The Purpose Of Temptation
Temptations are a part of the Christian’s curriculum, and are essential to the development of Christian character. Temptations serve as monitors, reminding us of our utter weakness, and necessary dependence upon God for aid. They teach us, and wean us from the world, human dependencies, and drive us to prayer and reliance upon God. They develop the iron graces of faith, patience, fidelity, and thus save us from becoming jelly-fish and soft. If it were not for the trials and temptations of life we would become weak and utterly fail. It was when the sky looked most threatening, and all human props were swept away, that we prayed earnestly, and the promises of God became precious to us. It was then that we leaned the hardest upon the strong arm of the Lord. Not many people can endure continued prosperity and affluence without becoming self-reliant and self-sufficient. The mighty Moses said, “But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked: thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered with fatness; then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his Salvation” (Deut. 32:-15). The inspired David said, “When he slew them, then they sought him: and they returned, and inquired early after God” (Psalms 78:34).
A good soldier must learn to take blows as well as to give blows — a good sailor must learn to utilize a head-wind. Temptations are to the Christian, as exercise is in a gymnasium to build up the physical life. It is through fiery temptation and baffling trials that we learn to be useful, Having passed through the ordeal ourselves, we know better how to help, and how to sympathize with others who are passing through similar testings. The Hebrew writer says in speaking of the temptations of Jesus, “Himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted” (Heb. 2:18).
It is by trials and temptations that the Lord “proves” us, and discovers the sincerity of our purpose, and the fidelity and loyalty of our hearts. Moses said to the children of Israel, “The Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments or no” (Deut. 8:2). Not only does the Lord “prove” us, but in the hour of temptation we “prove” Him. The Psalmist David says, “When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works” (Psalms 95:9). This also demonstrates to others the faithfulness of God, and the reality of His saving grace. Peter says, “That the trial of your faith, being more precious than gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise, and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 1:7).
Therefore, without temptation we could never develop the kind of character that God wants us to have. It is only by meeting temptation, and wrestling with it and overcoming it, that we grow and develop into our best. This leads us to see that temptation is absolutely necessary for the development of genuine Christian character. When God created man He had the power to create him in any way He saw best. If the Lord had so desired He could have created man so that he would have been governed by his instincts like the other animals, and he would have instinctively done right at all times. But, if he had been thus created, there would be no virtue in doing right. We do not give the animals of the field any credit for doing the things they do, for we know they have no choice in the matter. God saw fit to create man differently, because He wanted some creatures in His universe that would serve Him, not because they had to, but because they wanted to. In doing this, the Lord took a tremendous risk, and threw a great responsibility on us. He has given us the power and privilege of choosing between right and wrong. Moses said, “See, I have set before thee this day life and good, death and evil” (Deut. 30:15).
We can either accept the bad and reject the good, or we can choose the good and reject the bad. In every choice like this, we show to God and to the world that we will serve God, not because we must, but because it is our desire, and in every choice there is amoral worth and significance. This is one place where we think our good friends, who teach unconditional security, go astray. For they virtually teach that when a person is converted, his probation ends and the whole thing is now in the hands of God. This means that, by one choice of the will, a person puts himself where it is impossible to do anything that will change his eternal destiny. It seems to me that this would mean that probation ends with conversion. But we do not believe that probation ends with conversion, but we believe it ends at death. We believe that there is not only that initial choice that we must make at the time of conversion, but there are many other choices that must be made along the way. We also believe that enough wrong choices can be made along the way to cancel out that first choice. It appears to us that, if being converted is a guarantee of always being in grace, then all the warnings and exhortations of the Scriptures are all unnecessary.
A man was talking to Rev. Bud Robinson about always being in grace, and the quaint Uncle Buddy replied, “He will always be in grace or disgrace.” We develop our muscles by using them. If you were to place your right hand in a sling, and carry it across your breast for five years, the muscles in that hand would become so weak and flabby that you could not lift your hand to your face. The same thing is true with reference to our moral character. It is through the testings, temptations, and misunderstandings of life that we develop moral strength.
Medical science has discovered that the human body is so constructed that when it is exposed to certain diseases. it is not only able to fight off the disease, but it builds up a resistance to that particular disease. If you were to go to your doctor and let him inject a few thousand smallpox germs into your blood stream, immediately the body would begin to battle those germs, and would eventually destroy them. But, while the struggle was going on it would build up a resistance that would practically immune you from the disease. Here in this world we are exposed to sin. And by the grace of God and the use of our will power, we are able to overcome these attacks. In this moral struggle against Satan, we will build up a resistance against evil. This does not mean that Satan will cease to tempt us, but, in resisting and overcoming temptation, we can more easily overcome Satan the next time.
