“God tempts no one.” Here Doctor Luther is quoting from Saint James. “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He tempts no one.”
Now this is a bit of a sticky point. God truly tempts no one, although He may test someone. But the same Greek word is used both for testing and tempting. When we say that God tests men, but He does not tempt them, what is the difference, really? Here is the difference: God intends to strengthen and prove the good character of men, and to have them turn to Him in their trials. But the devil tempts, that is, he intends that man fall into sin and death.
This may seem like a subtle difference. If you cannot see it, do not worry too much. But hold onto this point with all your might: God never intends for you to fall into sin. God is on your side, not against you. Never forget this.
When you are in the midst of trials, it may not be clear whether you are being tested by God or tempted by satan. In the end it does not matter. Whatever the situation, pray for God’s aid in the temptation, hold His law before you to obey it, and quickly return to His Word and Sacrament for forgiveness. For you will never come out of any trial completely unscathed. As we always sin daily, so we cannot be immaculately clean after any temptation. Yet do your best to keep all things Christ has commanded, and then pray for His forgiveness.
We need His grace because we cannot stand in our own strength against the powerful enemies lined up against us. The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh are always looking for ways to pierce us with their vicious attacks.
You may recall that these are the three enemies who do not want God’s Name hallowed or His kingdom to come or His will to be done. When temptations happen, we see these evil forces try to pry us away from faith in Jesus Christ. They want nothing but our utter destruction.
Notice here, as in the other petitions, that we are praying against that traitor inside us, which is our sinful human nature. It is bad enough that we are outclassed and outgunned by the immense forces of the prince of darkness. It is bad enough that we are outnumbered by the antichristian forces in this wicked world. But we also have a turncoat in our own chest who wants to fall into temptation and wants to fall away from faith.
How do we defeat this enemy, when this enemy is us? The sinful flesh is not some alien invader, but it is our own thoughts and desires and inclinations. We want sin, and we want no law to govern us. We want to be the only rule for our lives. How can we fight against our own corrupted thoughts?
The answer is prayer. We pray against ourselves. Lord protect us against our own desire to sin. Do not let us wander off according to our hunger for what is contrary to Your will.
We Christians must carry this sinful flesh around like a heavy weight tied around our neck. It wants to drag us down and choke the life out of us. We would surely be lost and surely throw away the gifts of grace delivered to us.
But the Lord defends us. When temptation comes, He leaves us a way out of the devil’s ambush. Even when we fail, He leaves the church door open for us so that we can receive the Word of remission.
Let us not, however, take God’s protection for granted. “Oh, He will take care of me, so no worries. If I sin here and there, what’s the harm?” This is the voice of our sinful flesh that wants to lure us into something worse than merely sin. Sin is bad enough, and we are to flee from it in horror. But the devil, the world, and our flesh want to lead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice.
False belief is worse than merely sinning. Sin may be forgiven, but not when faith is lost. False belief can mean believing things that are false. Some false belief may creep into any Christian’s life, and may be forgiven so long as faith itself is not lost. Yet believing false things will push you towards losing your faith, even if what is believed seems to be a minor difference. As Saint Paul says, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” One bit of false teaching will find a way to creep into everything and spread corruption into every area of a person’s spiritual life. May the Lord preserve us from this, by His grace.
Despair means losing hope. The devil wants this for us as well. He wants you to be miserable and gloomy all day long. True, a Christian cannot always be happy, nor was Christ always so. But despair is a state of giving up. It is such a gloomy pessimism that expects nothing good to ever happen. This is tempting for many people.
With despair comes mistrust of God. If He really loved me and took care of me, why would He allow this life to be so dreadful? When we are more reasonable, we realize that things are not so gloomy. Yet in hard times we may forget God’s love and promises for us.
When despair takes over completely, a person no longer sees the mercy of God in Christ. The Cross is no longer meaningful to a person, perhaps because they come to feel that it has nothing to do with them, or it won’t do them any good.
But God’s promises to you are sure and certain. At such times of despair, do not trust your feelings. Remember that these dark times will pass. God’s love will deliver to you all good things in time, although for now you must endure difficult testing.
God keep us in this faith and hope through our trials.
Great shame may be confusing to us. We are trained by our culture to think that shame is what we feel. So if only I learn to not feel ashamed of what I feel, then I am okay, says our culture. But real shame is an objective reality. Certain actions are shameful, whether we feel that way or not.
So the words “great shame” mean that we are living in a shameful lifestyle. Luther would call this “gross sin,” when a person is committing sin out of control. This is not the same as what Christians do when they sin much daily. We break the Law because we are sinners, but we regret it and struggle against it. But if we fall into sin, then we openly and willingly sin without any resistance or sorrow. Examples of this include living together outside of marriage, or openly proclaiming that you are homosexual without any feeling of shame, or having a drug or alcohol addiction without caring that you do. God keep us from these and other shamefulness.
The devil wants this for us, because then he would have his claws in us firmly. The world wants this because then we would join them in their lawlessness. Our flesh wants it because then we can relax and stop worrying about whether we are doing right or not. That would take less energy and stress, and would feel better, at least in the short term.
But God wants for us what is better. He wants us to avoid such things at peril of our souls. Here we see His tremendous fatherly love toward us, that He does not simply want us to be happy for a few brief moments, but He wants us to be eternally blessed and happy. So He is more than willing to help us, and we do well to pray to Him for assistance against temptation.
So we know that we will overcome temptation with God’s help. This does not mean that we will always resist temptation successfully in this life. But it means that God will preserve us from becoming entangled in the sticky webs of the devil’s traps. He will keep us fighting, beyond what strength we think we have by the power of His Word and Spirit. Most of all, we win the victory in this life when we receive the Gospel. When the Blood of the Lamb is applied to our grievous and serious sins, they are covered over so that God does not see them anymore.
For Christ faced temptation in our place. He did not feel temptation’s allure in His heart. The ancient serpent most eagerly tempted Christ, because he desired more than anything to corrupt this new Adam as he had the first. But Christ felt no desire to give in to temptation. The holy and spotless Lamb could not be corrupted. He, our champion, stood up to the wicked tempter perfectly, and then sealed the victory with His own Blood. There is our victory – in the sinless life and innocent death of the Son of God.
And there is a victory in the next life when we shall be raised in bodies incorruptible, with spirits completely cleansed from sin’s stain. This is the resurrection Christ purchased for us, and the final victory of us saints. Then the old Adam shall be forever trampled under our feet, as we live in blessed sinlessness for all eternity.
The Lord preserve us in this by His Spirit. Amen.
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