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Avoid “I” trouble

Dr. Jim Denison is the CEO of Denison Forum.
His Daily Article and podcast globally reach over 160,000 subscribers. Dr. Denison guides readers to discern today’s news—biblically. He is the author of multiple books and has taught on the philosophy of religion and apologetics at several seminaries. Prior to launching Denison Forum in 2009, he pastored churches in Texas and Georgia. He holds a Ph.D and a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jim and his wife, Janet, live in Dallas, Texas. They have two sons and four grandchildren.

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Topic Scripture: Genesis 3:1-7

A Gallup poll released this week noted that Republicans’ satisfaction with America’s direction is at its highest point since 2007. However, Democrats’ confidence in the direction of the country is at its lowest point since 2008.

Is the country getting better or worse? The answer depends on the person you ask.

A Boeing 737 skidded off a runway in northern Turkey last Saturday, dangling precariously off a muddy cliff just a few feet from the Black Sea. The accident shut down the airport, but as one passenger said, “It’s a miracle we escaped.” Was the accident a failure or a miracle? The answer depends on the person you ask.

Your focus usually becomes your reality. What you want to become, you usually become. In learning how to live your blest life, we’ve discovered the positives: living in daily commitment to Jesus and covenant relationships with others. Today we’ll consider the negatives, the attack of the enemy, that which will keep us from lives blessed by God.

The first temptation in human history is still our temptation today, because it still works. Human nature does not change. Adam and Eve were no less susceptible to Satan’s strategy than we are. Let’s learn more about our enemy and find ways to defeat his plans to destroy our lives.

Who is our enemy?

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made” (v. 1). The Genesis text does not attribute the serpent’s activity to Satan. The devil is nowhere mentioned in the story. But Revelation gives us the rest of the story, describing “that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray” (12:9; 20:2).

What do we know about him? What does he do to us? His names reveal his nature.

He is called “Satan” thirty-four times in Scripture—the word means “accuser.” He accuses us to God, to each other, and to ourselves. Whenever you hear accusation, blame, finger-pointing, know that it comes ultimately from him.

He is called the “devil” thirty-six times in the New Testament. The word means “slanderer.” Whenever someone is gossiped about, slandered, criticized behind their back, you can know the ultimate source.

How effective is he? Satan can claim ownership over every unsaved soul. In John 8 our Lord refers to his enemies as children of their Satanic “father” (v. 44). He is the “god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4), the “prince of this world” (John 12:31) who controls this fallen age (1 John 5:19). Christians live in a world dominated by the devil. We are soldiers stationed on enemy soil, living in an occupied country.

Our enemy is a “murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44). He is a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Those who serve his cause engage in physical, emotional, and sexual attacks against each other and the rest of us. Their master wants nothing less than the wholesale destruction of the human race and especially the people of God.

How does his strategy work?

He begins with your needs. His conversation with Eve began with the fruit of the trees in the garden. This was God’s means for meeting her physical needs. The serpent didn’t begin his conversation by talking about a sunrise or sunset, the moon or the stars, or even Adam or the other animals on the earth. He began with the fruit of the trees, because that was what she needed most to survive.

Satan knows what you need today. Expect to be tempted where your needs are the greatest. If your self-esteem is low, expect to be tempted at the point of pride and fame. If you struggle with substance abuse, know that your enemy will engage you on that front regularly. If popularity comes first with you, expect to be tempted to compromise your character for your friends. If you measure success by money, know that materialism will want to be your god and that you will be given chances to compromise your faith to gain it.

For a pastor who wants his church to grow, there are unethical ways to count attendance and attract people. For a teacher who wants to impress you with his knowledge, it’s always easier to plagiarize or fabricate. Satan will tempt you at the point of your need, the trees in your garden this morning.

He questions God’s provision for those needs. “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?'” (v. 1b). If that were true, she and Adam would starve to death. Satan wants you to believe that God cannot be trusted to meet your needs. His will won’t make you as popular, or rich, or famous as you want to be. Your church may not grow as you want it to. Your congregation may not be as impressed with you as they should be. God’s will is not in your best interest.

He minimizes the risk of disobedience. The woman replies that if they eat the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, they will die. Satan retorts, “You will not surely die” (v. 4a). The risk is exaggerated. God loves you. He would surely not punish you as you fear. The downside is overstated. In our context, he whispers that we can always repent later. No one will know. No one will be hurt. Or, they deserve what they get. Or, they started this. He finds ways to convince us that disobeying God is to our good, and that it’s worth whatever it costs.

He offers a shortcut to your desires. “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (v. 4b). You won’t have to depend upon his provision any more, for you will be in charge of your own life, and future, and needs. You’ll know good and evil, just as he knows it. No more rules for you. You’ll call the shots. You’ll get what you want, and more. The popularity, or money, or physical satisfaction, or fame you want.

