Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Weight of Words: Winning the Internal Struggle With Temptation

I think my favorite word in the English language might be "daddy." Not really when just anyone says it. Just when my children say it. Of course, anyone could call me daddy, but I'd be a little worried if just anyone came up to me and called me daddy. It's just simple word, yet in different contexts, it can take on different meanings and bring about different emotional responses in people.

Like Puff Daddy, for example. What kind of an emotional response does hearing the name Puff Daddy bring about in me? Not much of one, really.

But when Lucy or Kalel call me daddy, it's one of the greatest things in the world to hear. I don't think I'll ever get enough of it. When my wife tells me she loves me or that she's proud of something I've done, it means something much different to me than if a complete stranger said it to me.

Words can have a pretty profound impact on people, especially when they're strung together into sentences and paragraphs that communicate something important. They can even have a strong influence on the actions we take.

Several years ago, I saw a horror movie called The Grudge. Words from a script were translated into a terrifying scene where a guy goes up into an attic at night and gets attacked by a ghost girl with a sickly pale complexion. I have an attic. To this day, I hate to go up into my attic at night.

Everyone knows what it's like to be impacted by the words of someone they deeply care about. When someone says something harmful, doesn't it sting just a little bit more when it's from someone you love? When someone you love expresses their love for you, doesn't it somehow make the world stop spinning, as if that moment between the two of you is all that matters?

The Power of Love

On a seemingly unrelated note, we also know what it is to do things we wish we hadn't. Things that may hurt us and others, yet we don't understand why we do them. Things that cause us to wonder if God still listens to us because somehow we know we've betrayed him, so why would he care about anything we ask of him?

It only makes sense that if we're doing things that only harm us and drive a wedge between us and God, then we should just stop. But Scripture tells us about something called temptation. Temptation to do things that betray God and others. Temptation itself is often brought about by the invisible evil presence in our world known as the devil and his demons, and it's personal. Temptations come in different forms for different people. What evil you're prone to commit may be completely different than what your spouse is prone to. But in yesterday's post, we learned that there is someone who wants you to do the things that separate you from God. The devil wants to make sure you're tempted where you are most likely to fail.

In Matthew 4, Jesus walks into temptation much weaker than we ever do, yet he walks out of the desert, having not sinned. How did he do it?

Jesus countered each of the temptations with a commitment to something God had said in Scripture. Jesus let God's words influence him more than the temptations. Because God was so important to him, God's words held a lot of weight in his life. Given who Jesus was and what giving in to the temptations meant for us, the Bible was actually the difference between life and death in temptation. We learn from Jesus to let God's words shape us and influence us to do good instead of evil. That means we have to work on cultivating a profoundly intimate relationship with God for his words to impact us. My wife's words mean so much to me because I love her. My children calling me daddy holds so much weight with me because I love them. If your affections aren't drawn toward God, his words won't mean much. Jesus saw God's words as something he desperately needed and longed for. Giving in to temptation distorts our affections.

There is something else that is crucial to know about temptation: Bad choices often lead to more bad choices, and good choices can lead to more good choices. Our choices shape our character, for good or bad. A person doesn't just wake up one day, deciding to commit the most heinous act of sin if something didn't shape their character to do that up to that point. Someone may start with a few small lies, then move on to bigger ones. This may lead to a simple act of stealing, then maybe violence the next time because someone tried to stop them from stealing, then maybe murder the next time. But it didn't begin at murder. A character was shaped that made murder more likely than it was before the small sins. We can make choices that severely hinder our freedom, and we can undergo a process I call progressive depravity, when our character is shaped by the evil choices we continue to make. How much more likely are you to give in to a temptation a second time of you've already given in to it once?

"For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness,..." (Rom 6:19)

But we can also make choices on a consistent basis that shape good character. This is the part where we're trusting God's words more than the voice of temptation whispering in our minds. We make a choice to trust God once, and we can allow that to build our courage or faith to trust God the next time. Soon, we've built a new habit into our lives that counteracts the sin we may have once given in to.

" now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification." (Rom 6:19)

Jesus faced temptation head-on in the desert to show us the way to defeat sin. It all comes down to making a choice to run as far away from temptation as we can, which is in the presence of Jesus.

What choices have been integral in shaping who you are today?

Photo Credit: Harpagornis ~away~ on Flickr Creative Commons

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