At Gateway Church in Austin, we continued a series on the spiritual realm. The Scriptures tell us our prayers can move the spiritual realm, and forces in the spiritual realm can move us – for better or worse.
You can watch the entire series at www.gatewaychurch.com/podcast.
Each week, there are Next Steps to help us apply the message to our lives.
Rick Shurtz spoke at the McNeil campus, I spoke at the South Campus. We shared some of the following insights:
“On the one side, we know what’s good and right and helpful. On the other, we’re drawn to the quick fix, escapism, feel good moments that leave us feeling dirty and cheap.
So we’re in this series, Realm. And we’re talking about the spiritual realm and how it’s closer than we might think. Today I’m going to zero in on a specific question.
What role does the unseen world play in my decisions that sabotage my life?
What do I mean by that? We’ve all done things we know aren’t good for us.
- We’ve overeaten, not because we think overeating is good for us. We know it’s not good for us, and we did it anyway.
- We engaged a relationship we instinctively knew was not good for us. We weren’t in that relationship, because we deep down thought it was good for us. We knew it wasn’t, but we did it anyway.
- We’ve overworked…not just because it was a busy season and we needed to kick it into gear for a few weeks. We did it obsessively, even though we knew it was robbing us of life.
- We’ve snapped at people, not because we thought it was going to fix the relationship. We knew it wouldn’t. Snapping does damage. It sets our relationships back. We knew that, but we didn’t listen to that.
We listened to something else. And that’s my question…What is that something else?
Is there something in the unseen realm, the spiritual realm, that tempts us and entices us to do things we know aren’t good for us.
To get after this question, I need to make a distinction right at the top. The question I’m asking is not an attempt to shift blame. We’ve heard the phrase, “The devil made me do it.” We say that, not because we mean it literally. But it’s a phrase in the English language used as a subtle attempt to shift blame. My purpose today is not to literally make that shift. I’m not hoping to peak behind the curtain so we can find out that yes, the devil does in fact make us do things.
Scripture is very clear on this matter. When we sabotage our own lives, nobody is responsible other than ourselves. We are 100% responsible for our own actions. Scripture puts it like this:
…each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. James 1:14-15
Whose desire drags us away?
Our own desire. That desire drags us into what Scripture calls sin. Put plainly, sin are those actions we know aren’t good for us, but we do them anyway…the actions that sabotage our own lives. Which is why this passage says that when sin is fully-grown, it brings about death. Scripture’s way of saying we’re robbed of the life we know is available to us.
So the question I’m asking today isn’t an effort to shift responsibility for our actions off of us and onto an unseen world. That wouldn’t be helpful.
The question I’m asking is about the role that unseen world may in fact play in enticing us…drawing us toward actions we then willfully choose to do.
Scripture exhorts us regarding this unseen world…
…take your stand against the devil’s schemes… Ephesians 6:11
That’s a power-packed statement. It tells us there is an unseen evil in the world, and that unseen evil literally schemes against us.
John did a deep dive into this last week. My purpose today is to build on last week. If there is an evil, what role does that evil play in enticing us, tempting us, drawing us away toward paths and plans that do not build our lives but tear our lives down.
To get after this, we’re going to look at a time when Jesus himself experienced temptation. It’s an event recorded three times in Scripture:
After fasting forty days and forty night, Jesus was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Matthew 4:2-3
You might not believe any other statement in all of Scripture, but I think we can all agree if you fast for 40 days, you’re hungry. So Jesus is hungry.
Now I want you to consider something important about this scene. Scripture tells us the tempter came in an effort to get Jesus to use his power to do something he was not supposed to do at that time.
What’s interesting is that there are other places in Scripture where Jesus uses his power to multiply food from a few fish and a few loaves of bread. He took those loaves and fish and fed more than 5000 people with them. So there is nothing intrinsically wrong with Jesus using his authority to feed people, including feeding himself. But, on this particular day and at this particular time, Jesus was fasting. He was engaged in a prayerful and intensely focused time, and that time was not over yet. It wasn’t time to eat.
Now here’s something I want you to know about this event. There’s nothing in this passage that indicates this was a physical and material manifestation of evil. I mean that there’s nothing in this passage that says the tempter took on bodily form, stood before Jesus, and made an attempt to persuade him toward disobedience.
We know from other places of Scripture that the tempter is a spirit, that can take bodily form, but doesn’t have to. There’s nothing in this passage indicating that the tempter showed up in a material body. I say that, because I want us to recognize Jesus is experiencing what I’m convinced you and I experience. All Scripture tells us is that the tempter came to him, and since we know from other places of Scripture that this tempter is spirit not flesh, there’s absolutely no reason to believe the tempter took on a fleshly presence.
