The Endless Downward Pull of Temptation

Four days into 2016 and already my resolve is being tested.

Maybe that’s true for you as well, and as unsettling as it is to encounter our own lack of self-discipline or perseverance, it is certainly a helpful perspective to bring to the study of Hebrews 2:14-18.

When Jesus took on the constraints of a body, He also opened Himself to the endless downward pull of temptation – more sinister than gravity, but just as much a characteristic of life on planet Earth.  The writer of Hebrews painted it in realistic colors, too:  “He . . . suffered when He was being tempted,” (NIV).

We also feel the ache of it, the hopeless gnaw of repeat offenses, the falling short.

For me right now it’s a matter of mindfulness.  This year I want to be less frenzied and more present to the people I love, less conscious of the clock and more sensitive to the needs of others, and I see in my own sin-tendencies a small shadow of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness at the outset of His ministry.  Knowing full well what His Father had called Him to, Jesus resisted Satan’s enticement toward more drama, more visible power, and more public appreciation for His divine prerogatives.  His God-given work would include hours of sitting in silent prayer, days of washing feet and touching lepers,  years of trudging over the back roads to find people who would rather be lost.  He did not cave in to the greed of doing “more.” 

Riding the bucking bronco of temptation to its mastery, Jesus felt its full force.   Most of us will never know the full degree of temptation simply because . . . we cave.  John Owen, a 17th-century English Puritan, wrote an entire book about “killing sin” based on Romans 8:13b:

“If by the Spirit, you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

In chapter six of The Mortification of Sin, Owen calls believers to a battle against temptation with practical advice for warring against the evil in our hearts:

I.  Pulling the plug on bad habits

This Puritan must have had a sense of humor:  “And the reason why a natural man is not always perpetually in the pursuit of some one lust, night and day, is because he hath many to serve . .thence he is carried on with great variety.”

When it comes to sin, we are all on the cafeteria plan.  Where to begin?  So many choices.

John Owen also had a heart, because it seems that we have his sympathy here.  Not only does he admit the “violence and impetuousness” of the temptations we fight, but also shows that he is aware of differences in temperament among individuals.  What looks like diligence in a workaholic is alike, in degree, to what looks like a peaceful heart in a lazy man.  But these, along with the more “scandalous sins” must be put to death at the root, which is not a pretty thing to look at, at least from the inside.  John Owen borrows Paul’s image:  crucifixion, (Galatians 5:24) and describes the death of a sin with violence involving struggle, beating down, and fastening it to a cross.

By contrast, we give up too soon.  With behavioral scientists finding that it takes an average of 66 days to break any habit (and the range is anywhere from 18 to 254 days), very often we “leave the principle and root untouched, perhaps unsearched out, [and] make little or no progress in this work of mortification.”

II.  Declaring war

According to John Piper, “Just Do It” is an atheistic stance, but, verbally, not far from this truth:  “Do It in the Spirit!”  Where boot straps leave off and Spirit picks up is a matter of the heart.  Owen urges the believer to take his stand on the cross and to take the mercy of God for fighting sin.   It is by the Spirit that we recognize sin as the enemy of our soul; it is by the Spirit that we know our enemy well; it is by the Spirit that we will “load [the enemy, sin] daily with destruction . . . new wounds, new blows every day.”

III.  Experiencing victory

How does one recognize success?

“[When sin’s] motions and actions are fewer and weaker than formerly, so that they are not able to hinder his duty nor interrupt his peace.”

This convinces me that the “normal Christian life” is found in a moment-by-moment clinging to the promises of Scripture and a praying-like-breathing dependence on the Spirit who “implants . . .principle[s] of grace that stand in direct opposition to [sin] and are destructive of it.”  Indeed, “promptness, alacrity, [and] vigor” are the characteristics of the “new man”  in “contending with, cheerful fighting against” sin.

As children of the age of self-help books, 12-Step programs, and “Everything-Under-the-Sun for Dummies,” we come to the Word of God looking for a method, a sin-killing strategy that we can execute and then move on.  What we find in John Owen’s Mortification of Sin — and in the Word of God itself — is not mechanical, but relationship-oriented.  Fight temptation, hate your sin, take the Spirit’s power, and do it as if your life depends upon it.  It does.

Therefore, while we have holidays that celebrate what Jesus did for us through the manger, the cross, and the empty tomb, we must not overlook the benefit we receive from His having lived a perfect life in the midst of family conflict, criticism from every side, physical weakness caused by hunger and thirst, and the day-to-day annoyance of life with twelve power-grabbing, hot-headed followers.  Having entered into our situation “in every way, in order that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest,” we know that when we cry out to Him for help in overcoming sin, we are coming to a sympathetic – and empathetic – conqueror who “knows our frame. He remembers that we are dust,” but who is also able to empower us in the battle against temptation.

//

Pull your chair a little closer to the table and join us for a study in The Epistle to the Hebrews, a letter to a congregation of struggling Jewish Christians written by an unknown author sometime before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.  My class and I will be landing on a few verses in each chapter with the goal of getting an overview of this fascinating and complex book.  These mid-week reflections and observations are intended to initiate a deeper pondering of the week’s assignment in preparation for our discussion the following Sunday.  We’re only two weeks into the study, so it’s not too late to catch up by reading Hebrews 1 and 2, and, if you’re interested, last week’s blog post.

