************ Catechism Sermon on Lord's Day 52a ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on January 20, 2019

Lord's Day 52a
James 1
"The Sixth Petition - Praying About Temptation"

It is instructive that right after the petition about forgiveness Jesus teaches us to also pray about our struggle with sin and temptation. Telling us what? Telling us that praying for forgiveness is not enough, it is never enough. We must also pray for holiness. We must pray for holiness because what the church and the world needs are holy Christians, holy spouses, holy parents, holy children, holy young people.

So today the sound doctrine of the Catechism instructs us on how to pray about temptation. I say "sound doctrine" because that is what the Catechism is. It is sound doctrine. It tells us what we need to hear rather than what we want to hear. It instructs us on how to pray about our struggle with sin.

Every Christian struggles with sin and temptation. Often, our struggles with sin are hidden, because our sins are usually not public. We struggle with pride, envy, discontentment, covetousness, lust, anger, and various sins of the tongue. Often we struggle to pray, read the Bible, attend Bible Study, and to love God and neighbor. Often we struggle to seek first the Kingdom and its righteousness.

If you don't struggle with sin and temptation, there are three possible reasons:
-one, you are in heaven already, which puts an end to your sinning
-two, you deceive yourself because John tells us if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us (1 Jn 1:8)
-three, you are spiritually dead, an unbeliever, because unbelievers never struggle with the sin they love

I Our Trials and Temptations
A "Trials and Temptations" is the heading in our pew Bibles. "Trials and Temptations." They are the same word in the Greek and it means both "trial" and "temptation." When we pray, "lead us not into temptation," we are praying about both trials and temptations. Meaning what? Meaning that whatever happens in our life is both a trial and a temptation.

What is the difference between a trial and a temptation? Trials come from God. Temptations come from Satan and not from God.
(James 1:13) When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;
Whatever event happens, God is trying us, testing us. God tries us with prosperity and happiness as well as with difficulties and hardship. In the exact same events, Satan is tempting us. Satan uses the prosperity and happiness which God sends as well as the difficulties and hardship which God sends to lure us away from the paths of righteousness and into the pathways of sin.

What is the difference between a trial and a temptation? Satan tempts us to bring out the worst in us; God tests us to bring out the best in us.

B We need to look at what James writes from this point-of-view. "Consider it pure joy," he writes, "whenever you face trials of many kinds ..." (James 1:2). The Greek also allows us to translate this as, "Consider it pure joy whenever you face temptations of many kinds." Same thing with verse 12: "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial." The Greek allows us to translate this as, "Blessed is the man who perseveres under temptation."

Our joy is not in the actual trial or temptation. We aren't happy about trials and temptations. We are happy, we rejoice, when we endure trials and temptations, when we persevere in trials and temptations.

Realize this: often a trial takes a while to bear good fruit. Sometimes as God holds our feet to the fire, it takes time for the impurities to be burned off and for us to be purified. But the end result is that our faith is strengthened.

God wants to strengthen our faith when He sends trials -- like sickness or loss or hardship. When that happens, we are to go to God in fervent prayer. And, when things are going well, God's goal is that we praise Him and thank Him.

What am I saying? That God is at work in our trials and temptations. God is at work in us. So the saints should not grumble and complain about hard times. They should not become disheartened and lose faith. Rather, they should rejoice.

God wants to strengthen our faith through trials and temptations. Satan's goal is altogether different: he uses trials and temptations to make us fail and fall. When we are sick or when business is not going well, he wants to shake our faith and make us doubt whether we are a Christian. He wants us to question God's care and God's love. He wants us to think God must be angry with us. When we face trials and temptations he wants us to curse God and die. And, when things are going well -- when we are healthy and prosperous -- Satan wants us to forget God and to think we no longer need God.

Do you see that God and Satan work at cross-purposes with each other? God aims at sanctification in trials; Satan aims at our destruction in temptations.

C Jesus teaches us to pray, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." We are NOT praying that we have no trials or temptations. We cannot be praying that because we need trials and temptations. We need trials and temptations to help us grow. We need trials and temptations in order to be further sanctified. We need trials and temptations so we increase in grace and faith. Look at how James puts it:
(James 1:2-4) Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, (3) because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. (4) Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Let's be honest, though. How many of us want trials and temptations so we develop perseverance? Instead, we prefer the comfortable pew and a life without hardship. As the song writer puts it:
Must I be carried to the skies
On flow'ry beds of ease
While others fought to win the prize
And sailed thro' bloody seas?
We don't want perseverance. We want a shortcut to sanctification.

Realize, my brothers and sisters, that God is at work in us and with us. He is like a potter. He is like a sculptor. He is like an artist. God is shaping us, working us, sanding us down. He does so with trials and temptations, difficulties and problems. It takes years, decades, before the finished product is revealed.
I have a friend who has been sculpting a piece of hickory for 20 years. She has cancer so is able to work on the wood only a few minutes a day. Her husband has decided he needs to help her so he is in the garage for an hour every night -- sanding the sculpture so it is as smooth as glass.
My friend is a picture of God at work in our life.

To see and believe and understand what God is doing with us and in us we need the wisdom that James speaks about in verse 5. We need wisdom to see and believe and understand that God is doing His work of making us better. We need wisdom to see and believe and understand that Satan never has our good in mind.

