Sunday, January 26, 2014

Prayer (Third in a Series)

[This was the prepared sermon for this morning's services with the people and guests of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio.]

Genesis 3:1-7, 22-24
Over the past several weeks, we’ve been looking at the Lord’s Prayer as a model for all our praying. Today, we’re going to look at the sixth petition of the prayer: “And lead us not into temptation.” This petition raises questions like: What is temptation and why should I resist it?  If God wants me to not sin, why does He even allow the temptation to sin happen?

For some answers, let’s go back to the garden of Eden, where the first human beings were subjected to the first temptation to sin. Please turn to Genesis 3:1-7, 22-24, pages 2 and 3 of the pew Bibles.

Adam and Eve were naive. As created, they were without sin, in sync with God and each other. In Genesis 2:25, we’re told: “And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.” As created, Adam and Eve had desires, like pleasing God, pleasing and loving one another, doing the work God had given them to do. As they would later learn and as we learn when we’re paying attention, sin is nothing but desiring otherwise good things at the wrong times, or in the wrong ways, or for the wrong reasons. The desires of Adam and Eve were altered in destructive and death-dealing ways because of their unwillingness to resist the temptation to sin. The agent who brought temptations to them was the serpent, who we can take as a stand-in for Satan. But the devil didn’t make them do it, any more than the devil or anyone else can make us sin. Caving into temptation is always an inside job. As Jesus notes in Matthew 15:19, it’s from hearts turned from God’s purposes (or corrupted) that that our sins come.

The serpent asks the woman in Genesis 3:1, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" The woman answers truthfully in verses 2-3: "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.' " So far, so good. The woman is doing well in this interchange with temptation. Like Jesus, who would be tempted in the wilderness many thousands of years later, Eve is able to resist the serpent because she knows and remembers the Word of God. If you and I are serious about resisting temptation and living lives that express our thanks to God for the gift of new life that belongs to all who turn from sin and believe in Jesus Christ, we will take the time to read the Word of God and so know the mind and the will of God. We’ll also pray and ask God to help us resist temptations to sin.

Unless we keep in prayerful contact with God, temptation can make our brains go fuzzy. We become susceptible to having God’s Word twisted and turning us inside out. We find it easy to rationalize away the seriousness of the sins to which we’re being tempted. Look at verses 4 and 5, please. "You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

Notice what the serpent is doing here. First: He’s trying to drive a wedge between God and the woman. In effect, he’s asking, “Why is God such a spoilsport? What pleasure is he trying to deny you? What right does God have to hold anything back from you?” When you and I are tempted to sin, we might be hounded by similar thoughts: “It’s just a little thing. The company (or the government, or the school, or the church) will never miss it.” Or, “I think I’m entitled to a little pleasure after all these years of living with such an uncaring husband (or wife).” Or, “This isn’t really gossip. I’m just passing on information so that my friend will be better informed and know what to pray about.” Rationalizations like these drive wedges between God and us.

The second thing the serpent is doing with the woman is telling the truth in a lying way. It was true that the woman wouldn’t die--at least not right away--for her sin. Eve and Adam, who had heretofore, known only good would, to their regret and shame, know about evil after biting into the fruit and that would, eventually, bring their deaths. But the serpent didn't tell the whole truth. When the sin to which we're tempted offers momentary thrills or pleasures or when it makes us feel powerful or exceptional, we become susceptible to listening to such lies. When we're hell-bent on sin, we don't care about the fine print. We get separated from God, from others, from our best selves, from life.

The third thing the serpent is doing is this: Effectively telling the woman that she has a right to be just like god. Listen: Human beings are the pinnacle of creation, the only of God’s species made “in the image of God.” But we are not God and according to the Word of God, we never will be. But all temptation, in a way, tries to feed us this lie. We see what happens when we forget the Word of God and allow temptation to get in the way of our relationship with God in verse 6: “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.”

