Sunday, October 25, 2015

Temptation

Genesis chapter three is about the first sin and its consequences. If ever there was a turning point in history, this is it. By looking carefully at what happened at that tree and what immediately follows we can begin to understand our situation. And we need to understand our situation if we are going to be able to live well within it. Genesis three is crucial to that understanding. We’ll spend the next few sermons in this chapter. Today, we’re going to take a look at the first temptation.

Now, I’m guessing that what some of you expect at this point is for me to talk about Satan and his methods. The assumption here is that the better you know how he operates the better able you will be to defend yourself against those methods. That’s a good assumption. It makes sense to consider our ancient foe. But that’s not what I’m going to do today. Instead of looking at Satan I’m going to take a look at Eve.

Now, in saying that I’m not saying that Adam should get a pass. Actually, he is the one with the greater condemnation. He failed as a husband. He was responsible for his wife, but he did not protect her. Adam was at the tree with Eve. Moses tells us that. And what he should have done as soon as he heard the serpent’s first words was to take Eve’s hand and gently, yet firmly, say, ‘Eve, dear, we need to leave’. And then, holding Eve’s hand, he should have walked away. He didn’t do that. He failed. And that’s the real reason why we’re in the mess that we are in. Adam doesn’t get a pass. But Moses doesn’t tell us about Adam, here. He tells us about Eve. So, it’s Eve that we’re going to look at.

Listen to Moses.

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Genesis 3.6

Eve notices some things about the tree and its fruit. It looks delicious. It’s beautiful. It’s how one can become wise. She sees all of that, and then she does what was forbidden. That’s what happened. But we need to take a closer look if we’re going to understand what’s really going on.

We’ll start with this question. Was Eve’s assessment accurate? Was the tree those three things? I think you have to say that her evaluation of the tree was right on target. So, has Eve done something wrong in seeing these traits in the tree? I really don’t think so. All she was doing was recognizing qualities that God built into the tree. There’s no sin in that. And yet, the very next thing that we read is that she took and ate. Eve did what God had forbidden. Eve sinned. So, what happened? Where was the critical breakdown? Where did she go wrong?

Something from James helps here. He writes about facing temptation. What he wrote explains what happened with Eve. Listen.

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

Now, did you notice that James says nothing about the devil? He knows all about the devil, but here he focuses not on the tempter but on the tempted. When there is temptation that results in sin there is a progression in the soul. That’s what happened to Eve, and that’s what happens to you.

James tells us that this progression begins when a person ‘is lured and enticed by his own desire’. This is the key to understanding what’s going on. When you are tempted, you are being seduced. When you are tempted, there is something deep within you that says, ‘I want that’.

Go back to Eve. Consider her assessment of the tree and its fruit. It was good for food, a delight to the eyes, and desired to make one wise. Right after that assessment but before she took the fruit, there was something in her that said, ‘I want that’. Her desire was telling her that that fruit was something beautiful to enjoy. Oh, if only she had it life would be so much better. She would be fed and satisfied and wise. ‘I want that.’ So, she took it.

But what happened? Life wasn’t better. She actually became foolish, never to be satisfied by anything, having turned beauty into ugliness. Eve was seduced and fooled. And she was never the same ever again. And why? Because she was lured and enticed by her desire which then gave birth to sin.

Let’s take a step back to see the bigger picture. You are involved in a war, spiritual warfare. And while you have heard about this war, you may not realize that it is a twofront war. You have to fight this war in two places. And winning this war is about winning on both fronts. Now, most Christians have heard about the part of the war where they are to deal with Satan. But I fear that most Christians these days don’t realize that they also need to deal with their own souls. They need to fight not only Satan but also their own desires when those desires attempt to seduce them to sin. It’s a twofront war.

Back to Eve. She evaluated the tree and its fruit. And there was something in her that said, ‘I want that’. What she needed to do next was to evaluate herself. Here are three things she should have considered. First, what did she desire? She wanted what that tree had to offer. Was that wrong? No. It was a beautiful tree with much to offer. Wanting those things was fine. She was created to want those things. So, the what is fine. But then she needed to consider two other questions: when and how.

When: Is now the time for me to take what the tree offers?
How: How shall I gain the enjoyment of the tree? What means shall I use?

This is where Eve needed to turn to what God had said. Answering the what question was a matter of how she was created. She could feel the answer to that question. But these other two questions needed to be brought to God. And what had God said?

… of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.

God was clear. For her to reach out and pluck the fruit was clearly the wrong thing to do, the wrong means of enjoying it. She needed to have God grant it to her. That’s the how question. And in light of that prohibition, now was not the time for her to enjoy the tree. Maybe later if God granted it to her, but not now. That’s the when question.

It would have been fine for her to go to God - remember, He walked in the Garden - to ask Him about the when and the how in light of her desire the what. But to act on that desire without His permission was clearly forbidden. Eve needed to submit to the will of her Father, trusting Him that He knew what He was doing with her life and her desires. But she didn’t do that. And all too often, neither do we.

Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin …

Our desires trip us up. And we sin. So, you see, the battle isn’t only about Satan. It’s also about what goes on in your soul.

So, how do we fix this? Well, the first step to any solution is being clear about what the real problem is. And what’s the problem here? There are plenty of times that our desires are just wrong. But even when they are good and right, all too often we go about satisfying them at the wrong time and in the wrong way. Our desires seduce us and fool us. That’s the problem. So, something needs to happen in our souls where our desires reside. Our hearts need to be changed. But we cannot do that. We don’t fix this. Only Jesus can change a heart and that is exactly what He does. He has come so that by the Spirit He can change what goes on deep in our souls.

So, what does that mean? We just sit and do nothing, waiting for the Spirit to change us? No. The Spirit uses means. Something from Paul fits here.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
There are two sides to this. First, you are to ‘work out your own salvation’. There are things for you to do so that your soul is increasingly freed from the sinful dynamics resident there. Here’s one thing that is so critical in this. Get to know yourself. There have been plenty of times when you have fallen for some temptation, times when desire conceived and gave birth to sin. If you stop and consider these times you’ll notice patterns. You have particular desires that lead you astray. They are probably different from the desires that fool me. If you knew what desires set you up for a fall you could be on the lookout for them. And when you sensed one of those desires starting to seduce you, you could respond to it wisely, before it grabbed a hold of your heart. Get to know yourself. The Word will help you do that. James also wrote about how the Word is a mirror so that we can see who we really are. And as you become aware of the particular ways that you fall into sin your prayers can become more specific. Instead of ‘help me not to sin’, your prayers become ‘help me not to sin here, with this desire, where I so often fail’. The Spirit responds to that. He begins to change your heart, your desires, at that point. That’s when He does His work in you.

Here are some good questions to ask yourself. Where do I fall into sin the most? What desires of my soul seduce me in those situations? Ask the questions. Pray about those questions. And then when the answers come, pray specifically about those areas.

So, what have I done this morning? There are several things. Here’s one. I’ve been talking about how you can become wise. Remember, wisdom is understanding God, understanding others and understanding yourself. It’s that last one that I focused on this morning. Get to understand yourself so that you might avoid sin and live well for Jesus’ sake.

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