come and command the devils to come out of me.” I’ll show you in a minute why I think that’s superstitious. In substition, many Christians look at your problems and you look at whatever your problems are simply the way a secular therapist would look at them.
You simply look at your problems as functions only of your hormones, or functions of your physiology, or functions of your background, or your family life, or your conditioning. In substition, you always overlook the fact your problems are really battlegrounds of important, significant, spiritual warfare. We’re going to have to look at that.
Superstition underestimates the role of the sinful flesh. Now hear me on this one. By the “sinful flesh” I mean if you read what the Scripture says, you will see the Devil is a musician, but he’s not a singer. He needs an instrument. He can’t just get up there and make music. He needs a piano. He needs a violin. He needs a trumpet. He needs something, and you’ll see in the Scripture there is never anything the Devil can do to you unless you give him something. It says in Ephesians 4, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Don’t get into bitterness, because the Devil can get a foothold.
It says in 1 Timothy, don’t put a person who is too new, a rookie, in a spiritual authority position because that person might fall into pride and thereupon fall into the snare of the Devil. There is always this foothold that you have to give him. I think John White in his book, The Fight, says if you lift up the top of a piano and you sing a particular note into it (say, a B), all the strings will stay quiet but the B string will vibrate, and when you’re done, you’ll hear an echo because there is something in that string that matches your voice.
The Devil cannot make you do things, but the Devil finds strings in there. He finds chords. He finds things he can play a number on, and that’s the reason why there is a tendency for Christians … I think I said this a couple of weeks ago … because you underestimate the compulsive and deep side of sin in your life, you believe that addictions, and you very often believe despair and depression and all kinds of these terrible, awful things that can really wrack and ruin your life, must be from the outside.
“My parents did it to me. The Devil did it to me. My chemicals are doing it to me,” but it couldn’t just be because I have taken my own sinful, selfish pride and I have played right into its hand. The flesh is that devious, and the flesh is that strong, but the point is, the Devil and the flesh are always involved together. You can never say, “The Devil did this to me.” I really think that’s superstitious Christianity, but it’s substitious to believe he’s not involved. It’s substitious to believe he’s not out there playing a beautiful sonata on the strings you gave him.
As we’re going to see in a minute, superstition tends to say, “Well, the thing to do with Satan is to yell at him. Get out!’ ” Do you think that’s going to do something? To yell at him? Are you kidding? He’s been around for millions of years. He knows what’s going on. He’s not a person who is simply going to be “hocus-pocused” out, and we’re going to see in a minute that is not necessarily the way you deal with Satan at all. Superstition and substition. Almost everybody in this room is falling into one or the other.
I myself have bounced back like most of you. I think if you’ve been a Christian more than five years, you have bounced around on this, haven’t you? You know, you’ve gotten in with people who were kind of superstitious about Satan and were trying to figure most of your problems were due to some kind of demonic activity, and then you’ve bounced away from that maybe. Or maybe the other way around. Maybe you were always a little bit on the skeptical side, and then you just discovered spiritual warfare and now you’re bouncing back.
It’s hard to get a grip on this, and I’m going to try to help you as we continue tonight. The Serpent said, “Has God said …?” Eve had something in her the Serpent was playing, but the Serpent poses it. He’s involved, right? Now let’s take a look at the way he comes upon us. Let’s look at the way of attack, and then let’s look at the way of defense.
1. The attack
Satan comes up and says, “… you will be as gods …” “You will be as God.” It depends on how you translate it. In the NIV it says, “For God knows that when you eat of [this fruit] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God …” That’s a pretty good translation. Temptation comes from lies. I don’t know what else I can say. For the next 15 minutes, I’m going to repeat myself again and again and again. If any of you really think you understand it, you can go now because I’m just going to keep saying this again and again and again, or if you want to wait around for a bit, I’d appreciate it.
