Jesus urged his disciples to “watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)
The reality of being human is that temptation will certainly come our way – we fool ourselves if we think otherwise. Jesus, being fully human although fully God, knows this. Hebrews 4:15 says of him:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
Unfortunately, this reality of our experience can be too hard for some to cope with and can lead to despair and for some to give up Christianity altogether.
As I have explained in a previous chapter, when we confess our sin to God he is gracious and not only forgives us but cleanses us. Because of the extraordinary work of Christ on the cross God now sees us as being as good and acceptable as Christ himself, so complete is his mercy, grace and forgiveness.
So that is how God considers us. We must learn to accept that wonderful fact and rejoice in thankfulness. At the same time we need to have a clear, honest and biblical view of ourselves. Romans 6 gives us one:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
It is an appallingly presumptuous thought that since we can be forgiven any time we confess our sin that we should go ahead and sin with the idea that we can give God the chance to demonstrate his grace yet again.
No, our understanding of ourselves is that in our baptism we were buried and that our old lives and our old attitude to sin was dead and buried, just as Christ was buried. But just as Christ was raised to new life our baptism illustrates to us that we, too, have been raised to new life.
Now when tempted to sin we remind ourselves that so far as sin is concerned we are dead, that sin simply does not fit in our lives. Sometimes there is the need to quite deliberately avoid temptation and certainly not put ourselves in the way of it. We are God’s and meant to be “instruments of righteousness”. The power of sin is simply not great enough now as to have dominion over us.
We are not alone with this and we should be encouraged: (1 Corinthians 10:13)
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.
Temptation is so common to man that even Jesus was tempted (Hebrews 4:15)
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
While it is clear that we don’t have to give in to temptation and sin we need to be realistic and be warned: (1 Corinthians 10:12)
Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
And 1 Peter 5:8
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
Temptation will come upon us at any time, even when we take action to avoid it, as we should. There is no point in thinking we can cleanse our mind of sinful thoughts nor that we can be sinless; that is beyond our ability – that’s just reality, and as such does not mean our faith is too weak or our relationship with God is broken or, in the extreme, that God does not exist. It is part of the work of the Holy Spirit of Jesus at work in us that we are convicted of sin and are provided with the resources to resist it. Often enough we will be silly enough to walk right into it. Daily and perhaps on many occasions we will fall for it and sin, even though God will always provide an escape route.
That is why we so frequently need to repent, confess and seek and receive God’s forgiveness and be encouraged by the truth in Romans 8:1
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
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