Category Archives: Devotions

Desire, Temptation, and Sin

 

After more than 35 years as a believer in Christ, there is one thing that I know to be true of my own Christian walk:

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

This passage generates questions though, or at least it should. How or Why does this war happen?  And What is to be done about it?

Paul gives an ultimate answer to the latter question, namely that Christ will deliver him from this body of death.  As to the former question, we know all too well that even after regeneration by the Holy Spirit and becoming a new creature in Christ that our remnant flesh exists to war against the spirit.  But given that general answer to the How or Why, there is a more detailed answer that Scripture speaks of as well.  One particular passage that is a bedrock for understanding why we sin is James  1:14-15

14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

Collating our observations we arrive at something like a timeline for sin:

  1. Conception
  2. Gestation (Implied)
  3. Birth
  4. Maturation
  5. Death

Most of the time we find ourselves fighting sin at the Maturation step.  Sin has already conceived, gestated, been born, and is now maturing in our lives which surely includes multiplying and creating sinful patterns.  Once it’s born, it spreads like cancer.  Those who can’t or won’t kill sin before it matures will be undone by it.

However, those of us who are unsatisfied with the presence of sin in our lives, who recognize its deception and the internal corruption that produces it, and then like the Apostle in Romans 7 cry out, Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?can also simply become exhausted at fighting an uphill battle trying to chase down sin before it reaches maturation.

Therefore, it becomes imperative that we fight sin prior to its conception.

Desire

This means that the battle against sin must occur at the desire level, prior to its conception with temptation.  Let’s look at the passage again

14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

Temptation exists because of our desires.  Notice how the temptation appeals because of the lure and enticement by our desires.  This is precisely how our Lord faced temptation, yet without sin.  His desires were pure and holy.  Generally, the bent of our desires determines the temptation.  For instance, a man or woman who doesn’t have a taste-bud affinity for chocolate cake will not tempted when a piece is set before them.

Our desires can either be good, bad, or neutral.  A good desire, such as the welfare of others or a neutral desire such as that for sustaining food or drink, might be simple examples for each.  While good and neutral desires may be somewhat obvious, lets put a definition on bad or unholy desires: any affection or compulsion that is contrary either to what God has ordered by nature or commanded by His word.

Temptation

It now becomes necessary to place our finger on the manner of temptation.

John Owen defines temptation as, “any thing, state, way, or condition that, upon any account whatever, hath a force or efficacy to seduce, to draw the mind and heart of a man from its obedience, which God requires of him, into any sin, in any degree of it whatever.” (Vol. 6, pg. 96)

When our unholy desires or affections, which are contrary to God, intersect with temptations, which seek to seduce and draw the mind and heart away from obedience, the effect is sin.  Desire and temptation are an unholy union whose only offspring is death.

Owen advises on the potential avenues by which temptation may come, “either singly from Satan, or the world, or other men in the world, or from ourselves, or jointly from all or some of them.” (Vol. 6, pg. 95)

With this in mind, what’s to be done about it?

The Defense

  1. Setting our affections on Christ.  This comes through habitual exercise of exposure to the Word of God and meditation upon that Word.  Not just reading for the sake of reading, that’s powerless and leads to a false assurance of battle readiness.  This ineffectual reading is what George Mueller referred to as “water through a pipe”.  Instead we want to read as water filling up a vessel or pot until it overflows.
  2. Praying without ceasing. A heart that is set upon Christ cannot help but pray.  Conversely, one of the chief evidences that the hearts desires are being drawn away to the world is a lack of prayer.
  3. Fellowship with the saints.  An oft-neglected gift that God has given us in the combat against sin is the communion of the saints.  The Apostle James will draw out this point more clearly later in his epistle by the imperative to confess our sins to one another so that we may be prayed for and restored (James 5:13-20)

Finally, should our desires begin to wain, what’s to be done in order to avoid the pending attack of temptation?  Watch and Pray.  I’ve written elsewhere on this very subject and Owen himself considers that this is the singular defense against the wiles of temptation.

Watch and consider how temptation attacks.  Be aware of its crouching behind every corner.  Be vigilant in the duties outlined above.  Finally, pray.  Pray daily that God would keep you from temptation and deliver you from evil.  Have you considered that in the so-called Lord’s Prayer, as short as it is, two of its 7 petitions are: 1. Lead me not into temptation 2. Deliver me from evil.  Clearly our Lord in answering His disciples request to be taught how to pray considered that these two great appeals were to be included regularly in our supplications unto God.