The ancient Job passed from one blinding experience to another. The Lord pronounced him a perfect man, but he came face to face with tremendous struggles and disappointments. His children were taken away with one mighty stroke, his property was all swept away, his body was greatly afflicted, his best earthly friends cruelly misunderstood him, and his wife blatantly suggested to him to throw his faith overboard and die. Job was not tempted to sin, but he went through a series of severe trials that tested the fibers of his faith. The blight of these trials did not draw him away from God, but they drew him closer to God. These trials tested his faith, and brought him nearer to the heart of God. Job reached the sublime heights of utter resignation to God. In the highest moments of his trust in God, he declared, “When he has tried me, then will I come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). Again he said, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him” (Job 13:15). This tested soul was determined to go through regardless of the cost. He believed the Lord knew the purpose of his heart, when he said, “He knoweth the way that I take” (Job 23:10).
Man seems to grow strong physically, mentally, and spiritually when he is compelled to meet temptation and to overcome difficulties. As the sea gull rises against the wind, so shall the spirit of man rise with adversity. The brave become chivalrous because of danger and hardships. This is true in every walk of life — even the game fish swims up stream against the current. The pithy palm tree grows in the moist, warm jungles, that is protected from the tempest and the forest– the hardwood grows in the North, and from the onslaughts of many blasts it develops resistance and power. Did you know that the finest violins are made from the wood that comes from the north side of trees which have been subjected to the twisting and bending of the winds?
Just as in fear we have the only occasion for courage, therefore, virtue is developed only in the presence of strain and temptations. The trials and temptations of this life will help to develop our Christian character, if we react right toward them. It does not matter what happens to the Christian, but it does matter as to his attitude to things. If we face the temptations with courage, they will develop us into nobler characters. The Lord does not have any use for hot houses to shelter believers from the cold, biting winds from the north, nor the bitter frost by night. The Lord has a grand purpose in permitting the testings and temptations of life to come our way. Quite often we do not understand why they come, nor why they are permitted. Yet, the Master has a purpose in them. Oh, that we will rightly react to them.
The late Alexander Maclaren tells us that when he was sixteen years of age he accepted his first job in Glasgow. He lived six miles from the big city. Between his home and Glasgow there was a deep ravine that was supposed to be haunted. Some really terrible things had happened in it and he was afraid to go through, even in the daytime. At night it was out of the question. On Monday morning his father walked with him to work, and in parting he said, “Alec, come home as fast as you can when you get off Saturday night.” Thinking of that deep ravine, Maclaren said he answered his father, “Father, I will be awfully tired Saturday night, and I will come home early Sunday morning.” But his father was adamant, “No, Alec. You have never been away from home before, and these five days are going to seem like a year to me. Come home Saturday night.” Reluctantly Alec answered, “All right, Father, Saturday night.” All the week long Alec said he worried about that black ravine. When Saturday night came, he was more scared than ever, but he wrapped up his belongings and went out to the end of the gulch. He said, “I whistled to keep my courage up, but when I looked down into that inky blackness I knew I couldn’t go. The tears came unbidden, and then suddenly, I heard footsteps in the ravine coming up the path. I started to run but hesitated, for those footsteps were very familiar. “Up out of the darkness into the pale light, as I watched, came the head and shoulders of the grandest man on earth. He was bound to have known I was scared, but he only said, `Alec, I wanted to see you so badly that I came to meet you.’ So shoulder to shoulder we went down in to the valley and I was not afraid of anything that walked.”
Most of us have had our black valleys in life. But the presence of the Lord has enabled us to be not afraid of the dark shadows. Some of us have passed through the dark valley in the loss of loved ones. The Lord saw best to take our little son of eight years. We came from the funeral, and found half-worn clothes in the closet, and his tracks still in the back yard. But the Master came to us and helped us through this dark ravine of life. His presence is the guarantee of our victory. When the dark and unknown passages of life come, Christ will also come. Wasn’t it Lawrence Sterne, one of the first English novelists who wrote, “God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb?” The Lord said unto Moses, “As thy days, are, shall thy strength be” (Deut. 33:25). Therefore, the more fierce the Christian is tested and tried, the more glorious will be the victory over temptation. Yes, the trials of life are necessary to develop the moral fiber in the soul. Let us bravely face the temptations and trials as the little boat in anchor faces the incoming tide. There is danger in running from the conflict. For there is no armor for the back — so let us face the fiery trials of Satan.
A gentleman wished to add an emperor moth to his vast collection. He obtained a cocoon and hung it in his house during the winter. In the spring he noticed the moth trying to get out of its winter house. The hole was so small that the owner clipped the hole larger. The moth got out. It was a fine, large moth, but it never flew. The owner afterward learned that the hard struggle was necessary to force the juices of the body into the moth’s wings. Having saved it from struggle, he robbed it of its strength and power.