Temptation, Treadmills & Grace
If you’ve raised children, you know that no child has ever needed to be taught how to think about themselves. All children however, need to be taught how to consider the wellbeing of others.
The real parenting challenge is not in getting the correct behaviour out of our children, but teaching them in a way that over time, they truly want to care for others. We know as parents that willpower and behaviour management only goes so far – because we know the limitations of our own hearts.
This is why if one of our children mistreats their sibling, we’re not satisfied with the ‘right behaviour’ of apologizing when the apology is reluctant, cold and angry. Sure they went through the correct motions, but what we’re really concerned about is the condition of their heart that is clearly still dialled to the ‘me-1st’ position.
In Matt 6:9-13 there is a well known line in the Lord’s Prayer that reads, “… and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
When we pray that, we are confessing that we are helpless to deliver ourselves from evil inside our own hearts that causes us to sin against our neighbour but ultimately, God.
At the root of our temptation is our restless soul.
We all wander from resting in God’s grace. We all wander from the gifts of worship and prayer where true peace is found. Every time we do this, our souls chase after things smaller than God hoping they will fulfill our lives in a way that only God can.
Many moderns talk about the soul like it is a tranquil lake, whereas when the scriptures describe our souls, the picture is more like a raging sea. There is unrest there.
When we wander from the rest that is found in reflecting on God’s grace in worship and prayer, our souls find themselves on a bit of a treadmill. Our restlessness will continue until we hit ‘stop’ and fall to the floor on this thing we call grace.
Our romance will never be exciting enough.
Our spouse will never be supportive enough.
Our kids will never be safe and secure enough.
Our families will never be close enough.
Our friends will never be loyal enough.
Our business will never grow enough.
Our career will never be stable enough.
Our health will never be good enough.
Our bank account will never be full enough.
Our church will never be loving enough.
Our pastor will never be good enough.
Our world will never be peaceful enough.
All these things are good things.
It’s when we decide to worship at the altar of good things that our souls become restless.
Good News: God’s law diagnoses our problem & God’s grace delivers us from it.
Before I continue, it’s important to note that the Christian faith is not against the material world or the enjoyment of material things. Spiritual maturity is not the denial of the relational or the material.
Denying the physical in favour of the spiritual is not Christian faith, it’s gnosticism.
God created all good things for us to enjoy. God’s plan revealed in scripture is restoration, not evacuation. The scriptural picture of heaven is not the colouring book version. We do not float around singing for all eternity and therefore the good things we enjoy in this life are a sampling of what we will enjoy eternally.
Temptation puts things in the wrong order. Instead of enjoying relationships, careers, hobbies and material things – we are constantly tempted to be defined by them and find our ultimate fulfillment through them. That leads us to a fragile place because losing a good thing or being unable to attain a good thing that we’ve decided is the ultimate thing – is devastating.
God’s grace rescues us from the devastation that follows when we set up a mini messiah that is incapable of fulfilling us. By God’s grace, the Holy Spirit reorders the desires of our hearts so that we can enjoy good things without centering our lives on them as ultimate things.
Overcoming this temptation is not ‘one-and-done’.
This is why we return to the rest of the gospel by reflecting on Christ’s grace every Sunday. Only the grace of the gospel can fuel our desire for God’s law – which is to worship Him alone and find true rest.
When we gather for worship, the Spirit of God works in union with the Word of God. By making His gospel through the bread and the cup the reason for the gathering, Jesus put His grace at the centre of the gathering.
As God’s law and His gospel are preached, the Spirit does the deep work of reorienting our hearts to worship God and enjoy everything else. To borrow from Luther, “the Spirit blows where He wills, but He does not blow what He wills.” The Spirit diverts our gaze off of ourselves and back onto the grace of God for us in Christ.
That’s where the rest is.
That’s where the power to overcome temptation is.
The reason Christ gave His church to gather was to remember. Unless we are reminded about the grace of the One we worship every Sunday, our restless hearts will search for good things to prop up and worship as ultimate things.
Spiritual maturity flows from marvelling.
Sunday worship is for marvelling.
To borrow from Michael Horton, ‘the whole point of theology is that it ends in doxology’. The flow of the worship service should direct the church to gaze at the grace of Christ. At Redeemer for example, our liturgy is incredibly simple, inviting the congregation to remember that God’s grace is constantly moving toward them:
Notice who’s doing the action and whose on the receiving end of the action. God, by the power of the Holy Spirit continues His gracious work in us.
Overcoming temptation is not the byproduct of ‘do-more-try-harder’ Christian activity. We are not transformed from the outside-in. God’s grace works from the inside out.
So be encouraged. If you are up to your eyeballs in temptation and you find yourself constantly taking good things and chasing after them as ultimate things …
God’s rescuing grace toward you has a reforming trajectory in you.
Repent and find rest, friend. Even if the work of the Holy Spirit in your life seems so gradual it’s imperceptible – it will be eventual. After all, the fruit of the Spirit is His doing, not yours. 
In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus invites you to cry out for God’s grace in temptation and boldly pray, “deliver me”. His grace empowers you to stand strong and covers you when you fall flat. Yes. He’s that good.
 This description of the Spirit’s work, “at times imperceptible, gradual, but eventual” is lifted from Tim Keller’s commentary on Galatians. I highly recommend this read as it articulates God’s law and God’s gospel in a powerful, accessible way. You can get the book here.