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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Pray for God’s Strength in the Constant Fight with Temptation
Text:LD 52 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Obedience
 
Preached:2019
Added:2019-08-11
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 144:1                                                                                 

Hy 2:1,2,3

Reading – Hebrews 13; Jude 24-25

Ps 121:1,2,3,4

Sermon – Lord’s Day 52, part 1 (Q&A 127)

Hy 55:1,2,3

Hy 13:1,2,3,4,5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, on a given day, how many times are you tempted? On average, would you say that a temptation confronts you maybe half a dozen times? Per day is it maybe ten, or at the very most twenty times? I ask the question, because we usually think of temptation as happening in very specific ways.

You’re having a conversation with your friend, and you’re tempted to share a bit of gossip that you heard just the other day—some critical words about another church member are right on the tip of your tongue, and there’s a distinct moment where you need to decide whether you’re going to share it or not. You’re tempted.

Or you’re driving along slowly in the city, and there’s a woman on the sidewalk in her workout clothes, and you’re ready to give her a second look—there’s an avenue of thought that you know you could do down, but you shouldn’t. You’re tempted.

These are temptations, and while they’re generally unpredictable, we usually recognize them when they crop up: “Yes, I’m being tempted here. I could sin, or not sin.” So from day to day, how often does this happen to you? Perhaps we wouldn’t come with a high number. Really, how often must you make the decision to turn down an invitation to sin. Most of the time, it seems, we sort of coast along in a temptation-free zone.

Beloved, God’s Word teaches us to see clearly. And this is what it teaches: in our lives, temptation is ever-present. The seduction to sin isn’t just at particular moments, or in specific places—it’s unrelenting. Much of our life is walking a razor-thin edge between wickedness and goodness. Consider how the Catechism begins its lesson on this petition: “In ourselves we are so weak that we cannot stand even for a moment” (Q&A 127).

“Not even for a moment.” If God wasn’t reinforcing us, we’d crumble in a second. We need to see this, for too often we’re nonchalant when it comes to temptation and sin. And if we don’t even realize how much we’re being tempted, how are we supposed to fight temptation?! So this is why Jesus included it in the prayer that we are supposed to pray every day: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” I preach God’s Word to you as it’s summarized in Q&A 127 of the Catechism,

Pray for God’s mighty strength in the constant fight with temptation.

            1) a prayer to be kept from falling

            2) a prayer to be equipped for doing good

            3) a prayer to be preserved until the end

 

1) a prayer to be kept from falling: The sinning that we do comes down to one basic question. And that question is: Who’s the Lord of your life? When you wake up each day and start making your choices, who’s in charge? The answer to that question says so much about what our life is for and where it’s going.

As one example, it might be other people who are in charge of you. There are persons around you that you want to impress. You call them your friends, but they’re actually your masters because you’re always doing or saying things to try win their approval and favour—sometimes things that are displeasing to God. To you, their good opinion and their approval counts more than anything.

Or it might be your desires and passions that are in charge. There’s a hunger for pleasure inside you, a thirst, a longing of one kind or another, and you want to satisfy it. You’ll go to great lengths to do so, whether it’s through paying your hard-earned money, neglecting your other commitments, or just going dead-against what you know is right. This is what James says, “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (1:14).

Our desire can master us, and so can our possessions, or it might be the position in life that we aspire to. For these things receive your constant attention and thought—almost everything you do is about attaining this idol or preserving this bad habit. This is why Jesus says that those who keep sinning are actually slaves to sin—they are captives to Satan’s power, without even knowing it.

In the Bible’s perspective, the question of who runs your life is quite simple. It’s either Christ, or it’s something else. This is the nerve centre of our daily fight against sin, the control room and headquarters! Who’s in charge? Is Christ in charge?

Just consider the Ten Commandments. They’re a simple guide to what Christ expects from his disciples. Just ten basic rules—yet they reveal how easily and how often we can make the wrong choice when tempted.

With regard to the first commandment, are we tempted to take earthly things and quietly turn them into idols, putting them before the one true God, and letting them take first place?

Do we ever have our own idea about how to worship God, one we’re comfortable with, one that makes fewer demands on us, but one that’s not according to the Bible?

Do we blaspheme God’s Name in the way we live, when we’re known as Christians, but we act like unbelievers when we’re at work or with our friends?

Do we dishonour the Lord’s Day by not being here for worship? Or are we tempted to dishonour his day by being here, but with a bored attitude, or with a body too tired to stay awake, or with a mind that’s critical of almost everything it sees and hears?

In ordinary life, do we have a problem with authority? Are we tempted to despise our parents, ignore the office bearers, or maybe abuse our God-given position in the home?

Do we often take a malicious attitude toward others, harbouring jealousy or anger, keeping record of their wrongs, storing up resentment?

In the moment of temptation, do we quickly surrender to sexual urges? Do we give in to lust with our eyes and our minds and bodies?

