The Ultimate Temptation

cross against blue sky

Jesus was tried, tempted, and tested throughout His ministry here on earth. In order for Old Testament prophecy and all of God’s laws to be fulfilled, His Son had to go through the most awful agony and torture anyone in history has every known. Jesus, as man, could not dodge or skip anything that was sent His way. He had to be brought through all of this to fulfill His Father’s will. But He was never worried, perplexed, or concerned, because He knew that He was doing His Father’s will, and He knew that His Father would never send Him into something that He could not handle or that would cause Him to fail.

On the other hand, the devil (the ultimate deceiver) had deceived himself into believing that he actually could cause Jesus to fail. He was determined to find an area, one little place, where he could cause Jesus to slip and fail. He tried with the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. He tried with each of the groups of religious leaders. He tried through Jesus’ own family. He even tried through Jesus’ closest disciples. Yet he could not seem to find the right place. Then he saw what he perceived to be a potential weakness, when he saw Jesus praying in the garden. “And [Jesus] went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt” (Mark 14:35-36). If these verses are read quickly at face value, they make it appear that Jesus did not really want to go through the agony that was to come. And that He did not want to die (at least, not in the manner foretold). But read the verses carefully again. The last part of verse 36 stands out: “…nevertheless not what I will, but thou wilt.”

Jesus never did anything except what His Father told Him to do. He never cared what the people thought of Him, whether good or bad; He only wanted to please His Father. He was never out to fulfill His own will.

This did not stop the devil from trying to persuade Jesus to do otherwise, and he proceeded step-by-step to try to get Him to beg His Father to deliver Him from enduring the cruelty that was to come.

The devil also used one of Jesus’ twelve closest disciples, Judas, to deliver Him up to the religious leaders. When they came to arrest Him, Jesus could have slipped away, just like He had done at other times when His life was threatened. But He resisted and stood strong against any temptation or desire to flee. Another disciple, Peter, tried to use violence to prevent Jesus’ capture. Jesus stood against this temptation also, saying to those present, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53)

Jesus knew He could give in and save Himself, but He also knew that if He yielded to any kind of temptation, His Father’s Word would return void.

Then the devil had Him tried illegally before the Jewish leaders in a trial that was rigged before it even began. With His vast knowledge and His connection with His Father, He could have easily confounded them with the truth and set Himself free. But He continued to stand against this temptation too. Even when He was sent before King Herod, and then Pilate, who found no guilt in Him and had full authority to set Him free, He remained mostly silent. Throughout all of this, despite the beating, mocking, scourging, and being forsaken by those closest to Him, He still stood by what He had prayed earlier: “…nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.”

Jesus’ ultimate temptation came when He was hanging upon the cross at Calvary. The devil knew that time was running out for him to get Jesus to fail. Up to this point, all of his attempts had been thwarted. Yet he still held onto the belief that Jesus just might give in. Jesus was physically beaten by order of the Jewish leaders, and then once again by the Roman soldiers. He was scourged to the point where most individuals normally would have died, and then had a crown of thorns shoved down onto His head. He also had to haul a heavy wooden beam for quite some distance. Finally, He was hung on that beam with nails (spikes) driven through the area of His hands and feet. He refused anything to dull the pain or lessen the suffering and agony that He had to go through in order to redeem every man, woman, and child from sin.

Not only did He have all of this physical agony, He also had the indescribable burden of bearing all of the sins of the whole world—past, present, and future. Yet He continued to stand steadfastly against the temptation to seek His Father for just a little relief from all of this.

Even with the scoffers and skeptics railing against Him as they passed by, He did not succumb to the temptation to leave the cross and the agony. “And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads, and saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God” (Matthew 27:39-43). His intimacy with His Father and His desire for the world to be able to freely have this same close relationship was greater than all of the temptations He endured.

Finally, Jesus reached the point where He knew that all that needed to be fulfilled had been accomplished. After exclaiming, “It is finished” (John 19:30b), He willingly gave up His life. Note that He gave up His life. He did not take His own life, as in suicide. Once again the devil failed. Not only did Jesus withstand the ultimate temptation, but three days after He was taken down from the cross and buried, He rose victorious from the grave and ascended (returned) to His heavenly home and His Father, God!

Jesus defeated the power and control of sin over our lives through His sacrifice of Himself on the cross. He made it possible that no temptation should ever overcome or defeat us.

He demonstrated the absolute necessity of prayer and knowing God’s word in order to avoid succumbing to temptation. When we yield to Him and develop an intimacy with Him, then whatever we are tempted by will no longer hold the appeal it once had. Instead, He becomes our greatest desire, and we will want to please Him. Jesus told us several times in the Bible to watch and pray. When we ride a raft down a swift-moving river, we should not wait until we are being thrashed about among the rocks and rapids to start looking for the paddles or oars and the guide on how to safely navigate through rough waterways. In the same way, we should not just wait until temptation comes and then desperately seek God for victory and deliverance from it. Jesus wants us to be prepared by continually trusting and following Him.

