It’s a fair question. You ask others to trust you on a daily basis – in fact, you get quite offended when they don’t. But in your heart of hearts, do you really trust yourself? We are put here on this earth to build character. Righteous, holy character – the same character God has. And we use His spirit as a model. And while we will always have that spirit in us that “lusteth to envy”, and we can’t shuck that part of us that is “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” – still, there should be lines that we KNOW we won’t cross.
If we KNOW that we can’t be trusted to do the right thing in a certain situation, then when we get into that situation the odds are we will fail to to do it. If we KNOW we can’t be trusted with something, then we had BETTER learn why and FIX it – soon, because “sin is not imputed when there is no law”, or where there is no knowledge of sin.
A man once told me (in a very holy-sounding way) that he was always very careful not to sit on the couch alone with his girlfriend too long, because he didn’t trust himself not to act inappropriately. While it is admirable that he desired to avoid sinning, nonetheless, rather than being proud of all that, he should instead be ashamed that he couldn’t trust himself not to sin!
James 1:14-15 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
The temptation to sin is something that, as long as we have that evil nature in us, will be present with us. We can’t avoid temptation. Not only is it impossible, but it would be undesirable. For just two verses previous, James had said:
Verse 12 Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.
The man that suffers through temptation is BLESSED – not cursed! John Quincy Adams, sixth president of the United States, once said “every temptation is an opportunity of our getting nearer to God.” – and it is! But temptation is NOT sin! Lusting to do evil is NOT a sin – it is only a sin WHEN it has conceived, and you give in to it! Temptation is actually a GOOD thing!
Granted, without temptation we’d still be in the Garden of Eden – but we’d also still have that unsprouted seed of evil hidden within us, merely waiting for the watering can of lust to bring it plunging toward the sky like Jack’s beanstalk.
So yes, we’d have been in paradise – but at what cost? As Madeleine de Scuderi put it “The virtue which has never been attacked by temptation is deserving of no monument.” If our character has not met and conquered temptation, it is worthless. So you see, temptation serves a purpose. Man, like any animal, is easily trained. He is basically a creature of habit and given proper influence at the proper times will follow more or less any set pattern. If God is doing the training, then that pattern will of course be a good one – the Garden of Eden shows us that. But God knew that we would never see our heart for what it was if it was never tested. God wants to create INCORRUPTIBLE beings – not beings who are merely in the habit of being good, but beings who CANNOT BE RETRAINED TO BE EVIL!
1 Peter 1:23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.
This can never happen to someone who has not looked temptation in the face and said “I will NOT <insert sin here>”. As Thomas Boston said “Temptation is the fire that brings up the scum of the heart”. God uses temptation to find our weakest spots and poke them. He knew long before Henry Ward Beecher did, that you must “Find out what your temptations are, and you will find out largely what you are yourself.”
None of this is to say that any one of us could not, at this present moment, be backed into such a psychological corner, and left there long enough, so as to commit any given sin; but we have a guarantee from God in that regard:
1 Corinthians 10:13 There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
God promises not to make a no-win scenario, where you are forced to choose between the “lesser of two evils”. He promises to always leave at LEAST one perfect answer. So no matter what bad situation you are presently in, you may be certain that there IS a way out – you just aren’t looking in the right place. There IS a door open somewhere for you to walk through – you are just refusing to walk through it. Because deep down, you WANT to follow your own lusts! That’s the whole POINT of temptation! To DESIRE to do something that is wrong – and in every single one of those desires, it is within YOUR power – not only in the power of some saint or some godly person somewhere – but it is within YOUR power to make the right choice! God promised as much! It is within YOUR power not to lose control of your good sense and slap someone back after they slap you!
And if you fail, then you know it is YOU that failed, and YOU that needs to work on your nature! Temptation isn’t confined to the big things – it isn’t always, or even usually, something as big as your wife telling you to “curse God and die”, or people telling you that you have the voice of a God, as they did to Herod – usually it is the tiny things. For God works with us based on the principle that…
Luke 16:10 He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.
This of course makes it so much harder, as Jean Paul Richter observed when he said “If men had only temptations to great sins, they would always be good; but the daily fight with little ones accustoms them to defeat.” – and it is this “accustoming to defeat” that is really the topic of this article. You are accustomed to failing (by your own definition) to please God on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. So you expect yourself to also fail with the big things; why shouldn’t you, for you fail at everything?
So instead of FIXING this, and CHANGING yourself, and settling your heart to face this temptation and walk away a winner – which is the only attitude that can ever inherit the Kingdom of God – you just avoid the problem. You are afraid of how you’ll handle a conversation with someone that you’re mad at, so you just don’t talk to them, and avoid the issue. You don’t trust yourself to do it right, so you run and hide, and think that that is what God expects of you! And what you have discovered is a surefire protection against temptation – but at what cost!
No one could have said it better than Mark Twain did when he said “There are several good protections against temptations, but the surest is cowardice.” That is what you’ve discovered – not righteousness! Not moral character! Not something God can use and mold into a child of His, destined to rule the universe for all time! But sheer moral cowardice!
When I hear someone say “I didn’t do <insert thing here> because I was afraid I would do it wrong”… I am not hearing the words of a person interested in truth! A person desperately hungering and thirsting after righteousness! I am hearing the words of a person terrified of failure, who knows that God is a vengeful monster who sends temptation our way just so he can lurk around the corner and wait for us to mess up so He can pounce on us with a plague of boils!
Luke 19:20-21 And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin: For I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow.
This man is not a man who loves truth and righteousness, this man IS A COWARD! You beat temptation by FACING it, not hiding yourself out of its reach! And yet that is exactly what those people do! They have taken what truth God gave them, and will not risk it by facing and conquering temptation, and defeating the evil in themselves and putting it behind them, but instead are hiding their souls in a napkin so they won’t lose it! Is that what God wants from us??
Luke 19:22-27 And he saith unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. … Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds. … For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him. But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.
So if you don’t trust yourself, FIND OUT WHY! God has not given you (and will never give you) a problem you, personally, cannot solve – or put you in a game you cannot win! So COUNT IT JOY that God has given you this trial to overcome, knowing that IF YOU WIN (and you CAN) you will have lost nothing, and gained everything! And that without the trial, you would have stayed in the same naive, untested state you were born in – and remained absolutely useless to God!
James 1:2 My brethren, COUNT IT ALL JOY when ye fall into divers temptations;