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Are There Temptations Stronger Than We Can Bear?

April 9th, 2010

Tempting Apple
The problem with temptations is that they are so tempting.

C. S. Lewis once wrote, “A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is…. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in.”

Regarding temptations, Paul wrote: ”…God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.”

So is Paul implying there exists temptations stronger than we can bear? Yes. But then you say, “Isn’t God always faithful to keep us from temptations too strong for us to handle?” Well… let’s look at an incident from the life of Simon Peter:

At the Last Supper, Jesus told Simon, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you all as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have returned to me, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31)

Jesus knew that Simon would fail before it even happened. Jesus knows the future. But he also knew something good would come of it because failing breeds humility. And also, someone who has failed has a unique opportunity in the future of strengthening others.

Continuing in Mark 14, Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not. ‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus answered, ‘today-yes, tonight-before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.’ But Peter insisted emphatically, ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.’”

Did Simon get placed into a situation beyond what he could handle? Humanly, yes. But didn’t Paul say we wouldn’t be placed into a situation above what we could bear? Yes, but I believe with the caveat that it wouldn’t be us resisting, but the Spirit in us. The Spirit in us would lead us on the road out, as Paul goes on to explain in 1 Corinthians 10, “But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

Was there a way out for Simon? Of course. Did he take it? Unfortunately, no. Why? I maintain he didn’t for the same reason he – in an earlier incident in his life – sank into the waves after having walked on water for several faltering steps: Because he took his eyes off Jesus. Because he stopped “walking in the Spirit,” as elsewhere Paul describes: “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.” (Galatians 5:16-18)

One of the reasons I find the two epistles of Peter so fascinating is because we know of many antidotal stories regarding Peter from the Gospels. For instance, in light of what Jesus told Peter at the Last Supper (quoted above) we understand the following statements written by Peter with greater context:

1 Peter 5:8-10, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

The notion that there exists temptations too much for us is an idea which could also be inferred from a statement in the Lord’s Prayer. In telling us how to pray, Jesus said we were to ask the Father to, “…Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:13) For us who are so easiliy swayed by temptations, it is better we not even be led into a tempting situation!

Isn’t it interesting that Jesus himself was tempted by the devil? In fact, it is even recorded he was led by the Spirit to be tempted (Matthew 4:1). Though Jesus did not succomb to the temptations, I think he knew when we are tempted things don’t often turn out as well. Therefore, we are told to pray to be spared from even being led into temptation.

What then are we to say? James, Jesus’ earthly brother, sums things up well, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:7-10)

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