External Dialogue

One of the fun things about my daughter is that she has not yet developed anything resembling an inner dialogue. Every thought that runs through her head comes out as a sort of self-narration through the day. “Miss is eating grapes.” “Miss sees bunnies.” “Miss play in kitchen.” “Miss wash hands.” “Miss go upstairs now and play with trains.” There are no mysteries, and that can be advantageous to keeping her safe at times. “Miss going downstairs without railing,” she proudly proclaims, and both of us are suddenly scrambling to the staircase.

It’s almost a shame we grow out of this habit of self-narration. Sure, it’s a good thing we don’t verbalize thoughts like, “Man, brother Joe needs to brush his teeth,” or “Wow, sister Sandy could stand to lose a few pounds.” That would get us into a lot of trouble, but it also might make us think twice about entertaining such ungracious thoughts. Likewise, we might reconsider engaging in sin if our actions were self-narrated. “Now I’m going to cheat on my taxes.” “It’s time to steal some office supplies now.” “I’m objectifying our waitress right now; don’t mind me.”

Think about how Jesus would interact with the Pharisees. Their thoughts and motivations were as open books to him. Take Luke 6:6-11 as an example:

On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him.

But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come and stand here” And he rose and stood there. And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” And after looking around at them all he said to him, “Stretch out your hand” And he did so, and his hand was restored. But [the Pharisees] were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.

To Jesus, our inner dialogue that we so easily dismiss is like a running narrative. The Pharisees come to him, seemingly innocent enough, bringing a man in need of healing. While they approach, it is as if they are saying, “We’re taking advantage of this poor man to try to play a petty trick on Jesus and win back some of the popularity and power he’s taking from us.” He knows their secrets, their thoughts, their intentions. They have a running narration of which they are unaware.

We can keep secrets from each other. We can keep secrets from ourselves, but we can’t hide our sins and our intentions from God. So next time you are going to do something questionable, stop and narrate it. “I’m going to go visit an immoral website while my wife sleeps in the next room, and I think she’ll never know about it.” How does it sound? What would you think if you read about someone else doing what you’re about to do? Maybe it will give you pause, and, if you pause, you might find yourself avoiding it entirely.

Losing Our Taste for Sin

Ever since we became parents, my wife and I have been trying to eat and live in a more healthy manner. We’ve cut most snacks and junk food from our diet. We’re more active with our daughter, and we’re eating much more home-cooked, unprocessed, and organic fare. It’s been a good change overall, but I’ve noticed something unexpected lately when I’ve let myself slip back into bad eating habits – I simply don’t like the stuff I used to eat.

It’s hard to eat healthy, at least it is when you first start. The junk is so much cheaper, so much more available, and, quite frankly, the junk is addictive. Unprocessed food lacks the sheer amount of sugar, salt, and other additive that make your body crave those french fries, that bag of chips, that Big Mac, or that breakfast cereal. It’s not addictive. Once you adapt, though, it’s rough going back.

Case in point: Our daughter was having a very rough Sunday morning recently and fell asleep on the way home from worship. We decided to take “the long way home,” but we were also hungry, so we stopped by a Wendy’s to grab a couple of sandwiches and drinks. Now, relatively speaking, there are far worse places to eat than Wendy’s, but that didn’t matter. We both felt pretty miserable the rest of the day. More than losing our taste for this type of food, our bodies simply rejected the junk.

The same needs to be true of our taste for sin. In I Corinthians 6:9, Paul begins to list some fo the sins filling the past of those Christians in Corinth, but he concludes verse 11 by writing:

But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

At one point, our souls subsisted upon spiritual junk food. We lived in sin, but, upon joining Christ in baptism, we made a promise to reject that past life. Paul goes on in this chapter in I Corinthians to draw a contrast between how we should conduct ourselves and how we may want to conduct ourselves. Starting in verse 12:

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food” — and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.

Paul is arguing against the idea that these past sins may have been seen as permissible, even beneficial, by their society, but they are not how the spiritual man lives. See also how Paul speaks to the addictive nature of sin: “I will not be enslaved.” Just as additives and sweeteners in unhealthy food can enslave our cravings, so too can the fleeting pleasures of sin ensnare us.