Desire, Temptation, and Sin.  An unholy trinity, but not an invincible foe.  And not an enemy in any way matched against the Holy Triune God.  Therefore all benefits have been given to us to kill, by the Spirit, the deeds of the flesh.

The Root of All Sin

 

In Matthew 22:36-40, a Pharisee (or Sadducee) asks Jesus what the greatest commandment is, to which our Lord replies,

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.

What if this religious leader had asked the negative of this question, i.e. what is the worst sin?  Or perhaps, what is the root of all sin?

What if you were asked this question, how would you answer?  Would you say pride?  Maybe it’s a lack of faith or a failure to believe in God and His Son Jesus Christ?  Perhaps idolatry?  Or Self-centeredness?  What about homosexuality, that always generates a lot of discusssion?  Perhaps it is just the inverse of the greatest commandment, that is a lack of love for God?  Perhaps, but is this the root?

When you get down to the root – not the cause, for it’s clear that is the total depravity that we are all born with – but the root, what is it?  Is there a single spring out of which all other sins flow from this depraved heart?  Can we put our finger on the pulse of sin and get down to the very bottom of the issue and say there it is….there’s our problem?

I think so.  And I think Scripture tells us both directly and indirectly.

Directly

Perhaps the most obvious place to turn first is a passage that is often misquoted, 1 Timothy 6:10,

“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”

Frequently,  we hear this verse quoted as, “money is the root of all evil,” but that is not what the passage says.  It is the love of money that is a root of all kinds of evils, plural.  This phrase, the love of money, is translated from the Greek word, philargyria, which is only used here in the entire New Testament.  It is related to the word translated as “covetous” in Luke 16:14 and 2 Timothy 3:2.  It would not be a stretch to see then that the Scriptures have covetousness in mind with the reference to the love of money.  From this verse, we can begin to see that this particular root for all sorts of evils is a desire for more, or we might say a dissatisfaction with a current situation leading to a sinful desire for increase, here applied to the case of money.  While greed could be on the right track for identifying this root sin, it’s too simplistic of an answer and I think it lends itself to being more of a fruit sin than a root sin.

Indirectly

Next, let’s turn our attention to the original sin and see if we can compliment our understanding of what we’ve seen thus far regarding this root of sin.  In Genesis 3:5-6 we read of the following account on the occasion of the original sin

 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

Simply making some observations from the passage we may note some of the sinful rationale for making the choice to disobey God’s command.  First, we observe Satan’s temptation as he plants the seeds of doubt and discontent, For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  Then we see the divine commentary on the desires of Eve and the failure of Adam that may be summarized as the following:

  1. Good for food
  2. Delight to the eyes
  3. Tree to be desired, to make one wise.

Some have summarized these desires as the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, perhaps an application of 1 John 2:16, “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life — is not from the Father but is from the world.”

If this is a fair summation, then there are a few questions we need to ask in order to arrive at a potential root for sin.  First, why were Adam and Eve not satisfied with all of the other trees and sources for food that God had provided?  Second, why was it not enough to be made in the image of God, that they would desire to “be like God” through consumption of that which God had strictly forbidden?  Third, and finally, with the desire to be made wise, what was it that they felt they lacked?  What wisdom could the tree have possible provided that they had not either been born with or had access to through communion with God?

Summarizing this entire episode of the original sin, including Satan’s temptation and the questions we’ve asked, along with our brief look at the love of money (particularly its context, included below) and we are left with a firm conclusion regarding the root of this original sin, discontentment.

The Root

Discontentment is rooted in a dissatisfaction with who God is and what He has done in Christ.  It is a refusal to accept His providential rule.  It objects to Him as Creator, rebels against Him as Judge, and rejects Him as Lord and Savior.  Ultimately, Discontentment with God is the root of idolatry.

Sexual immorality is rooted in discontentment with sexual purity.

Adultery is rooted in discontentment with marriage.

Greed, and conversely theft, is rooted in discontentment with finances or material possessions.

Even murder, as the Apostle James states in James 4:1-3, is rooted in discontentment, What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”

Discontentment is inherent in our natures from the time of Adam’s fall down to this very day and while it is a damning sin for unbelievers, those of us who have been born again wrestle mightily (and daily) against  discontentment of the flesh.  Clearly, with Adam and Eve, contentment is not natural.  How then does one gain contentment when everything pressing against us from within and without pushes us towards discontentment?

