Your Daily Lenten Devotional
March 16, 2012
Into the Wilderness
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Living in an altar’d state means that flesh is treated as dead. “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin” (Romans 6:11). For years, those words just caused confusion for me. I would read those words and feel frustrated and more like a failure than ever. How could just “considering” it so make it so? And how could I keep considering it so when it was so obviously not so? I read commentaries, and parsed the language, and applied all my intellect to the problem, but could not come to a satisfying understanding. Finally, I just left it alone. Over the years of working out Scripture in practice and in understanding, I think I have a better grasp of what Paul is saying. Though I wanted the Holy Spirit to make me understand those words, instead He taught me from many other passages and worked it out in experience until I come back to those words and they make sense.
Dead to sin. Count on it. It is a fact. I’m not supposed to make it a fact. Dead—disconnected from life. Unresponsive to any pull. I believe that Paul is talking about sin, the operating power, not sins, the actions and behaviors. I am dead to the power of sin, and the power of sin is dead to me. “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14). So, how do I count on that and act on it and bring it into my experience?
When I am being enticed into flesh’s realm, and the appeal of my old man’s habits is calling me, it’s time for my will to stand up and choose–life or death? Instead of acting as if I am one with my old man and as if I still desire to sin and now I have to tamp down that desire and deny it, I have to lean in. I have to altar. I have to take that thought captive and hand it over to Jesus, and draw on His life. Let Him speak truth to me: “You don’t really desire that sin any more. You desire to be free from the tyranny of your flesh. Your flesh is lying to you–promising good results. But you know better. Respond to what you know, not what you feel. The flesh is dead. Treat it that way.” Now, most important, let Him turn your heart toward the resurrection that will result from this crucifixion. Celebrate your freedom. Let your mind be consumed with what you’re gaining, not what you are losing.
And, then, recognize how temptation can serve God’s purpose. Line yourself up with what He is doing in this moment and let the enemy’s schemes backfire.
The Anatomy of a Sin
Temptation is not sin. Temptation does not have to lead to sin. However, no sin comes into being without temptation. What is the process by which temptation becomes sin? “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” (James 1:14-15). In this passage, James is talking about temptation that is successful, or results in sin. He describes for us the process.
Strange as it may seem at first, I am convinced that James is saying, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face temptations of many kinds.” Remember what a productive use God made of the temptations Jesus faced. Is it possible that He could use temptation to our advantage also?
“God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Who is in charge of what temptation reaches you?
In 1 Corinthians 10:13 we find the same Greek word-root for “tempt” as is found in our passage from James. Look carefully at what the Scripture says about temptation: God will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. Do you see that God is in charge of what temptation reaches you? If God is in charge of what temptation reaches you, can temptation have any purpose but good? “All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful for those who keep the demands of his covenant” (Psalm 25:10). “You are good, and what you do is good” (Psalm 119:68).
God allows temptation in order to isolate, identify, and uproot unrighteousness and expose flesh. Let me backtrack and clarify something. God is not tempting you. He is not the source of temptation. “When tempted, no one should say, `God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone” (James 1:13). He, however, decides what temptation will be allowed to reach you.
Dragged Away by Desire
“By his own evil desire.” The Greek word translated here as “evil desire” really means strong or intense desire. It does not have a specific meaning of good or bad. In fact, it is the same word Jesus used in Luke 22:15 when He said to His disciples: “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.”
Change the word evil to strong. He has not created you with an inherently wrong desire, but with an intense desire. This strong or intense desire, at its foundation, is built into you by the Creator. He has created you with a deep need for love and acceptance so that you will seek and find love and acceptance in Him. This need is the foundation of every desire. However, our God-created desires become misdirected when we seek to have them met outside of God…
…”Respond harshly and you will feel better.” “Buy one more thing you can’t afford and it will bring you what you are looking for.” “Eat one more thing and you will be fulfilled.” “Take one more drink and your pain will go away” Lies, lies, and more lies.
The stimulus has no power of its own. What tempts one person does not tempt another. The power is not in the object or the occurrence in the world. The stimulus is neutral. Unless it is enticing, it cannot tempt. Its only power is the attraction it holds for you. It is your own misdirected desire dragging you away…
Temptation That Leads to Purity
Temptation can lead to sin, or temptation can lead to purity. Temptation forces choice. Every time we face temptation, we choose where to take our needs. Will we allow God to fulfill them and satisfy our eternal cravings? Or will we take the drive-through fast-food approach? Will we think long-term or quick fix? Will we choose God or will we choose Baal? Every temptation forces us deeper into the heart of the Father or anchors us more securely in the world. It’s time to choose to altar ourselves…
If God used temptation to bring His son to full maturity, can He do the same with you? And you are not fighting the battle against sin. You are simply choosing Him and His overcoming life.
Altar’d: Experience the Power of Resurrection
Jennifer Kennedy Dean
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Experience in this 40-day exploration of the Scriptures what it means to live a life alive to the Spirit of God. Author Jennifer Kennedy Dean believes we are created to live in an “altar’d” state-where we surrender our wills and live the life God desires for us. The Altar’d journey is ideal for the Lenten season, as you explore the freedom of dying to self and living in the power of Jesus’ resurrected life.
Used with the kind permission of our friends at New Hope Publishers.