Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Tempted and Tried by Russell D. Moore

I just finished reading Russell D. Moore's book, Tempted and Tried. I am blown away. It has made me really think about my view of temptation, and particularly the temptations of Christ. The first thing I would say about this book is that Moore is a really great writer. Add to his ability to frame and structure sentences the reality that the guy really understands the Bible, it makes for an insightful read.

The book begins by dealing with the gradual, luring nature of temptations. Chapter 2: Slaughterhouse Drive might just be the scariest chapter in the book. I shared some quotes a few weeks ago that should scare you to death. It did me. His point is that we never see it coming. We never see the results of the temptation. We are just being led down a path that leads to destruction, but we never see it coming when we continually keep taking the bait. He says,
"Temptation only works if the possible futures open to you are concealed. Consequences, including those of Judgment Day, must be hidden from view or outright denied" (50).
After these introductory chapters on temptation, he gets to the heartbeat of the book, which is an in-depth look at the three temptations that Jesus went through in the wilderness by Satan. He does a great job of showing how these temptations are really the same things we struggle with every day. He says,
"You will be tempted exactly as Jesus was, because Jesus was being tempted exactly as we are. You will be tempted with consumption, security, and status. You will be tempted to provide for yourself, to protect yourself, and to exalt yourself. And at the core of these three is a common impulse--to cast off the fatherhood of God" (20-1).
The first temptation of turning a stone into bread was a temptation of consumption. Satan began the temptation by saying, "If you are the Son of God . . ." He was trying to make Jesus become discontent with the way His Father was treating Him. After all, what kind of dad would let his son be out in the wilderness for 40 days without feeding him? Moore points out:
"To lose control of your appetites is to lose sight of the gospel itself, the truth that God knows what you need to survive--the broken body and spilled blood of Jesus. God allows his people to 'hunger' so he can feed them with what is better than what they would choose. The Israelites wanted Egyptian onions and leeks; God was training their appetites for bread from heaven" (80-1)
Why does Jesus resist that temptation? How?
"Jesus flees Satan's temptation not because he doesn't like bread, but because he wants more bread than Satan can provide and because he wants the bread in fellowship with his Father and with his bride. The Devil wants a masturbatory meal, wolfed down alone in the desert. Jesus wants a marriage supper, joined with his church 'as a bride adorned for her husband' (Rev. 21:2) in the New Jerusalem" (84-5)
The second temptation was when Satan took Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple and told Him to throw Himself down. Why? Because Satan was trying to get Jesus to doubt the protecting nature of His Father. This was a temptation of security. This plays itself out in our life everyday in many different situations. Moore describes this problem in our life.
"When our ultimate goal becomes security and protection, God becomes a means to that security and protection. We 'test' him then, to see if he is able to serve as a means to our real god, our sense that everything will be all right. As long as we see our way toward physical, emotional, financial, relational, or familial well-being, God is welcome. But when such things are threatened, we indict God with our grumbling, even when we carefully disguise this as a 'venting' against our circumstances, not against God. We assume that God's love entails God's visible protection right now. When that is absent, we grow distant and prayerless toward God. We put him to the test" (112).
I think we have all been there. We are there. As he progresses to the third temptation, where Satan shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, he makes the argument that this is a temptation of status. Satan is willingly offering all the kingdoms of the world to Jesus. We are told that Satan is the ruler of this world, for now at least. But someday all of the world will belong to Jesus. What Satan was offering was for Jesus to have them without having to go to the cross. And that's the real point. Satan would be more than willing to give up everything if only Jesus wouldn't die. This lure of status is found in us in many different ways.
"For some people, the self-exaltation impulse means fantasizing in front of a mirror about being a world-renowned musician. Others, though, seek the same kind of renown, just limited to the world of air-conditioning repair in West Chester, Ohio. Some people want to be billionaires with villas in the south of France. Others just want their neighbors to envy them because their marriage is intact, their children still in school. The issue isn't the size of the kingdom; it's what you will do to get it" (144-5).
The book is extremely helpful to make you think through issues of temptation. But don't get me wrong, it is not an easy book. It is weighty. It took me much longer to get through it than I anticipated, mostly because I had to process and think and repent of areas in my life where I have never seen my giving into temptation. I would highly recommend this book to every Christian. Read it. Listen to it. Look up the Scripture verses that he gives. Let me end with one last quote. One that hurts, but helps.
"The problem is, though, that we often think escape from temptation, promised by God, means escape from the agony of struggling against temptation, which it does not. Don't pray for an end to the struggle. Pray for your warfare to be more effective as you dodge fiery darts on the way into the kingdom. Peace is a fruit of the Spirit, but that's peace with God and with one another. It is emphatically not peace with the world, the flesh, and the Devil. That's why the Bible can include such a seemingly discordant statement about peace as 'The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet' (Rom. 16:20). Don't be discouraged or depressed if you're in agony fighting against your temptations. That means the Holy Spirit is there. And where the Spirit is, for now anyways, there is war (Gal. 5:17)" (184-5).

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