II God's Strength, Our Weakness
A "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." This petition recognizes something about God and something about ourselves.

First of all, this petition says something about God. This petition recognizes God's sovereignty over all things. It is God Who organizes all the circumstances of life: the people, events, times, places, occasions, and results. It is all according to His plan. We are asking that our great and mighty God so arrange and organize the events of our life that we are not left to our own devices. We ask God to so arrange our lives that we are not seduced by our own flesh, conflicted by the world, and led astray by the devil.

B "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." Secondly, this petition also says something about us Christians. This petition recognizes our weakness. The sound doctrine of the Catechism puts it this way:
By ourselves we are too weak
to hold our own even for a moment.
We are weak. We are so weak. No room for pride or boasting here. Those who pray this sixth petition don't think and don't say, "It's okay. I am spiritually mature. I can handle the temptation. I know when to bail out."

I want to hold two examples before you. The first is Samson. Samson was arrogant. He arrogantly assumed that physical strength translated into spiritual strength. Samson's temptation was lust. He lusted after immoral and godless women. If you asked Samson about this he would have said,
"I can handle this temptation. I have God's Spirit and God's strength and I can overcome this anytime I want. I am Samson and I am invincible."
Samson did not recognize his weakness. Samson did not see he was enslaved by lust. So when Delilah paraded herself in front of him, he was helpless, and weak, and easily manipulated and used.

The second example is Peter. Jesus announced that the disciples would all disown Him. Remember Peter's proud boast? He said,
(Mt 26:35) "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you." And all the other disciples said the same.
Jesus warned Peter. Jesus told Peter to watch and pray so that he will not fall into temptation (Mt 26:41). But Peter kept falling asleep. He didn't watch. He didn't pray. So in the courtyard of the high priest he didn't deny knowing Jesus one time. He didn't deny knowing Jesus two times. He denied knowing Jesus three times. That night was the worst night of Peter's life. That night was bitter. That night taught Peter humility. That night showed Peter that the spirit can be willing but the body, the flesh, is weak, so very weak.

My brothers and sisters, if you understand your weakness, your natural weakness, in the fact of sin and temptation, you will pray, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one."

The Catechism mentions three enemies in the spiritual battle against sin and temptation: the devil, the world, and our own flesh. Do you know which enemy is the greatest? Do you know which enemy is the worst? Well, which enemy does James mention in verse 14?
(James 1:14) but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.
We might have expected James to mention the devil. But he doesn't blame the devil. James emphasizes that the source of temptation is our own hearts. Even without the devil, we are prone to sin and temptation.

If we understand this, if we understand the weakness of the flesh, we will do what Peter did not: we will watch and pray. Samson and Peter did not know their weakness. That's why they fell. So never say, never assume, "I am strong. I can handle this. I can beat this sin and temptation."

III Our Sworn Enemies
A "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." We need to pray this. We need to pray this because we are surrounded on every side by enemies who want us to fall. As the Catechism puts it, "And our sworn enemies -- the devil, the world, and our own flesh -- never stop attacking us."

The first enemy mentioned by the Catechism is the devil. The Bible tells us that at one time the age-long war between good and evil, between light and darkness, between righteousness and wickedness, took place in heaven: Michael and his angels on one side, Satan and his demons on the other. But when Satan was kicked out of heaven the war got moved to earth and the battleground became the hearts of men. Satan and his hosts attack God's people for that is the only way they have of attacking God. The devil is equipped with many tricks, wiles, and schemes (Eph 6:11). Peter pictures him as a "roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Pt 5:8). The devil is powerful but the good news is that he is not almighty.

B The second enemy mentioned by the Catechism is the "world." By "world" is not meant planet earth; rather, "world" is that part of society and culture which opposes the goodness, purity, and truth of God and His Christ and the Gospel. The world prompts us to follow our lusts and passions; it attacks us with vain philosophies; it tosses us to and fro with every wind of false doctrine; it beckons us with treasures and pleasures; it attacks our faith; it mocks and blasphemes God; it denies Christ; it emphasizes political correctness over truth and righteousness.

C The third enemy we already looked at: our very own flesh. By "flesh" the Bible does not mean our body; rather, it means the old man of sin that still lives within us and which Paul warns us against:
(Gal 5:19-21) The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; (20) idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions (21) and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

D The devil is our opponent who attacks us from the outside. The world is the hostile environment in which we live. And our own "flesh" is the enemy within us. Our enemies are all around us. This is what makes our enemies so dangerous. In this life, in this flesh, on this earth, we can never get away from them. And, they all want the same thing: they all want us to fall into sin and temptation. In the face of our enemies, "the devil, the world, and our own flesh," the Christian prays, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." The Christian cries and prays for deliverance:
And so, Lord,
uphold us and make us strong
with the strength of your Holy Spirit,
so that we may not go down to defeat
in this spiritual struggle,
but may firmly resist our enemies

"Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." We need to pray about sin and temptation. All our life we need to pray. Every day we need to pray. In every situation we need to pray. We can't be like Samson and we can't be like Peter. We need to watch and pray.

"Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." There comes a day when this prayer is no longer necessary. Death puts an end to our sinning. The return of Christ Jesus puts an end to our sinning. Until then, my brothers and sisters, we watch and we pray.
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