We are most vulnerable when we wander away from Him. When we take our eyes off of the cross and put them onto our self, our temptations then become more than we can bear.

Jesus’ success came because He did the will of the Father, regardless of the circumstances. Therefore, our success will only come when we do not do our own will, but our Heavenly Father’s will also.

Powered by The Light

Electricity created from light is an amazing source of energy. If we were to stop and think about what causes this to happen, it just doesn’t seem logically possible that a light source, such as the sun, or even something as simple as a desk lamp, could recharge a phone, operate a calculator, or cause a small motor to spin. On a much larger scale, light from the sun can generate enough electricity to provide power for a single home all the way up to a small city, and even more. In fact, it is now becoming increasingly difficult to find something that does not have light as a power source.

While solar power is a rather cost-effective energy source, it lacks the large volume of power that more conventional sources of power (such as coal, gas, or hydroelectric) could generate for the same amount of physical space. Since the output of a solar or “photovoltaic” cell (the component that converts light into electricity) is not powerful enough, it cannot be directly connected to the device that needs power. A common method to accommodate this shortfall is to use a battery. The battery becomes the actual power source while the solar cell recharges the battery. This allows the device to continue operating for a limited period of time when there is no light source.

car battery

A similarity exists between solar cells, batteries, and true believers in Jesus Christ. When we yield to Him and allow Him to work in our life, He becomes the light source that recharges us spiritually, by means of the Holy Spirit. As long as we desire to be in His presence and do the will of our Heavenly Father, we are made strong spiritually. But when we do our own will, and manage in a way that we feel is best, we then move out of His light and into darkness. The more we are in darkness, the more that we are working in our own strength and power. Furthermore, we are not able to generate or produce enough of our own light to keep ourselves charged.

The result?—we soon run out of power and become spiritually dead.

The solution?—stay in The Light.

The means?—through prayer, reading and dwelling on God’s Word (the Bible), and by being obedient to it.

Therefore it is imperative for us to yield to Christ in a real relationship. The more we yield our self to Him, the more we are able to walk in His light. This will, in turn, keep us fully charged with His power and will enable us to carry out God’s will. A solar cell must be in a good source of light to generate electricity. In a similar manner, we must remain consistently in His Light for the Holy Spirit to work through us. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). Let us walk in His light and keep ourselves out of the darkness.

The Peace of God

boat in fog

Many people feel that they have some form of peace in their lives. But what most are experiencing is merely peace with their own conscience. This is not the peace of God. Some think that when their anxiety level eases up, they have found peace. And others have what they call peace just because they don’t bother to think! But not one of these forms of peace can compare with the peace that God brings. They will not make your soul content.

The peace of God is the kind of peace that “passes all understanding.”

How many people realize that peace is what they are trying to find? Some think it would be nice to find it, but they don’t really pursue it. Yet they spare no effort in pursuing other things they feel are desirable. The search for peace for many others does not begin until they have become disillusioned and worn-out. Then they will often search for just enough peace to enable them to sleep at night and perhaps dream of a way of escape.

Real peace, according to God, relates to His attitude toward man. The “peace of God” refers to a state of total contentment because the mind is at rest. This, in turn, puts the conscience in a state of blessedness and tranquility. This only happens when man gets into the right kind of relationship with God. A person who is not right with God can never turn his mind anywhere but on himself. But man cannot begin to have peace with God until he comes to the point of seeing, and then stating, that God is righteous in requiring the death of Jesus Christ as payment for man’s sin against God.

“Peace of God”—what does this mean? It can be called a condition of the heart, where those who believe in God know that He is always watching over them. But the peace of God cannot come into your heart until you realize that you are guilty of sinning against God. If you have sin in your life, there can be no harmony between you and God, or even with your fellow man.

No true peace can be had until sin’s curse on your life is taken away.

Those who realize that they are sinners [someone who transgresses the law of God] can come to God and tell Him how sorry they are for their sin. If they are sincere, He will forgive them and have mercy on them and save them from sin. Then they can experience what His peace is. But no mercy is promised to those who will not admit that they are wrong. The only way to find true satisfaction for the heart, mind, and conscience is to have peace with God. Any other form of peace is false and deceptive. True peace never involves deceit. Once you find this peace with God, then you can finally achieve peace within yourself and with others. But “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked” (Isaiah 57:21).

The state of peace between God and man was made possible by Jesus giving up His life on the cross.

All mankind had gotten into a terrible, sinful condition, which was highly offensive to a holy God. This made it absolutely necessary for Jesus to give His life as the only way to save mankind. For those who, in turn, give their lives to Christ, He becomes the Prince of Peace, and God the Father is the God of Peace.

