This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled, Bound to Be Free compiled by Jan Pit. In the following short quotation from the heart of Gerhard Hamm (from Russia. Mr. Hamm spent many years in prisons and labor camps in Northern Siberia), there is fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. (Psalm 73:23-24)
It is not always easy to live close to the Lord, for the powers of evil are always attempting to disturb our relationship with God. But, thank God, Jesus is more powerful than Satan. People who know Christ may count on His protection when the devil is cunningly trying to tempt them.
I have often experienced this in Siberia. When I was still living in the polar region, where the temperature in winter was sometimes 56 degrees below zero, the KGB one day offered to get me out of the cold, on condition that I help them out in 'a small matter'. I was offered a good job in a prison camp with a nice, heated room from which I was able to listen in to the conversations of other Christian prisoners. All I had to do was pass on the contents of those conversations to the KGB. 'We would only like to know what kind of things people talk about.' It was a very tempting offer: away from the cold, no more forced labor. But the Lord was there to help me. I saw the viciousness of the plan. 'Do you know what Judas did after his betrayal?' I asked. The man shook his head. 'Judas committed suicide...and I want to live.'
The conversation was over. I did not get the warm room and the attractive job. I had to get back into the cold. But my heart was warm.
Satan always offers us a compromise, so be watchful. Christians who enter into a compromise are of no value to God or man. Only those who remain faithful to the Lord, anywhere and under any circumstance, are valuable.
A moent of introspection: Why are we Christians tempted by the world? Is there a purpose in temptation? What might be the means to resist temptation? Why should we even try to resist temptation? Where does temptation come from? Was Jesus tempted, during His earthly life? Let's take a look into God's Word and see what the Lord has to tell us, and also learn from the wisdom of those Christians who have experienced and vanquished temptation.
In jest, the world would mouth the words of Oscar Wilde "I can resist anything except temptation." Or, might say as H.L. Mencken (An admirer of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, he was an outspoken opponent of organized religion, populism, and representative democracy.) said, "Temptation is an irresistible force at work on a moveable body." Or perhaps, again, as Oscar Wilde stated, "The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it." Tacitus, from ancient Rome, remarked that "Things forbidden have a secret charm." The world, and its fallen ruler, aver that temptation is irresistible, that it requires concession of the tempted, that temptation possess an alluring charm or enticement.
Yet our Lord Jesus experienced temptation (by Satan himself; cf Matthew 4:1-11) and acknowledged its infernal nature as He taught His disciples how to pray; He included in what has become known as The Lord's Prayer, "and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." (Matthew 6:13) In this He identified temptation with its evil source, the devil (the great seducer). In the New Testament book of James, its author adamantly cautions against any thought of God tempting anyone; he wrote, "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God,' for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death." (James 1:12-15) James too describes temptation as alluring and enticing. In no way is God associated with such seduction. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus pleaded with His disciples: "Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." (Mark 14:38) In this, though asking them to watch with Him during His earnest prayer time and to not give in to slumber, yet to us He gives the same command: "Wake up! Do not go about your life asleep to Jesus' commands and the late hour upon us! Wake up, lest we, too, be tempted and fall prey to the tempter/devil unconsciously." (Colossians 2:8)
Is there a purpose to temptation? Why does God permit it? Temptation is always a decision point; when tempted, one has the choice of God's path of righteousness, or the alternative path of sin. The Israelites in the wilderness chose unwisely; they rebelled against God and opted to worship a golden calf; they wrongly decided they wanted to return to the "fleshpots of Egypt". In the lives of the persecuted church, temptation rears its ugly face and offers enticements to return to former pagan lives, to relinquish control of one's life to the fallen "man" within us, to shun fellowship with saints, and to give up one's faith in Jesus Christ. But Satan doesn't leave temptation like that; he threatens Christians with expulsion from their village and homes, threatens them with imprisonment and beatings/tortures and even death if Christians do not succumb to the temptation. Many examples from lives given over to God, not acceding to Satan’s siren call, exist on the Christians In Crisis "Latest News" pages. This is serious, my dear reader--very serious.
God allows temptation, to permit us free will and opportunity for faithfulness. If we as Christians faithfully choose the godly path of righteousness when tempted, future temptations will occur--as further tests. As Mr. Hamm spoke, "Satan always offers us a compromise, so be watchful. Christians who enter into a compromise are of no value to God or man. Only those who remain faithful to the Lord, anywhere and under any circumstance, are valuable." The apostle Paul asserted "Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore 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 10:11-13) Scripture has been given us "for our instruction", in these end times. If our Bibles collect dust on the shelves in our home, what resources do we have, in withstanding the devil's seduction? James describes those who choose wisely when tempted, as "blessed" (James 1:12). "The way of escape" provided by God is the option of godly righteousness--not the option of wayward sin--within a time of temptation.
How do we endure temptation and within it choose righteousness? The author of the book of James says we must resist the devil but submit to God (James 4:7). Likewise, the apostle Peter admonishes us to "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen." (1 Peter 5:6-11) In times of decision-making, in moments of temptation, Satan eagerly seeks those who make the wrong choice, to "devour" them. In such moments, contrarily, the eyes of the LORD seek "to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him." (2 Chronicles 16:9a) Gerhard Hamm gives us a clue, when he writes "It is not always easy to live close to the Lord, for the powers of evil are always attempting to disturb our relationship with God. But, thank God, Jesus is more powerful than Satan. People who know Christ may count on His protection when the devil is cunningly trying to tempt them."
Staying close to God, seeking His presence, practicing His nearness, submitting to Him and His righteousness, are not whimsical pablum, but vital tools in prevailing within the decision confronting each of us in times of temptation. It's not always easy to remain close to God, but our wanderings--our straying--at such times draw us away from our only Hope. The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome, saying "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." (Romans 5:1-5) Do not wander from your rightful Hope, from the One who loves you; do not choose the sinful path. The Israelites chose poorly, and wandered for the next 40 years in the wilderness. King Solomon asks each of to: "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths." (Proverbs 3:5-6) In all of our choices (our ways) at times of temptation, choose God’s path of righteousness. What paths will God make straight, when we are confronted by temptation? His path(s). May our paths seek His righteousness.
The psalmist implored the Lord: "But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. For you bless the righteous, O LORD; you cover him with favor as with a shield." (Psalm 5:11) Gerhard Hamm noted that the Lord protects believers while they endure the allurements of Satan; the psalmist qualifies that and says the Lord safeguards and blesses the righteous in the decision-making involved in moments of temptation. We faithful who resist the temptation of Satan, will be blessed, safeguarded and find our way eased along the path to the narrow gate; Jesus Himself encouraged us: "Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few." (Matthew 7:13-14) The narrow gate can be found by faithful choices in times of temptation. Have you come to a split path along your life’s journey toward the narrow gate? Pray; search God’s Word for His choice, and choose wisely! (James 1:5-8)