I’m going to just keep repeating this same point. Satan tempts through lies. The Bible continually says he was a liar from the beginning. Satan is a liar. Second Timothy 2:25 says, “God may grant that they might repent and know the truth and be delivered from the snare of the Devil.” You’re not in a snare if you have the truth. The truth is what sets you free. Distortion is what gets you in bondage. Self-control is a matter of getting in touch with reality, with God’s truth.
Temptation and addiction always have to do with distortion that’s operating down deep. For example, let me just give you some more Scripture. In Acts 5, when Peter is talking to Ananias, he says, “Ananias, Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit.” The lie comes up. In the wilderness, Jesus is tempted. What happens whenever Jesus is being tempted? Look carefully what happens. In every situation, Satan is trying to inject very subtly a distorted view of God. He comes up and insinuates, “Boy, you’re pretty hungry. Why would God let you be in this condition? Why don’t you turn these stones into bread?”
In other words, “Why don’t you go on your own power, Jesus, instead of relying on your Father?” See, that’s a great temptation for Jesus because his job was to come here and be our representative, to live a perfect life as a human being. A human being is supposed to depend on God for everything, so he doesn’t do it. What does he do? Does he turn around and say, “Hocus pocus?” Does he do a ritual? Does he walk around? What does he do? He gets out the Word of God, and he says to Satan, “… man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
What Jesus does is he always deals with the temptation in terms of the truth. If you look at your own life you will see what gets you where you’ve gone, what binds you, are lies. There will be times in which your head clears and you realize, “I don’t have to feel sorry for myself. I don’t have to feel like I’ve had a terrible lot in life because God is my Savior, and I’m going to rule and reign with him as a King and Priest forever. Right now he’s given me his Holy Spirit, and he’s given me his love. Why do I feel so sorry for myself? If God gave me what I deserved I’d be gone. I can’t ask for justice.”
See, that’s when your head is clear, and you’re not depressed, and you’re not ready to bite your neighbor’s head off or your husband’s head off or your wife’s head off or your friend’s head off, but it’s later in the day when you have forgotten that truth and it’s not coming through, and you’re starting to think, “You know what? I’ve tried my best and where has it gotten me? What good is it being a Christian? What good is all this religion?” What are those things? Those are lies. It’s distortion. You’re out of touch with reality.
It’s a form of spiritual insanity, and as it creeps in all the temptations happen: the temptation to be bitter, the temptation to be depressed, the temptation to bite somebody’s head off. It comes from lies, and that’s why you must discover lies. Neither the flesh nor demonic powers can make a Christian sin. They are not our king. By the way, one of the greatest missionaries in history was a man named John Nevius. As an aside, John Nevius began church planting in a country called Korea back around 1903.
He developed a method of church planting he thought was going to really help things. Now the Korean church is maybe the most vital church in the world, and everybody’s amazed at how fast the population in Korea is becoming Christian. It’s astonishing. A lot of it had to do with this unbelievable missionary method of John Nevius. He was responsible for literally hundreds and thousands of churches. This man was a Presbyterian, and you know Presbyterians are awfully laid-back type people.
If anything, they’re very unemotional, and they drive their wives crazy, many of these Presbyterian missionaries. When he says, “I saw people demon-possessed,” I believe him. He probably saw a lot of people demon-possessed who he wouldn’t believe were demon-possessed, just because the last thing a Presbyterian wants to admit is that there is a demon here. Presbyterians like to write it off for everything. He was a very, very educated man. He was a very reserved man, and when Nevius wrote that he saw demon possession, I believe him.
What he said was after years of trying all kinds of hocus pocus, after years of trying to cast them out with commands, he found out there was one thing that always worked. Do you know what it was? Any idea? He sat down and read Scripture. He read Scripture. He read Scripture. He might read Scripture for 5 minutes, for 10 minutes, for 15 minutes, or for half an hour. He read Scripture. He says, “I got far better results that way than anything else I ever did.” Why? See, he’s not superstitious. He’s not substitious.