We don’t have to be disturbed concerning what to do about our troubles and our sins, because Jesus already took them all upon Himself when He hung on the cross. He paid the ultimate price (giving up His life) for our sin against the heavenly Father, and now we don’t have to pay it ourselves. In fact, the cost is so enormous that we never could pay it. “And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven” (Colossians 1:20). When we come to understand this, then our sins will not be able to overcome us anymore and deprive us of peace. We can come to the point where we can live in a state of true peace with God.

But don’t start running after peace—run after Jesus, and His peace will follow you. He is the only source of real peace.

When Jesus left Earth to return to Heaven, He told His disciples: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). The peace He gives is nothing like the peace the world gives. His peace drives out trouble. Jesus told us to not to let our heart be disturbed out of its relationship with Him. In a world always at war with God, can there ever be real peace? Jesus also told His disciples: “These things have I spoken unto you, that in Me ye may have peace. In the world ye have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The world hated Jesus, and it still does. It hates His followers too. But, even in the midst of all this, He has assured us that we can have peace.

It is not usually the big things which upset us the most, but the ordinary, little, everyday things that disturb our peace continually. What can we do about this? We need to lay out all our troubles before God. Whether we are confronting little difficulties, or large ones, like sorrow or death, we need to hear Him telling us, “Let not your heart be troubled.” The picture of real peace can be seen by looking at the life of Jesus while He was on Earth.

Jesus is not the least bit worried about the difficult situations you find yourself in. But if you worry about them, He won’t get involved in your situation—because you are determined to handle it yourself. Then you get what you deserve. We are to live in Him, but we get disturbed, because we do not take Him into consideration when we look at our difficult situations.

“Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

What is the case with you? Are you trying to find peace with God? Why haven’t you found it yet? Could it possibly be because of your unbelief? To find God’s peace, you need to have faith in God. The more you have faith in Him, the more peace you will have from Him. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” (Isaiah 26:3).

Choking the Word

thorny plants

“And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them…” (Matthew 13:7). “He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22).

The parable of the sower was one of the first parables (simple stories to teach a moral or deeper truth) that Jesus began to teach the people. In this parable, He was talking about a sower of seed who had distributed it among different kinds of ground. The seed here represents the Word of God. While each of the types of ground that the seed landed upon is important, the focus here is just on the thorny ground. When the Word is sown or distributed among thorns, or the cares of this world, then the Word is choked and has little usefulness.

Many today have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and they usually want to read His Word, the Bible. But they don’t want to yield to what His Word says.

They are driven instead by a desire to succeed. They have obtained many material goods and are determined to enjoy them.

They spend much of their free time entertaining friends, neighbors, and themselves. When approached by someone about God, they will readily mention that they are Christians, and might even quote a verse from the Bible. Yet, if the conversation turns to something deeper, they are quick to change the subject and move on to something else. Their lives are shallow and restricted. They may regularly attend a church and read the Bible some, but they find no real time to do what God says. They always have something else that needs to be done. (But if the Bible was an action-packed movie or a television show, they would easily make some time to watch it!)

thorny cactus

When thorns surround and choke a healthy plant, its growth will be significantly stunted. While it may still be green and appear to be thriving, it will never reach its proper fullness of growth unless the thorns are removed. In fact, it can’t grow anymore, because the thorns have taken control. The plant is basically helpless and will eventually succumb to the thorns. Unless something greater than the thorns comes and removes them, the plant will then wither and die.

When we allow thorns—the cares and pleasures of this world—to take over our life, then God’s Word no longer holds real importance to us. It may reach our heart, but we don’t grow, due to thorns like our job, our home, our vacation overseas, our vehicles, our friends, our movies, our television—on and on the list goes. But our relationship with God must come first. Our main focus should be on Jesus Christ, not social media, the Super Bowl and World Cup, or what restaurant our friends are eating at right now.

“…seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33 emphasis mine).

When we yield to Him and let Him pull out these thorns, then His Word will become clearer and we will desire to read it again. The more we eagerly want to know about Jesus, the more He will reveal Himself through His Word. The more we learn about Him through reading His Word, the more we will want to do what He tells us in His Word.

When Jesus sows His Word in our heart and we allow the thorns of the cares of this world to choke it out, we are saying that we do want Him, but we also plan to continue to do everything our way by ourselves. He then becomes like just another material item we own that we can proudly boast about to others.

Let Jesus be the source of your care, concern, and pleasure, not this world and all of its sources of temporary satisfaction.

Jesus said, Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Matthew 6:19-21 emphasis mine). Go before Him in prayer and make Him your treasure, yielding the thorns over to Him. Then His Word will be able to blossom abundantly in your heart and give you real satisfaction.

