A New Temptation
What we desperately need are new temptations.
Does that sound strange? Well, maybe that's because we don't understand well enough the real nature of temptation itself. So let me review first what the nature of temptation toward evil looks like from the Bible's perspective. Then I want to explore what a different kind of temptation might look like that could actually act to save us from the evil effects that sin produces in our lives.
Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. (James 1:13-15)
This is the natural progression of temptation to evil. In addition I have observed over the years that because we were created with the nature of a mirror, temptation itself is designed to exploit that nature by arousing an intense reaction within us to reflect the spirit of whatever it is we are facing. Couple that with a fallen nature inherited from our first parents who became infected with propensities toward sin and selfishness, these tendencies of selfish lust are easily awakened by external promptings so when the two join together they reproduce after their own kind.
Something I have noticed and mentioned repeatedly is that every evil principle is based on some true principle designed by God. That is the nature of every counterfeit system and that is what Satan's system is all about. There is nothing necessarily new in Satan's system except that it is a perversion that leeches off of God's natural principles but distorts and abuses them to make them work to produce evil results instead of as originally intended. Then Satan accuses God of creating the perversions when in reality it is Satan's distortions that are to blame for all the problems his counterfeits have caused.
Some of these parallels are easy to see while others are more obscure. But I am convinced that every law and technique and principle that Satan's kingdom relies on to make his whole messed up system appear viable and functional is because it relies on a parallel underlying principle that was originally good and intended to bring life, peace and joy to the universe. Evil is not a new product but an amalgamation of good things made to produce evil.
All that is to say that temptation itself as we typically think of it is the counterfeit of a principle that when properly understood and practiced is actually something very healthy and even necessary in the lives of those who desire to follow God's way of life. Notice one of the underlying principles that is exploited by temptation to evil as described at the creation of this world.
Then God said, "Let the earth sprout vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them"; and it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:11-12)
This principle of bearing fruit after its kind does not just apply to vegetation or even animals however; rather this is a fundamental principle that lies at the core of temptation itself and has simply been perverted to serve in the propagation of evil as well as for its original purposes that God said was good. The problem since the entry of sin into our moral DNA is that now we have natural propensities within us, like seeds, that can easily be awakened by temptations from without acting on the original principle that God described as 'after its kind' which is why evil produces after its kind in our lives.
Yesterday I wrote a piece about the exploitation that can often take place after a highly visible act of violence designed to spread fear into as many hearts as possible. Some might have taken this to infer that I don't believe we should feel sympathy for victims of such atrocities or that we should pay no attention to the effects of evil on people around us. That was not at all the point I was trying to make. However, what I was trying to bring out was partly based on what I am trying to explain here; that is that such public acts are fully intended to awaken increased fear in our hearts which is something every Christian should be trying to eliminate from their lives according to John. (see 1 John 4:17-19)
Temptation in this case would be to heighten our sense of fear based on popular interpretations of such events and intense media spin heavily influenced by governments keen on gaining more and more control over the lives of their subjects. The natural progression of earthly governing powers has always been based on the principles of Satan which causes them to devolve lower and lower in moral integrity until they collapse altogether from complete corruption. Our government is no exception despite all the rhetoric by fiercely patriotic but misguided Christians. Salvation has never been promised through political reformation but will only come from individual transformation of the hearts of those responding to a different kind of temptation.
That is where I am realizing that what we desperately need today is to respond to a much different kind of temptation, a temptation intended to produce the exact opposite results from what we are used to thinking about connected with this term. Consider the following temptation as described by Jesus.
"And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all to Myself." (John 12:32)
It is important to keep in mind the basic nature of our design to understand what I am trying to describe here. We are mirrors by nature so whatever we allow to consume our imagination and keep our attention is what will shape our characters. This is sometimes referred to as 'the beholding principle' and is described by Paul in this way –
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)
The significant difference between temptations to evil and temptations to become more like Jesus (who in turn is exactly like God) is that when we are overcome by temptation to sin we become more and more enslaved and reflect the nature of those enticing us to sin. On the other hand as Paul points out above, the more we respond to the positive temptations of Jesus as He is lifted up before our imagination, the more we find ourselves entering into true liberty. Thus we can see that different temptations can lead us in totally opposite directions depending on what or who we choose to allow to consume our thinking and our imagination.
Satan and all those operating under his deceptive systems understand this principle which is precisely why the governments of this world work so hard to utilize fear to gain more control over our lives. They know that it is imperative that if they are to increase in worldly power that they must continually ramp up the attention of everyone to pay attention to them, and the primary motive relied on in the systems of Satan is fear more than anything else. This tactic is a direct result of our imbibing from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, for fear is like the sap running through that tree, the DNA of the fruit of that tree that reproduces after its own kind.
It is not hard to see how corrupt systems work in this way if one is willing to be objective. But what is more unfamiliar is how God's methods based on the good and true principles designed into all creation operate very similarly, not opposite. The outcomes may be opposite but the underlying principles can look very similar. But that is the nature of every counterfeit, for they have no power if they are not imitating something that has real power and validity.
Notice the next few verses from the passage quoted above from James, the brother of Jesus.
Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures. This you know, my beloved brethren. (vs. 16-19a)
God is seeking to produce a new kind of fruit in His people who are willing to respond to the drawing of Jesus in their hearts. When the attractions of Jesus become the temptations we give in to instead of the riveting allurements of the world designed to awaken fear, anger, desires for retaliation and all the other lusts of this world, then we can be transformed into the likeness of Jesus instead of being filled with the spirit of terrorists or those who use events such as this to gain more control over our minds. What we need more than anything else in these desperate days is not more guns or more laws or more 'security', what we need more than anything are clearer revelations of the truth about what God is really like, truth that was first exposed clearly in the life and teachings of His Son while here on earth.
But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. (vs. 19b-21)
Speaking from personal experience, I am finding that when I am exposed very long to things designed to make me angry in this world – and there is no shortage of those to be sure – that the resulting effect in my heart is that it severely hampers my growing relationship with God. It is easy to get sucked into popular thinking that what we need is more anger against obvious evil in this world in order to curtail it. But in reality all that does is produce more fruit after its kind, which is exactly the trap of Satan set for all of us. James clearly spells out here that the anger of man never achieves the kind of results that God is seeking to bring about in our lives. Notice that the good from the tree inhabited by the serpent is not at all to be confused with the kind of righteousness that can only be produced by eating from the Tree of Life. This is one of the subtle deceptions insinuated in the very name of the tree that has served as our model for 6,000 years but has produced only death, suffering and destruction.
I continue to struggle with this strong temptation to indulge in news addiction. But I am coming under increasing conviction that if I am ever to be prepared to live in the continual burnings and the eternal fire of God's intense presence, I cannot afford to ignore this temptation that results in reflecting the evils that the news continually dwells upon. And while I do not yet feel a need to completely isolate myself from what is going on in the world, I sense a conviction to limit how much I allow the media to dictate what fills my imagination. At the same time I sense an increasing need to invest as much time as possible lifting up Jesus in my thoughts so that I may have a life-producing temptation into which I can fall over and over that will bring about very different results in my character.
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14 NRSV)