Solution

God provides for us a divine remedy through the inspired pen of the Apostle Paul.  Writing in Philippians chapter 4, the Apostle tell us the secret to contentment

11 Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

How does one become content?  We’re not born with it.  Not reborn with it.  We cannot purchase it.  It is learned.

The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment is learned from our experiences through which God works and whittles to mold and conform us more each day to the image of His Son.  He teaches us contentment in abundance and contentment in poverty.  Contentment can only be learned by those who have been born again and even then the learning curve is steep.  It requires a submission to the providence of God in all circumstances and a trust in the faithfulness of God to His promises.

To aid in this lifelong process of learning contentment, God in His providence has gifted us with some helpful resources.  Internally of course, we have His indwelling Spirit.  Externally, second to none is God’s Word, through which we have the experiences of saints who learned contentment as well as verses exhorting us to contentment.

Additionally, there are two great books which will aid the believer in their pursuit of contentment.  The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs and The Art of Divine Contentment by Thomas Watson.

May God’s Spirit and God’s grace aid us in our pursuit of contentment.

But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 1 Timothy 6:6-10

 

Every Advantage

 

In thinking through the circumstances surrounding both Adam and Noah that we’ve seen in recent posts, there is at least one commonality between them that is shared with believers in Christ today, primarily the advantages that they had, and those that we have, which lend themselves towards aiding in our obedience to God.  Yet like them, even with every advantage, we still sin.

Pre-fall Man

Reviewing the case with Adam, we know that God rested him in the garden, which He had ordained to bring forth lush vegetation and food, apart from the efforts of the first man.  His primary duty was obedience and service before the Lord, as a priest, but also as a protector of the garden and all that was in it.  As it is sometimes explained, Adam had the ability to sin and the ability to not sin  (Latin = posse peccare, posse non peccare).  Though he was created sinless, his nature was mutable, or changeable.  He had the moral free agency to choose to sin or choose to not sin.  He was given dominion over creation, abundant food to eat as he pleased, and a wife who came alongside him as a help-mate.  By all accounts Adam was living in perfection.  If anyone could claim to be living their best life now, it was Adam, pre-fall.

Yet despite all of these blessings from God; despite all of the advantages, Adam still succumbed to temptation, that conceived with his inmost desires of discontentment and brought forth sin.  Despite literally having it all, including most importantly, direct communion with God, Adam was dissatisfied and chose to sin.

After Adam and Eve’s fall from grace, man now had the ability to sin, but lost the ability to not sin, thus inheriting the corruption of Adam’s original sin by means of a sinful nature which carried with it the inability to not sin (non posse non peccare).  This is simply referred to as man’s inability.  Instead of retaining the moral free agency that Adam had briefly enjoyed, his offspring -namely all mankind, as was evident with Cain- became enslaved to sin, their wills now held captive to sin.

Post-Fall Man

It was with this sinful nature that Noah entered upon the scene of God’s creation, now with a cursed ground and living among a rebellious people.  However, Noah found favor in God’s sight (even with the presence of a sinful nature, which should be an encouragement to us).  With Noah, God decided to set-apart a new people for Himself and chose Noah and his family out of all the peoples of the earth.  God then rained down judgment upon the earth, because of the sinfulness of man, through a world-wide flood, preserving Noah, his wife, and their sons and wives along with a selection of animals to repopulate the earth.

It was into this new creation, this new garden, that God opened the doors of the ark to complete the rescue of his people.  Noah, as a new priest in a new temple (Genesis 8:20), had, like his great grandfather Adam, every advantage at his fingertips.  No longer was he faced with the ridicule and mockery of a people who doubted the words of his preaching, but it was him alone with his family with a renewed commandment of “be fruitful and multiply” and a new charge to have dominion over creation.  To show His steadfast love and faithfulness, God enters into a covenant with Noah.  This time there is no prohibition of eating from a particular tree, instead there is a prohibition to “not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (Gen. 9:4) again carrying with it the consequences of death for its violation.  As God reveals this commandment, we see it specifically applied to the murder of man, who God reminds us, was made in His own image.

Again, despite all of the advantages presented to Noah, just like Adam he too fell, quickly (Genesis 9:21-29).  Despite the flood cleansing the world from its external wickedness, the seed of sin was allowed to germinate in the hearts of the eight who were saved through the waters of judgment.  The ability to sin and the inability to not sin remained.