He understands the power of temptation, the power of self-control, the power of the Devil, is lies. By the way, I know plenty of people who don’t believe in the Devil at all who have come to understand that. They realize underneath the bad feelings and underneath the bad behavior is distortion. It works. It’s true, and it’s the secret to temptation. Self-control. All temptation strategies of your flesh and any demonic actors outside are really strategies of getting you to believe lies, so how do you deal with self-control?
2. The defense
It’s fairly simple but very complex, and it will take you years to find out your own particular map, the way in which your own heart tries to deceive you. “The heart is deceitful and wicked above anything. Who can know it?” the Bible says. Your heart is trying to deceive you. There are demonic powers that are trying to deceive you. Don’t sit down and try to figure out, “Well, was that a demon that put that thought in my mind?” or something like that. That’s silly. Demonic powers and your flesh are always involved in all these things, so don’t try to pull them apart in some ways.
Find out what the lies are, and everybody’s map is different. Let me just give you an example of some of the lies that are there with all of us and then the kinds of lies that can be operating in different people’s lives. The main lie, the first lie the lie we just read here in Genesis 3 is … Can I paraphrase it? “Sin will fulfill you. It is sweeter. It is healthier. It is more natural than obedience. If you do it, you will be growing. If you don’t do it, you will miss out. You will put limits on yourself. You will be restricted.”
Now there are many variations on this, but you see the Devil basically came in Genesis 3:5, and said, “If you obey, you’ll be held back. You’ll cut yourself off from so much potential. If you reach out and get it, you’ll be more like God.” As a matter of fact, the Devil had a real sense of irony. If she reached out and got it, she put herself in the place of God. She became her own god, so he knew what he was talking about. It’s just that Eve was unable to foresee what the response would be.
There is a certain sense in which we could say that’s the basic lie. It’s amazing how much you may find, if you know your own heart, this is operating. It’s constantly operating. “If I’m absolutely, completely obedient in every area of my life, I’m going to have problems in my business life. I’m going to have problems in my relationship life. I’m going to have problems. It’s nice to be a little religious. It’s nice to be a little moral, but if you go too much, if you get too extreme, if you get extremely fastidious in obeying every part of the law of God, you are going to miss out.”
That was the first lie. What I just said to you, to a lot of you, it made sense. In fact, maybe to all of you it made sense. It sort of made sense to me even though I was ready to preach against it. It makes sense when I say it because it’s operating down deep. I don’t know how many times I’ve had people say to me … In fact, some of you may be thinking this tonight or have been thinking this as you’ve been attending lately. “You’ve shown me there is something to Christianity, but I want to live a little bit first. I’ll be back.”
Do you know what you’re saying? For years, I used to say, “Well, be careful. I mean, I want you to come back, and you never know, and you really ought to come to Christ now, but if you’re going to come back that’s better than not coming back at all.” I began to realize the person who believes that about Jesus Christ can’t come to Jesus Christ because you’re looking at a false Jesus Christ. If you believe disobedience is more delicious and satisfying, more life-giving, than Jesus then you are looking at Jesus Christ as fire insurance. Period.
You’re not even looking at Jesus. You’re looking at Jesus through the lie. The reason to come to Jesus Christ is not for fire insurance; it’s because you know he is your life. “I am the way, the truth, and the life …” If you don’t come to him and see him as your life, you can’t come to him. You can’t come to him as fire insurance. You can’t come to him as a kind of sugar daddy. You’ve been out there spending all your money, and now you’re broke, and you say, “Well, what can I do to sweet talk him and get some more?”
I mean, that’s not the way Jesus is. That is the kind of thing that operates down deep inside all of us, and it’s really the base lie out of which all the other lies come. Now look here, though. Beyond that, the second thing you have to realize about temptation is how the Devil gets us to sin or how the Devil pulls us away from Christianity or so on. It seems like one out of every three people I talk to in New York is what I call a “recovering Christian.” Do you know what a “recovering Christian” is?
