Every Sin Hides a Lie

Three Ways Temptation Betrays Us

Article by

Editor, desiringGod.org

“Readers are advised to remember that the devil is a liar.”

So warns C.S. Lewis at the beginning of Screwtape Letters (ix). The warning is apt not only for readers of Lewis’s modern classic, but for all people, everywhere, all the time. No matter how alert we are to spiritual warfare, we are advised to remember that the devil is a liar.

We can hardly remember too often. For, as long as we are in this world, something within us — “deceitful desires” (Ephesians 4:22) — will want to believe him. Something within us will want to believe him when he suggests that freedom lies just over the fence of God’s commands. Or that sin holds something essential to our happiness. Or that obedience to God will make us miserable.

All lies, of course. But under the sway of sin’s deception, the devil’s whisper can sound like gospel truth. Therefore, our peace and security, our happiness and holiness, depend on being able to say with the apostle Paul, “We are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:11).

Devil’s Designs

To be sure, we cannot trace every lie directly back to the devil. Sin has its own native deceitfulness (Hebrews 3:13). But all lies in this world bear the mark of him who is “the father of lies” and “the deceiver of the whole world” (John 8:44Revelation 12:9). Study the father’s face, and you will learn to recognize his brood.

What do we see when we examine the devil’s designs? We see that he lessens the guilt of sin, hides the danger of sin, and embellishes the pleasure of sin.

GUILT LESSENED

When the devil met our Lord in the wilderness, he sought to make sin seem small. If Jesus truly were the Son of God, what harm could there be in turning this one stone into a loaf, or in allowing the adoring angels to bear up his falling body (Matthew 4:3–6)? Surely, given the circumstances, these were privileges and necessities, not sins.

Now, we are not the Son of God. But the devil knows a thousand ways to suggest the same to us. Perhaps we hear, “You’re so tired and under such pressure; who can blame you?” Or, “Did you not see so-and-so do the same just last week?” Or, “If you are God’s child, grace is available.” Slowly, the blackness of sin turns gray, God’s commands become recommendations, and before we even give way, we are mixing a balm to soothe our wounded conscience.

DANGER HIDDEN

When God describes our temptations, he often uses imagery of predator and prey, of hunter and victim. Sin ushers us into “a snare of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:7); likewise, the iniquities of a wicked man “ensnare him, and he is held fast in the cords of his sin” (Proverbs 5:22). Of course, “in vain is a net spread in the sight of any bird” (Proverbs 1:17), so the devil carefully hides the net from view.

Though God has warned a thousand times concerning the fruit of forbidden sin — that “in the day you eat of it you shall surely die” — the devil never tires of telling Adam’s children, “You shall not surely die” (Genesis 2:173:4). “No, no,” he says. “What danger could there be in one small sin? Find relief this once, gratify your flesh this once, answer the voice of your passions this once, and then return to righteousness.”

With such words, he covers the hook with the worm, and brushes leaves and branches over the net prepared to snap.

PLEASURE EMBELLISHED

All temptation would be harmless, of course, if sin promised no pleasure — if the net offered no meal, and the hook no worm. So the devil takes what fleeting pleasures there are in sin and makes them feel, for the moment at least, sweeter than the pleasures at God’s right hand.

Under the force of Satan’s temptation, Cain feels the thrill of revenge; Achan, the glory of wealth; David, the delight of adultery. We too may find ourselves fixed on a certain sin with an overwhelming sense of necessity: if we don’t click here, buy this, drink that, how will we be happy? How will we endure our sufferings or our boredom? Perhaps we would repress some essential part of us. Perhaps, having gone this far, we have no choice but to plunge headlong.

All the while, the light of God’s face grows dimmer, the narrow way squeezes, and the commandments of God, which once brought so much freedom, fall upon us with a weight we cannot bear.

‘We Are Not Ignorant’

Such are some of Satan’s designs. Now, what must we do to be able to say with Paul, “We are not ignorant” (2 Corinthians 2:11)? We must saturate ourselves so thoroughly with “the truth . . . in Jesus” (Ephesians 4:21) that, in the moment of temptation, the guilt of sin is exposed, the danger of sin is revealed, and the pleasure of sin is redirected.

GUILT EXPOSED

When the devil suggests, “This sin is just a small one,” Scripture trains us to respond, “There is no such thing as ‘a small one.’ Is it a small thing to indulge the sin my Savior died to forgive? Is it a small thing to drag an idol into the temple of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30)? Or could it ever be a small thing to dismiss my Father’s words as empty talk?”

Or when he whispers, “But God is merciful,” we say, “Yes, God is merciful — not only to forgive me, but to purify me as well. Mercy, grace, and pardon do not tempt me to sin; they train me for godliness (Titus 2:11–12). Do you not remember that the kindness of the Lord is a summons to repent (Romans 2:4)?”

Or when we hear, “But you’ve been under so much pressure,” we answer, “But pressure can never excuse despising God’s commands. Can I sincerely imagine standing before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10), holding my bitterness, self-pity, or anger, and saying, ‘I was under so much pressure’?”

DANGER REVEALED

As the Spirit exposes the guilt of sin, he also reveals its danger. When we find ourselves enticed by the logic of “just this once,” we remember that the fisherman needs only one bite to catch his fish; the hunter needs only one foot to release the trap. Likewise, the devil needs only one indulgence to tighten his grip on our souls. Drinking too much “just once,” looking at pornography “just once,” gratifying our vanity “just once,” apart from a decisive act of repentance, will leave us changed.

