Third Sunday in Lent
March 24, 2019
Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church
Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 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 10:12, 13 (ESV)
There seems to be some confusion concerning the subject of temptation--specifically in regard to what temptation is and what it is not. My dictionary defines “tempt” as “to entice to do wrong by a promise of pleasure or gain . . . to induce one to do something . . . to persuade . . . to lure.” There is nothing here (or anywhere else, for that matter) to suggest that temptation in and of itself is sinful. Being tempted is not a sin; succumbing to temptation often is. After all, the Lord Jesus Himself--the Sinless One--was tempted. But a far more important matter for us to consider in this whole discussion of temptation is that Satan never gives up. He knows that he is damned and he is determined to drag as many people down with him as he possibly can. And so he assails us day in and day out in a relentless pursuit to get us to forsake the Savior who has redeemed us from sin and death and to throw our lot with him instead. And we can’t really claim to be helpless victims in all of this either because our fallen nature is a willing accomplice in it. If you have any doubts about that, just ask yourself honestly whether you are more likely to fall into sin or to jump into it head first.
Throughout human history many attempts have been made to escape temptation but all of these attempts have failed. Martin Luther, like countless others before and after him, sought to escape the temptations of the devil and the world by retreating into the monastery. But what he found, once he was in the cloister, was that the temptation that he so desperately wanted to escape still confronted him because the problem was not something outside of him; it was his own sinful nature that distracted him from his firm resolve to live the sanctified life and pulled him again and again into the pit of sin. And so it is with us--and with everyone else. The key to dealing with temptation is not to escape it (since that is impossible) but rather to know that it is there, to be prepared for it, and to fight off the devil’s attacks. In the text for this morning the apostle makes mention of two specific steps in successfully dealing with the temptations that we face as we live in this world as the redeemed children of God in Jesus Christ.
The first step in successfully dealing with temptation is the first step in dealing with any would-be adversary that might oppose us, and that is to be aware of the fact that it’s there. The apostle warns us in the passage before us: "Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall." The people who are the most susceptible to temptation--the people who are in the greatest spiritual danger--are the ones who are convinced that “it’ll never happen to me.” People with this mindset are self-confident--something that is generally considered to be a sign of great strength as far as worldly standards are concerned but something that is in fact devastating in the spiritual realm. If we really think that we have the strength within ourselves to ward off temptation, then we are in for a very big disappointment. Paul’s warning to the Corinthians is one that we ought to take to heart as well because when we think that we are standing firm is precisely when we are most likely to fall.
Knowing that temptation is an ever-present challenge also involves knowing that it is also a universal challenge. What was said in our text to the believers at Corinth is true also for us: "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man." This should be a great comfort and encouragement to us--not in the sense that misery loves company but rather in the realization that we are not alone as we face the devil and his cunning schemes. In his first letter the apostle Peter encourages Christians who are tempted by Satan in the midst of persecution. He tells them to endure and he gives them assurance: "Resist him," he writes, "firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of sufferings are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world (1 Peter 5:9). There is power in numbers--not necessarily in terms of power to resist but certainly in terms of the strength and encouragement to be derived from the fellowship of believers.
The second step in dealing with temptation is given in very clear terms in this passage under consideration. Paul says very simply: "God is faithful." And he immediately explains how that faithfulness of the Lord is manifested: "He will not let you be tempted beyond you ability." The Lord who has created us in His own image and has redeemed us from sin and death with the blood of His Son and has called us to faith and discipleship by the power of His Holy Spirit knows our limits better than we do ourselves, and He will not permit Satan to tempt us beyond those limits. The problem is that we don’t know our limits and so we often place ourselves at risk by wandering into dangerous territory. We may pray with all sincerity: "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" (Matthew 6:13 KJV), but more often than not we go out of our way looking for temptation and thereby invite evil.
God’s faithfulness can further be seen in that "with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that [we] may be able to endure it." The power available to us for resisting temptation is much greater than we think. I am convinced that one of our biggest problems with temptation is that we give up far too easily. Consider the temptations that Jesus Himself faced: not just in the wilderness, but especially in the garden of Gethsemane, during His trial, and as He hung on the cross. His resistance of the devil’s attempts to get Him to abandon His mission is more than just an example for us. In resisting the temptations of the evil one our Savior gave us the power to resist as well, because our redemption bestows upon us not only freedom from the guilt of sin but also freedom from the power of sin.
This is very Good News for us. What it means is that despite the fact that we are under constant attack from the ancient enemy of God and men, we are nevertheless victorious over it all because of the One who was victorious for us--victorious over temptation, sin, Satan, death, the grave, and hell. In His victory we have the strength to withstand the devil’s attacks and to resist his temptations. More than that, in the victory of Christ we also have the assurance that, even when we fall, we are victorious because our slain and risen Savior is there to pick us up and brush us off, to forgive us and strengthen us, to gently put us on the right path once again, and to encourage us with His Spirit through the gracious Word of His Gospel.
May the One who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, making us kings and priests before His God and Father, lead you to a life of repentance and trust. May He also be glorified in the lives of you, His people. He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it. Amen.