Bribing the Enemy for Peace?

money passed in handshake

“Then Menahem smote [attacked] Tiphsah, and all that were therein, and the coasts thereof from Tirzah: because they opened not to him…and all the women therein that were with child he ripped up. In the nine and thirtieth year of Azariah king of Judah began Menahem the son of Gadi to reign over Israel, and reigned ten years in Samaria. And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord: he departed not all his days from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin. And Pul the king of Assyria came against the land: and Menahem gave Pul a thousand talents of silver, that his hand might be with him to confirm the kingdom in his hand. And Menahem exacted [demanded] the money of Israel, even of all the mighty men of wealth, of each man fifty shekels of silver, to give to the king of Assyria. So the king of Assyria turned back, and stayed not there in the land.” (2 Kings 15:16-20).

The nation of Israel was at one of the low points in its history, both morally and spiritually. Many years earlier it had split into two kingdoms, with Judah comprising the southern half. Menahem, the current king, did not want to lose his standing as leader of the people and the land. Sadly, though, he had not even been chosen by the people. He had simply killed the previous king, who had only ruled a month, and took his place! The people’s objection to his rule was further established in verse 16, when he readily attacked the city of Tiphsah and all of its inhabitants (including child-bearing women, in a most vicious way) just because they refused to allow him into their city.

Instead of seeking and trusting God, Menahem took matters into his own hands—he leaned to the wisdom of man instead of God.

When the king of Assyria came against the land of Israel, Menahem chose to bribe the king rather than attempting to fight Him. Then he ordered all the wealthy individuals of the land to pay the bribe, whether they liked it or not. It is sad to note that this was all that the Holy Spirit chose to make known of his life to future readers of God’s Word, like many other leaders of the land.

How many believers in Christ today try something similar when our enemy, the devil, attacks us? We may not actually kill a leader, or attack a city and its people, but we still attempt to bribe or pay off our enemy. We even try to force other believers to pay the bribe for us! How many pastors and ministry leaders are guilty of trying to bribe the enemy with the funds from their church or ministry?

Throughout the Old Testament, the history of the children of Israel has demonstrated for us what happens when our faith is not totally in God. Over and over, the Israelites turned their eyes off of God, and onto themselves and their problems instead. They allowed their problems to reach the point where they became blinded to the fact that God actually could, and wanted to, deliver them from these problems and situations. They became so caught up with deception from the devil that their leaders started bribing the enemy to bring peace. As long as they kept averting the tests that God was bringing on them via the devil, the more the tests continued.

We cannot bribe or placate our enemy, the devil, to gain peace, whether we are ministry leaders or not.

The devil is the master of chaos, but Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Our only hope is to give our situations and circumstances over to Him. Giving even as little as a fraction of an inch to the devil results in him taking control of much of our lives. There is nothing that we could ever give to the devil that would satisfy him to leave us alone. It is foolishness to think that we could ever have peace with, much less overcome, the devil in our own strength.

When the ‘king of Assyria’ or any other ‘king’ comes against us spiritually, our solution is to turn to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ. He has already paid the price and won our victory through His sacrifice on the cross. The price He paid was not a bribe or tribute. It was a final sacrifice and a finished work. There is nothing more we can ever do to improve or build upon His sacrifice for us. Jesus has already defeated the ‘king of Assyria’; all we have to do is trust in faith in that victory for ourselves. “The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace” (Exodus 14:14).

Little is Much

 

 

kneeling at cross

 

 

“And when the day was now far spent, his disciples came unto him, and said, This is a desert place, and now the time is far passed: Send them away, that they may go into the country round about, and into the villages, and buy themselves bread: for they have nothing to eat. He answered…Give ye them to eat. And they say unto him, Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth of bread, and give them to eat? He saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? go and see. And when they knew, they say, Five, and two fishes. And he commanded them to make all sit down by companies upon the green grass…And when he had taken the five loaves and the two fishes, he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and brake the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before them; and the two fishes divided he among them all. And they did all eat, and were filled. And they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments, and of the fishes. And they that did eat of the loaves were about five thousand men” (Mark 6:35-44).

Jesus had been teaching the people in a solitary part of the region for much of the afternoon. They had come because they were hungry, not for physical food, but for the truth (spiritual food). The people sought Jesus because they knew He taught the truth. Even though Jesus was physically tired at this point, (since He had originally come with His disciples to this desert location for rest), He was strengthened by the people’s desire to hear and learn God’s Word.

Jesus’ disciples, however, grew more concerned with getting physical food for the people than about them hearing the truth.

As the evening drew near, the disciples urged Him to send the people away to find something to eat. The idea never occurred to them that perhaps Jesus could provide for their physical needs as well as their spiritual needs. Of course, Jesus was fully aware of their concerns. “When Jesus then lifted up [His] eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do” (John 6:5, 6). Surprised (and perhaps shocked) at His response, the disciples immediately looked to their own selves to provide food for this great assembly. (Some scholars believe that there could have been over 15,000 individuals present). They replied, “…Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth [several thousand of dollars worth] of bread, and give them to eat?” (Mark 6:37). They really believed that Jesus might be out of His mind at this point, because He was expecting them to meet all of these people’s needs. They had probably expected Jesus to respond, “You’re right, we really ought to send them back to the nearest villages and let them get fed there.”

