As I was reading through this commentary on Hebrews yesterday morning, I came across the following:
As the God-man who sacrificed himself on the cross and satisfied the wrath of God as propitiatory sacrifice, Christ can now provide help for the tempted, “for because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” Christ was victorious over every single temptation (4:14-16). His fellowship in human suffering enables him to identify with our moral struggles, so that he brings a two-fold help – the forgiveness of sins and the power to overcome temptation. Remember, the writer is addressing tempted people who are facing the greatest temptation of the Christian life: the temptation to turn back. Jesus alone can provide forgiveness for sinners, and he alone can provide for deliverance from temptation, as one who also knew the power of Satan’s subtle approaches, the siren call to turn from the Father’s Word.
Christ was victorious over every single temptation. He alone passed the test, overcame temptation over unbelief, presumption and idolatry (Heb. 14-16; 5:7-9).
As I turned this over and over in my mind, I wondered if “the temptation to turn back” really is the greatest temptation of the Christian life. I mean, when I consider the gospel account of Jesus’ life and especially the temptation in the wilderness, I wondered could it all be summed up under the heading of the temptation to turn back. And if so, when Hebrews 4:14-16 says…
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
…then, could all of the temptations of our life also be summed up under the overarching temptation to turn back as well. And if that is true, then why don’t I think about it and believe it when I’m facing temptations?
As I woman, I think that it has been subtly easy to not believe that Jesus was really and truly tempted in all points as we are. I mean, first off, Jesus was a man. Jesus did not deal with PMS. He likely never dealt with sexual harassment. He definitely never went through the pains of pregnancy and childbirth. He never dealt with postpartum depression or breastfeeding woes. He didn’t have to submit to a husband who is still a sinner. He was never a stay-at-home mom. He never dealt with menopause…..I mean physically, there is a lot of stuff we know for certain that Jesus never dealt with. And as woman, it’s a little too easy to be dismissive about the fact that the Bible infallibly states that He was indeed tempted in all points as we were. So, when I read this passage this morning, I paused to consider what it was saying and if I believed it.
Reasoning through this, I know that when we are saved, we are no longer enslaved to sin and self. We do have an old man (or old nature) that rears its ugly head from time to time and we must war against it, but we have been set free from its reign in our lives. I also know that by God’s providence we face various trials and temptations in this life to prove and perfect our faith. I also know that we, at times, make dumb decisions that invariably bring about more trials and temptations in our life, but our Sovereign Lord even knows all about them before we ever take a step. Furthermore, I know that Jesus often gave the exhortation to thoroughly count the costs of discipleship, and the apostles also drove home the fact that we ought always to “put off” the deeds of the flesh so that we might “put on” the graces of Christ. We know that the way is narrow and difficult that leads to eternal life, and so we ought to consider how to walk wisely and press forward in this evil day.
So in considering all of these things and trying to figure out how all of life’s temptations and struggles line up under this idea, I was reminded of this verse:
“…No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62)
I think that whenever we are dealing with temptations, we have to figure out if we are going to revert back to something we did previously or if we are going to deviate from the path that has been set before us. Temptation makes us aware that the way forward, following after Christ and walking in increasing holiness and godliness, is difficult and very hard. However, thinking through this has let me realize that temptation can be a bit deceptive.
Oftentimes, we don’t consider little temptations within the context of the battle that we are in. We think of them as being isolated events that have no bearing on other aspects of our lives. But the truth is, they do. Falling into temptation once often makes it easier to fall into temptation again and in other ways. And then, trying to resist one temptation often leads us to another temptation that we must also resist.
For me, this week’s temptation was (and still is) not being given to anger and frustration with my husband and children because I’ve been dealing with unbelievable sinus pain and pressure for the past 2 ½ weeks in my jaw and ears which are causing my teeth to be incredibly sensitive. I know it’s really easy for me to get in a foul mood, and I have a predisposition to be snappy with my family when they do things that annoy and irritate me. I have been fighting and fighting not to turn back into that old pattern of sin. And in the midst of the fight, my other temptation comes along to just eat and make myself feel better because I’m upset, tired of the sinus pain, and tired of having to struggle so hard with my flesh. So I’ve been warring against my stomach too, trying not to fall back into the trap of serving my appetite. And I know that if I do, I’m just going to get down on myself, and it’s going to be even harder to get back on track because I’ll start making excuses for myself. And it just keeps going on and on and on and on!
I realize more and more that we are actually engaged in warfare, and the war is not easy. Paul exhorts us to stand firm in Ephesians and to press onward to the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus in Philippians. We face a crafty and formidable foe that literally has the world under his sway, but I think Martin Luther said it best when he wrote:
And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo! His doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.
And I think that is the ultimate encouragement for us: Christ has only to speak a word, and Satan will be brought to an end. And we await that day! But in the meantime, we will face temptation after temptation in this life. The things of our pasts will be enticing at times to turn back to, and the world around us will entice us to get off the path that our Lord has set us upon, much like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress. And when we do fall and yield to that temptation, Christ offers us genuine forgiveness for our sins. We have a very sympathetic High Priest who is making intercession for us even now, knowing all about our weaknesses. But He beckons us to continue to follow after Him giving us power by His Spirit to overcome the temptations of this life, which do indeed ultimately all narrow down to not turning back.
Well, that’s a sobering reality for me. I hate to think that my desire to eat an entire pack of cookies is really me being tempted to turn back into a sinful habit and away from Christ, but you know, I think it’s what I need at this moment in my life. And I do thank God that by His providence I decided to work my way through this Hebrews commentary and that I’m actually thinking about what the author has to say about the text.
The humanity of Christ was and is a very real thing, and He was truly tempted in every way, just like us. I’m praying that I hold fast to this truth when the lies come to mind that He couldn’t possibly relate to what I’m dealing with in this life, even as a woman. I’m praying that I turn to Christ more quickly whenever temptations arise, no matter how small or insignificant they seem, seeking strength and power from Him to overcome. And I pray that instead of slipping into the mindset that “Hey, I’m getting stronger!” Or “Hey, I think I got this now”, that I would remain humble, even in the victories, realizing that I am growing more and more dependent upon Him and give Him all of the glory and praise. For He is indeed worthy of all of the praise!
Writing all of this has now brought a very old song to mind (here’s a version) that I used to hear the old saints singing when I was a child.
We’ve come this far by faith,
leaning on the Lord.
Trusting in His holy Word.
He’s never failed me yet.
Singing, Oh, oh, oh!
Can’t turn around!
We’ve come this far by faith!