I’m convinced the temptation was real. He was famished, and he wanted to eat. He’s not done with this intense communion with the father, but he kind of wants to be. It’s in that moment that the tempter comes to him—and Jesus has thoughts, rationalizing thoughts, about how and why he should be able to claim a little food.
The tempter has schemes, he has strategies. And we see this in this exchange with Jesus. The tempter was strategic. What did he do? He sought to exploit a hunger.
Hear this very carefully. The tempter does not throw random temptations at us. The temptations are strategic. They’re thoughtful. They come at moments or in seasons of our lives when we are susceptible to that very temptation. Which leads me to a question I’m convinced we’d all be wise to consider.
What hunger might the tempter seek to exploit in me?
If I know my hunger, I can prepare myself for the tempter’s schemes.
- [Money] Maybe I’m perpetually strapped for cash. I’m hungry for a little financial breathing room. It’s tax time. What whispers might I hear…what enticements?
- [Respect] – Maybe it’s that husband and wife in a rough patch. All she wants is to be understood, to be heard, to be listened to. He doesn’t even seem to try. But that work colleague does. He listens. He affirms. He understands my perspective and thinks I have something valuable to say.
- [Tired] – Or maybe it’s the person whose tired, who just want to feel good for an evening. What’s the big deal if I drink a few extra drinks? What’s the big deal if I go to that web site? It’s all consensual.
What’s your hunger?
- What are you not getting, but you think you deserve?
- What’s taking longer than you ever would have thought?
- What are others achieving, others getting, that you just can’t seem to get your hands on?
Scripture tells us there is a schemer, a tempter, strategically thinking how he might entice you toward a dangerous end.
So what did Jesus do? How’d he field this temptation.
He’s been out there 40 days, he’s not eaten, he’s got these thoughts about how he could satisfy that hunger in an instant. At other times, he’ll use his authority to satisfy other people’s hungers. Why not do it now? If other people can benefit from his authority, why not him? What’s he to do?
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. –Matthew 4:4, NIV
That temptation to turn that stone to bread, it’s as if the tempter is whispering, “You want to live, don’t you?! You haven’t eaten in a month. Don’t you want to live?”
We hear that same line…
- Staying single…it’s no life…you want to live don’t you? Just compromise your morals this one time. It’ll get you the relationship.
- Or, losing this deal would be catastrophic…this deal will give you LIFE…you’ll get a huge bonus…you’ll get respect…shade the truth a little…spin it so they don’t hear it…get the deal and get the LIFE.
- Just one more drink, then I’ll feel good, then I’ll stop, but one more, that will give me the life I want tonight, tomorrow will be a new day. I’ll do different tomorrow. Let’s live tonight.
His hunger is getting exploited. The tempter points to sustenance, to food. That food…it will give you LIFE. To which Jesus responds:
- My life is not dependent on the next piece of bread.
- My life is dependent upon God.
- My life is not dependent upon getting the relationship, or getting the deal, or getting that promotion, or getting another drink. I can have LIFE apart from all of that.
So what’s Jesus doing here? He’s confronting the tempter with truth.
In another place, Jesus tells us this about our spiritual enemy:
“When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” John 8:44
The tempter will exploit our hunger. He will do so with subtle lies.
- You need that relationship.
- You need that job.
- You need that deal.
- Without it, you miss out on life.
And it sure seemed like Jesus needed that bread. But he didn’t. His life, it was dependent, not upon a loaf of bread, or deal, or a lower tax bracket, but upon God.
I have three actions items today. Here’s the first. If the enemy schemes and plots against us with lies, we must…
1. Know the truth
That’s pretty straight forward. Our enemy, his tactics are fairly consistent. They’re rooted in lies. How do we counteract that? We counteract it with depth of insight. With breadth of understanding. Apart from that, we’re susceptible, as we’ll especially see in this second temptation.
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Matthew 4:5-6
Years ago, my mentor made an observation to him, that I’ve never forgotten. He said, “Rick, if the tempter can’t get you with things like pornography, be ready, he’s going to tempt you, and seek to ruin you, with a twisted form of something good.”
If the tempter can’t get you with something that’s explicitly evil, he’ll get you with something that appears to be good.
And maybe God is calling you to do something different… And maybe there are changes that need to be made. But when these thoughts are accompanied by thoughts of PROVING something, or VALIDATING yourself, or VALIDATING God, I think we should hold them suspicious.
The tempter tells Jesus to jump from the cliff, show himself to be the real deal, and put God’s power on display. Sounds legitimate. The tempter even quotes a bible verse to back up his enticement…
Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.
God may call us to do radical things in our lives… But we should test these thoughts not God… We should ask them Why? Why do this? What’s the point here? If I’m trying to prove something, or validate God, or if I’m attempting to jump to test God and see if he’ll really catch me.
God’s not interested in our ‘tests’. He’s not interested in manipulating circumstances so we can supposedly make him look good. God doesn’t need our help.
