Temptation and Transformation

By Gwen Sellers

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Not too long ago a mature Christian got me thinking about sin in a new way. The conversation essentially boiled down to whether possessing a desire to sin is, itself, sin. Jesus seems to have confirmed as much in His discourse in Matthew 5, especially on the issues of anger and lust. Of course it is better to not act on my sinful desires, but even having an affinity to sin and wanting to do it may very well be sinful in itself. At the very least, it reveals that my heart has a tendency toward sin, even though I know sin is not only dishonoring to God but also a cruel master when I allow it to enslave me.

Our conversation also brought up the issue of temptation. We know Jesus was tempted, yet that He never sinned (Matthew 4:1-11; Hebrews 4:15). Does that mean temptation is being presented with an opportunity for sin but does not speak to heart desire? Another mature Christian had a helpful insight here. He spoke of how our human nature, apart from God's transforming work, can be so corrupt that it is difficult to separate temptation from desire; often the presentation of opportunity for sin leads straight to a desire for it, making the two nearly indistinguishable. James 1:14-15 says, "But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death." Often in our battle against the sinful nature, when we are presented with an opportunity to sin, we want to take it. I think initially sanctification is manifested when we resist the urge to take the opportunity. As we mature, sanctification is manifested when the desire to sin lessens, and ultimately disappears.

I've heard older Christians say before that the more they come to know God, the more they realize how much of a sinner they are. I am starting to understand this stance. As we grow in Christ we are maturing, coming into His likeness. So in many ways we look less like sinners than we did earlier on. But we also come to see Christ in more of His fullness. As we mature in the faith, we see more clearly how wide the chasm between us and God really is. Before coming to salvation we may have realized we needed a savior. But after we get to know the Savior, we begin to grasp what being dead in sin really means. As God perfects us, we begin to see how much work remains to be done to bring us to completion. As we come to more deeply appreciate God's holiness, we also come to see the depth of our own desperate need.

Contrary to human logic, this is not cause for disillusionment. It is not as if older believers live in fear or with a poor sense of self. Rather, they understand God's majesty and utter holiness. And they more deeply delight in His great salvation. Salvation becomes all the sweeter as I realize my desperate need. Relationship with God becomes all the more precious as I come to understand how intimately invested He is in my character. It is not only my actions that matter to God. He isn't about appearances or me not embarrassing Him. He's about heart transformation, at the deepest levels. Yes, my actions will change. And, yes, my pattern of life in the world should honor God and cause others to want to know Him more. But it is my heart that requires the work.

A friend of mine, Dr. Nabeel Jabbour who is also an author, professor, and scholar with a heart for reaching Muslims for Christ as well as growing in his own faith, has kindly shared with me a list of signs he developed of a maturing disciple in Christ. One is that such a disciple is becoming aware of secret motives and goals that drive behavior, and learning to choose both goals and behaviors that are honoring to God. He is talking about true heart transformation here. Rather than just change the outside, the inside must be made new.

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Published on 10-6-15