Preparing for the Test
In advance of a temptation, you must make up your mind not to yield to it. Nevertheless, when temptation comes, you must reaffirm your previously made decision, and this will require a definite act of the will.
Character is forged from encounters with life that tempt you to do wrong. The erring attraction is always present. Paul reminded the Corinthians: “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).
It is good for people to compare notes with one another. You may feel that no one faces the same temptation you do. The counselor sees this constantly. The counselee struggles to tell of his temptations. At times, he relates, he overcomes them; at times, he fails. In telling his story he feels that he is revealing something that no one else has ever experienced.
Mr. E., a deacon and sincere Christian, cannot keep his eyes off a woman who recently joined the church.
Mrs. G. is seized with a sudden impulse to slip that nice little knickknack into her purse.
Mrs. H. would like to scratch out her neighbor’s eyes because the neighbor won’t keep her children out of Mrs. H.’s yard.
The person who thinks he is the only one to face a particular kind of temptation is inclined to justify yielding to it.
“You’d make allowances for my mean disposition if you knew what I have to put up with at home,” a woman will say, as if there were no other cantankerous husband in the world but her own. And so the story of temptation goes, characterized by these words of Paul: “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way to escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13).
Taking the way to escape is your choice, and God is always ready to help you make that choice. But you must remember that your decision on whether or not to yield comes in the face of a wrong action that is so seductive, so plausible, so pleasurable that it takes a conscious act of the will to reject it. The desire to do what you want to do, even though it is wrong, is very strong.
Jesus gave us a strange-sounding formula: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matt. 16:24-25). All men are tempted to please only themselves, but the pathway to inner peace is to lose yourself in God’s way, to follow Him and do His will at all costs. Inner peace comes to those who seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matt. 6:33), to those who “pursue righteousness [and] godliness” (1 Tim. 6:11). To enjoy God’s peace, you must “pursue the things which make for peace” (Rom. 14:19).
When Temptation Pursues You
Temptations will pursue you even when you seek to determine in what, or in whom, you will put your faith. If you choose the Bible as your guide, there will be those who will try to divert you from it. But God has His “persuaders” too. If you reject the Bible, there will be those who will challenge your decision and seek to “tempt” you to return to God’s Word and the things of the Lord. For example, many churches conduct weekly calling programs persuading people to attend Sunday School in order to study the Bible.
In my early 20s, I went through a period of rejecting the church, the Bible, and anyone who held to them. It was easy to find people who encouraged me in my rejection. I read educators and psychologists who made it quite clear that man was capable of taking care of himself without crutches such as church and the Bible. Scientific research, they said, would save us.
But others who know me and who had been helped by the church, the Lord, and a study of His Word were not content to let me rest in this decision. They called on me frequently and exerted great effort to get me to reconsider.
After some years, I returned to church and renewed my faith in God and the Bible. During college and graduate school, I purposed in my heart, by faith, to use the Bible as my standard for conduct and for evaluating what I heard or read. The Bible was never on trial with me, but the book I was reading or the professor’s lecture was. Just as my friends in the church were not content to let my rejection go unchallenged, so my fellow students and professors did not let my decision to accept the Bible as my guide go unchallenged.
“How can you possibly explain putting your faith in the Bible and at the same time be a student of psychology?” they would ask. They tempted me greatly. I wanted my friends and professors to respect and like me. But to have their full respect meant to put my faith where theirs was–-in the idea that man is in a process of evolution, in the belief that with our own hands we can build a world of peace.
They never let me forget that every man has a right to choose how he will spend his life and that it is not right for one to impose his standards on another. But as I understood it, the kind of life a man will live is not a matter of his own opinion. For everyone will be judged someday, and the standard for judgment is the Bible. Holding to such a view, I stood alone. How great was the temptation to be like the people around me!
There are writers and speakers, some of them ministers and seminary professors, who are not convinced that the Bible is entirely the Word of God. To consider what they say is to court temptation to give up your reliance on the Bible. Something you read, or hear on the radio or in a speech or in a conversation, or see on television, can tempt you to deviate from what you believe. This will be true whatever course you follow. Having chosen a way for yourself, you will be tempted incessantly to turn from it. And tempting you will be people you admire.