May 6 2018 - Wisdom for Fighting Temptation
6th May 2018
We are going through Biblical Wisdom this year – and a lot of these concepts seem like common sense:
Proverbs 13:4 The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, But the soul of the diligent is made fat.
The way of the lazy is as a hedge of thorns, But the path of the upright is a highway. (Pro 15:19 NAU)
Hard work brings success! Pretty simple! It doesn’t take a degree in theology to say, Yeah, hard work brings success! Hard work is helpful.
We are looking at Character Development – Spiritual Formation – and it requires hard work. Your soul will not be transformed without diligence. Soul work is hard work. It is more than Christian activity – as great as retreats and conferences and coming to church are – they won’t fully transform your soul.
We have all gone to a retreat and thought our lives were changed forever – and how long does it take? Five minutes?!
It takes work that requires prioritization and planning.
When you work at work – you prioritize and plan – but in our spiritual lives, we just start doing stuff. We need prioritization and planning and consistency and faithfulness.
Golf – great example. You can be a great athlete – and think you can be a good golfer the first time? It takes consistency and faithfulness over a lot of time.
Our souls require sacrifice. There is no quick fix for patience and anger – it doesn’t come with a magic wand. At our men’s time – one of the guys said this quote – the name of a book – and had been mentioned at the men’s retreat – it is a Long Obedience in the Same Direction (a name of a book by Eugene Peterson.) It takes a long time – you keep going – and eventually you get closer.
Spiritual Formation - The process of being formed into the image of Christ for the sake of others. (Christian Character development)
It is a process – and to be formed into the image of Christ does not happen overnight – and it is not about us, it is for the sake of others. This definition is the entire Bible in one sentence. Here is what I mean – we were created – formed – in the image of God. We know that, right. Genesis 1 says He created us in His image – and Genesis 2 talks about how we were formed by God in His image. Initally, humanity was properly formed. But, as we go through the story of the Bible, even into Genesis 3 – we see that image – that form we were created in - was marred – deformed by sin. So, God, in His wisdom, had a solution all along – the Incarnation – God becoming Man.
One of the early church fathers used the illustration of a painting hanging on the wall of a cathedral – that had been obliterated by the elements – and instead of throwing it away – the artist brought in the subject and restored the painting – in the same way, God restored our image by bringing in Jesus.
We do not know what we will be like when He appears – but we know we will be like Him – John 1
In our character and soul – and person – we will be like Him – and we will be transformed in the twinkling of an eye – those things we don’t like about ourselves will be taken away.
The Bible says Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the exact representation – and the full equality with God. We who have been deformed are transformed into His image.
Phil. 2:12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Another important aspect: this work we are to do is a work of cooperation with God. That is important. Spiritual transformation is not about pulling yourself up by the bootstraps – that’s how it happens in the world. But development of character is a partnership with God – learning to work in cooperation.
God is the one who began the work in us – He takes the initiative and works to change us – how He gives us a heart to not be a certain way – but to begin and act THIS way – He puts His spirit inside us to start changing us. Then we begin to cooperate with God and His work. We start working as a partner – and then God goes to work all the more – He responds to our response to His work and empowers us all the more until that transformation takes place.
What this tells us – in light of this pattern or cycle – every situation or circumstance in life is an opportunity for your soul to be transformed.
Go through a day like that. For me, that is exciting. But there is also the bad part – that bad stuff needs to be taken out of us – and so we should just say it – we should name it – about ourselves – to name the truth of who we are.
And it is at that point that God can begin this work within us.
A side note here – I think we understand this – when it says to work out your salvation – it does not mean to work FOR your salvation – we are saved by grace through faith – but we need to work out our salvation. It is all God’s work. He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ. He starts it – He works in it – He completes it.
In the final analysis there is nothing we can do to transform ourselves into persons who love and serve as Jesus did except make ourselves available for God to do that work of transforming grace in our lives.
Make ourselves available to God – we do that by yielding and submitting to Him in that daily stuff. How am I supposed to act here? How should I respond here, God?
Spiritual formation is the great reversal: from being the subject who controls all other things to being a person who is shaped by the presence, purpose and power of God in all things.
