There is a snowballing kind of effect to sin, I think.
I don’t know that many – if any – of us wake up in the morning resolved to engage in sin. That is, we probably don’t wake up with the active intention of disobedience. But the opposite is probably also true – we don’t often wake up expecting and looking for the temptation that will come. We don’t wake up ready for the fight. Instead, we just wake up and start the day. And that’s where the snowballing comes into play.
What starts as a thought becomes a lingering notion, which becomes a consideration, which becomes an action, which becomes a behavior, which becomes a pattern. It snowballs like that. You can see this progression in Psalm 1:1:
How happy is the one who does not
walk in the advice of the wicked
or stand in the pathway with sinners
or sit in the company of mockers!
See it? The one in question starts off in motion, then takes a pause and stands, and then eventually sits right down in the midst of it. Snowballing downward. Sometimes it happens quickly, and sometimes that pattern happens slowly over the course of days or even weeks. But what if we were self-aware enough to recognize it happening? What if, in the midst of that pattern, we were able to pause, to think, and maybe even ask ourselves a few key questions before the snowball really gets rolling? If we were able to do that, then by God’s grace perhaps the downward trajectory could be halted before the momentum takes over. That is because the battle of temptation is a mental game – it is won or lost in the mind.
So let’s assume we could. What kind of questions would we ask ourselves to set our minds off of the temptation in front of us and refocus us where we should be? Here are three simple questions that can help truth win the day in our hearts in the midst of the temptation cycle:
1. Who is God?
This is always the first and best question because if we trace our temptation back to its source, we will undoubtedly find we are failing to believe something to be true about God. It’s been this way from the very beginning, even back into the garden:
Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the wild animals that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1).
Seems like a simple enough question, and yet the question was craftily designed. For in the question, the serpent was making a charge against the character of God. Namely, that God was not truly loving and generous. For if He was, then surely He would not hold back this one tree. And that doubt about the character of God led to the action that turned everything upside down.
The core of our sin is a failure to believe that God is good, wise, loving, and generous – that He has our best in mind when He gives us His commands. Sin comes from a mistaken belief that God is less than that, and that we know better than He does about our needs and desires and how to fulfill them. If we can just pull back for a moment and ask ourselves, “Who is God?” then we can confront the false belief that’s the driving force behind the temptation we are feeling.
2. Who am I?
Here is another important question for us to ask in the midst of temptation. The root of this question is the understanding that if we are indeed in Christ, then we have been made into a new creation. Our identity has been changed as we have been given a new heart, with new desires. And if we can be reminded of that fact, it reshapes not only the way we view ourselves, but also how we view the temptation in front of us. Indeed, this is part of what the Holy Spirit does in us:
For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear. Instead, you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father!” The Spirit himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children… (Romans 8:15-16).
The Holy Spirit reminds us who we are. That we are God’s children. That means to give into the temptation in front of us is not merely an act of disobedience, it is a denial of who we are at our core. It is choosing to act in a way that is wildly inconsistent with our identity. Conversely, to flee from temptation is really just being ourselves. Our new selves, in Christ.
3. What is the way out?
Then there’s the most simple question of all, for surely there is a way out, and most of the time, it’s a very simple one:
No temptation has come upon you except what is common to humanity. But God is faithful; he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Is God’s Word true? Can God be trusted to fulfill His promises? If so, then there is always a way out; all that’s left for us is to recognize it and follow it. And once again, it’s probably right there in front of us in plain sight. Thing is, though, the power to choose to walk in that way out of temptation is really fueled by the first two questions. Many times we don’t choose the way out because our forgetfulness of who God is and who we have been made to be in Christ is just too strong.
You will face temptation today, Christian. So will I. We had better be ready for it – ready to counter it with the truth of who God is, who He had made us to be, and how He has provided for us even now.