Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Temptation and Testing -- what is the difference. . .

Sermon for Lent 1B, preached on Sunday, February 18, 2018, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/54/F%C3%A9lix_Joseph_Barrias_-_The_Temptation_of_Christ_by_the_Devil_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg               “And lead us not into temptation…”  We pray this every day in the Lord’s Prayer.  With faith, we come before our Father in heaven and ask Him not to do something that He already doesn’t do.  Luther explains this petition by first saying, “God tempts no one.”  If God tempts no one, then why do we pray this? … Because we need Him to guard us from temptation, to keep us from the devil, the world, and our sinful nature.  We need Him to deliver us from evil through Christ Jesus who resisted all temptation. 
               When Luther explained the 6th petition by saying “God tempts no one,” he wasn’t making it up.  This is exactly what God says, “Let no one say when he is being tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God;’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (Jas 1:13).  God can’t tempt us because temptation is evil, it leads to sin.  If God tempted us then He would be the cause of sin; He’d be evil.  But this can’t be because God is pure, holy, and righteous. 
               Scripture is clear, God tempts no one...but Scripture is also clear saying God tests His saints.  We see this in the Old Testament reading, the Binding of Isaac.  In the very first verse we hear “After these things God tested Abraham” (Gn 22:1).  God tested Abraham by commanding him to take his only son Isaac and sacrifice him as a burnt offering. 
               Often temptation and testing appear to be the same thing.  They may even feel the same...but they’re not.  Temptation and testing come from two totally different places, for two totally different purposes. 
               Temptation comes from within each and every one of us.  It comes from our sinful nature, from our perverse and turned inward desires.  Temptation comes from the world around us that tells us to pursue these desires, that they’re okay.  Everyone else is doing it, why can’t we?  In order to enjoy this short life, to live it to the full, we need to be true to these desires.  Temptation comes from Satan who delights in us putting ourselves first.  He lies to us through any means he can, convincing us that our selfish desires are good and that God really wants us to fulfill them in order to be happy.  This is the very thing he did with our first parents in the Garden, and it’s the very thing he does with us today. 
               Even though Satan, the world, and our sinful nature try to convince us that temptation is good, that giving in will make us happy and give us life, it won’t.  We always think if I just give in to these feelings or those feelings, if I satisfy that sexual desire, if I let loose and scream obscenities at that person, if I just give into you name whatever temptation you want to name, then everything will be alright.  But it doesn’t work like that.  Temptation doesn’t lead to good and life, it only leads to death.  “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” (Jas 1:14-15).  This is the purpose of temptation, to lure you away from God into death. 
               But that’s not the purpose of testing.  Testings leads us to God, it strengthens our faith in Christ. 
               Earlier in James’ letter he writes, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (Jas 1:2-4).  St. Paul encourages us similarly in Romans.  “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” (Rom 5:3). 
               Although it may be difficult and even seem downright impossible at times to rejoice in our sufferings, with faith we can take joy in them because we know that God is using them to strengthen our faith.  Testing isn’t for our harm but our benefit.  Like an athlete who undergoes the trials and testing of training to strengthen his muscles, our faith is strengthened through testing for the purpose of holding on to Christ and receiving the crown of life. 
               God tests His saints actively and passively.  Actively, He puts trials before them, like Abraham.  The command to sacrifice his son was certainly a difficult test of Abraham’s faith.  But trusting in the Lord’s promises, Abraham endured and through this test his faith was strengthened.  After the binding of Isaac, Abraham’s trust in God was stronger, knowing God would always keep all His promises. 
               Passively, God tests His saints by allowing trials to befall them.  Think of Paul, who endured all sorts of tribulations: beatings; imprisonments; hunger; even shipwrecks.  Scripture doesn’t say God caused these and yet He used these tests to strengthen Paul’s faith. 
These are the most common tests that we endure.  We endure all sorts of tests and trials in life.  Health issues, financial hardships, strife in relationships.  We’re not promised an easy life just because we’re Christians.  We suffer many things.  We suffer the consequences of sin left and right.  When we encounter these types of tests, with eyes of faith we see them for what they are.  We recognize our sin, we repent of it, and we look toward God trusting He’ll bring us through them all the while making our faith stronger. 
Testing and temptation aren’t the same.  Temptation is from our sinful flesh, from the world, and Satan for the evil purpose of leading us away from God.  Testing is from God for the purpose of leading us to Him.  Two totally different things, but the answer to enduring both is the same...Jesus Christ.
               The answer to enduring temptation is Christ who overcome all temptation and sin.  The author of Hebrews says Christ was tempted in every way that we are, and yet He did not sin (Heb 4:15).  This temptation happened all of Jesus’ life: as a boy, as a teen, and as a man.  He faced the devil one on one in the wilderness, resisting his temptations.  On the cross, He resisted the temptations to come down and save Himself.  Every day Jesus had to overcome temptations that tried to lead Him away from God’s will and plan of salvation.  And thanks be to God that He overcame every single one. 
               If Christ gave in to any one of these temptations, then there’d be no hope for us, we’d be enslaved to sin forever.  Jesus’ sacrifice would’ve been useless for us.  Only the death of a sinless Savior could save us.  Jesus is that sinless Savior.  He faced the devil and resisted all temptations for you.  He died for you, for the forgiveness of your sin.  Through His blood temptation, sin, and Satan have been overcome.  No longer are you enslaved to it.  Clothed in Christ’s righteousness you strive to resist temptation.  You endure with faith knowing Jesus has overcome, knowing you’ve been forgiven! 
               Christ our Savior is also the answer to enduring all tests from God, for He is the fulfillment of all God’s promises.  Abraham was able to endure the binding of Isaac because he trusted God would fulfill His promise to make Abraham a great nation and bless all people through Isaac.  Abraham believed that God would raise his son from the dead (Heb 11:19).  This is how Abraham could’ve gotten all the way up the mountain, he knew God was faithful.  And we know this too, for God has fulfilled all His promises in Jesus.
               When our first parents gave into temptation, God promised to send us a Savior.  Jesus is that Savior, dying on the cross and rising again, crushing Satan’s head and overcoming sin and death for us.  God is faithful in His promises.  He kept His promise to save us and He’ll keep His promise to keep us.  Knowing this, with faith, we know we can endure all testing, because we are God’s, redeemed in Christ, saved in Christ. 
               We pray “lead us not into temptation,” knowing God tempts no one.  We pray this with faith in God’s promises to deliver us from all evil.  We pray this with faith in our Savior who resisted all temptation for us, who died for us for the forgiveness of our sin.  With eyes looking to Jesus, we endure temptation knowing it’s been defeated in Him, and we endure testing knowing it’s for our good, for the strengthening of our faith, that we might receive the crown of life in Him.  In Jesus’ name...Amen.  


Anonymous said...

Would a father who physically and mentally abused his son daily for decades be considered the administrator of a divine "test." Why would God allow such behavior to continue, even though the son has begged in prayer for years that God would make it stop? Why weren't these prayers answered? Why didn't help arrive?

Anonymous said...

No, that is not a test. No good came from this evil. I cannot answer why prayers were not answered but I cannot assign responsibility ONLY to God for the sinful and evil abuse. Who else knew? Who else could have stopped it or at least challenged it and at least protected the one abused? But I can say that God did not turn a blind eye or ignore this person. The mere fact of he survived is testament to the mercy of God. That said, those who perpetrate evil will be held accountable for all their sins and God knows the difference between genuine repentance and the sham of hypocrisy.

A friend. . .