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with these communities on a regular basis:   Soli Deo Gloria Connections, Inspire Me Mondays, Good Morning Mondays, Soul Survival, Testimony Tuesday, Titus 2 Tuesday, Tell His Story, Coffee for Your Heart, Live Free Thursdays, Faith-Filled Fridays, Grace and TruthStill Saturday, Weekend Whispers, Sunday Stillness, Faith and Fellowship, Blessing Counters, Women with Intention, Sharing His Beauty, Monday Musings, Motivate and Rejuvenate Monday, Thought Provoking Thursday, Small Wonder, Playdates with God,  A Little R & R, Beloved Brews, SusanBMead, Faith Along the Way, Cozy Reading Spot, Reflect, Literacy Musing Mondays, Purposeful Faith, The Loft, Words with Winter, Rich Faith Rising, Encourage Me Monday, Tuesday Talk, What to Read Wednesday, Booknificent Thursday, Give Me Grace, Three-Word Wednesday, Word-filled Wednesdays, Faith ‘n Friends, Essential Things, 100 Happy Days, His Purpose in Me, After My Coffee

 

 

Advertisements

Published by

Michele Morin

Michele Morin is a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for over 25 years, and their four children are growing up at an alarming rate. Michele loves hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop her in her tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. She laments biblical illiteracy and advocates for the prudent use of “little minutes.” She blogs at Living Our Days, and you can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

29 thoughts on “The Endless Downward Pull of Temptation”

  1. Michele, what a thoughtful study. I appreciate this contemplation as a start to the new year. I’m also reading a book about the Puritans–Ravished by Beauty by Beldan Lane. What a beautiful, work of theology it is. I’m learning much about our spiritual forebears in the process. Thanks for these words this morning and happy new year!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “…not mechanical, but relationship-oriented.” A powerful reminder that it is ONLY through our relationship with this perfect One, Jesus, that we can, indeed, walk one step at a time. I am so grateful that He loves us so. Thank you, Michele, for giving me a place to stop and ponder.
    Caring through Christ, ~ linda

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, this goal: “This year I want to be less frenzied and more present to the people I love, less conscious of the clock and more sensitive to the needs of others.” It’s one we all need, yes? Thanks for sharing, Michele. I join you in aiming for this in my own life.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I always thought forming a habit was difficult (21days) Now that I know that breaking a habit is much harder, it gives me encouragement! Yes we have temptation; but we also have the Holy Spirit to overcome them! Thank you for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a wonderful study to begin the new year with, Michele. ” Fight temptation, hate your sin, take the Spirit’s power, and do it as if your life depends upon it. It does.” – Amen!
    Paul’s letter to the Hebrews reminds me to persevere when I too stumble. Two days into my goals and I was already adjusting one … But admitting our weakness and leaning into God’s strength allows me to pick myself up and press on. Sweet blessings to you, friend. : )

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Michele!

    As I look to “my” 2016, your point #2 “Declaring War” resonated with me. I’m declaring war on how the enemy seeks to pull me down and prevent me from focusing where I should. I’m just going to do it…in the Spirit! 🙂 I’ve made the choice to look to God and to my blessings rather than to the things of the past that I cannot change. My heart is strong because I have faith and I know God has a great plan for the future!

    Blessings, Joan

    Like

  7. Michele- This is so important, and beautifully shared. And these sentences are going in my journal: “Riding the bucking bronco of temptation to its mastery, Jesus felt its full force. Most of us will never know the full degree of temptation simply because . . . we cave”. I’m going to head toward victory in Christ my pulling the plug on some bad habits. Thanks for writing and sharing, and may you be overcome with God’s presence and blessings this year.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Michele what a thought provoking and inspiring post! As I go forward in 2016, I want to remember the scripture you mentioned in Romans 8:13. Also, I am encouraged when I hear what it takes to break a habit. I will strive to break those that have been harder to break than others with God’s help. I want to focus on the “victories I’ve experienced and not become discouraged by the temptations that linger. Thanks for sharing and blessings to you and yours in 2016!

    Like

  9. Love this part especially: How does one recognize success?

    “[When sin’s] motions and actions are fewer and weaker than formerly, so that they are not able to hinder his duty nor interrupt his peace.”
    I can read this and see where I have grown, which is encouraging because I feel like I hear a lot self condemnation inside my own head, and this reminds me I can tell tat voice to shhhh because when God looks at me, he sees Jesus inside, and that He will finish the work He started in me! As I read the section about the self help books I felt like you took the words right out of my mouth. We need Him more then another voice or opinion. I guess this post speaks so strongly to me because today I feel like I really failed in a certain area I had been good in for some time. As I read, “in every way, in order that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest,” we know that when we cry out to Him for help in overcoming sin, we are coming to a sympathetic – and empathetic – conqueror who “knows our frame. He remembers that we are dust,” but who is also able to empower us in the battle against temptation.” I just started crying. I knew this, but He used this to whisper the Truth to me. Thank you for sharing, I look forward to more. God bless!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Meg, your words are so encouraging to me. I, too, was ministered to tremendously by the writing of John Owen as well as the words of the Holy Spirit in the book of Hebrews. Meg, praying for you right now that you will experience His grace in your area of struggle. It’s new every morning. Great is His faithfulness.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Great reminder not to give up too soon in trying to affect change. And I love the perspective of getting at the “principle and root.” Something new to chew on! Thank you, Michele…stopping by from Thankful Thursdays!

    Like

  11. A great reminder that Jesus experienced everything we can go through. When we feel no one else knows what we are going through, there is always One who knows. Thanks for this reminder, Michele, and for linking up with Thankful Thursdays.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s