Temptation... but not as we've known it
by Lynette Woods
Consider it wholly joyful, my brethren, whenever you are enveloped in or encounter trials of any sort or fall into various temptations. Be assured and understand that the trial and proving of your faith bring out endurance and steadfastness and patience. But let endurance and steadfastness and patience have full play and do a thorough work, so that you may be perfectly and fully developed, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4
Until we discover Life in Christ, we are geared towards all that is of this earthly life and we naturally interpret many spiritual things through our earthly paradigms. Even something like temptation we look at through our natural, earthly eyes. When we speak of temptation, most of us immediately think of the obvious earthly temptations of our flesh without realizing that the prime temptations may not be earthly but spiritual: wanting to see and have and hold and feel and do what I believe God wants, now. Many would not recognize that as temptation and would not see it as sin to give in to that temptation either. Yet this is what we see in religion, including Christianity: people see something they think God would want them to do and set about doing it! The primary definition for the Greek word for "tempt" means "to try whether a thing can be done, to attempt, endeavour". It is not doing God's will in God's way, instead it is anti-christ - doing something in place of and instead of Christ and His Life.
Unbelievers know exactly what physical temptation is, but they don't know what spiritual temptation is because their life does not revolve around Christ. It is our way of life to be not only influenced, but governed by what we see, hear and think rather than responding to Christ and His Life within us and being governed by Him. We know that impatience can cause us to act in the flesh, but so can supposedly 'good' things! It is temptation but not as we've known it...
Compassion is one example which I've written about elsewhere (Touch Not My Anointed... but not as we've known it) not many people think of compassion as being temptation and yet it is temptation if that compassion is from me rather than from Christ and His Life because it is not what I do so much as why I do it. Who is the source of my motivation? What is the real reason for my action? Am I being moved by Christ in me and what He is desiring to do, or by my own feelings or what I think He might want? Am I motivated by what I feel obligated to do and what others expect me to do? Am I truly being led by God, or am I being led by my own temperament and natural inclinations? Only God can reveal the truth to us - it is not a matter of good or bad, right or wrong, but death (our flesh) or Life (Christ)!
Peter, whether he was telling Jesus not to wash his feet or not to go to the cross, or was cutting of a soldier's ear, was acting and reacting based on what he saw and what he could do or say to "help" Jesus. And Jesus viewed that as being the enemy tempting Him.
It is vital that we learn to see and discern with our spiritual senses rather than with our physical senses. Are we really seeing that Christ is living in us? The Head and the Body are ONE, they cannot be separated or death is the result. Do we really know that Jesus is building His Temple (ekklesia: called-out ones) and taking care of His own Body? "How can He not???" is perhaps a better question! His will is being done on earth as it is in heaven and what is true in the heavenlies has an outcome and expression here on earth, although perhaps not always what we would expect, or in our lifetime or our timeframe. God works outside of our time restrictions and one of the most difficult temptations for us as His children is related to time...
This is an age-old temptation. It was an issue for our brothers and sisters under the old covenant just as it is for us today: Moses tried to lead the people before the right time; Abraham didn't wait for Isaac but tried to make the promise of God happen in his own way and time; the Israelites didn't wait for Moses at Mt Sinai but built a golden calf instead...
Temptation can be related to time in two ways: either we are tempted to make something happen now that we simply need to wait for, or we are tempted to wait for something which we need to have now. For instance, some wait for things to happen in the sweet by-and-by which our Father desires us to know the truth of NOW, e.g. knowing and experiencing Christ, Salvation, Rest, Resurrection and Glory now! Some think that our time here on earth is of no real consequence and that everything in terms of God's desires are in the future when we die, therefore we don't need to enter into Christ as Rest now, or be resurrected in spirit now or do anything now. Believing this lie creates a mentality which prevents us from entering into the fullness of what God intends for Himself and for us here on earth.
The other side is to see something that needs to happen here, especially when it is God Who has revealed the need, the temptation is to go and do it straight away. I don't know that any of us like to wait; it is uncomfortable and can be agonizing - perhaps because we are not in control of time! But if we run ahead of God, we can rob both Him and ourselves of the opportunity of seeing Him be All. What, when and how He does things is beyond our understanding.
Why does Father tell us or show us something He desires to have happen (like the promises He gave to the Israelites) and then have us just wait? Perhaps to enable us to become strong in Faith, to discipline and train us in His ways, to know that we, in and of ourselves, can do nothing; to keep us utterly dependent upon Him, and ultimately be amazed and overawed at seeing HIM move in His time and way in bringing fulfillment! This temptation to go ahead and do something instead of waiting for God and His timing, does bring suffering; it is never easy for us to surrender our timeframes and simply wait and trust.