Until Christ.

Sinless Man

These principles of the sinful nature, inherent in man after the fall, highlight the supreme importance of the sinlessness of Christ, more specifically that He was born sinless and remained sinless.  Because of the uniqueness of Christ’s birth, the unbroken line of the sinful nature was broken, in Him.  The generational succession of the ability to sin and the inability to not sin was not transmitted to Him.  We say then that Christ was impeccable, or that He was unable to sin (non posse peccare – note the distinction between this an Adam’s original state).  While a minority position has often claimed that Christ did have the ability to sin, all must conclude that He did not actually sin, as Scripture so adamantly asserts (1 Peter 2:22; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 John 3:5).  Christ alone was sinless.

Our Lord, we may be reminded, was not afforded all the advantages of His grandfathers Adam and Noah.  He entered into this world with nothing, literally being born nowhere, coming from nowhere, and then having all of this nothing stripped further away during His own wilderness garden experience.  Here, Christ was not surrounded by lush vegetation bringing forth an abundance of food effortlessly, but He fasted, for 40 days, surrounded by thorns and thistles of a cursed land and subjected to the wild beasts (Mark 1:13).  He then, throughout His ministry, was subjected to every temptation, yet unlike us, did not sin (Hebrews 4:15).  In His next garden experience, this one more lush than His last, He was given the sentence of death. Whereas His grandfather’s were given prohibitions that carried the sentence of death for their violations, Christ was given the sentence of death despite not having a violation of His own.

Renewed Man

The death of the sinless Christ for sinful man and His subseuqent resurrection, attesting to His sinlessness, now made it possible for those who have repented, and been united to Him by faith, to not sin.  Because of Christ, those in Him, given a new nature and a regenerate heart, have returned to the state of the original Adam having now both the ability to sin and the ability to not sin (posse peccare, posse non peccare).  No longer then are our wills enslaved to sin.  No longer do we possess a moral inabiltiy wherein all we do is sin continually.  No, the redeem actually do have the ability to not sin!

Like our forefathers, Adam and Noah, we have even greater advantages.  We are able to live on this side of the cross, this side of our Lord’s resurrection, we know and can see the power of sin, but the greater power of grace.

We are co-heirs with Christ, seated with Him in the heavenly places. We now have access to the Father through the Son and can come freely into His presence at anytime. Not only this but we have been united to Christ, clothed with His righteous, bought by His blood, redeemed from the power of sin, and have had the wrath of God removed from us, by Christ’s propitiation.  Not only this but we have Christ as our Mediator, our High Priest, and the Captain of our salvation.  Not only this, but we have been given His Word as a lamp to our feet and a light to our paths.  Literally the Word of the living God has been made accessible to us, to have, read, and meditate upon at any time.

As if those advantages were not numerous and weighty enough, we have been given a Helper, the Comforter, the Paraclete, God’s Holy Spirit who resides not among us on the outside, but internally in our now regenerate hearts.  All of these advantages working for our good to bring us into conformity with Christ and fulfilling His promise to complete this work until our day of salvation.  Regenerate man reclaimed the ability to not sin while simultaneously retaining the ability to sin.

But herein lies the problem.  Given far more advantages than both Adam and Noah, we still sin.  That ability to sin is still within and is an active, vital force within us until the day we die.  The Apostle Paul laments this very fact as he surveys the duality within his own heart, two laws at is were, warring against one another (Romans 7:21-23).  The flesh vs. the spirit, the former lusting against the latter while the latter wars against the former (Galatians 5:17). If Christ had simply died to return us to the former state of Adam, we would still be damned because of the continual presence of the ability to sin in our natures.

Glorified Man

But thanks be to God He did more than that.  Christ was not content to simply leave us in a pre-fall Adamic state.  No, more than this He was intent to bring us into glory.  The glorified state of man where we will one day have the ability to not sin and likewise the inability to sin, as our Lord did.  Praise be to God as we long for this day when sin is no longer crouching at our door step.  When the war within us has ceased and the spirit is alone without carrying along the rotten carcass of the flesh.  Then in the New Garden, when we return to the restful state intended by God for man, we Will serve God night and day as priests with every advantage at our fingertips, including the renewed communion with God forever to be enjoyed because sin, the devil, and the flesh have been eradicated.

Praise be to God, come quickly Lord Jesus for we long for the day!