Jesus wasn’t fazed by all of this though. Instead, He let them see for themselves just how little they had for such a great need. If they hadn’t known what they had begun with, then the full depth of the miracle that Jesus was about to perform wouldn’t have been realized. After they took the smattering of provisions (enough for only a few to eat) over to Him and had the people sit in an orderly manner on the grass, He blessed and broke the bread, then the fish, and gave them to the disciples to be distributed among the people. Notice that He never gave any of these provisions directly to the people Himself—it was always through His disciples. In the end, there was so much distributed from the hands of Jesus that everyone was able to eat and be filled. No lack was mentioned and a dozen basketfuls were still leftover.

How many times do we believers in Jesus Christ go to Him first for our needs, both great and small? When Jesus is trusted solely, a small amount yields an overabundance.

Trying to meet a great need by ourselves is the same kind of problem as the disciples trying to feed the whole multitude with the tiny provisions that were available. Jesus never told them to go and buy all of the food, or to take the loaves and fishes and give everyone just a crumb or two of bread. (We won’t even try to determine how much of a portion of those two fish they would have to give!). That is why Jesus told them “you give them something to eat.” He knew that in their hearts that they would say “We can’t; He will have to do something!”

God wants us, as His children, dependent upon Him for our needs. When we look to our self, we take our eyes off of Him, and meeting our need becomes more and more insurmountable to us. The need doesn’t have to be just for food. It can also be in other areas, physical or spiritual. “But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

The problem comes when we limit God. The disciples tried to limit God, as in the example above of the five thousand being fed, by implying that the people needed to leave in order to be fed.

They felt that Jesus was so absorbed in teaching and healing the people that He had forgotten about the basic needs of the people and that He needed the disciples to remind Him of this. How often do we limit God, or put Him “in a box,” by saying that He can meet these particular needs, but He probably won’t be able to meet these other needs? How many times are we impatient with God meeting our needs and end up taking care of them ourselves? How many times do we hurt or insult God by not having complete faith in Him?

We must remember that God is always in control of the situation; we are the ones that lose control and become anxious. We are to place our needs and circumstances in the hands of Jesus and let go, not picking them up later when He doesn’t respond or do anything in our anticipated timeframe. If we take back the needs that we laid in His hands, we are effectively saying that we don’t fully trust Him in everything and that we will take care of it ourselves. Again we are back to limiting God. [Cast] all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Remember that the disciples never even asked Jesus to provide for the people’s needs. How much more will He respond when we really do ask and fully believe?

No Good Thing

“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing…” (Romans 7:18).

Once we give our life to God, we discover that inside of us there is both the ‘old man’ (that person we were before God saved us), and now the ‘new man’ (that God is making us into). The very nature of the ‘old man’ is rebellion against God. Slowly we discover that we are not able to carry out our earnest desires to be good or to do anything good. All too often we find ourselves going in the opposite direction of our new nature—the ‘new man’—even though we don’t want to anymore. Therefore, we can’t put any confidence in our flesh, our ‘old man,’ even after we become believers.

Before we were believers in Christ, many of us tried to prove that we were righteous and deserved to be saved by our righteous deeds (hoping they would outnumber our unrighteous deeds). After we became believers, at some point we (hopefully) learned that there was nothing righteous about our ‘old man,’ and we really deserve nothing good from God at all. Our real problem is our old self. Inside our ‘old man’ there is no good thing. He doesn’t want to pray or hear God’s Word because he hates both. He does no good thing, because nothing in his nature is truly good (according to God’s standards). Why? because the ‘old man’ (the “flesh”) has made us weak due to sin, while our spirit is now quite strong and willing to do good.

The moment eventually comes when we finally realize that no good thing is naturally in our flesh. This means that we can’t put anything in ourselves that is good—only God can.

And where do good things come from? They come from the grace of God, from Jesus Christ, and from the Holy Spirit’s influence. So God comes in and makes a way for us to be set apart unto Him.

The Apostle Paul thought he could keep the law perfectly after God saved him. Slowly he began to understand that the ‘old man’ was still there, interfering with his ability to do so. Then he realized that “…it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me” (Romans 7:17). When he saw that he would have to struggle all his life with this issue, he cried out, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24). He came to understand that it was not him linked to Christ who was failing. It was sin living within him which still controlled him and caused him to fail. He wrote “…For to will [to do good] is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not (Romans 7:18). He did not have the power necessary to overcome the old sin nature, the ‘old man.’

Paul discovered a law here. The ‘new man’ inside him delighted to do the law of God. But, in spite of all his determined hard effort, by doing this he did not become holy like he thought he would. God allowed Paul to try his own way until he finally learned that it was destined to failure. Then he learned that our flesh is no different from anyone else’s. We can try all we want by our own effort to overcome our flesh, but we will never succeed on our own, even after we become believers. But when we finally give up, then God’s Spirit can come in and work on us.

