“Mercy in Temptation”

1 Corinthians 10:6-13


            One of the most prevalent causes of automobile accidents is that of distracted drivers. Distractions occur when a driver takes their eyes off the road to look at something else. It could be the deer in the field, it could be the person sitting next to you, it could be applying make-up or shaving on the way to work, it could be searching for something to eat or drink or fumbling with the radio. Sometimes, the driver becomes sleepy and loses focus. Most frequently, especially in the last 15 or so years, people are distracted by their cell phones. This is especially dangerous when they are reading or sending text messages while driving. Each year, about 400,000 injuries and about 4,000 deaths result from car crashes involving distracted drivers in the United States.[1]

            There is yet another kind of distraction which is deadly. It is spiritually deadly and can result in eternal destruction. That is when we are distracted away from the things of God. It occurs when we lose focus of God’s will and God’s way. It happens when we are tempted to look away from the Lord and instead turn to the attractions of the world. The Bible calls this distraction temptation.

            During this season of Lent, we seek to focus on Christ and His cross. But the thing is, our view is often distracted by other cares and concerns of life which lead us away from our Lord and His will for our lives. This morning we are going to consider the reality of temptation in our lives, and seek God’s power to overcome temptation. We’ll consider the reading from 1 Corinthians 10 as our guide to escape temptation. There are three insights from this passage which are important to our struggle with temptation.

            First off, we must recognize that temptation is like stink on manure, it’s persistent. Satan and his little minions will do everything they can to seduce us to sin. Paul describes for us how the ancient Israelites were tempted with idolatry, sexual immorality, discontentment, and even rebellion against God (1 Cor. 10:6-10). Notice what the devil did in our Gospel reading to tempt Jesus in the wilderness. Satan was persistent. He didn’t stop with one temptation but instead tried three different times to tempt Jesus to sin. He used different tactics to get Jesus to give in and go against God’s will.

            Even today, Satan is persistent. If he can’t get you one area of life, he’ll try another. He’ll keep trying until he finds a weak spot. Satan will place as many temptations in front of you so that, like a distracted driver, you take your focus off of God and away from the righteous path which God wants you to be one.

            He’ll do it through various means. You may be attacked with the temptation of the flesh, appealing to your appetites and lust with pornography or gluttony. Or you may be tempted to escape the challenges of life by addictions to alcohol or drugs or gambling or electronic media. Or the temptation may come from the world as you are seized with greed for the power or possessions. The devil is persistent in tempting us in so many ways.

            Not only is temptation persistent, it’s progressive! It starts out small but grows and becomes more deadly as it progresses. Paul says in verse 13 that temptation has the power to overtake you. Using those words, Paul is implying that temptation can eventually soften us and overcome us. Paul describes how the Israelites in the wilderness progressed from complaining against God to outright rebellion against Him to the ultimate abomination of idolatry.

            The same thing can be said about us as well. Temptation begins small, subtly but then grows in its destructive power. A thought gets planted in your head. That thought could be the desire to want something at the store or that your neighbor has, it could be the thought that someone of the opposite sex who is not your spouse is attractive, it could be the thought that drugs or alcohol could make your problems disappear. That thought can reap an action. The action reaps a habit; the habit reaps character; the character reaps your destiny. Temptation is progressive as it inch by inch leads you away from God and His will and into spiritual danger and destruction. With each progressive step into temptation, it gets more and more difficult to get out of temptation. What appears harmless at first eventually becomes deadly.

            This message about temptation doesn’t sound very hopeful. Temptation is persistent and progressive. The demons are persistently casting temptation into our lives and once a sin takes hold, it will mushroom. But the thing is … these are not the last words on temptation. There is in fact hope for us. Because not only is temptation persistent and progressive, but victory over temptation is possible.

            The victory over temptation is promised in the last verse of our reading, “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Cor. 10:13).

            Victory over temptation is possible because of what the season of Lent is all about. Lent is about Jesus and how Jesus has conquered temptation. Notice in that verse who the one is who accomplishes the victory over temptation. It isn’t Paul, it isn’t you, it isn’t me. The one who accomplishes the victory God. “God is faithful … He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear … He will provide a way out.” God is the subject of the verbs, He is the one doing the action. God in Christ is the one who gains the victory for us over temptation.

            Jesus defeated temptation by entering into the ring with it. He came to temptation’s territory when He fasted forty days in the wilderness. The devil threw everything he could at him there and throughout Jesus’ life. Satan was working Jesus over hard in the Garden of Gethsemane and on Golgotha’s mountain on the cross. Hebrews 4 says that Jesus was tempted in every way that we are (4:15). Jesus faced the temptations of lust and greed and power and selfishness.

            But that’s where the similarity with us ends. The verse goes on to say that Jesus was tempted, “yet was without sin.” That means that although Jesus was tempted to sin, He was not overtaken by it. He was not overcome by temptation so that He succumbed to and submitted to it. In the very face of temptation, our Lord prevailed! He is the only human being who can make the claim of winning over temptation every time. But the thing is, He claims it not for Himself, but for each of us. He resisted the temptation to sin perfectly in order to give His perfect sinless life over to our spiritually bankrupt account. Then He took on the penalty for our sins, our submission to temptation. He did this by suffering and dying on the cross, thereby paying wages of our sin with His death.

            In Christ we have victory over temptation in two ways. First, when we fall into temptation and give in to its sin, through repentance, through returning back to God we receive forgiveness of that sin. That was the message on Ash Wednesday, that those who truly repent, truly return to God receive His mercy.

            As we travel down the highway of life, we may be distracted in our driving by temptations which allure us and detour us from the direction God has for us. But when we renew our focus on God and on His mercy, He pardons, He forgives our waywardness and restores our relationship with Him. This what it means in our reading when Paul says, “when you are tempted, {God} will also provide a way out” (1 Cor. 10:13).

            But Paul doesn’t stop there. The last part of the verse say that God will also provide you with the ability to endure temptation, to “stand up under it” (v. 13). This means that when you face sinful temptations, God will empower you to say no to them. He does this by keeping your focus on Him and on His mercy. You drive through life “in view of God’s mercy.” That mercy and grace of God sustains you in the midst of temptation. In view of God’s mercy, we say no to sinful lusts and desires. In view of God’s mercy, we focus on Christ and His purpose for us. We are not distracted from Him, but we “fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).

            And so we travel, we travel through life with our eyes fixed on the road, on the path of righteousness centered in Jesus Christ. We are not distracted by temptation or deterred by Satan’s attacks. Instead, we keep God’s mercy in view, knowing that He is faithful and He will provide a way out from the treachery of temptation. Amen.

            The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.

[1] thezebra.com/resources/research/distracted-driving-statistics/


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