I like being in control – my surroundings – from that to one who is shaped.
Peter is in agreement with Paul here:
2 Peter 1: 3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
This transforming of our character is attainable. We have all the resources we need in Christ to change in whatever area you need to change in. Now this changing is incremental – Spiritual formation can be compared to normal human growth. Babies don’t just wake up one day four feet tall. It takes time. Spiritual growth is not much different than that. It is like getting in shape. You can’t just notice that you are out of shape and spend 10 hours in the gym in one day – are you in shape now? No, you are in the hospital now!
It is like with anger – you can’t just declare that you are done with anger – it takes time.
Peter shows this incremental progress:
2 Peter 1: 5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; (moral excellence, virtue) and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.
That is the process. Where does the process end? LOVE. For the sake of others. The point is not that you can say you are like Jesus. Does an apple tree eat its own apples? No, it is for others.
Are we patient so we can say we are the most patient? No. We do it for others.
8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But if any of you do not have them, you are nearsighted and blind, and you have forgotten that you have been cleansed from your past sins.
He goes right back to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without the cross, you don’t make progress. You don’t make progress by getting really guilty about getting angry – you make progress when you understand that you are loved anyway. Even when you are not at your best, God is loving you.
It is like a giant, forceful shower where people are throwing dirt clods at you – and nothing sticks because it is a continual washing and that is a freeing way to live – totally clean at all times – not because we don’t do anything wrong, but because Jesus continually pays for our sins.
It all comes together in this:
Matthew 11:28 28 "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
I am talking about effort and work and Jesus is saying that it is light and easy. All of us carry heavy burdens of guilt, shame, trials, sickness, and struggles we face. When we turn ourselves over to Him – and it says to take His yoke upon us – it means to adopt the lifestyles and attitudes of Jesus – and that is easier than the burdens we carry around in this world. We need to learn to adopt the patterns and rituals of Jesus Himself in our normal routine.
One way to do this – live moment by moment in the presence of God. Jesus did this – he would slip away to pray.
First – develop a daily ritual, practice, or rhythm of your spiritual life.
Find one or two things you do every day for the work of your soul. It could be going through a prayer list. It could be having a quiet time – it could be reading a devotional – it doesn’t matter what it is – it is what works for you.
A number of years ago we did a study where we were encouraged to do the ‘Daily Office’. Three times a day to focus on God and His presence with you. This comes from the Book of Common Prayer. Whatever that is for you – you need to have a rhythm of spirituality in your daily routine. I’m not concerned about what it is.
Look for and expect divine moments throughout your day. We are to be living lives that are filled with God – and we can experience divine moments – God moments – in our lives. We think it is some type of huge miracle – but like with Elijah, often it is a still small voice.
Develop methods to overcome temptations. Most of our spiritual development is hindered by temptation. Our brokenness is such that certain temptations work on each of us. Your temptations are different from mine. James says we have our individual temptation attack – The enemy is really good at knowing how to get us. He has had all of history. He did a great job with Adam and Eve in the garden – and we need to learn to defend ourselves – to develop a pattern to overcome those temptations.
Have a plan or strategy. If you don’t have a plan or strategy, you will fail.
Memorize Scripture. – Scriptures that relate to that certain temptation.
But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts. (Rom 13:14 NASB)
If you have a problem with lust – memorize verses that deal with lust – “The pure in heart shall see God.”
If there are things that cause you to be tempted – get rid of them. Don’t put the temptation in front of your face.
Say No. “The grace of God… It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, (Tit 2:12 NIV)
Sometimes I do this – I just say “No!” out-loud – when I am tempted!
Quote Scripture. (Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness) – Bring up those verses you memorized
Use temptation as a springboard.
When the temptation comes – you don’t just stop doing the bad thing – you need to do something good. Use it as a time to serve others or pray. Use it to springboard off of that. If, every time you were tempted, you started to pray – eventually the devil will say, this isn’t working!
That is how we strengthen ourselves against temptation. It takes time. It is never flawless – it takes work.
And we must do this in partnership and accountability with other people. It is not a solo sport.
Paul told Timothy – Pursue righteousness… with those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart.
We cannot make it on our own.