Or perhaps the eighth commandment exposes temptations in you. Maybe you always wish that you had more money, or maybe you squander God’s gifts, or you’ve started to become too proud of what you have.

Every day our mouths fall open so easily—are we tempted to use our words for spreading worthless things or hurting others with our insults and negativity?

Do we struggle to be content with what God has given us, with the place God has assigned us right now? And instead, do we covet what others have, or what others are?

Beloved, don’t you see that these are possibilities we face every day? Temptation is not some random occurrence, befalling the unlucky and unguarded. The devil has such a wide and varied arsenal to use in his attacks on us.

And really, how long do we resist one of his invitations? Sometimes it’s only just a moment before we give in. I read the other day that if we give in to temptation at once, we haven’t even begun to feel its true power. Temptation still has something in reserve—but we’re often so weak, Satan doesn’t even need to turn up the pressure: “These people are so easy. They see an image, they click. A nasty thought occurs to them, and they say it. They see an easier way, and they follow it.” It’s only when we don’t give in, only when we try to stand fast and be holy, that we begin to taste temptation’s power. Then we start to feel it, just how bad Satan really wants us.

Temptations are ever-present, and not just to do evil. For what about neglecting good? You might know there is an old distinction between sins of commission and omission. As Christians, we might lead a very placid and inoffensive life; we transgress few of God’s commands in an outward and obvious way. But in the meantime, are we leaving undone the good things that God has called us to do?

Beloved, this is a temptation that we’re hardly aware of. It’s a seduction that hardly feels seductive. But it’s no less a sin, to neglect what is righteous! This is the temptation to look the other way when our neighbour is right there and we have an opportunity to speak a witnessing word. This is the temptation to withhold our help from a brother in the church, or from our classmate at school. Probably dozens of times per day we’re tempted to say: “That’s not my responsibility. Someone else will help her with that. It’s the wrong time to speak up. I just don’t have energy for this.”

Or think of how we’re tempted to coast as Christians, to close our eyes to what God asks us to do. We’re tempted to leave our Bible unread, night after night. We’re tempted to leave prayers unprayed. Even in the good things, even in the holy callings that we’ve received in the home or church, we’re tempted to take the easy way: “Why should I always have to work so hard?”

It certainly doesn’t feel like a temptation. We don’t get that burning sensation like at other times, when our body really wants another drink, or craves another adrenaline rush, and it’s crying out to be satisfied. This kind of temptation is more like a numbness, a quiet indifference—we don’t even notice that another lukewarm day has passed us by. But it’s no less an offense to God.

Daily, hourly, moment by moment, we’re on the verge of stumbling. Listen again to the Catechism, “Our sworn enemies—the devil, the world, and our own flesh—do not cease to attack us” (Q&A 127). We don’t realize the half of it, but by ourselves, we cannot stand.

Beloved, this is why Jesus teaches us to pray every day of our life, “Do not lead us into temptation.” And this is why Jude ends his letter with a prayer for his readers. It’s an urgent prayer to be kept from Satan’s power: “To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to God our Saviour, who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power” (v 24).

Jude knows how easily we stumble and get knocked off course. Sometimes we stumble because of the cunning lies of false prophets. Sometimes we stumble because of the slick and well-packaged invitations of this world. Sometimes we stumble, and we have only our sinful desires and our weak will-power to blame.

So what do you do when you’re confronted with your sin and guilt? You might tell yourself: “Well, nobody’s perfect. So it doesn’t matter that much. God will forgive me.” And God will forgive you—if you ask in faith, if you ask from a heart of sincere repentance. There is grace for the guilty, salvation for the sinner!

But if there’s another truth embedded in God’s Word—and in the Catechism—it is this: grace calls us to gratitude, and salvation invites our service. So we need to pray that by fleeing sin more faithfully and pursuing righteousness more deliberately, we might begin to show our humble thanks to God. This is the prayer that Jude teaches, praying “to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you faultless.”

Who is able to keep us? Jesus our Saviour, the one who knows what it’s like to be tempted, and who resisted each and every time. Think about how the temptations of Christ were so intense, so intense because never once did He give in to them. Imagine saying no to the devil for forty days straight—how desperate the urge to give in would become! He alone was strong enough, so filled was He by the Holy Spirit.

And now He promises us certain help: “He is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape” (1 Cor 10:13). Despite all our natural weakness, Christ can keep us strong. Despite our natural inclinations, He can keep us upright. So ask him! He can keep us from falling.

 

2) a prayer to be equipped for doing good: There’s a basic rule for human behaviour which you might call “the replacement principle.” If there is something important to us—even if it’s evil—and we’re going to take it away, it then needs to be replaced by something of equal or greater value. Say that you’ve been busy with a particular activity or habit for a long while. Suddenly you stop it altogether—cold turkey. “The principle of replacement” says that it’s quite certain that you’ll soon be looking for a new activity to take its place.

