“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)
Temptation always masquerades-it looks so appealing, promises so much good . That’s why it’s a temptation. If it wore its own face, it would be so ugly we’d run! The first task, then, is to unmask the temptation – identify it for exactly what it is: lust, covetousness, pride, unbelief, or just plain self-love. These enemies take away the power or filling of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and they grieve Him. Our sins of unbelief and self-love reveal themselves in the temptations of lust, covetousness, and pride. In developing your plan to overcome temptation, you begin with unconditional surrender to the will of God. That propels you out of a dangerous no man’s land or out from behind enemy lines and solidly on God’s side. Thus you became ready for the next step – to identify the enemy. The underlying source of your temptation may not be that easy to spot, so you may have bypassed that step and identified the temptation itself. That isn’t always easy either since temptation fights dirty; but you can spot any disguised temptation by focusing Scripture on your situation. Finally, make your choice about that temptation. Choose right and grow stronger, choose wrong and grow weaker.
Sometimes distinguishing between legitimate desire and sinful desire is difficult. Is this new TV a legitimate need or coveting what God doesn’t intend? Is my reaction to this situation righteous indignation or sinful anger? Is the pain I feel justifiable, or am I so unhappy because my ego took a heavy hit?
We must not run to the extreme and assume that the Holy Spirit within is all we need. He deliberately provided other means of knowing his will, so we are sure to go down in defeat if we neglect any of them. The Spirit is no substitute for the other means of understanding; he’s their energizer. What about depending on our conscience? “Let your conscience be your guide,” we say. But natural conscience is a very unreliable guide since it is no more than our judgment in the realm of right versus wrong. That judgment has been programmed by home, school, and society, not to mention our own sinful inclinations. As a result, we seem to have infinite capacity to con ourselves into believing what we want to believe. For conscience to be a reliable guide we must constantly:
- be transformed into a new creation by the Holy Spirit.
- use Scripture as a guide for the decision-making process.
- keep in tune with the Spirit.
- develop judgment by consistent, obedient practice.
I had just returned from a 12-year TV famine. In Japan we rarely watched TV and understood little of what we did see. Besides, Japanese TV was very tame by American standards. I was astounded to hear friends guffawing over sexual innuendos in a popular show. “They put garbage like that on television?” I remonstrated. Twenty years passed. I hadn’t watched TV much, but enough to get a feel for the programming. Suddenly I woke up to an astonishing change in me. For a year or more I had been periodically watching reruns of the same show I had criticized previously and feeling grateful for an oasis of good family fare in the moral badlands of network television. What had happened? I had been molded by my world into its way of thinking. And Paul says, “Stop!” Today’s verse might be literally translated: “Resist the conforming influences of your environment and keep on resisting.” Who will deny that popular media is hell-bent (literally) on cultivating lust, covetousness, and pride? And I was letting it happen to me. In fact, I recently made a covenant with myself to stop surfing the channels. When I finally got honest with myself and God, I had to admit what I was actually looking for – and it wasn’t purity, contentment, and humility!
Sometimes I watched TV just to relax and unwind after a difficult day but doing so ate up priceless time. Even worse, it was subtly molding me into a different kind of person. Paul says to resist and keep resisting – eternal vigilance is the price of spiritual freedom. To take this proactive stance we must do four things: a) be involved with a warfare mentality, b) decide firmly on whose side we belong, c) identify our major enemies, and d) take hold of or use our weapons. In the fight for our spiritual freedom the Bible, prayer, and the church are our frontline weapons. The Spirit uses them in combination to create an effective defensive strategy. Let’s examine one of these weapons.
Scan the war stories recorded in Genesis 3:1-6 and Matthew 4:1-11. Here we have deadly battles. First is the battle between Satan and Eve, then between Satan and Jesus-the welfare of billions depending on the outcome of each battle. Eve met the enemy with a background of perfect heredity and a perfect environment while Jesus’ heritage on His mother’s side was a fallen humanity and His environment was a sin-cursed world. But Eve lost, Jesus won.
Eve quoted God’s Word, but she wasn’t all that committed to its authority. She quickly abandoned her only defense and accepted the enemy’s word over God’s. Satan cynically used Scripture to push his ungodly ends. Only Jesus used the Word of God as His weapon. He won! You will, too. But you must stockpile your ammunition, or you won’t have it available at the time of testing. Will you today commit today to the authority of God’s word? Yielded and Obedient? Stockpiling ammunition?