Because we’re born in sin, self-centeredness is the human default mode. We’re born with a passion for ourselves that has to be taught by the grace given in Christ to make room for God and others. We have to be forcibly displaced from the thrones of our lives so that as we and our inborn selfishness are crucified in repentance, Christ can rise in us and make us new people each day. That’s why we need the Savior Jesus to bridge the gap between us and make it possible for our fellowship with God and with others to be restored through a bond of love borne of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Now, it would be easy for us to say that since we’re born as sinners who want to sin and God loves us so much, it must mean that God approves of our sin. Pastor Erwin Lutzer  once knew a kleptomaniac, a person with a compulsion to steal. He told Lutzer, “I’ve always wanted to steal as far back as I can remember. There’s no question in my mind that it’s genetic.” He may have been right; he may have been genetically predisposed to kleptomania. But even if the klepto was “born that way,” it wouldn’t mean that God gave him the green light to steal. Everyone of us is genetically predisposed to sin and each of us like some sins more than we like others. Yet every one of is told to obey the ten commandments and to repent when we violate them. And all of us are commanded by Jesus to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” And we’re all told to turn from sin and to trust in Christ alone for life with God and for all that we truly need, now and in eternity. The good news is that if we want to resist the temptations to which we feel ourselves subjected, the God we know in Christ can help us resist temptation. In James 4:7-8, we’re told: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” When tempted by sin, move closer to God. The temptation to sin will lessen.

But, if God wants us to stay away from sin, why did God allow temptation to come to Eve and Adam...and to us? Think of things in this way: God intended for you and me to have a special relationship with Him. God could have created robots who, as He loved them, had no choice but to love God back. But God wants a true relationship of love with us. God wants us to choose to love Him. And the only way we can choose to love Him is if we have the option not to love Him, not to obey His will for our lives. Without our having the option to not have faith in the God we know in Christ, our confessions of faith are meaningless. That’s why God allowed (and allows) temptation in this world.

Now here’s the scary thing: Because of the genetic predisposition to sin you and I have inherited from Adam and Eve, we do not have free will when it comes so sinning or not sinning. “We are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves,” we say. In Romans 7, the apostle Paul writes about his own bondage to sin: “...what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate [sin], that I do...” He then confesses that it’s sin that dwells within him. Paul would have thrown up his hands in despair, resigned to being forever separated from God, consigned to hell for eternity, except for one thing. He says in Romans 7:24-25 (page 786 in the pew Bibles): “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Whenever we repent for sin--turn away from it, renounce it--and trust in the crucified and risen Jesus as our God, God forgives our sins and gives us the power to resist temptation today and to look forward to eternity with God!

Temptation doesn’t come from God. James 1:13 says: “No one, when tempted, should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil and He Himself tempts no one.” We are tempted instead by the desires that come to us from the devil, from a sinful, fallen world, and from our own corrupted DNA. But, when facing temptation, we have a great promise from God. 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us: “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to [all people]; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

What temptation are you facing today? It could be the temptation to fudge on your taxes or Medicare forms, to lie about the work you did on the school project, or something else. We can be infinitely creative in finding ways to violate God’s moral law, the ten commandments. Whatever temptation you face, if you’re intent on living a life that thanks God for the cross and empty tomb of Jesus, God will give you a way of escape from both temptation and sin. Keep your eyes on Jesus and He will divert your attention from death to keep you on the pathway to everlasting life with Him.

Pray, “Lead me not into temptation, Lord. In Jesus’ Name and by the Holy Spirit’s power, help me to resist this temptation.” If you’re like me, you probably have to pray that prayer hundreds of times every day. But, I promise that when you pray that prayer sincerely, with a heartfelt desire for God above all else, God will lead you in the right direction. Your relationship with God, the most important relationship you can have, will grow stronger, your character will grow stronger, and you will move closer to being the person God made you to be in eternity. And, as we learn to live in greater dependence on God, we know more of the true joy that Adam and Eve experienced before giving into temptation.

“Lord, lead us not into temptation.” Amen

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