The Ninth Sunday after Trinity
July 24, 2016
“When God Tests You”
1 Corinthians 10:11-13
Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
Jesus taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” Temptations are enticements to sin. Surely, God will never entice us to sin! St. James writes,
God is holy. He tempts no one to sin. But God does test his children. He tested Abraham, commanding him to offer Isaac on Mt. Moriah. After Abraham had demonstrated his faith by his obedience, God withdrew his command and saved Isaac from harm. God tested Job. Satan said that Job honored God only because God made him healthy and wealthy. God gave Satan permission to take away Job’s health and wealth. His own wife told him to curse God and die. God tested Job. Job replied to the test with the words, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Prayer and God’s Word go together. Prayer is when we talk to God. God’s Word is God talking to us. Here’s the first verse of a hymn about trials, prayer, and God’s word that I learned as a boy at the dinner table:
A prayer that is worth praying always relies on God’s word. Prayer that ignores God’s word is grumbling, whining, imagining, boasting, and blaspheming. Genuine prayer is prayed in humility. It is only with a humble spirit that we can receive God’s word.
God led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt by doing many miracles through his servant, Moses. They had endured slavery for over four hundred years. At first they were grateful, but they quickly fell from grace. They were a rebellious and disobedient people. Even while God was giving Moses the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai, the children of Israel were making Aaron form a golden statue before which they bowed down and honored as the god who delivered them out of Egypt. When God fed them manna from heaven, they complained. They yearned after what they had left behind when they were slaves. They rebelled against the authority of God’s prophet, Moses. They committed sexual immorality. They were a disobedient people.
And they paid for their disobedience. God punished them. Thousands died in the Sinai wilderness as a direct result of their rebellion against God. It happened. It is recorded in the Bible. It’s history. God acts in history. He does not change.
The history of ancient Israel reveals that God is gracious. He forgave Israel again and again. That history also reveals that God punishes sin. This is what our generation needs to understand. As western civilization falls into the sewer of godlessness; as Islam rises in influence and Christianity declines; as sin and perversion are defended and promoted by the civil authorities as civil rights; as churches abandon the preaching of repentance and the forgiveness of sins in favor of featuring gimmicks that flatter the sinful flesh; the very idea that God punishes sinners is the farthest thing from anyone’s mind. Even to suggest such a thing brings expressions of disapproval. God is love. Love doesn’t punish. Case closed.
But they’re wrong. What happened to God’s people of the Old Testament was written down in the Holy Scriptures to teach us. We are living in the last days. St. Paul describes the time of the church on this earth as the ends of the ages. He writes:
History has a goal. The goal of history is not some utopia in the future, contrived by clever social planners who will implement just the right formula for social and political success. No, the end of the ages – the goal of history – came two thousand years ago at the cross of Calvary where the only innocent human being who has ever lived bore in love the sin of the whole world. God became a man to reconcile the world to himself. And he did it.
The disobedience of ancient Israel, the sins of all sinners of all ages was heaped upon the innocent head of Jesus and he suffered for it all. There, where he suffered, is the answer to our prayers. There is the fulfillment of every biblical promise. There, history meets its goal. There, where love passed the test that justice required of it is where we find the strength to stand in the day of testing, for there it is that our sins are forgiven, peace with God is restored, and we are set free from the judgment of the law. This is the gospel in which we trust. Jesus was tested. Jesus stood firm. This is our victory in the time of trial.
That we are tested shouldn’t surprise us. St. Peter writes:
St. Paul writes in our text for today, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man.” It is a part of living in a fallen and sinful world that we are tempted to turn against our God. And it is an implacable law of justice that God punishes sin. This is why St. Paul issues the warning: “Let him who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall.”
Two bitter realities of life are that God punishes sin and that we are sinners. When this worldview is held by the people, they will tend to look at their troubles – whether personal problems, family difficulties, national calamities, or whatever – as reminders of our sin, God’s judgment, and our need to repent.
This is not the worldview held by most people today. Sin, whether personal or corporate, has been defined away. With an unbelievably fast rise in technological and electronic knowledge that had produced a revolution in our ability to communicate information instantaneously all over the globe, spiritual understanding has descended at a similar rate, leaving folks with an amazing ability to communicate nothing of substance to everyone everywhere.
Not to acknowledge the standards of God’s law; not to recognize the consequences of disobedience; not to think in terms of divine justice, divine retribution, divine governance, is to toss out wisdom for plain old fashioned foolishness.
This is why people fall away. They can see cause and effect when it comes to machinery, technology, and maybe even their personal relationships. But they cannot see that yielding to temptation, embracing sin, ignoring God’s warning to sinners, is to embrace death, destruction, and, in the end, damnation.
It’s not just spiritual ignorance. It’s arrogance. I have my own spirituality! I know what I’m doing. I don’t need organized religion. I don’t need the church. I can find God in my own way and without anyone’s help, thank you very much.
And in their so called spiritual freedom they rush off to embrace spiritual death. They fall from grace. They find themselves mired in deception, lies, false hopes, and the cruel cuts coming from what they thought was so soothing and refreshing.
If you think you can stand before God you will fall. If you think that your spirituality is just fine without humbly confessing your sin to God, embracing his grace in Christ your Savior, and seeking his instruction in his holy Word – you are cruising for a bruising, and you won’t be mugged by the bully around the corner but by the fool inside of your deluded heart.
The apostle Paul says:
There’s a popular teaching among the so called Evangelicals that is known as once saved always saved. Some call it the doctrine of eternal security. It’s supposed to give Christians comfort, but instead it feeds the arrogance of the flesh. They extrapolate from Bible passages that teach us Christians that God is faithful and he won’t let us slip out of his hands the doctrine that once you are saved you cannot be lost. So you need to get saved – settle your salvation once and for all by inviting Jesus into your heart to become your personal Lord and Savior – and then you’re as certain to go to heaven as if you were already there. You cannot be lost.
But they ignore the fact that our certainty of salvation comes only through hearing and trusting in the word of God. Jesus says that nobody will ever tear his sheep out of his hands. Does this mean that once you are saved you are always saved? Not if you stop hearing God’s word! Of the sheep that nobody will tear out of Jesus’ hands, he says that they hear his voice and follow him.
We Christians can be sure we are forgiven of all our sins, saved from death and hell, and on our way to heaven. We can and should be certain of this, not because once someone is saved he cannot be lost – the Bible and the history of the church are full of examples of people who fell from the faith and were lost – but because God is faithful. He won’t let us be tempted beyond what we are able.
Our confidence in our own spiritual powers is trusting in a lie. I have seen Christians fall into soul-destroying sin and then deny the faith. I gave them Communion. I absolved them of their sins. Then they fell from grace. Why? Because they weren’t as spiritually strong as you and I? No, they fell because they were proud. They thought they could stand. They couldn’t. When we are weak – that’s the best condition for us to be in – when we are but beggars. When we are weak we can seek God’s word, hear God’s word, rely on God’s word, and find in God’s word the victory of our Savior against every spiritual enemy that would assault our souls. He provides the way of escape. It is always the same. He reminds us that we are saints. Our sins are washed away by Jesus’ blood. God, in his word, confirms to our doubting hearts that we really are forgiven. We really are saints. This is how we escape temptation and stand confidently before our God as his dear children.
Rolf D. Preus