“And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.“ Galatians 5:24.
Once, while I was loading up our GMC Envoy with our suitcases, personal gear, and bags of odds-and-ends, in preparation for our family’s week-long vacation in Florida, I glanced over at my daughter’s car and saw a red cardinal sitting on the driver’s side rear-view mirror. This is the same cardinal that also sits on our front porch occasionally and pecks at the kick-plate on the bottom of the door. As I continued to watch, I noticed it jumping down to the door, looking into the mirror, flapping its wings against the mirror, and then jumping back on top. Then it would look around and jump back onto the door and repeat the above ritual. These events happened over and over again, until something startled the bird causing it to fly away. I must have watched it for around five minutes. The first thing that came to my mind was, “what a stupid bird.” But I thought about it and realized that it was simply protecting its territory. When it looked into the mirror, it probably assumed it was looking at another red cardinal that had invaded its territory. During the day, we could also hear it tap on the kick-plate, probably for the same reason, because it is made of shiny bronze and has a fairly good reflective quality. The bird had no idea the creature that caused it to rise up and fight was actually itself.
I chuckled at this for a while, and then it dawned on me that we are not much different than this little red cardinal. You see, it saw that reflection of himself as an outside intruder that was attempting to take his territory. What came to my mind was that we often deflect the blame for our bad thoughts and behaviors and put it on other people, or maybe the devil itself, when in actuality the enemy that causes us to sin is not some outside entity, but our own flesh.
Now, before the cries of “HERESY” begin, let me explain. First, I am not saying we are not tempted by the enemy. It is very obvious the enemy wants us to fall. He tempted Jesus in the wilderness, trying to get Him to reach His goal by another means than that which the Father intended. I believe we also are tempted when Satan puts before us things that will entice us to leave the path God has called us to walk. But we must not fall into the trap of blaming everything on the enemy, spouting out the immortal words of Geraldine Jones (aka Flip Wilson), “The devil made me do it.”
We cannot be tempted by something we do not, even down to the very darkest recesses of our being, desire. James wrote in his letter, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” James 1:13-14. It is our flesh, our sinful nature, that tempts us. It is our sinful desires to do evil that give us problems. For instance, I cannot be tempted to become a serial killer. There is no desire in me at all, without exceptions, to kill anyone. So, I cannot be tempted in this area. However, if some guy were to do something to hurt my wife or daughter, I probably would be tempted to hurt them back, in other words, exact revenge. However, God has said, “Do not say, I will repay evil”; wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you.” Prov 20:22. And also, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Rom 12:19.
And if we are tempted, it is far from an irreversible fact, or fait accompli, that we will fall. Temptation is not forcing you to perform an act, but igniting the desire you already have to act. And temptation is not always a bad thing. For instance, I could be tempted, on a quiet weekend, to take a trip somewhere, packing up a bunch of books, and spending my time reading and writing. I would enjoy that (I’m weird that way). In fact, that is a lot of what I do on vacations. That is not a sin, but it is a latent desire that can easily be triggered. I can either pack up and go or stay at home. It is a decision, not a forced action. The temptation to sin is the same. We are never forced to commit it, but it is a conscious decision we make. We can say YES or NO. It is up to us.
And the scriptures back this up. Paul wrote to the Church at Corinth the following, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” 1 Cor 10:13. The key word in this passage is ‘endure.’ It means to hold out against, to sustain without impairment or yielding. Basically, what Paul was saying is that we will have a way of escape so that we will be able to stand against temptation and not yield to its enticements. It does not mean He will necessarily remove us from this temptation, but He will give us the strength to beat it.
And how can we beat it? Paul made it clear in his letter to the Church in Rome. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Rom 12:1-2. We must allow God, through the process of sanctification, to transform our minds from one that is conformed to the ways of this world to one that is conformed to the will of God. We must offer ourselves; body, soul, mind, and spirit to God, fit for His use. This means we are to set ourselves apart (make holy) from the ways of this culture and show, by our actions, speech, and love, that we are the sons of the True and Living God. The reason we struggle with temptation is we may be following God, yet we do not want to let go of some of our old ways. We want to be conformed to both this world and the next. We want the advantages of the new life, but don’t want to necessarily give up the old life. And these desires may be so subtle, we are not aware we have them until the temptation comes. Therefore, we are not fully equipped to endure all temptations. However, when we recognize the desire in us, kill it through a conscious decision, and yield to God in this area, the temptation will be greatly reduced or removed altogether. Let’s not be like the little red cardinal who was fighting against an enemy that he thought was another bird, when it actually was himself. We can be presented from the outside with situations which provide opportunity to sin, but the actual enemy is our own flesh, which lures and entices us to give in and indulge its sinful desires. If we would change our hearts to desire God and His acceptance and ways more than anything else, we would have the power to endure through anything. The enemy’s inducements would mean nothing because we desire something much greater. But we must change our tactics and fight the real enemy, which is our flesh. As long as we are attempting to fight the bird in the mirror, we will never have the victory God intends.