Title: The Image of God and Temptation
Text: Genesis 2:15-17
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
Temptation is a funny thing; it’s all around us, and takes a myriad of forms. Some things may tempt one person to stumble; while another may take no notice of it at all… yes, it’s a funny thing. OK, I’ll confess right now, potato chips are my downfall! At my house an open bag is an empty bag; they own me… I just cannot possibly say no when they call my name; woe is me, for Satan has my number!
Obviously, the only thing I said about potato chips that is actually true is that I really like them and eat more than I should; the rest is nonsense, purely a justification to deflect my own irresponsible choice to eat too many of them. Could I walk right by and not have any? Yes, but I usually don’t. Could I eat one or two and then stop? Yes, but I usually don’t. Is there anyone else to blame for this? No, not on your life; it’s all me.
Well, there is temptation in a nutshell.
To be clear and fair, I understand that there are medical conditions that affect some people in one way or another; I am not including that possibility in my remarks here; that is different topic entirely, so let’s understand that I am not talking to people with medical, addiction or mental health problems in these remarks. Got it?
For most of us, when we fall into temptation, it was all our own doing; it was not necessary, and when we are honest with ourselves, we know that to be true.
With that said, then what is temptation really?
It is being presented with a choice to do or not do something that can harm us and/or our relationship with God. Yes, there are some lengthy systematic theologies on temptation, but when you sift out all of the unnecessary words, it comes down to making a choice, and no one is forcing us to choose the wrong one. We can blame this whole dilemma on the devil or this fallen world or anything you want, but temptation was present in the Garden of Eden when Man lived in perfect fellowship with God in a pre-fallen state, and Man made the wrong choice in spite of everything. Yes, the serpent was involved, but if he pointed a gun at Adam and Eve, that detail was omitted from the text.
No sir! Temptation is a consequence of free will.
God made us in His image, and one of the attributes that we have in common with God is free will. How do we use our free will to glorify God? Let’s go back to Genesis 3…
There are two trees that stood together in the center of the Garden; look, there’s Eve and the serpent having their little chat: The serpent asks the first question, Eve responds correctly. The serpent responds with a bald-faced lie. Eve hesitates, tempted, looks at the forbidden fruit; it looks really good, then she remembers who and what she is, and then she… grabs the yummy fruit from the Tree of Life and takes a big bite, and God is glorified.
Here’s a question: Who told you that you can’t do that?
When discussing this topic as I have, there is always a danger that the issue of temptation is simplified to the point where it isn’t taken seriously, for yes, my presentation here is simplistic.
I have been told in the past, that it cannot be that simple, that life is really so very difficult that we can’t possibly make the right choices…
I get that a lot.
It is as though people think I lead a charmed life, that I’ve never struggled, like everything was handed to me on a silver platter; “what do you know? It’s too hard…”
I have lived long enough to know struggle, and I have struggles and challenges and weaknesses and failure just like everyone else. I am neither perfect nor close to it; ask my wife, she’ll tell you that! I am a sinner just like you, I stumble and falter just like you.
And yes, it really is that simple.
When I was a boy in school, I was pretty good at arithmetic, but there was one thing I really had trouble with: Word problems; I just couldn’t work them, for the longest time. Then one day, I had an epiphany; most of the information they gave you in word problems was irrelevant, throw it out and you see the problem clearly and then it isn’t as hard as you thought.
Most of the great theological questions are just like word problems were in math class; throw out the irrelevant and the actual issue isn’t as complicated as we thought it was. Most of our struggles as Christians are neither as complicated as we think, nor as difficult as we make them.
When I was a teen, I would often hang out with my friends and sooner or later someone would say, “I’m bored, there’s nothing to do.” This would normally be followed by ideas for something to do, and nearly every time, we ended up doing the stupidest thing that was suggested, something that each and every one us knew to be wrong, and really didn’t want to do.
So why did we do it?
It wasn’t because of this evil world, nor was it because we were totally depraved and incapable of doing the right thing. It also wasn’t because we were stupid or bad kids; the group I used to hang out with grew up to be doctors, lawyers, professors, engineers, and professional athletes… no criminals or scoundrels. We did stupid things for one simple reason: Nobody wanted to be the one who wasn’t cool, the one who would be called a… (slang term for less than a man).
Peer pressure, the need to fit in with the gang.
At some point, teenagers are supposed to grow up and become adults and stop doing stupid things just to fit in, and most do. When this happens, we go from doing stupid things to fit in, and graduate to only doing silly things to fit in.
Christians are also supposed to grow up, but this is more than just being adults; we are supposed to grow spiritually into the likeness of Christ. Having said that, I am fairly confident in saying that none of us have arrived at that goal yet; I know that I have a very long way to go, that I am certain of. I can also say with certainty that we won’t arrive at the goal more quickly by giving in to being silly to fit in with the group.
We get there by relationship both with others and with our Lord.
When temptation comes along, of whatever sort, it is very helpful for me and many others as well, to sort out the stuff that isn’t helpful, things like personal bias, self-centeredness, baggage from the past, cultural trends and tradition to find the real equation that needs solving, and most of the time, the equation isn’t as hard as it first appeared to be.
I can’t say this often enough: Remember who you are in Christ! Ask yourself why you are tempted to do things that are not in accordance with what you know to be His teaching, ask yourself if you are showing your love for Christ by turning your back on Him…
I predict that whatever you are being tempted with will not seem so enticing: the ball is in your court.