As a simple example, I’ve heard this is true for people who quit smoking cigarettes. If you no longer have the comfort of a smoke in your mouth, you’ll most likely need something else, something to replace that soothing activity. Maybe chewing gum or nibbling on your pen.

The same applies to any behaviour we stop after doing it and loving it for a long time. Once it’s done, what’s going to take its place? Jesus once spoke about this, describing what happens when a demon leaves someone: “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first” (Matt 12:43-35).

That’s a dramatic picture, and it teaches an important lesson. With what do we replace sin? If we’ve chased away a favourite sin, swept our life clean and put it in order, what’s next? If we’ve stood firm against pornography or drinking or anger for two weeks, what do we do instead? Or if we’ve resolved not to use social media so much, what will we do instead? You can’t leave your life empty, or something worse will show up. This is why Scripture talks about “putting off and putting on.” Or it says, “Turn from evil, and do good!”

We need a lot of help with this. For we lack all the tools for holiness. So the same God who keeps us from stumbling into sin, enables us to regain our balance, and to start walking with him. That’s the prayer we find in Hebrews. The author writes, “Now may the God of peace, who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do his will, working in you what is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ” (13:20-21).

There’s a lot in this prayer, but underline the last bit: May God “make you complete in every good work to do his will, working in you what is well pleasing in his sight.” We pray that God would equip us for doing good, for being well pleasing to him!

What kind of tools do we need? The first and greatest thing we need is faith. Believe in the power and grace of our God! Trust that He won’t leave you helpless. It’s only by faith that we’ll have the courage and ability to do good.

Think about when your faith has been at a low point, and how it was so much easier to say “yes” to evil desires. When your connection to the Almighty God seems stretched thin and feeble, what strength do you have to fight the devil? If we’re not living every day with Christ as our Lord, we’ve put out the welcome mat for Satan! He’ll come by—you can be sure of it. If we haven’t been living with Christ, Satan sees a bright and flashing VACANCY sign. So we have to build up our faith.

What’s more, we said that if we’ve broken a bad habit, we need to find something new to fill our time. If we want to fight temptation, then we should get busy with holy things instead. Hebrews 13 shows us this.

Instead of thinking in the wrong way about sexuality, we must affirm and maintain that “Marriage is honourable among all, and [must keep] the bed undefiled” (v 4).

Instead of worshiping false gods like a career and the shape of your body, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have” (v 5).

Instead of giving in to gossip and hurtful speech and angry words said without thought, “Let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to his name” (v 15).

Instead of being tempted by material things, “Do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (v 16).

As we take up the tools of faith and love against temptation, we pray that God would also help us to be wise. Why spend time with people that are only going to make you sin? Be wise. Why read things that will only make your jealous? Be wise. Why give your children unfiltered access to the internet? Why give yourself that access? Be wise about the enemies we face. And pray to be preserved.

 

3) a prayer to be preserved until the end: We’re not used to being at war. Yet for soldiers in some parts of this world, it’s a present reality. They live with the awareness that each day could be their last. For these soldiers, war is real and deadly serious.

When it comes to our fight against temptation, we don’t always have the same awareness. Somehow it doesn’t seem as grave, though we have enemies attacking us every moment. But consider how the Catechism puts it: “In this spiritual war [may we] not go down to defeat, but always firmly resist our enemies” (Q&A 127).

“May we not go down to defeat.” Beloved, is that a possibility? In this life, could it happen that we’re overtaken by our enemies? In this battle, could we go down to defeat and become so enslaved by our addiction, or completely ruined by our bad choices? Could we listen to the lies of the world so much that we begin to lose our faith? Could our commitment to Christ and his church weaken so much that finally it falls away entirely? It’s a terrible thing to ponder.

If we’re fighting a battle, what does it mean to lose? What does it mean to become a captive of Satan and separated from Christ? It means condemnation. It means death. When a person is tempted, and when that person gives in, it’s possible that they become so stuck in sin that they can’t break out.

Hear again how James describes the downward spiral of sin: “Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is full-grown, it brings forth death” (1:14-15). It starts with desire, it continues with one sin, then another and another, until it’s fully-grown. It’s become larger and stronger than you ever thought it would. And now you can’t escape.

This is meant to make us fully aware and alert. For those who are alert will pray. Those who are alert will pray to be preserved until the very end: “[May we] always firmly resist our enemies until we finally obtain the complete victory” (Q&A 127).

That’s our goal: the complete victory! To get there, we need to keep ourselves in God’s love. For all of us will stumble. But what we do next makes all the difference. After sinning, do you repent, by making a true confession and starting a real change? After sinning, do you move forward, neither in guilt nor in apathy, but in humble faith and with a new resolve? Do you keep eyes fixed on the only one who can carry you through?

That’s how Jude ends his letter, with a prayer to be kept until the very end: “To him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to God our Saviour, who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forevermore!” (vv 24-25). He alone can present us faultless in the presence of God. So make this your daily prayer, to the one who can keep you from stumbling. Depend on him, for He is able, and He is faithful.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2019, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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