It is time once again to dig deeper into this past weeks sermon. We saw the great contrast between the two brothers Judah and Joseph. Judah in chapter 38 falls prey to sexual temptation. Joseph on the other hand in chapter 39 flees the sexual temptation that he was under. What I want to do this week is just spend some time discussing temptation, and our fight against sin. How do we obey Colossians 3:5? “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” How do we: “die to sin and live to righteousness?”
Let me start with temptation. What is temptation? I am going to quote John Owen (1616-1683) quite a bit on this post because he has been so helpful in my own fight against sin. I will update some of the quotes to be plural and may change some of the old English a little bit. Owen defines temptation like this: “Temptation, then, in general, is any thing, state, way, or condition that…has a force or efficacy to seduce, to draw our minds and hearts from our obedience, which God requires of us, into any sin, in any degree whatever.” So, a point of quick application here. Something that we should probably pray at least at the start of each day is: “Lead me not into temptation.”
So, how are we tempted? James chapter 1 says: “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.” So, during a temptation sin is seeking to entice us. Let me see if I can use a fishing illustration. When we give into a temptation we are in essence biting the hook. The hook is what we will end up with, but during the temptation sin seeks to hide the hook and it seeks to cover the hook with bait. John Owen says that sin will seek to: “possess the mind and affections with the attraction and desirability of sin,…” When this happens it diverts our: “soul from realizing its danger.” Let’s look at a Biblical example of this. Eve in Genesis chapter 3 is being tempted by Satan. In that temptation she sees the hook in verse 3 and tells Satan that God had told them not to “eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden,…lest you die.” Satan undeterred, covers that hook and he as Owen says: “immediately filled her mind with the beauty and usefulness of the fruit, and she quickly forgot her practical concern for the consequences of eating.”
We are being tempted with the bait of pleasure, on the hook of sin. John Owen wisely tells us since this is the case we need to: ‘Clearly, watch over our affections.’ Let me see if I can try and explain this. Let’s take the sin of gossip. A modern translation of Proverbs 18:8 says: “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts.” Matthew Mitchel wrote a small book on gossip and in that book he says that “Choice morsels are tasty things that we want to devour quickly. They are the best, most attractive, most addictive things to eat. They are like a bowl of potato chips left on the kitchen counter.” Mitchel goes on to define sinful gossip like this: “Sinful gossip is bearing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart.” He continues by saying that: “Bad news, shameful news…is attractive but not good for us. There is something really wrong within us that makes us want to know and to talk about the shameful things that other people do.”
So, let’s say we overhear some shameful news about someone we know. Right away our affections may be drawn to this shameful news, and we may see it as a choice morsel. We leave that setting and we can’t wait to tell the first person we see about this shameful news. This can literally all happen in just seconds. We enter into the temptation, the choice morsel is dangled in front of us, our affections are drawn out and we take the bait. Later though after repeating the shameful news to our friends we will find ourselves with the hook of sin in our mouths. As Matthew Mitchel says: “Gossip tastes great going down, but is has lasting and poisonous effects on our hearts.”
Watching Over Our Affections
When John Owen says that we need to watch over our affections he is just summarizing Proverbs 4:23 which says: “Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.” To help us better fight our sin we need to watch over our hearts will all diligence. John Piper says that when we commit sinful deeds those deeds come from somewhere. They have a life line that leads back to our hearts. He says: “Sinful deeds have a life line that must be cut. In other words, there is a condition of the heart that gives rise to the “deeds of the body.” It’s a heart issue.” When we begin to see a particular sin as desirable and attractive, our affections and life line as Piper says are already heading out of our hearts at that moment. If we don’t cut that life line then, sin is right around the corner. Once again James 1 tells us: “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…”
So, let’s say we gave into sin today. We committed the sin of envy. We took the bait and bit the sinful hook of envy. Well, the first thing we would do would be to repent of this sin. Race to the cross as Jerry always says. A second thing that we can do in this situation would be to examine ourselves and see what lead us to commit this particular sin. So, hypothetically let’s take this sin of envy. Let’s say we committed this sin at 5:00 in the afternoon. It is 10:00 o’clock at night and we have repented of this sin. We go back over the day and start looking for answers in terms of what lead us to commit this sin.