I wonder if this is even more difficult in our society today where most of us no longer have to wait for months for fruit, vegetables etc to grow, or livestock to get big enough to eat. And if we want something other than food, we no longer even need to save up for it, instead we can buy it today on credit. In our physical world we live in a day of instant supply and convenience and I wonder if that tempts us to expect the same in spiritual things? Take communication for example, whereas just twenty years ago it was considered fast to get a letter within a week from the other side of the world, now we expect instant communication over the Internet; if an email takes an hour to be delivered, we complain!
Often we are simply in need of learning to wait on God and to know Christ as our Patience, Faith and Endurance. John in Revelation spoke of himself as our brother in the tribulation, kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ. We may know about the kingdom and tribulation of Christ and yet lack the experience and heart knowledge of the patience of Christ. James wrote that temptation accomplishes patience and endurance in us (James 1:2). While some more modern translations say "trials" or "testing", the original Greek word means temptation. This is hard for us to understand, it isn't in us to "consider it all joy" when we are surrounded by temptation! It truly is a trial which is designed to bring us to the end of ourselves and into Christ as our Faith, Endurance and Patience!
This patience and trust is not passive at all; it is very active, even if it may not look like it. We can be sorely tempted to be moved from our heavenly Place of Rest, back to an earthly place of unrest and turmoil. There can be a battle just to remain in Rest and Peace! It is not being selfish or lazy but is co-operating with Him and His work - giving up all self-effort and yielding ourselves to God's activity - and that can be very hard work!
The other side of this is that it can be just as hard for us to do what Father wishes when we don't feel either capable or ready for it. And whenever we don't understand Father's ways with us, or when we feel attacked or misunderstood by others, there is the very real temptation to just give up instead of giving out, to be depressed instead of pressing on.
Whether we hang back because of fear and self-deprecation or go ahead and do something because of pride and self-sufficiency, the source of the action or inaction is still Self and not the Spirit of God. Depending upon what our natural temperament and inclination is, we can be tempted by pride to step out ahead of time, or be paralyzed by fear and do nothing. Our enemy is not always so concerned about tempting us to do obvious sinful things, but simply to get US to make decisions independent of Christ and from Self instead of from Christ's Life - whether that means doing something or not doing something. It all boils down to trusting ourselves more than we trust God and listening to Self rather than Him - being motivated by either fear or pride rather than trusting God. At the root of all temptation is an appeal to Self and we are tempted not only by external things, but by the internal: tempted to listen to ourselves and our judgments, tempted to put ourselves and whatever pertains to us before all else.
I wonder how we would respond if we were stuck in a desert starving and the thought came to mind that because you are a child of God to tell a stone to turn into a loaf of bread, because the Bible says, "My God shall supply all your needs". Or wanting to prove to others that God would protect you even if you did something dangerous. Or claiming a city for God because "whatsoever you ask I will do"? If this sounds familiar, it is because that is exactly how Jesus was tempted.
He was tempted to make decisions Himself and make things happen Himself; to rely on His own ability and sufficiency even for legitimate and necessary things, but OUTSIDE of God's timing and way. He was offered all power and authority, which was absolutely His right to claim; He was tempted to prove Who He was, and to provide for His very real needs. All three temptations were aimed at Self - Self-motivation, Self-preservation, Self-recognition, Self-pity, Self-achievement, Self-sufficiency etc. He was tempted to use His God-given gifts and authority Himself and to have something NOW rather than be patient and wait for God's time and way. If He Who knew no sin was tempted in this way, how can we expect anything different??? He was tempted to take those things which were His by right and were God's will for Him to have; but He had given up everything, including His rights, and was not governed by Self.
Spiritual temptation is very subtle and deceptive because what we are tempted to do can appear on the surface to be right, and all for God, but God's will must be done in God's way and in God's time. Jesus was tempted just as we are tempted, but whereas the enemy tempts us in order to make us fall, our Father allows testing so that we can rise up; to prove to us that He can cause us to overcome the temptation, just as Jesus did.
We truly need an unveiling not only of Christ, but also of ourselves and our mindsets and motivations. The more of Christ and His Life we come to know, the more imperative it is that we depend upon Him moment by moment; otherwise we can be tempted to rely on what we know and misuse the ability and knowledge we have been given. To whom much is given, much is required - not necessarily much doing required, but much listening and responding to what we hear from our Father. If anyone could rely on themselves and decide independently what to do themselves, then surely it was Jesus Christ; but He said He did nothing from Himself, He would not act apart from His Father (John 5:19,30; 8:28). Jesus would not take any of the credit, glory or honour for Himself (John 8:50,54). He truly was a crucified man before He was even crucified. During His temptation in the wilderness Jesus was tempted to do God's will Himself rather than be surrendered. He overcame because He was not influenced by what He was genuinely entitled to or by seemingly important and legitimate needs and desires - both natural and spiritual.
