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One of the things that bothers me about Evangelical Christianity in America is the way it's marketed. Walk into any popular Christian bookstore and you'll be bombarded with best sellers on how Christianity helps you to overcome this or that bad habit; or how Christianity helps you to overcome depression, anxiety, fear, doubt; or how Christianity will help you to have purpose, or a better life now. I don't want to burst any bubbles, but Christianity is so much more than life improvement. Yes, Christianity helps you overcome bad habits. Yes, Christianity helps you conquer doubts, fears and depression. Yes, Christianity can help you have a better life. However, all of these miss the true point in Christianity, which is reconciliation between a sinner and the holy God he or she has offended. We do Christianity as a whole, and the gospel in particular, when we reduce Christianity to self-help or life improvement.

If anything, Jesus promised the exact opposite when a person turns away from his old life to pursue and follow Jesus. In the Upper Room Discourse (John 13-17), Jesus tells his disciples that "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:18-19). When a person, by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God, turns from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God's beloved Son, he incurs the enmity of the world. The world, the flesh and the devil all become aligned against the follower of Christ and seek to disrupt the communion between the believer and Christ. Far from one's life getting better, it's about to get more difficult.

Consider temptation. Before becoming a follower of Christ, sin was not a problem. You might receive a remote twinge of conscience in performing certain acts, but for the most part, the unbeliever engages in sin without any remorse. However, once that person becomes a Christian, the conscience, once dead but now revitalized by the Spirit, begins to sound the alarm constantly. Things that were once effortless to engage in now produce guilt and motivate repentance. The believer fights a constant war with the world, the flesh and the devil all the days of his life. That is why in the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9-15) we are told to pray "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."

So how does the believer handle temptation? The short answer is: Through the Word of God. That is how our Lord handled his temptation in the wilderness in Matthew 4:1-11. Now, before looking at this text, it is important to understand this passage both contextually and theologically. The context of this passage appears right after the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist and right before the beginning of Jesus' public ministry. Matthew's gospel is concerned with demonstrating to the Jewish mind that Jesus is the promised King and Messiah. At his baptism, Jesus is recognized by God the Father when a voice from heaven announces, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17). Immediately after this event, Jesus is lead by the Spirit into the wilderness for testing -- the coming King is about to be tried in the furnace of affliction. It is only after40 days of fasting in the wilderness that Satan comes to tempt him, and he begins like he did with Eve in the Garden by casting doubt over what God as said, "If you are the Son of God..."

Theologically, this passage is reflective of the testing of man back in the Garden. Adam, as the covenant head of mankind, was tested in paradise with obedience to God and he failed. Jesus, as the covenant head of a redeemed mankind, was tested in a barren wilderness after 40 days of fasting with obedience to God and he succeeded. Jesus succeeded where Adam failed, and secured for us the righteousness that we need to stand accepted before God; a righteousness that is ours through faith!

The point for our discussion is that Jesus succeeded because he heeded and obeyed the Word of God. Adam failed because he did not heed or obey the Word of God. Notice how Jesus fought back Satan's temptations. Three times Satan tempted Jesus to disobey God and three times Jesus retreated to God's Word and resisted Satan. The psalmist writes, "I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you" (Psalm 119:11). To be sure, Jesus was tempted in ways that only the God-man can be tempted. Yet the method for handling temptation is the same: Through the Word of God. This is not some prescription for reciting the Word of God like a mantra, but in the recognition that God's Word is truthand that Satan is the father of lies.

Bottom Line: How do we apply this in our lives? There are several applications depending on who you are. If you're a pastor, then it is your solemn duty to feed your flock a steady diet of the Word of God. Stop treating the Bible as a source book for pithy quotes to support the latest Christian self-help fad. The people of God are sanctified through the application of the Word of God. As Paul exhorted Timothy, "I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching" (2 Timothy 4:1-2).

If you're a believer in Christ, then you must know the Word of God. Read it devotionally and study it for edification and sanctification. Seek to live your life by its precepts. There is no excuse for a believer to be ignorant of God's Word. The Apostle Peter writes, "Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation — if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good" (1 Peter 2:2-3). We are to desire the Word like a newborn craves his mother's milk. This will be different in different people, but the desire for God's Word should be there.