In the end, it comes down to the habits we make for ourselves. My wife and I have reached a point where those unhealthy eating choices make us feel miserable. Sin should do the same for anyone walking in the word of Christ. If we can acclimate our bodies and our minds to spiritual living, those times we slip and fall will be distasteful to us. They will make us feel miserable. Such experiences should only drive us to stay away from sin all the more diligently. I can assure you that Wendy’s will no longer look as appetizing to my family. Likewise, sin should lose its appeal to a Christian.

Put simply, we have to lose our taste for sin. Only then can we avoid returning to it.

 

 

Departed for a Season

And when the devil had completed every temptation, he departed from [Jesus] for a season (Luke 4:13).

Jesus’ temptations by the devil in the wilderness are a famous part of His work and life. Even though Jesus was physically weak and hungry, He did not give into the temptation to turn stones into bread, to test God by falling, or to bow down to the Evil One. Instead, He refuted the Devil by quoting Scripture (cf. Luke 4:1-12).

The victory, however, was not complete. Luke provides a telling detail not found in the other Evangelists: while the Devil did depart, it was only for a season.

Even though Luke indicates that the departure was only for a season, neither he nor the other Evangelists ever explicitly relate another time in which Satan tempted or tested Jesus. Nevertheless there are many instances in the life of Jesus where we can find a significant temptation in which Satan was most certainly involved.

There is Peter’s rebuke of Jesus on hearing that He will die – “this shall never happen to you” (Matthew 16:22). Jesus speaks of Peter as “Satan” in response, indicating that he is focused on the things of man and not on the things of God (Matthew 16:23). It is not necessary to believe that Satan was personally indwelling Peter – Peter is motivated by his passion for Jesus and his mistaken impressions about the nature of His Messiahship and Kingdom and needed no devilish inspiration to come up with such a remark. Nevertheless, Peter was acting as the Opposer, providing a significant temptation for Jesus. Satan could have very easily said the same thing – “far be it that the Son of God should die for sinful men!”

Temptations also came when the time drew near. Satan may have been tempting Jesus while in the garden; without a doubt he was about to tempt the disciples (cf. Luke 22:39-46). While on the cross, the words of the people represented another similar temptation – “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God!” They may have said it in a mocking and derisive manner, but it is a temptation nevertheless.

Again, we do not know every point at which Satan tempted or tested Jesus, but we have great confidence that he did. Jesus was ultimately victorious – He died and was raised again in power – and the power of sin and death was broken (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).

As Jesus Himself said, it is enough for the disciple to be like his master, and if the Master of the house was tempted by the Devil, then most certainly the disciples will also (cf. Matthew 10:24-25). We know that we suffer the temptations of the Evil One constantly (1 Peter 5:8)!

Let us learn from the example of our Lord. Lord willing, there will be times in our lives when we successfully overcome temptations to do evil or to avoid the good. When we do the will of God and not the will of Satan, God is glorified, and Satan is compelled to flee (James 4:7). Yet, as long as we live, the victory is not complete. The Devil will return at another season to tempt us again!

We must remember that the Evil One does not play fair. In overcoming one temptation we may fall prey to another temptation. On the other hand, even when we are weak, having fallen for a temptation or in distress and turmoil, the Evil One does not lighten up– temptations are sure to come (cf. 1 Peter 5:8). In good times or bad, in prosperity or poverty, in victory or defeat, the Devil has plenty of temptations available to cause us to stumble and, if we allow it, to lead us away from God.

This is why we must be perpetually on guard against temptation. We must always be clothed with the armor of God in order to resist the Evil One (cf. Ephesians 6:10-18), and if we ever slacken, we will find ourselves in sore distress.

When we are in that distress, it is good for us to reach out to fellow Christians and to be lifted up (Galatians 6:1-3, Hebrews 10:24-25). We must look to help lift up fellow Christians in distress, not with attitudes of superiority or arrogance, but humility and love, knowing full well that we may be the next ones that need lifting up.

