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Overcoming Temptations


Matthew 4:1-11 Princeton Christian Church 31 July 2022

It has been argued, that we are the sum of our thoughts. Every action begins as a thought, so a person's thought-life is very important. We will often rationalize bad thoughts by saying, “Well, I didn't do it, I just thought about it.” Well, there are two levels to thinking about it, one is temptation. That is a thought that appears in our minds, tempting us to do wrong. That is not sin, that is temptation (more on that in a few minutes). Then there is mulling over something, meditating on it, entertaining the carrying out of that temptation in the mind, that is sin. Jesus said to lust after someone is to commit adultery in the heart. Temptation and sin are NOT the same, but they relate to one another and both begin in our thoughts.

Temptation: We often falsely think, if we were more spiritually mature, that we would now be tempted with sin. We wrongly believe temptation in our mind is the result of our own sinfulness, but it's actually the opposite, sin happens because of temptation. To be tempted is not a sin. How do I know? Simple, JESUS was tempted, yet He was without sin.

For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” Hebrews 4:15

Did you realize EVERY temptation we struggle with, Satan tempted Jesus with it also? The difference is, Jesus, being God in the flesh, never gave into temptation. Likewise, Adam and Eve were tempted in the garden, but they remained sinless in the garden of Eden, until they took it past temptation, to carrying it out. While it remained temptation, they had not sinned. Baptist preacher/author Harold Vaughan defined temptation as “an enticement to fulfill a God-given drive in a God-forbidden way.” We often don't think about it that way, that temptation plays to desires God gave us. Desired that are good and right in their correct role. BUT, Satan entices us to fulfill those desires in a way that is displeasing to God. For example, the sex-drive. It is natural to want to fulfill that desire. But God gave parameters for that gift: marriage. It is not wrong to fulfill that desire within the marriage relationship. It is wrong/sinful to fulfill that desire outside the boundaries of what God created it for: love and intimacy between a man and wife. Satan takes that and other God-given desires and seeks to get us to use them in ways that are not ordained by God. He did it to Jesus, let's look at Matthew 4:1-11

"If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread. 4 But He answered and said, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God."

“If you are the Son” in other words, prove it. Satan is daring Jesus. He is calling on Jesus to do what He has divine power to do. Jesus hadn't eaten, He was hungry. Wanting food is not sinful. Eating food is not sinful, it's a natural desire. Yet, the sin would have been to use the power He had to satisfy His physical needs. Likewise,

5 Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: 'He shall give His angels charge over you,' and, 'In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.'"

7 Jesus said to him, "It is written again, 'You shall not tempt the LORD your God."

Could Jesus have done it? Sure, and it was the temple, a very public building. If Jesus had listened to Satan, surely many would have put their faith in Him. Honestly, from a standpoint of getting people to believe in the messiah, it seems like a pretty good idea. Imagine if Jesus had done it and folks saw Him do it, they would most certainly have followed Him as Messiah. Why would Satan want people to see and be impressed to follow Jesus? Satan was fine with letting people come to believe in Jesus, as long as he got Jesus to give in and sin. Had Jesus sinned, He could not have redeemed mankind.

Jesus had not only the power, but the right, He was God in the flesh after all. Why couldn't He use that power here? The answer lies in Paul's letter to the Philippians.

Philippians 2:5–11 (ESV): 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

8 Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. , "All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me. Then Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.”

Jesus is already Lord over all. We talking about “making Jesus Lord of our life” when what we really mean is recognizing and submitting to the Lordship. Technically, Jesus is Lord over everyone's life, indeed over all creation. Not everyone submits to or recognizes His Lordship. But all are answerable to Him, indeed, the Bible says one day EVERY knee will bow and confess He is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Jesus will rule the whole Earth.

Note, that Jesus NEVER disputes Satan's claim to be able to deliver

the kingdoms of the world.

Scripture calls the devil the prince of this world, and that the whole world lays under the sway of him. Satan could have delivered to Jesus what was His right to rule over; the kingdoms of the Earth. But, the time was not right, nor the means. Satan was tempting Jesus with a legitimate role for Him, but the wrong means and time to it. He often does the same to us.

The desires God gives us are good. BUT, God gives conditions for how/when to use them. When we use God-given desires and indulge them in ungodly way, we are like an out of tune guitar. The music we will make won't be pleasing to God. But God can and will tune us through His word and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. When He tunes us, and we operate in-tune, we make music that is pleasing to God.

James 1:2 says, “Count it joy when you fall into various trials/temptations.”

Many translations say “trials” which is also correct, but the way the KJV renders it “temptation” is consistent with what one lexicon defines it as, “putting to the proof by experiment.” Basically, that is what Satan tried to do, “If you really are the son of God....” James tells us to count temptations joy because they test our faith and work patience much the same way physical exercise increases our muscles' strength and conditioning. What is the source of tempting thoughts?

There are only two spiritual sources in the universe regarding temptation: our sinful nature and Satan. Satan tempts and our fallen nature is often led away by what he throws in our path. Speaking of our words, James says, “ Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening?” (See James 3:11)

ALL attitudes, actions, thoughts, etc. will “honor” one of two: God or Satan, so we need to be careful about what we think and do.

Many thoughts bombard us every day. Some are from God, some not. Our thought-life is very important. The Bible declares, “As a man thinks in his heart so is he.” What you think about enough, you will become, for good or bad.