Scripture tells us:
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Psalm 19:1
God doesn’t need us jumping from life’s cliffs so he can show off in the world. A glance at the skies let’s the world know he’s powerful.
But our enemy is a schemer. He will take something that looks good and noble, and he’ll put a twist on it.
You may have heard it said that “Religion brings out the best in people, but it can also bring out the worst in people.”
And we’ve seen this. Examples:
- The person who thinks he has to correct everybody and thinks he’s teaching us all what’s right.
- The person who makes some important decisions about struggles below this line, and now can’t understand why anyone would ever do those things, and is impatient with anyone who does.
- The person who gets a little bit of truth, and beats people up with it.
If the enemy can’t get us with these things below the line, he’ll take something above the line, that appears good, and twist it just enough to be destructive to ourselves and the people around us.
2. Know the full balance of the truth
If you go to your doctor, and ask, ‘how do I get physically healthy,’ your doctor might answer, ‘exercise.’”
So you start exercising, but you still feel unhealthy, so you go to a second doctor. This doctor says, “You need rest.”
You think: “This is crazy, one doctor tells me to exercise, the other tells me to rest, which one am I supposed to do? They contradict each other.”
But they don’t contradict each other.
They compliment each other.
Not only do we need to know the truth.
We need depth of insight. We need the full balance of truth. Truth us found where these two arrows intersect.
One of the most dangerous things is a solitary truth, a single arrow, and one of the tempters favorite tactics is to get a passionate follower of Christ to grab hold of one of these arrows, one piece of truth, and get that person to go around and shoot everyone with it.
But that arrow isn’t the full truth.
If all I do is exercise and never rest, I’ll exasperate myself, or if all I do is rest and never exercise, I’ll become lazy.
We don’t just need to be people of truth.We need to be people with depth of insight and balance of truth, otherwise we are at risk of the tempter’s dangerous schemes.
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. Matthew 4:8-11
This temptation’s, I’m convinced, is all-too-common. It’s the temptation to do something for God by worshipping something other than God. What do I mean by that? Why was Jesus sent?
Jesus said this…
“I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God…” Luke 4:43
Jesus came to bring about the Kingdom of God. With that in mind, consider this final seduction of the tempter. He tells Jesus that he’ll give him all the kingdoms of the world, the exact thing God had commissioned him to do. This is what God wants. This is why I’m here. I’m here to get this very thing done. All I have to do is please this other spirit.
And if that doesn’t sound seductive, consider that this temptation will rarely come in the form of stating “If you literally worship the devil, then you can get this good thing.” It will be much more subtle than that.
- “I’ll do this good thing…” we’ll think to ourselves…
- “I’ll accomplish this great thing for God…
- “Then I’ll be KNOWN as someone who does good things…”
- “Then I’ll be respected as someone who does good things…”
- “Then she’ll see me as wise…then she’ll see me as good.”
But am I doing things because I want to do good things, or because I want the world’s applause.
If I give all I possess to the poor…but do not have love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:3
There are countless reasons why a person might reach out and be kind to a person in poverty, only one of those reasons is that they care about the person they are reaching out to.
- It can be done out of guilt…our tempter loves that one.
- It can be done to impress our date…
- It can be done to get a job, or win votes, or just to feel better about ourselves, like we’re just a bit above the frey.
But what about love for God and love for humanity and a genuine care for the plight of another person. The person who serves with authentic love doesn’t need a bunch of likes on Facebook to feel good about his trip, because that person feels good simply because he or she had an opportunity to love another person in the name of Christ.
3. Know the truth about God and about yourself
Just one or the other won’t do. I need the truth about God, and I need the truth about myself. I need to know what he’s up to, and I need to know what I’m up to. I need to know what he wants, and I need to know what I want.
If I lack awareness of my own desires, I’m highly susceptible of turning powerful God moments into terrible moments of self-service and self-promotion that only leave me feeling hollow and dissatisfied.
We were made for something much greater than that. We were made for authentic love for God and authentic love for each other.
…take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5
That’s the net of this. There is a schemer. A tempter. That tempter seeks to derail us with the subtlest twists of truth that will ultimately rob us of the life Christ came to give.
To combat this, we must be a people passionate for the truth: the truth about God, the truth about ourselves, and the truth about the world.
At some point this week, ask yourself this question: What am I doing on a daily basis to cultivate depth of insight in my life?
- What are my practices with Scripture?
- What are my practices with learning from others who walk with God?
- What are my practices for talking with God, listening to God, meditating on his truth?
Am I engaging the practices that will give me what I need to take thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ?
If we do not know God, and we do not know ourselves, and do not listen to what God has for us in Scripture, then we will be highly susceptible to the schemes of the tempter.
But if we consistently—day after day—become people who ever-increasingly cultivate depth of insight, then we will be a people who know the truth that sets us free from the twisted schemes of the tempter.”