You had some kind of Christian walk. You had some kind of Christian profession before you came to New York, you know, three or five or eight or ten years ago, and then you went into utter spiritual darkness when you got here, and you completely let go of any of your Christian profession or any of your Christian walk, and you did everything you could, and now you’re saying, “I’m empty. I need to come to Christ,” and people are saying, “Am I a backslidden real Christian or am I just coming to Christ for the first time?”
The answer is I don’t know. You don’t know, but it doesn’t matter, because what you have to do is the same under any circumstances. You have to go to him, and you have to give your life to him and say, “Lord, I turn from my sins, and I rest on Jesus Christ, and I give myself to you as if I’ve never done it before.” Recovering Christians very often don’t realize how they fell down into the darkness. It usually starts with little preparatory sins that lead to bigger ones.
Notice what the Devil does. He says, “Has God said you must not touch any of the trees of the garden?” Look at that verse 1. “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” I want you to see what he’s done. First of all, he’s exaggerated. The original command was not that you can’t eat of any tree in the garden. The original command was you can’t eat of that one tree. He already came along and said, “Did God really say you couldn’t eat that?” Now there’s an insinuation in there, isn’t there?
You don’t think Satan would walk in and say, “Oh, God? That liar? He told you?” He wouldn’t do that. Instead he comes in and insinuates God is being unfair. He insinuates God is a drag. He insinuates, and the next thing you know, Eve is exaggerating as well. Unless you read this very carefully, you don’t see how subtle the sin starts. The little tiny sins, very small sins. Eve exaggerates. She says, “No. We’re not allowed to eat of any tree in the garden, and we’re not allowed to touch any.” Do you see where she says that?
“We’re not even allowed to touch it.” Does God say they’re not allowed to touch it? What is she doing? The first sin is not when you begin to disobey the commandment; the first sin is when you begin to resent the commandment. That’s the beginning, because you’re beginning to put yourself on the throne, and you’re saying, “Yes, I see this command is not practical.” Do you hear that? It’s not practical. “This command is going to get in the way of something I want to be and do. I can’t swing unless I get out from under this command. I have to get out from under its clammy fingers.”
The first sin is she begins to resent it. She begins to exaggerate. She begins to make it worse than it really is. That’s the reason why, even here … Do you see how sins always begin in the very, very smallest doses? If you look carefully, you’ll see at least four sins and then five. First of all, she bought the first lie. The first lie was an insinuation God was unfair. She bought the first lie, so she committed the first sin, which was to resent it. Then she began to desire the fruit, which was the second sin.
She fantasized. She looked at the fruit and it says she “… saw that [it] was good to eat …” What do you mean she saw that it was good to eat? She was sitting there and imagining eating it. That led to the third sin, when she decided to eat it, because she was just fantasizing. She said, “Well, I don’t think I should do this, but boy, oh boy, it really looks good.” She was desiring it. The third thing she did was she actually decided to eat it. The fourth thing was she finally ate it. The fifth thing was she got Adam to do it too, all in seven verses, and all of history came tumbling down around their ears.
It starts small. In many of your cases, it started very small, very small. In fact, it started so small you still don’t see where it started. It started when you began to resent the Christian faith. It started when you began to resent the idea of a God who could tell you how to live your life. The mark of a godly man is that he or she loves to have God tell him what to do. What is the mark of a godly man in Psalm 1? Is it that he preaches on the street corners day and night or that he witnesses day and night or that he prays day and night?
It says he loves the law of God and on it he meditates day and night. He loves to have God tell him what to do. That’s where it starts. For example, sexual sin has plenty of stages to it. A lot of people say, “What am I going to do about my sex drive? I just can’t seem to deal with it.” Well, you have to realize you have to break it down. If you’re going to understand, you have to break it down. It’s sort of like time-lapse photography. You can’t really get on top of a self-control problem unless you can slow it down into each frame and see the connections and see the links.