Think of it this way: Suppose an abnormal growth is inside of you, threatening your life if left to develop on its own. Your doctor says it must be removed. Do you go home and cut yourself open so you can pull that thing out of you? Hopefully not! You know you must have the doctor remove the abnormal growth. While lying on the operating table, do you reach out and grab his scalpel and say, “Let me have that. I can cut this thing out of me”? No, you know you have to submit to the doctor’s superior knowledge and ability in this area. You have to trust him to do what needs to be done to help you. You are not capable of operating on yourself, even though you very strongly desire to get rid of the abnormal growth.

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When we give our lives to God, we have to come to the point where we trust Him to do what must be done to remove the abnormalities caused by sin that are hindering our progress in becoming a true man or woman of God. When our heart as a believer becomes more holy and pure, we more earnestly desire to obey God as we grow in His grace. And the more holy we become, the more we want that abnormal growth of sin still deep inside us to be gone. But then we discover another law in us, which Paul called the “law of sin and death.”

The ‘old man’ is the carnal man who has not been delivered from the bondage of the law. The ‘new man’ is the spiritual man, filled with God’s Spirit, and Jesus has become the ruler of his life. Sin can no longer rule over the ‘new man’ when grace rules instead.

Grace comes from outside of us—from God Himself—to help us overcome the lusts of our carnal mind. He sets us free from their control while inspiring a love of holiness in us. God’s supernatural grace is strong enough to hold back the ‘old man,’ so he can no longer do all the evil things he wants to.

The carnal (fleshly or worldly) part of our mind is constantly at war with the renewed mind that Christ has given us. Should we fight with it? No—it will bring us down every time. Turn away instead and be totally done with it! No amount of self-effort can bring this conflict within us to an end. When we finally realize that, we then learn the way to reach our goal. We need to delight in Jesus Christ risen from the dead—the only One who can deliver from the power of sin. We should look away from our self and law, and look to the risen Christ instead. When we cry out in anguish, “Who shall deliver me?”, what is the proper response? God will deliver us, through His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:2-4).

This is our battle: to crucify this indwelling principle of evil in our flesh, as we wage war continually against it by the power of the Holy Spirit. Yield to God and obey Him; then we will be well pleasing to Him. We can’t live for God in our own strength. Only by the power of the Holy Spirit living inside us can we truly live for God as He wants us to.

Willing Spirit, Weak Flesh

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“For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (Galatians 5:17).

When the Apostle Paul wrote these words, he was saying that he had discovered that he had no strength of his own to carry out the good that he wanted or willed to do in his life. He also said, “…how to perform that which is good, I find not…(Romans 7:18). After wrestling with this knowledge for a while, he came to the conclusion that he could carry out no good thing without Jesus Christ.

Why is this? It is because the “flesh” wants what the Spirit does not want, while the Spirit wants what the flesh does not want. And this is because “…these are contrary the one to the other…” They are total opposites, hostile toward each other in an ongoing conflict that never ends. If the Spirit side wants to do good, the other side opposes it and wants to do what is evil in God’s eyes. But when the evil side wants to do evil, the Spirit of God in those who believe in God opposes and tries to restrain it.

Now just what is “the flesh”? In the Bible, “flesh” does not refer particularly to our physical body, but to our human nature that leaves God out. It applies to the way man is as he has adapted to living in the world system. It refers to man’s “lower nature” where “no good thing” dwells.

The spirit of man is willing to do what God wants, once the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of Jesus) has access to it. But man’s flesh has been so weakened through sin that it always gets in the way of the good the Holy Spirit wants to do in and through our lives. Paul came to the realization that no good thing lives in our flesh. The good things live in our heart and spirit.

“For to be carnally [fleshly] minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity [hatred] against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Romans 8:6-7).

The spirit of man cannot carry out the good things he wills to do because of this lack of harmony within him—unless he can tap into a strength higher than his own. Those “who walk in the spirit will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh” because of this higher power in them, which the Bible calls “grace.” “And these are contrary …” meaning they are opposites and never in harmony with each other over anything. The Spirit of God leads us in the right way, but our carnal nature leads us in another.

When we are born again, we receive a new nature within us that comes from God. This is one very good reason to want to be born again. But those who become born again, like Paul, soon discover that we can still do the evil we used to do before we were born again. How perplexing this is to us, as we wonder why we can’t carry out the good we now desire to do. Our opposition comes from our old self, our “flesh.” Our old carnal, fleshly self always sides with what it loves, and what it loves is always contrary to what the Spirit of God loves.

What does God do about this? He imparts His supernatural grace into our born again soul, so that we can overcome all the lusts of our carnal, fleshly self and be free from their domination. In the Bible, “grace” refers to God’s compassion, mercy, and forbearance, His favor and forgiveness. Therefore, sin no longer has any right to dominate our body, because the new reigning power in our soul is grace. Our old self no longer leads the way to more sin for us, because the stronger power of the Holy Spirit that comes through God’s grace restrains it. Then God can inspire us to seek holiness in our soul instead.

