Learning from Those Who’ve Failed
The first few chapters of the Bible give us good insight into the ways that sin & temptation work. Adam and Eve fail. Their children and their grandchildren after them fail. How was it that sin worked to bring them down and what can we learn?
Here are just a couple practical suggestions for fighting temptation as gleaned from Genesis 3-4.
1. Get Outside Perspective
The power of temptation is bound up in the moment. In the rush of debate, Eve didn’t pause to consider the ramifications of questioning God’s words. She didn’t ask Adam, ‘Hey what did God actually say anyway?’ Still less did she think to herself, ‘Maybe we should ask God for some clarity on why we can’t have the fruit from this tree.’ But part of the lure of the temptation to sin is the seductive voice that says, ‘You determine right & wrong for yourself. You make your own laws.’
In our world, getting outside perspective is still humbling. Removing yourself from the moment of temptation to ask a friend or someone that you trust for some perspective means that we don’t have the answers or the capacity to determine right & wrong on our own. It means we’re not God. But that’s probably why it’s a good first step.
2. Ask Yourself About Your Feelings
When Cain was frustrated and God knew that he was being tempted, God went and spoke with him. ‘Why are you angry? Why has your face fallen?’ Those are questions designed to draw out Cain’s heart. Why is he feeling the way he is feeling? Those are questions that God asks to help Cain. They are also the types of questions that will help uncover sinful inclinations in our hearts before we act on them. They are questions that are designed to help us function in categories of truth and justice. So God continues, ‘If you do well, will you not be accepted?’
In my world temptations to sin often have the most power when I’m feeling sorry for myself. I need to learn to ask myself questions like this… and to answer honestly! Why am I so upset? Is this really unfair? Isn’t the good thing obvious?
3. Speak to Yourself About Sin
The promise of sin is pleasure in something that God hasn’t provided. Sin seems to be ‘for’ us in a good way. In Eve’s case, the promise was, ‘you will be like God!’ In Cain’s case, it was the removal of the brother that was causing him so much pain. In either case, sin appears to be something that will make life easier and provide freedom and pleasure that we don’t currently have. But when God speaks to Cain in an effort to help him ward off sin, he says, ‘Sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it’ (Gen 4.7). In other words, ‘Yes, sin is for you, but not like you think.’ Sin is for you like a shark is for you or a slave-trader is for you. Its desire is to have you, to conquer you, to control you, to kill you.
I think we need to remind ourselves of this very thing in the face of temptation. In the case of Adam, Eve, and Cain, we see that sin only brings hardship, isolation, slavery, and death. The same is true in our lives. No matter what sin promises us, we need to pause in the moment of temptation and speak truth to ourselves. I need to actually verbalize the words, ‘This sin is not for me to help me, but for me to kill me. This sin is not for my joy. Only God is for my joy. This sin wants to wreck my life and make me its slave.’
4. Remember What Sin Delivers
Cain should have remembered what his parents had told him about Paradise lost and the beauty, intimacy, and splendour of the world before the fall. He should have remembered that sin only delivers death. When he lost sight of that, he believed the lie, and he sinned.
As a Christian, I need to remember that the end of sin is not my prayer for forgiveness. The end of sin is the agonizing, shameful death of Jesus. I need to remember that what sin desires for me it actually has borne on my Saviour. If sin is such that it causes the crucifixion of the sinless one and his separation from his Father, then why would I toy with it now? How could I believe it is for me now? Instead of listening to what sin promises, I need to remember what it has delivered.
In Any Case
Regardless of what the sin is, temptation is bound up in isolation and the demand for instant decision. If we’re going to fight against temptation we must remove ourselves from our own heads and get perspective. We must seek counsel, inquire as to the motives of our heart, remind ourselves of the desire of sin and the death that sin brings. If we remember those things, we’ll be well on our way to arming ourselves for the battle.