As we look back at the start of our day we realize that we didn’t sleep well the night before. Our lack of sleep lead us to be more susceptible to sin. John Piper discovered in his late 20’s that a lack of sleep caused trouble for him. He said: “I realized for the first time that when I lack sleep I get irritable and impatient, and with enough sleep, I am less irritable and more patient.” Tim Challies is so helpful here in explaining what I am trying to get at with this: “Contemplate the occasions in which this sin breaks out and guard against them…think about the times when you fall into this sin. What are the occasions? What happens right before you sin? What are the habits or patterns that lead to it? Think about these things, know what you do before you actually commit the sin, and stop the downward spiral long before it gets to the point of sinning.” This doesn’t necessarily help us deal with the root of the sin, but it helps us better understand how we were made more susceptible to sin. Doing this will help us obey the words of Jesus when he said: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Matthew Henry says: “we should be much afraid of entering into temptation. To be secured from this, we should watch and pray, and continually look unto the Lord to hold us up that we may be safe.”
Part of our fight against sin involves watching over our affections. One of the best ways though to fight sin is the joy of the Lord. As Nehemiah 8 says: “for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” Matthew Henry powerfully tells us that: “The joy of the Lord will arm us against the assaults of our spiritual enemies and put our mouths out of taste for those pleasures with which the tempter baits his hooks.” So, one of the things that we need to do every day is to pursue joy in Jesus. George Mueller wisely said: “According to my judgement the most important point to be attended to is this: above all things see to it that your souls are happy in the Lord. Other things may press upon you, the Lord’s work may even have urgent claims upon your attention, but I deliberately repeat, it is of supreme and paramount importance that you should seek above all things to have your souls truly happy in God Himself!”
That is profound wisdom from George Mueller. When our souls are happy in the Lord our mouths are put out of taste for sins pleasures. However, when our joy in the Lord is low we are making ourselves sitting targets for sin. Tim Keller said: “The sin under all other sins is a lack of joy in Christ.” This is why it is so important for us to have our souls happy in the Lord. Plus there is far superior pleasure to be found in Jesus. Michael Reeves said: “Compare Christ to whatever else it is that you treasure. So what is it that you really want? Is it love? Is it that you want to be loved? And that can come across in various ways — a sexual addiction, a desire for fame — those are really varieties of wanting to be loved. Is it acceptance? Is it money? Is it power? Is it comfort? Now compare that thing that you dream of and love with Christ. Which is better? Does pornography offer you the satisfaction, acceptance and love that Jesus does? Does money offer you anything in comparison to the riches of Christ? Does passing temporal power offer you anything in comparison to what Christ is offering? And when you see how much better Christ is than those other things you go running after, you will choose Christ rather than those things and you will walk away from them with freedom.”
In our pursuit of joy in Jesus we need to continually go back to the gospel. John Owen reminds us how important the gospel is in our daily battle with temptation. He writes: “keep the heart full of a sense of the love of God in Christ. This is the greatest preservative against the power of temptation in the world. Joseph (in Genesis 39) had this (sense of God’s love); and therefore, on the first appearance of temptation, he cries out, “How can I do this great evil, and sin against God?” and there is an end of the temptation as to him; it lays not hold of him, but departs. He was furnished with such a ready sense of the love of God as temptation could not stand before,…”
Lastly he says: “store the heart with a sense of the love of God in Christ, with the eternal design of his grace, with a taste of the blood of Christ, and his love in the shedding of it; get a relish of the privileges we have thereby,—our adoption, justification, and acceptance with God;…” I hope that we will all be gospel-centered people who fight sin, and who seek to have our souls truly happy in God Himself!
My wife made the picture that I used for this post 🙂