Are we now going to continue to let our weak flesh do what it pleases? No, our new self now needs to watch and pray, as Jesus told His disciples.

Our flesh is not evil in itself, being a basic part of our make-up as human beings. But it continues to be weak, even though our spirit is becoming more and more strong. Our goal should be to overcome the influence and domination of the flesh by tapping into the strength of the spirit. How do we do this? By watching and praying. “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak´ (Matthew 26:41).

Watching is not just being awake, but using our powers to guard against the evil the flesh wants to yield to. And while we are on guard against evil, we would be wise to ask God to help us overcome it. When we are on watch against evil, we are able to see temptation coming. Then, when we turn to prayer, we receive the strength we need to stand against the temptation when it arrives. Peter’s spirit was willing to watch. But, through his flesh, the evil one weighed him down to keep him from doing so. This is why Jesus warned His disciples to watch and pray. When they failed to, they gave the devil an advantage over their fleshly nature.

Even Jesus needed to watch and pray. When He was praying in the garden of Gethsemane before going to the cross, He was weighed down with sorrow to the point that His flesh was barely able to keep from giving in even unto death.”

(“Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry [wait] ye here, and watch with me” (Matthew 26:38)). He was asking His disciples to watch with Him during this most trying time of His life. Yet, even when Jesus was at His weakest point, He showed that He was the only One who could give all strength. He exhibited all grace even when He was undergoing and being crushed under divine judgment like no other man has ever known. Jesus was willing in His spirit to totally yield Himself to the heavenly Father’s will. His spirit was able to master His flesh and bring Him to victory. This meant that He would have to suffer and die on the cross, He who had never yielded to sinful fleshly desires in His entire life.

We are no longer to let sin have the rule in our physical body. “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof” (Romans 6:12). No longer are we to obey the sinful impulses, but are now to achieve victory over them. We can’t just come to the point of not doing evil; it is time to learn to do good. Jesus set the example for us. He will not accept those as His own who continue to yield themselves to be the slaves of sin. We have been trying in our own strength, in our flesh, to overcome, and we should know by now that this way does not work. What we are missing is that we need to tap into a power higher than our own to achieve victory. We need to depend on His Spirit working in us to overcome our sinful fleshly desires. Then we will no longer be the slaves of sin and the flesh, but willing slaves of Jesus Christ, obedient to His Spirit.

Tempted and Tried

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“Jesus said unto him, It is written again…You shall not tempt the Lord thy God” (Deuteronomy 6:16; Matthew 4:7).

What does it mean to “tempt” God? It refers to testing His strength, goodness, value, and truth, or to put Him to the proof to see if what He says is true. It means that we are not to intentionally enter into danger that only the power of God can rescue us from, in order to force Him to come to our aid and rescue us. It can also mean trying Him to see if He really exists. Will He actually come through for us when we really need Him to?

Do we really think that we are strong enough on our own to take it upon ourselves to dare the devil to tempt us, because we feel that we can win against him? Then we imply that we don’t need God to help us. We are purposely stirring God up—not to rescue us—but to leave us to our own devices, since we are so sure we know what we are doing.

And just because God has given certain people great privileges, these alone do not protect or exempt them from being tempted (tested, tried) also. Jesus Himself was put into a situation where He would be tried by the devil. His faith proved to be perfect and determined.

There was not even one thing He was willing to do to put the goodness of God to the test. Why? Because He was already positively confident that God is good. He didn’t need any proof of it at all. He already had all the proof He would ever need of the truthfulness and power of God.

Many people are tempted when they long after or chase their own strong hopes and desires. But Jesus did not have a fallen nature like the children of Adam, so He had no evil hopes or desires beckoning Him to pursue them. This is why the devil was the only one who could be used to tempt Him. All the temptations the devil threw at Him were for one primary purpose. He wanted to get Jesus to wonder if He could trust His heavenly Father in all things, at all times. He wanted to bring Jesus to the point where He would do something to sin against His heavenly Father.

When the devil tempted Him, Jesus did not plead His case against him, or even engage in a discussion with him. He simply replied “It is written” (in the Scriptures/Bible) and quoted the appropriate passage to him. The Devil can use the word of God too, and be very artful and clever about it. But when he uses it, he twists and turns it to fit what he wants to say, or to try to produce the outcome he is looking for. How very crafty he is, as he confronts and very boldly defies God.

But He can be successfully opposed, as Jesus has already proven for our sake. Jesus was successful when He encountered temptation because He met it head on with the proper weapon—the Word of God used in the proper way. How comforting it is to us therefore to know when we are tempted if we do not yield and no longer have ungodly lusts for the devil to appeal to. Then we are not so much tempted as we are tried.