Finally, pray! As mentioned earlier, we are to pray to not be lead into temptation and to be delivered from evil. Paul says in Romans 7 that the believer desires to do what is right, but does not have the power within himself to do it. We must acknowledge our dependence on God for our sanctification and trust in faith that the Holy Spirit will conform us all into the image of Jesus Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Views: 99

Tags: Christian, Christianity, Living, Temptation

Comment by Carl Gobelman on April 3, 2012 at 4:57am
Joe,

Yes, Jesus is (not "was") God incarnate, but he succeeded over temptation because he was fully yielded to and filled with the Holy Spirit. In other words, his success in the wilderness was not due to an exercise of divine power; the exercise thereof he "emptied himself of" when he took on the form of a servant.

I believe in the impeccability of Christ — he could not sin — but his victory over sin and temptation is nothing a believer couldn't do if submitted to the Holy Spirit.
Comment by Scott on April 3, 2012 at 6:42am

Carl -

 

However, all of these miss the true point in Christianity, which is reconciliation between a sinner and the holy God he or she has offended. We do Christianity as a whole, and the gospel in particular, when we reduce Christianity to self-help or life improvement.

 

Do you think this also reduces the evangel message of Christianity - to say it's true point is about reconciling individual sinners and a holy God?

Comment by Carl Gobelman on April 3, 2012 at 8:24am
To reduce something isn't wrong if one reduces it to its true essence. Do you question that the essence of the gospel is to reconcile sinful man to a holy God? I hope not as a minister of the gospel. Romans 1:16, the gospel is the power of salvation. I don't see self improvement as of the essence of the gospel; at least if you use Scripture as a guide. I am distinguishing between the heart of the gospel and some of its peripheral benefits.
Comment by Scott on April 3, 2012 at 8:36am

Carl -

 

I have no desire to get into all the self-help stuff. Glad to not have to hear too much of it in western Europe, though it is here.

 

Rom 1:16 does not tell us the evangel message, does it? It does tell us the evangel is the power of God unto salvation. But Rom 1:16 does not elaborate on the gospel.

 

Do you question that the essence of the gospel is to reconcile sinful man to a holy God?

 

Can I also ask a question? What did Jesus proclaim when he proclaimed the gospel?

Comment by Carl Gobelman on April 3, 2012 at 9:30am

Scott,

Regarding Romans 1:16, you are correct, it does not explicitly state the gospel message, but it does indicate it's telos, or goal, namely salvation. The rest of Romans fleshes that out: Our need for salvation (ch. 1-3), God's provision for our salvation (4-5), the fruit and power of our salvation (6-8), the scope of our salvation, both Jew and Gentile (ch. 9-11), our response to our salvation (ch. 12-16). But it all boils down essentially to God's reconciliation of sinners to himself through Jesus Christ and our reasonable response to God's grace.

Regarding Jesus' proclamation of the gospel, it boils down to the same message. Consider what he said in Luke 4:18-19, when he quotes from Isaiah 61...

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

I believe that is a message of reconciliation from God to man; that is what Jesus meant when he proclaimed the coming of the Kingdom.

It's the same message that the angels proclaimed at Jesus' birth...

Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"

It's the message of Gabriel to Mary...

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.

It's the same message Jesus himself said to Zachaeus later in Luke's gospel...

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.


Do you see Jesus' proclamation of the gospel differently?

Comment by Scott on April 3, 2012 at 9:52am

Carl -

 

I do believe that believing the evangel will bring about salvation-deliverance. But the evangel itself is about the coming reign of God to make things right (which included the deliverance of humanity from sin and death). At least this is what I can gather from the Scripture. I think the evangel is bigger than the plan of salvation. We get mixed up in becoming soteriology proclaimers rather than evangel proclaimers.

 

Check out the Hebrew background of a passage like Isa 52, esp. vs7. What's the good news? That God reigns! That's what God's people were looking forward to, and it is his reign that would deal with his people's enemies, including sin and death. What Isa 61 says is real because Christ reigns and has made it possible.

 

So I would say salvation is not the evangel in and of itself, but probably a reality from the fact that our God has come to reign in Christ and that reigns was made known in the full Christ-event. The coming of the kingdom is more than God reconciling sinners to himself. Sinners can be reconciled to God. But that is a reality of the evangel that our God reigns in Jesus Christ.

 

I've been sharing a series on evangelism. You'll see my newest blog post on here, if interested. Sorry I got your point off track about victory over temptation.

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