Even the friends of Jesus when He was on earth were constantly surprised and offended by the who, what, when and how of what He did and didn't do and it is still the same today! It can be difficult for us to look beyond ourselves and how we feel and to focus only on Christ. Sometimes we have to ignore what our physical senses tell us and do whatever we have been led to, knowing that Father will enable, provide and be all we need. "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God" - we can absolutely trust His sufficiency and distrust our own! He maintains and supplies for all that He creates, and in the same way we are left to supply for what we create from ourselves when we go our own independent way! HIS work is just that: His, and not ours, although we are all part of His work whether we are doing something obvious or not, because we are part of Him!
Jesus Christ is doing His work in many ways. He creates the immaculate connections with one another that He requires to do His work, He always provides fully for what is His; again, how can He not? He takes good care of His body! Every part of our human body gets used every day and it all works together beautifully and we think nothing of it! Parts of our body, like our hands, are designed to be exact opposites of each other and yet our two hands working together accomplish what one hand on its own cannot. Some functions of the body are unseen and not even thought of but are part of everything the body does; obviously wherever the Head goes, there goes the Body... This is such a powerful picture of the Body of Christ: we all function and live because of Him and His Life!
This picture of unity in the one body is the relationship and intimacy which God has always desired to have with us: for us to trust Him and be His completely... without us needing to know all the answers and be like God. Our enemy still seeks to tempt and deceive us in the same way that he tempted Jesus and also Adam and Eve in the garden: by trying to get us to act and do something from our Self. We, like they, are tempted to think God is holding us back: "Did God really say not to eat from that tree? Do it! You won't die, you'll be like God and see the real picture".
Adam and Eve's failure was not firstly in what they did, but in what they didn't do: they didn't trust God even though they knew Him personally.
We, just like Adam and Eve, find it hard to trust and embrace God and His Love for each of us. If they had truly trusted their Father, they would not have believed what the enemy said, nor would they have been afraid of God and hid when He went looking for them. They would have known that He would not reject them because of what they'd done. He loved them and went searching for them! He wasn't separating Himself from them, THEY hid from Him! He searched them out and covered their shame, He clothed them. I have often wondered if He used sheepskins to clothe them, symbolizing the Lamb of God Who through His death is now our covering. Yet, in spite of the great All that He has done, so many of us still live in fear, still listen to the enemy, still eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil instead of the tree of Life, still hide in shame, still try to cover ourselves with leaves which quickly wither instead of simply trusting our Father, knowing Christ as our Covering, being in Love, and eating the fruit of Life!
This applies to us in so many ways... there is the temptation to act apart from the Life of Christ with seemingly spiritual things which WE originate or even genuinely God-initiated things which we then take hold of and take on as our own. There is the temptation of self-preservation and "safety" by not doing or saying anything which might upset the status quo. There is the temptation of being like God in thinking that WE know what is right or wrong for either ourselves or for somebody else. If we can trust our own judgments and actions then we do not need God; we can rely upon our own "knowledge" and be quite proud of being "right". But whatever has no need of Christ and His Life, is really death.
Anything which is of eternal consequence will result only if and only when it has been brought about by God Himself! If that were not the case then WE would be in control and not God. The battle and temptation within us is to know and accept that we must decrease and He must increase and to be surrendered to Him as Lord; to lose sight of ourselves and see only Christ. Knowing Christ as our Life and Source of all and depending on Him gives us correct and God-given knowledge and understanding. Knowing that we cannot trust ourselves but can trust Him, keeps us humble and dependent upon Him and enables us to simply discern between Life or death rather than a thousand "many things"!
Knowing and discerning good and evil is important and necessary too but the source of that knowledge must not be natural but supernatural; not from us, but from Christ and His Life which we recognize within us. This is part of maturing and knowing His Voice and His Life: discerning between what is earthly (from me) and what is heavenly (from God).
Obviously that doesn't happen overnight! I don't think our mistakes and failures surprise our Father though, He loves us so completely and utterly, He searches us out when we mess things up and want to hide, and He provides for us in Christ. This is a journey in which we are learning to increasingly trust Him, it is a process... we still make mistakes and do the wrong thing from time to time, but we are learning more and more what it means to live in Christ! We are learning not only to know His Voice, but to also trust Him with ourselves and with each other. We are learning to let go of our fears and hangups which bind and limit us and to take hold of Christ and live in Love and Freedom. We are learning that there is NO fear in Love. We are learning not to give in to Self and temptation, but to overcome in Christ. We are learning that in Him we truly live and move and have our being. We are learning that Christ truly is All!
The God who made the world and everything in it, this Master of sky and land, doesn't live in custom-made shrines or need the human race to run errands for him, as if he couldn't take care of himself. He makes the creatures; the creatures don't make him. Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him. He doesn't play hide-and-seek with us. He's not remote; he's near. We live and move in him, can't get away from him! One of your poets said it well: 'We're the God-created.' (Acts 17:24-28 TM)