Generally speaking, in sexual sin you have the thought. It occurs to you, but then what do you do with it? There is nothing wrong with a thought occurring to you, just as the little proverb says: There is nothing wrong with birds flying around your head. That was from Martin Luther, by the way. Manford Gutzke probably got it from Martin Luther and not the other way around. “You can’t stop birds from flying over your head, but you can stop them from making a nest in your hair.”
The thought occurs, and then what? If you want to, you can weigh it. That’s where the sin begins. You know, Achan was a man who was in the Israelite army back in the book of Judges. In the Bible, God told the Israelites when they plundered a city they weren’t allowed to take any of the gold and the riches for themselves. Instead, they had to put them in the tabernacle. We’re told Achan came in and when they were plundering a city, he looked at the gold and he saw it, it says. He saw the gold bars weighed this much, and he saw the jewelry was very fine, and he saw the robes were very beautiful.
What does that mean, “he saw?” How would he know how much the gold weighed? How would he know how beautiful the jewelry was? He was assessing it. He was thinking about it. He was in there weighing it. He was already resenting the commandment, and that was the second step. The third step is fantasy. You sit and say, “Well, I’m not going to do it. It would be wrong to do it, but I’m going to think about doing it. Boy, it’s pretty nice.” The fourth step is fantasy helps; you can go all the way with a fantasy.
The fifth step is an action. You can see it with David and Bathsheba. Why did David end up falling in love with Bathsheba, committing adultery with her, and killing her husband in order to get her? Where do you think it started? If you read carefully the passage, and do it sometime, you’ll see it says David was at home during the season when kings went out to war. David was being lazy, you see. There was work to be done, and David was at home when he should have been out on the battlefield, and on that day, that was his first thing. He just began to get lazy.
Then he saw Bathsheba and he saw how beautiful she was. What do you mean he saw how beautiful she was? He saw her because she was taking a bath on a roof, and he saw through the window. He looked. He weighed. The next step was he fantasized. The next step he probably did some fantasy helps. Then the next step he acted. You have to break it down, and you have to see how it comes on up.
I have to say something about seasons. I want you to know temptations tend to come in four special times. You need to always be on your lookout at any one of these four times. The first special season is post-conversion letdown. Not long after you’re converted, Satan will come along to try to show you some part of your life that’s out of control. He’ll show you the impatience. He’ll show you the lust. He’ll show you the anger. New Christians have very little understanding of grace.
You say, “I’m saved by grace, not by works,” but basically you think you’re saved because you were so wonderful as to give your life to him, and when Satan shows you he gets some of your sin to erupt, you get cast down. You lose your assurance, and you wonder if you’re a Christian at all. That’s post-conversion letdown, a very, very typical way in which Satan comes and tempts. A second season that’s very important is whenever you decide to step up into a greater role in God’s kingdom. Whenever you decide, “I’m going to do something more for God than I was before,” do you know what you’re doing literally?
What you are literally doing is you are back here on the back lines of the army, and you’ve moved up to the front lines, and suddenly there are bullets flying everywhere. You’re going to take one in the shoulder. It’s very, very possible because the enemy aims for the people on the front lines. They aim for the captains. They aim for the lieutenants. They don’t aim for the quartermasters. They can’t see the quartermasters from there, and the quartermasters can’t do a whole lot of damage to the enemy, but when you step up and do something greater for the kingdom, you’re on the front lines.
A third area is during hard times and afflictions. That means when you’re going through the tough times of your life, there is a tendency to think a certain sin might relieve you. You’re having economic problems, so you’re tempted to be dishonest. You’re lonely, so you’re tempted to have sex with somebody you shouldn’t. It’s during times of affliction when it looks like the way of relief to your trouble is on the far side of the sin.