When we’ve been Christians for decades, it seems like we’d have less trouble with sin.
After all, we’ve had so many years to grow, so many times in the Word of God, prayer, church, Sunday School, good books. We know we won’t reach perfection in this life. But shouldn’t we be closer to it?
I have not found myself anywhere near sinless perfection. And I can get quite discouraged when a random thought of anger or envy flashes across my mind. I should know better. Why am I still thinking like that?
But the Bible tells us we will always have our sin nature. “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:17). In fact, fighting sin is a good sign because it means we have God’s Spirit in us Who opposes sin.
And in some ways, as we grow in the Lord, we’ll be more sensitive to sin issues. I used to get convicted about angry outbursts. Now I get convicted about angry thoughts.
I don’t spend too much time wondering whether particular temptations come from Satan or from my own sin nature. Sometimes one or the other is a bigger factor, sometimes they work together.
But several years ago, I went through a situation that helped my perspective. For some period of weeks, I felt assaulted by untrue thoughts about God. I felt these thoughts came from Satan because they felt like an attack, and I normally didn’t have a problem with that kind of thing. I was discouraged, upset, fearful of blaspheming or at least dishonoring God.
Finally I thought of a tactic. I don’t normally try to address Satan personally. I leave him for God to handle. But I said, to whoever might be listening, “You know what? When I am tempted with wrong thoughts of God, I’m going to immediately turn my thoughts to His praise. I’ll sing a hymn or read a psalm or think about God’s attributes. So any temptation to wrong thoughts about God is going to result in more praise to Him and of Him and more worship of Him.”
The “thought attacks” stopped soon thereafter.
Recently it occurred to me that I could do the same thing with other temptations. Instead of just getting discouraged or irritated that I still have to fight selfishness or pride or jealousy or whatever, I can see the temptation as a call to arms. I can put on His armor and use the sword of His Spirit, His Word. I can preach His truth to myself and shore up my defenses. I can store up His Word in my heart, that I might not sin against Him (Psalm 119:11). I can pray against temptation (Luke 22:40, Matthew 6:13, Matthew 26:41). I can endeavor more closely to “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). I can rejoice that God’s throne is one where we can find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16). I have His encouragement that “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). I can let God use this for good to strengthen me.
Though God offers grace, He doesn’t want us to take sin casually. Though God forgives us when we confess our sin to Him (1 John 1:9), He also tells us to “Look carefully then how you walk” (Ephesians 5:15), to put certain things away from us, to “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you” (Colossians 3:5). He warns us to “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
But “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:13-14).
Temptation to sin isn’t sin, of course. Even Jesus was tempted.
But when I do succumb to temptation, one verse that especially means a lot to me is Micah 7:8: “Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.” I love what Christina Rossetti said: “A fall is a signal not to lie wallowing, but to rise.” Instead of wallowing in discouragement over temptation, we can rise against it. And God can use even this to strengthen us, to encourage others, and to glorify Himself. So, once again, what Satan means for evil, God can turn around and use for good.
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