Controlling what we think about is important.

II Corinthians 10:4-5 declares, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ”

Notice that last part, bringing thoughts captive to obedience to the Lordship of Jesus Christ! The tragedy is, many believers let tempting thoughts control them, instead of taking the offense to control their thoughts. Ever heard someone say, “The more I think about it, the angrier I get!” The solution is in the statement, find something else to think about. Easier said than done, I know. It takes discipline, even more, it takes leaning on the Holy Spirit. BUT, we can learn to control what we think about, it's not easy, it's a discipline, like any discipline, it takes effort. Many people don't want to put in the effort, so they stay trapped to bad thinking. Too many people, even many Christians are captive to their thoughts rather than taking their thoughts captive to obedience to Christ.

Their emotions control them rather than learning to control their emotions. It's why you hear people say things like “I'm having a bad day.” That is code for, “my emotions are controlling me and ruining my day.” Someone can do something that is wrong, it may anger us. But to stay angry and allow it to ruin the rest of the day, that's on us. We don't like to admit it, but that's a choice. Often, our “bad day” is more a result of us not controlling our thoughts than it is about the fleeting incident that first upset us.

Did you know, you get to determine what kind of day you're to have every day, the minute you wake up? You might say, “Not wait a minute pastor, I don't know how the day is going to go when I wake up.” Doesn't matter. It's a worldly mindset that says the kind of day I have depends on circumstances. The Godly mindset says I determine the kind of day I will have by keeping my thoughts right.

This is the day the LORD has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24

“Will” is future tense. David is consciously deciding that he is going to rejoice and be glad. He is not waiting on circumstances, he is CHOOSING to rejoice and be glad. We don't like to admit it, but we can choose our thoughts and emotions. If we admit that truth to ourselves then WE are responsible for our good or bad day. Because what we call a good or bad day is usually determined by our reaction.

Now, can bad stuff happen? Sure. You can get a flat tire, your car can break down. You can get yelled at, at work. But none of those things last all day. You don't have to like those things, but if you stay angry about them all day, that's on you. Again, it takes discipline/practice, especially if you've grown used to letting your emotions control you. YOU are supposed to control your emotions, not the other way around.

Author Harold Vaughan rightly asserts, “Christians can ACCEPT Satan's thoughts, speak Satan's words, and express Satan's actions.” Scary to think about, but true.

A lot of Christians have Jesus in their hearts while Satan comes out of their mouths. Our words matter. We can speak faith, life, and encouragement, or we can speak words of doubt, death, and discouragement. What we speak will not only affect us, but others. Be careful with your thoughts and words. A Christian's words should heal and life up. Yes, there is a time for words to rebuke or correct with our words, but even that must be done in a spirit of love. This controlling our thoughts and words sounds like a pretty tall order, some hard work. At first, it is. But the more you do it, the more natural it becomes.

We must consider all our thoughts either align with God or Satan, there's not middle ground. Satan is someone we don't think much about. In fact, many Christians don't even believe in Him. Jesus did. He warned of him, as did Paul. Satan is a personal being.

Scripture calls him

  • “tempter” (I Thess. 3:5),

  • murderer (John 8:44),

  • adversary (I Thess. 2:18).

Holding grudges, plotting revenge, lying, these do not come from our redeemed nature. They come from Satan, as he tempts us to do wrong. (see I Peter 5:8). Be on guard, be sober! He stalks like a lion, he cannot have you, but he can make you ineffective for God by invading your thoughts, tempting you to think wrongly/sinfully. Part of our wrong thinking comes from wrong affections, I John 2:15-16, Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world--the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life--is not of the Father but is of the world.

Many Christians are infatuated with the world, so their thoughts are fed to them by the world. Remember at beginning I said temptation is taking God-given desires, and seeking to fulfill them in a God-forbidden way. That is what Satan specializes in. His most effective means is getting us to fall in love with the world and what it offers instead of taking pleasure in what God offers. As believers, we BEGIN winning the war for our mind by asking God to increase in us, a love for His word, for fellowship with other believers, etc. As we spend more time in His word, if we gather here every week to recharge our spiritual batteries, we have a good start to taking thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ. Another thing is learning to walk in the Spirit, moment by moment. This is tough, especially if you're not used to it. Waling in the Spirit is just getting close to God in our hearts and minds, loving Him, letting ourselves be guided by that love.

Jesus gave His life to set us free from sin and those the Son sets free are free indeed. It's not God's will for us to be captive to negative and faithless thinking. Jesus imparted eternal life to us the moment we trusted in Him and He stands wanting to work in us, each day. The first step is surrender. It's owning up that our thoughts aren't always pleasing to Him and just saying, “Here I am Lord, all of me, my mind too. I surrender it all to You. Rule over me and help me be pleasing to You.” We've only scratched the surface on the battle of the mind, and we'll cover more in the weeks to come. For now, let's begin with a prayer of surrender.

“Lord, our thoughts govern our words and actions.

Every sin begins as a thought. Temptation itself is not a sin, but is Satan's attempt to move us to sin. For this reason, we know our thoughts are important to You. Lord, we surrender every part of us, our minds too. We ask you to help us take our thoughts captive to Christ. Help us to think thoughts rooted in faith, hope, and love. Amen.

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