Summary: Lent 1: Why is it important for the Christian to be aware of Temptation? How does the Bible talk about temptation? What are the sources of temptation? How can we break the chain of events that take us from temptation to sin? (This is Part 1 of 3)

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There’s an old saying, “You can’t keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can sure keep them from building a nest in your hair!” The truth behind that little aphorism – that little saying - varies depending on how it’s used. Listen to how this old guy applies it:

“...temptation can be avoided by no one; but resistance may be made and with prayer and course to divine aid, we can put ourselves in readiness to meet such designs. In the book of an old father we read that a young brother expressed a desire to be rid of his thoughts. Thereupon the old father said: Dear brother, you cannot prevent the birds from flying in the air over your head, but you can prevent them from building a nest in your hair. So, as St. Augustine says, we cannot prevent offenses and temptations, but by prayer and invocation of the help of God we can prevent them from overcoming us.” (Luther’s Two Catechisms Explained by Himself, in Six Classic Writings, by Martin Luther, translated by John Nicholas Lenker)

Brother Martin uses the analogy of the birds to refer to temptation. Simply speaking, it means that all of us are tempted – but that we do not need to fall to the temptations that we face.

As we talk about temptation, we are going to deal with four different but interrelated themes. The first is simply: Why in the world do we need to talk about temptation? Why should we take the time to learn about this? Second, we are going to learn how Scripture uses the words tempt and temptation. When the scriptures talk about this topic – how do engage it? The third topic is: where do temptations come from? We want to identify the place from which temptations come so that we can recognize when we are under attack. Finally, we want to get a sense for how to break the chain of temptation so that we can avoid falling into sin. We are going to deal with the first two themes in today’s message. Next Sunday, we’ll deal with the third theme of our study. And finally, two weeks from now we’ll complete our study of temptation by covering the fourth theme.

Let’s begin by talking about the reason that we need to deal with this topic. Jesus talked a lot about the topic of temptation. When our Lord talked about temptation, He used some of the strongest language recorded in Scripture. Listen to these words of Jesus spoken during that passage known as the Sermon on the Mount:

[29] If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. [30] And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. (Matthew 5.29-30)

Jesus was the most compassionate and loving person who ever walked the earth... so why the scary and strong language? There are two reasons for this. First, the stakes are absolutely incredible! We are temporal creatures - and so it is easy for us to lose sight of the big picture. The most important and critical reality with which Jesus confronts us with these words isn’t losing an eye or a hand - it is eternity. Eternity is forever. In mathematics, when infinity is factored into a formula or equation – it often drives the results to areas that are undefined. When we speak of eternity in a theological sense – the same sort of thing happens. We don’t quite know how to wrap our arms around the concept. Saint Paul talks about "eye as not seen and ear has not heard" about those things that eternity gives to the believer. But we do know that Jesus warns us about eternity in the starkest of terms. Why - because it is about our eternal destiny. Jesus doesn’t want us to risk the possibility that we might spend eternity in hell. So the first reason that we must learn about temptation is because the stakes are huge – they involve eternity.

Here’s the second reason why it is critical to engage the notion of temptation. When we are dealing with temptation, what is at stake is our freedom and often we are completely oblivious to that fact. We are warned continually in the Word not fall into the bondage of sin. Ed Welch wrote a book titled, “Addictions – A Banquet in the Grave.” He tells us that people can become trapped by sinful behavior that seems like fun – but in reality, these behaviors lead to bondage, slavery and death. Things that seem very attractive but yet can be very dangerous to our spiritual lives.

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