“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

Jesus learned by personal experience what it meant to suffer being tempted. This way, He was also able to learn what it was like to receive support from God the Father and to be delivered from His distress. “For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor [bring relief to] them that are tempted” (Heb. 2:18). Since Jesus has already gone through temptation and successfully resisted it, we can be confident that we can also go through it and be successful too when we follow His example. He will be right there with us to bring assistance, and to relieve and deliver us from every difficulty, every need, every distress.

What can we learn from all this? We need to go to God for help when our need is oppressing, and nowhere else. We need to counter the devil with the Word of God, not our own pitiful ideas and arguments and experiences. We can be confident that our heavenly Father will provide for our need, just as He did for Jesus. Why should we presume? Why should we despair? He is right there to meet our every need and rescue us from every temptation!

You May Know Jesus, But Does He Really Know You?

“Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity [wickedness or wrongdoing]” (Matthew 7:20-23).

Numerous polls and surveys taken frequently throughout the U.S. report a high number of respondents declaring themselves to be Christians. Inquire at a local church on a Sunday morning and the results will likely be that they all consider themselves to be Christians (perhaps with some indignation that such an inquiry was even made!). Or go to a baseball game or soccer match and ask the fans. A fair percentage will very likely again state that they are Christians.

Yet how many of these professing Christians have truly accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and are following through in a relationship with Him? How many of them really know Jesus? How many know of God, but He does not know them? When someone claims to be a Christian, yet shows little to no fruit (results), then he is obviously not allowing Jesus to work within or through him to enable him to produce fruit. Suppose you had apple, peach or orange trees in your yard, and during the whole time you managed your trees, practically no fruit appeared. You would know something was wrong. You might not know what was happening internally, but you would know by their fruit, or lack thereof, that they were not living up to their name of fruit-bearing trees. Similarly, while only God truly knows the heart within a person, the product of the heart will show externally.

Far too many people believe that they are Christians just because they stay around others that claim to be one. It is like saying that you will become a car or truck if you just hang around inside a parking garage long enough. Many believe that they are Christians because they say a prayer or two and follow the requirements laid down by a certain church or religious organization. Many other religions in the world follow this same type of pattern, yet their members are not Christians, nor do they even claim to be. Some believe (or are even taught) that if they do enough good works to make themselves right with God, or clean themselves up before they approach God, they will then be Christians. Sadly, all such works, no matter how good they might seem to be in our eyes, are actually worthless in pleasing God. He does not want our ‘works’ He wants us. He wants our obedience to Him.

God wants us to be in a personal relationship with Him. If one person in a relationship does not really know the other, how can there be a true relationship between them? It is all one-sided.

God desires for us to be dependent upon Him for all of our needs. He does not want to be treated like He is dependent on us, or like He needs us to do His work for Him. Many do things that make it appear that they really know God. Yet appearances can be greatly deceiving, especially in the era that we now live in. Satan is the master of deceit. If he can get someone to believe that they are doing God’s will, that they really know God (and that He knows them), when actually they don’t, then he has succeeded in deceiving them and keeping them from a real relationship with God.

brick facade

If Jesus is not the center of your life, then your life is really just a façade, a shell, with no substance to it. Think of it like a person claiming he lives in a castle, when actually he is just standing under a carport covered in sheets with large stone blocks and windows printed on them. Right now, as you are reading this, you may be struggling inside with some particular sin. Or you may be living your life with no hope, while on the outside, you continue to appear to be doing fine. Maybe you are in a leadership role in a church, but you can’t lead your own life. You might be quite knowledgeable in the Bible, but find that now it no longer makes sense to you. Perhaps you thought you knew Jesus, and that He knew you, but now you are not quite so sure. Or maybe you do know Him personally, and have been trying with all of your own strength to do what is right, but you continue to fail.

There is nothing you can do that will bring victory over your repeated failures, problems and sins except to believe in faith that Jesus accomplished this victory through His sacrifice on the cross. He paid a price for you that you could never pay.

It is impossible for your inherently sinful self to do something that only a sinless being (which God required) could do. You must yield to Jesus and turn all of your sins and problems over to Him and not pick them up again.

You cannot have true intimacy with God until you surrender your life totally to Him. There is only one way to truly know God, and for Him to know you—through His Son, Jesus Christ, and what He did on the cross of Calvary. Only when you fully yield your life to Him will you achieve real satisfaction and victory over sin in your life.

If you persist in claiming that you are a Christian, yet have little or no fruit to show for it, or if you are trying to please God with the abundance of your religiosity and good works, then Jesus will have no choice in the end but to say to you, “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity [wickedness or wrongdoing].” God is a holy God that can never accept any amount of sin or wrongdoing. When you are living with sin in your life and won’t surrender it to Him, then there is no possibility that He will welcome you into a real relationship with Him. Don’t continue living your life without Him, under the guise that you are living with Him. Give your heart fully over to Jesus and let Him truly know you.

For more information on how you can know Jesus and He can know you click here.