Our conflict with evil is not one that any of us chose or would ever want to choose; nevertheless, it is ours to fight. We must stand firm against the Evil One at all times, knowing, as Jesus did, that temptations are sure to come at any moment. Let us stand firm for God no matter what and resist the Devil!

lesson by Ethan R. Longhenry

Naboth’s Spiritual Heritage

We’ve spent a couple of weeks considering the question of suffering, and Satan’s efforts to draw Job from God. Satan believes we all have a price, and, at some point, we will sell God out. In this lesson, we’re going to look at another way Satan tries to find our breaking point, and it begins in In I Kings 21 when Ahab tries to procure the vineyard owned by Naboth. When Ahab tells his wife for Naboth’s rejection, Jezebel appeals to his pride and conspires to kill Naboth. Once he is dead, Ahab takes possession of the vineyard.

Ahab does not have Naboth’s interests in mind at any point in these events. Ahab considers only himself. His first offer is reasonable, even generous, but the problem lies in the uncountable value of the vineyard to Naboth. He seeks to find Naboth’s price, but Ahab finds the Jezreelite has none. Back in Leviticus 25:23-28, God sets a provision that God’s land may not be sold permanently at any time. Any land sold can be redeemed at any time, or it is returned in a Year of Jubilee. The land handed down generation to generation is to stay in the family. Naboth honors God’s law regarding land. He does not sell his heritage.

A Spiritual Heritage

Notice Naboth’s concept of heritage and inheritance. It is more than what comes down from his ancestors. It is more than something he will pass on to his descendants. He recognizes that his heritage is from God. We sometimes sing the song “Faith of Our Fathers,” reminding us that we have a spiritual heritage, that we are spiritual children with a spiritual inheritance. We create a continuous chain from generation to generation that we cannot sell or buy as Naboth could not sell the vineyard passed down in his family.

We receive our faith through those who have come before us, and we pass that heritage unto others as Paul sees Timothy as his son in the faith. The challenge is whether we will stand like Naboth, refusing to be bought out, or will Satan find our price? Back in I Kings 21, there is an interesting contrast between Naboth and Ahab. Nothing Ahab can offer will move Naboth, but after Naboth’s death, Elijah tells Ahab that the king has sold himself to evil in verse 20.

What would we have done in Naboth’s position? Would we have acquiesced to the king, to the path of least resistance? Would we have seen the potential to expand our business or pay off other debts? Could Ahab had found our price, or would we have justified giving in due to the evil of Jezebel and Ahab? Without our convictions, we have nothing. We cannot sacrifice our spiritual heritage.

Never Deserting Our Post

Elijah Lovejoy was a journalist who opposed slavery in Illinois back in the 1800s. One night, because of the large volume of anti-slavery editorials he had published, and angry mob tracked him down and shot him. On the memorial, his words are recorded, “I am impelled in the course I have taken because I fear God…I can die at my post but I cannot desert.” He was killed over his printing press.

We let the things of this world keep us from our spiritual familiy. We teach our children that recreation is more important than the Lord’s work. We let our possessions cloud our morals. In our jobs, we go along with things we know that are wrong to avoid making waves. In doing these things, we devalue our spiritual heritage. We show it can be bought with a price. Hebrews 11:32-40 calls on us to reflect the faith demonstrated in our spiritual forefathers, to continue and perfect the work they started. We owe it to those who came before us, to those who come after us, to our Savior, and to ourselves, to never sell out.

I Corinthians 6:20 tells us we have been bout with a price – the blood of Christ. We have been purchased by God to be his own. Our redemption is beyond value. We should strive to be like Naboth in our struggle against temptation, never deserting our post and never selling out to the devil.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Compromising with Sin

In Exodus chapter 8, over the progression of the course of the plagues God delivers to Egypt, Pharaoh tries to compromise with Moses. Instead of allowing the people of Israel to leave and worship God, Egypt’s ruler tries to change the terms. In Exodus 8:25, Pharaoh tries to get them to stay in the land while worshiping, but Moses rebuts this compromise. In verse 28, Pharaoh tries a different tack – go and worship, but not three days journey. Exodus 10:10-11, Pharaoh commands Moses to take only the men and leave the women and children behind. Finally, in Exodus 11:24, the terms are to take the people but leave their flocks and herds behind. In like manner, Satan tries to compromise with us.

The Devil’s Compromises

“Stay in the land.” The devil tells us to give God lip-service, to worship God but remaining in the world. He entreats us to never separate ourselves from the world, but Jesus, in Matthew 15, warns that our hearts and actions should agree. We not only give God our service. We give Him our hearts. We cannot worship God wile compromising with the world.

