Sentinel of the Soul (3)
And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat.” Luke 22.31
Poor Peter. Like the proverbial frog in the kettle, he failed to recognize what was happening until it was too late.
He felt no qualms about lying to a little girl who accused him of having been with Jesus (Lk. 22.56). After all, she was just a kid.
Then, when some unknown stranger agreed with that observation, it was easier to say, “No way, man!” So that, just as the rooster was opening his eyes and taking in breath to greet the new day, and a third person confronted him about being associated with Jesus, Peter could say, doubtless with an uneasy laugh, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
But the crowing of that rooster stabbed Peter in the depths of his soul, “And he went out and wept bitterly.”
How much better if Peter had listened to the Lord’s warning and taken His Word to heart? If he had allowed the Word of Jesus to purify his conscience, that sentinel of the soul might have helped him choose the right path during those crucial moments following Jesus’ arrest. Jesus had told him that he would deny Him three times, but Peter insisted that would never happen. Later, Jesus instructed Peter to pray, so that he would not enter temptation. Instead, Peter took a nap.
Peter, alarmed and panicking about the events of the evening, and focused on his own safety and wellbeing, failed to recognize the temptations confronting him, and he fell through temptation into sin and bitter shame and remorse.
Perhaps he should have spent more time meditating on Asaph’s experience in Psalm 73. Asaph “almost slipped” into sin, but, unlike Peter, he chose the path of growth through temptation instead. He practiced the spiritual virtue of self-control in the face of temptation, and he showed us in his psalm how we may practice this virtue as well.
Resisting temptation begins with recognizing it. Temptation is not sin. Even Jesus was tempted – more than any of us. But He never sinned. We can’t avoid temptation, as Luther reminded us; however, if we can recognize when it’s beginning to work on us, we can start looking for the way of escape through temptation that leads to the path of greater growth in the Lord.
Since temptation means being at a point of wanting to break free from God, temptation must be something like a road sign which points away from the progress of God’s Kingdom. If our conscience is purified and alert, it will not fail to miss such false signals. The more earnest we are in seeking the Kingdom of God, and the more we understand the signposts of progress along that route, the easier it will be to recognize any false detours that suddenly appear before us.
The Law – again
Jesus taught that greatness in the Kingdom of God is related to living and teaching the Law of God (Matt. 5.17-19). By His Spirit, Jesus is rewriting the Law of God on our hearts (Ezek. 36.26, 27), so that it will be there for the conscience to read whenever temptation is present (Rom. 2.14, 15).
Temptation therefore is anything which encourages us to deny, neglect, or ignore the Law of God. And since, as Paul explained (Rom. 7.7), the Law gives us the knowledge of sin, the more familiar we are with the Law of God, the easier it will be to recognize whatever might try to divert us from its path.
This is why Psalm 1 teaches that the righteous person practices daily meditation in the Law of God, and in all His Word. The Scriptures are given by divine inspiration to equip us for every good work. The Bible guides us along the path God approves, so the more familiar we are with the Bible, the more consistent we are in daily reading, meditation, and study, the easier it’s going to be to recognize temptation when it arises.
No amount of merely hearing the Bible preached or taught can substitute for you spending time with God in His Word, reading, meditating, reflecting, internalizing, and planning to live what He reveals of Himself to you there.
Asaph, a devout student of God’s Law, gradually recognized what was happening as he contemplated the ease and mocking lifestyles of the rich. Those thoughts of self-indulgence, that feeling of envy and covetousness, that tinge of resentment against his calling from the Lord – those were the signposts toward the path of sin. And once he recognized what was happening, Asaph began looking for the ways of escape which God provided.
1. Describe the process whereby Peter fell through temptation into sin.
2. What was the first step for Asaph in growing through temptation?
3. Why is the Law of God important in recognizing temptation? Suggest some ways the Law of God can have a more viable role in the life of faith.
Next steps – Transformation: The next time you are faced with temptation to sin, analyze it carefully: What are you thinking? Feeling? What’s going on in your mind, and how is your body reacting? What warning do you hear from your conscience? Pray this experience to the Lord at the moment you find yourself in it, and then get out of it.
T. M. Moore
This is part 7 of an 8-part series on Purifying the Conscience. To download this week’s study as a free PDF, click here.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.