Why do it God’s way, when there’s a shortcut? Especially when no one will get hurt, least of all yourself. Oswald Chambers defines “lust” as the desire to have it right now. Whatever “it” is. Satan is always happy to help you do that.

Think about the last time you experienced temptation. Did the enemy not start with something you thought you wanted or needed? You knew God’s word and will on the subject, but somehow you were unsure that they were the best way to go this time and thought that you could ignore the risk of disobedience. If you went this other way, you could have what you wanted now. Is this not the perennial strategy behind all temptation?

How do we defeat him?

Take these steps the moment your next temptation attacks you. First: remember that Satan hates you. Why? Because he hates your Father.

If a terrorist cannot get at the president, he’ll attack his people. The closer to home, the better. There is a war going on between God and the devil, and you are on the front lines. Everything Satan puts into your head is designed to destroy you. No matter how much it appears to meet your need and minimize the downside right now. Every time you are tempted, know that the tempter wants to destroy you. You’re signing a contract with your enemy.

Billy Sunday was right: “One reason sin flourishes is that it is treated like a cream puff instead of a rattlesnake.” Years ago, a snake got into our house, so I killed it. I didn’t think twice about it. If only I were so decisive with the serpent who lives in my mind and my world. How do we kill him?

Second, see the end from the beginning. To use Dr. Phil’s question, how did this work for them? They got the fruit, to be sure. And they lost the Garden where the fruit was found. They lost paradise, and innocence, and joy. They gained punishment, and toil, and death. Satan was more than willing to give up a momentary pleasure to lead them into a lifetime of pain.

See the end from the beginning. Your enemy is willing for you to gain the sensual pleasure of sexual sin now, so long as he can lead you into adultery, the destruction of your marriage, the devastation of your family, and the ruin of your witness. He’s patient. He’s happy for you to have the possessions purchased by your theft, the popularity which comes from your gossip, the power which results from your manipulation. For now. He’s perfectly willing for you to climb as high on the ladder of success and recognition as possible, so your fall will be all the more visible and destructive.

C. S. Lewis’s masterpiece, The Screwtape Letters, contains the correspondence of a senior tempter to a junior apprentice. It is a remarkable glimpse into satanic strategy. For instance, Screwtape advises, “Doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy [God]. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

Third, turn immediately to God and his word.The serpent was “more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made” (v. 1). He is smarter than you are. This is a battle of wits and wills which you cannot win in your strength, intelligence, and ability.

If Eve had stayed with God’s word, she would have stayed in the Garden. If Adam had put God’s word ahead of his wife’s, he would have stayed there with her. They tried to fight the battle themselves, and they lost miserably. So will we.

There are temptations which you can defeat in your strength. For instance, I am not tempted by alcohol, for reasons which have nothing to do with me. It’s just my circumstances and makeup. So, I am never offered a drink. No one ever asks me out for a drink, or tries to give me a fifth of whiskey for Christmas. But there are other areas where I am tempted, and these I face regularly. Satan is a great economist. He won’t waste his time with issues he knows I can defeat. Rather, he brings those he knows I cannot.

So, every time I am tempted, I must recognize the fact that this is a test I cannot pass, or it wouldn’t be on my desk. I must give it instantly to my Father, going to his word and will, asking for his strength and support. I must remember not to trust my labor but his, turning instantly to God.

On Thursday, June 26, 1947, Peter Marshall prayed on the floor of the U.S. Senate, “We are too Christian really to enjoy sinning and too fond of sinning really to enjoy Christianity. Most of us know perfectly well what we ought to do; our trouble is that we do not want to do it. Thy help is our only hope. Make us want to do what is right, and give us the ability to do it. In the name of Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Last, if you fall, trust God to redeem your pain. He will do this for his glory and your good. God came to them, because they could no longer go to him. God covered their shame and sin with the first sacrifice in human history, and then with the Sacrifice which redeemed all of human history. He cast them from the Garden, but his Son’s agony in another Garden paved the way for their entrance back into the Paradise of God.

Sin destroys, and scars. The nail can be pulled out, but the hole remains. However, our God can redeem and bless. He had a use for David after Bathsheba, and Jonah after the fish, and Peter after his denials of Jesus. He still has a use for you.

Conclusion

The problem of our world is I trouble. The middle letter of “sin” is I. The middle letter of “pride” is I. I trouble is my trouble, and yours. What do we do about it?

To live your blest life, learn how to defeat your enemy. Know that he is very real, and very crafty. Remember that he hates you; see the end of his temptation from the beginning; take it to God immediately. If it’s too late, turn to your Father for his redeeming grace and take the next step toward peace.

Let’s start today with where you are in the garden. What fruit interests you this morning?

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