“Don’t go far.” Satan tells us to be Christians, but keep it shallow. Obey some things. Do some good, but don’t be a fanatic. In Matthew 22:37, Jesus calls upon to love God wholly and completely. This is not a call for meeting God halfway. This is a call to dedicate ourselves entirely to Him.

“Don’t Take Your Families.” The devil encourages us to keep our faith to ourselves. Don’t try to impact others, but Matthew 5:13 records Jesus telling His followers that they are the salt of the land, a light to the world. He calls upon them to let their light shines so others can see the faith they profess. Jesus expects us to influence others.

“Divide Your Loyalties.” Satan calls us to allow worldly concerns to pull us away from God, but Jesus calls us to lay up treasures in Heaven in Matthew 6:24-33. We cannot serve God and our earthly treasures, so we should seek God first, trusting in Him and finding refuge in Him alone.

Conclusion

Pharaoh wanted to control Israel through comprise, but there is no compromise with God’s edicts. The same is still true. Satan wants us to make compromises and control us through those trade-offs. If we value our spiritual heritage, we will resist him at every turn, showing him that God’s will not bend to his deceptions.

lesson by Tim Smelser

A Case Study In Spiritual Depression

In Jude, the author compares false teaching to several Old Testament examples, and three of these in verse 11 are Cain, Korah, and Balaam. In this lesson we’re going to examine Cain’s falling into sin and the lessons we can take from his spiritual depression.

Cain’s Downward Spiral

In Genesis 4, we find the record of the sacrifices by Cain and Abel. Here we see Cain struggling with spiritual issues after his sacrifice is rejected by God. Genesis 4:5 records Cain becoming very angry, and his countenance falls. When asking Cain about his anger, God reminds him that sin is crouching at Cain’s door, but He encourages Cain that he can rule over this sin. However, Cain gives in to the sin and murders his brother Abel.

Cain enters a downward spiral from the moment of his sacrifice. When his inferior sacrifice is rejected, he is not angry at himself for not offering his best. Rather, he seeks an outward target for his aggression. Proverbs 15:13 tells us that a glad heart is reflected on our outward conduct, but a sorrowful heart breaks the spirit. Here, Cain has a sorrowful heart, and it begins to eat away at his character.

God looks to console and redirect Cain, rhetorically asking him why he is angry. He is trying to get Cain to think. This is similar to II Corinthians 13:5 when Paul asks the Christians in Corinth to examine themselves, testing their adherence to the true faith. God is telling Cain to see if these troubles are coming from within himself. He is giving Cain a chance to self-examine and avoid the sin lurking in his heart, waiting to consume him.

Cain Victimizes Himself

I Peter 5:8 describes the devil as a lion stalking his victims, but James 4:7-8 reminds us that we can resist the devil, who will flee as a result. John 13:12-17 records Jesus washing His apostles’ feet as an example of humility and servitude, and He calls them blessed if they follow this pattern. God can see Cain’s spiritual depression, and he reminds Cain that he is blessed if he does what he should. Cain can resist this sin. He can make the devil flee.

Genesis 4:8 records Cain telling something to Abel, and we don’t know the contents of this conversation. Regardless, what it comes down to is a struggle within Cain between God’s way and man’s way, and Cain chooses man’s way. His downward spiral leads him to murder his own brother. Likewise, we can wallow in spiritual depression, letting our anger fester, avoiding doing what is right. He even lashes out at God in verse 9, asking God if he is responsible for his brother. When punished for his action, Cain still blames God for his problems. His heart has hardened.

Avoiding a Hardened Heart

Hebrews 3:12 warns us to be careful of bearing an evil heart. Time and again, the Hebrew author warns of the dangers of hardening our hearts. When we go down this path, Hebrews 6:6 tells us that repentance becomes near impossible, and we continue to crucify our Savior. None of us want to go down this path, but when we put our way before God’s, we start down that path. I Peter 5:6 calls on us to humble ourselves under God’s hand, and He will lift us up.

Cain may have been hurt and frustrated, but he could have still chosen God’s way. He could have humbled himself before God and examined himself rather than blamed others. The story would have turned out differently. We have the same choice every day between our way or God’s way. Our goal should be to soften our hearts to God’s word and submit to His will, allowing Him to cleanse us and grant us His promises.

lesson by Tim Smelser