On The Temptation of Man
“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15 ESV)
We struggle against something that we cannot understand apart from Scripture: sin.
If there were no Scripture, and we were simply to live as we desired, only the common grace of God would prevent us from utterly destroying one another for our own selfish desires. Of course, this would happen outside of our own direct knowledge. Perhaps some would have an inkling that something was “not right”, but it would not be a useful and practical knowledge gained by the special revelation of Scripture if such Scripture did not exist. Instead, such men would, acting in the Sovereignty of God, establish laws and systems to prevent the very extinction of our own race by our own hand.
If there were no Scripture, we would not be able to accurately identify the source of our problems. Not only would the source remain active and cancerous, but our counterfeit prescriptions would only prove to aggravate the real problem, bearing it out in other forms. Who can raise a dead man? The man himself? Certainly not; he is dead and has no power of his own. Without Scripture, he cannot even identify what is and is not of help to him. Moreover, he would not be able to act on anything with any measure of success because he is dead.
Now think on this: since Scripture does exist, would the same not apply if we chose not to read it? Even more subtly so, would the same problem apply if we chose only to read some of the Scripture, rather than the whole?
Yet we ignore the above realities. Instead, in our ignorance, we believe the cultural presuppositions that man is inherently good. Perhaps we believe some subtle version of it: where we are under the impression that the “renewing of the mind” spoken of in Scripture is a license to excuse our behavior as “inherently good” now that such a mind has been renewed. But this, again, is faulty—we are still susceptible to sin even though our hope lies in what Christ has done on the cross to pay for that sin.
Our exposure to culture’s misdiagnosis perhaps confuses us. In one sense, we learn that we were indeed wrong to assume that we had a problem that needed man-made prescription: in truth, we were slaves to sin before Christ. Unfortunately, our tendency to reduce salvation to the lowest-possible-requirements also stripped our understanding of Christian living to mimic carnality, excused by the man-made desire to “redeem culture” or aspects therein. We determined the smallest possible commitment level or simplest understanding of justification, and delivered this “elevator speech” in our evangelistic actions, such that the recipient might be quickened to regeneration in the most consumer-driven and user-friendly way. We have industrialized the gospel; we have moved from teaching the whole counsel of Scripture to teaching the absolute minimum amount required for an economical delivery to the masses.
We wash this down with a heavy dose of an anesthetic that believes the Word will not return void and that its efficacy is not dependent on dosage, and ignore the immense disobedience of Scripture, the carnality so pervasive within the walls of the church, and the rebellion of the flesh that quickly overtakes what we now question as false conversions.
Do we believe that the efficacy of the good news is immune to truncation? There is much room for a straw-man fallacy, of course, because one would be pitting a caricature of a formula (“easy-believism”) against another (full doctrinal dissertations).
But I would press us to consider the consequences of every teaching and of every evangelistic encounter. If faith comes by hearing, and hearing the Word of God, then what amount of that Word is sufficient? What paraphrase articulates the necessary passage of words? Of course the good news is no magic incantation—far from it. It is also imperative to understand that God’s grace will cover a multitude of mistakes by any of his missionaries. Nonetheless, it is something we must take more seriously!
With emaciated teaching, emaciated doctrine, and an emaciated gospel comes an emaciated church: a church whose believers are easily swept from one belief to another, having no root system on which to rely when winds come. I would go so far as to say that many of those shallow roots are ripped from shallow soil and cast away—leaving a person without a saving knowledge of Christ.
In a sense, the problem comes down to our ability to be tempted—as do most problems, because pride is a primary sin of the creature. We are tempted in a number of ways, perhaps more subtly than we would care to admit:
We are tempted by success.
It may not look like money and fame for all—perhaps it looks like the success of retaining a membership at one’s church, or the success of gaining a new demographic. Perhaps the success looks like claps from the congregation, or a parishioner who normally complains about content keeping silent for a week or two. It doesn’t matter what form in which it comes—it is success nonetheless. Of course, success is not evil in and of itself: it is merely “when a plan comes together” or when we see the expected outcome of our actions. These are “successes” and are not, in and of themselves, an indication of good or bad methodology, but they are surely part of what weighs in on our unvoiced desires to do one thing over another.
We are tempted by ease.
Quite simply, it is much easier for us to choose one thing over another because it is less work; its requirements are so significantly less than another option that, regardless of its rank in methodological appropriateness, it wins the day. These choices are often made outside of counsel from the Word of God or even from Godly men who demonstrate a vigilance against “taking the easy way out”.
We are tempted by conformity or non-conformity.
We rally to things that others are doing without regarding the consequences, or we purposely do something opposite in an effort to seem unique. What matters to us starts to be identified in its conformity or lack of conformity to others rather than to Scripture itself.
We are tempted by culture’s push for tolerance.
In many cases, we fall victim to a desire to be pleasing to those around us—even when we know they disagree. In today’s culture, “pleasing those around us” is to exercise a perverted form of tolerance that is really a passive approval more than it is a tolerance. This happens within the church for heteropraxy, heterodoxy, and even, in too many cases, for heresy.
We are tempted by culture’s push for unity.
Our desire for peace with those around us sometimes trumps our biblical convictions. Not to say that we should not unify with those who would see the most infinitesimal point and non-essentials differently than ourselves, but that even when major points of doctrine are at stake that can affect the eternal lives of our flocks, we are inclined to forego the difference for the sake of unity. Once again, the culture provides a perverted form of the word unity that is more akin to yoking with non-believers and false teachers. Don’t misunderstand: in all things with those that would claim to believe in Christ, we should seek to understand, accept, and/or correct their differences, but, when the doctrines that would impact eternal salvation (those that form the basis for things like the Apostle’s Creed, Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed) are at stake, we must not stand down and call the opposer “brother”, for this is confusion to the flock, poison to the ministry, and cancer to the church.
Undoubtedly, more temptations would seek to destabilize us from our perch in biblical teaching. But allow me, for a moment, to suggest to us a proven remedy: teach sound doctrine. It is through sound doctrine—biblical exposition—that we find absolute truth so as to distinguish it from error.
Do not be fooled in thinking that deviations from the core responsibility of the church—especially those that garner the favor of man so easily—will grow a healthy body.
To Christ alone be the glory!