John Owen writes, “Some, in the tumultuating of their corruptions, seek for quietness by laboring to satisfy them, ‘making provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof,’ as the apostle speaks. . . . This is to aslake fire by wood and oil” (Indwelling Sin, 178). In other words, trying to silence our sinful desires by giving in “just this once” is like trying to put out a fire by adding another log.

PLEASURE REDIRECTED

The battle is not yet over once sin’s guilt is exposed and its danger revealed. Our God-given desire for pleasure, forceful as the Niagara, cannot be dammed through mere self-denial. The river must run somewhere — and if not to sin, then to something better.

Here, many of us run into trouble. The pleasures of sin are often immediate, while the pleasures of righteousness are often delayed. The pleasures of sin require no self-denial, while the pleasures of righteousness sometimes require cutting off a hand (Matthew 5:30). How can we deny ourselves the easy and immediate for the difficult and delayed?

The same way a hiker, desperate for water, denies himself a saltwater puddle because he knows a crystal stream runs two miles up the path. He remembers not only that the puddle will enrage his thirst all the more, but also that God has supplied water far sweeter if he will only keep walking. So, with “the assurance of things hoped for” bidding him onward (Hebrews 11:1), he sets his face toward the path.

Every temptation, then, is an opportunity not only to reject the fleeting pleasures of sin, but also to embrace the surpassing worth of Christ. Every temptation offers a chance to shame the devil, not by mere self-denial, but by a better satisfaction: Christ himself, who promises pleasure we can scarcely imagine — and who never lies.

6 Biblical Principles for Better Relationships

Good interactions with others aren’t dependent on having a certain temperament. You don’t need a “big” outgoing personality. You can be a shy introvert and still enjoy great relationships.

Here (in brief) is how the Bible says we can improve our relationships:

1. Look back—be retroactive.

If we have any sort of history with a neighbor, coworker, or acquaintance, that experience likely includes both positive and negative moments. Relationships are never improved by ignoring hurtful interactions or forgetting happy ones. It’s only by humbly addressing the former (Matthew 5:23–25) and happily remembering the latter that we keep the peace and build ever-stronger bonds with others. The Bible encourages us to look back over our histories with others. Rough patches need to be smoothed over (Colossians 3:13). Good times ought to be celebrated.

2. Look ahead—be proactive.

The famous “Golden Rule” (Matthew 7:12)—if rigorously practiced—would eliminate almost all our relational difficulties. Being empathetic—that is, being mindful of the needs, desires, and feelings of others—keeps us from having to come back later and apologize for thoughtless words and selfish actions.

3. Look around—be reactive.

Love watches vigilantly, then responds quickly and decisively. Thus, when we become aware of relational needs or problems, we act immediately. In the case of unaddressed tension or unresolved conflict, the Bible is clear: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). This doesn’t mean we will be able to resolve every disagreement perfectly, but it does mean that we need to do everything in our power to clear the air and keep the peace.

Let’s shift to a related topic: handling conflict. Given that the world typically operates by the principles of retaliation and revenge, are we really surprised that so many conflicts—between siblings and spouses, neighbors and nations—linger for years, even decades?

The Bible offers a better way.

4. Kindness to enemies disrupts evil.

When we’ve been wronged, the thought of “going off on someone” can feel very powerful. But all that does is make the environment more toxic and “give the devil a foothold” in our lives (Ephesians 4:27). Solomon said that, ironically, a gentle response has the real power to defuse someone’s wrath (Proverbs 15:1). A thousand years later, Paul urged, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). It’s the good (i.e., godly) response—the one that seems weak and wimpy—that has the most power to change the status quo.

5. Kindness to enemies breaks down walls.

Think of unkind actions (and harsh reactions) as stones of mistrust and animosity. Over time, these callous cruelties combine to form thick walls that effectively separate individuals and groups from one another. Kindness, however, functions like a wrecking ball. Even the smallest act effectively removes a stone or two from the wall—and begins to pave the way for possible reconciliation.

6. Kindness to enemies models the gospel.

The Bible says that before Christ’s forgiveness, we were God’s enemies (Romans 5:10). (And the Bible makes clear that this relational friction was our fault, not his.) God had every reason to “go off on us,” but instead of treating us as our sins deserved, he showed us kindness. He came near in Jesus and did everything necessary to reestablish peace with us. Thus, when we forgive others the way he forgave us, we imitate the love and grace of God.

Applications

• Each morning, pray for God’s help in turning your gaze outward. Then pay attention to other people. Put yourself in their shoes. In God’s strength, determine to serve them and treat them like Jesus would.
• Hopefully you don’t have any true “enemies,” but probably you do have people in your life with whom you’re not on the best terms. Maybe just the mention of their names makes you frown. Do this: Begin to pray regularly for those people. Pray also for God’s direction on how you could model the gospel in the way you relate to them.

— Adapted from The Most Significant Teachings in the Bible by Christopher D. Hudson with Len Woods.

The Most Significant Teachings in the Bible

A compilation of accessible articles and colorful infographics that spotlight the life-transforming teachings in Scripture. In under 200 pages, it presents dozens of at-a-glance snapshots that visually communicate the wisdom of the Bible on topics including God, friends and family, work and money, heaven and the supernatural, and more. Learn More

SPURGEON AT THE METROPOLITAN TABERNACLE: 365 SERMONS – THURSDAY, JUNE 4, 2020

BGWBaptismal regeneration

‘He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.’ Mark 16:15–16

Suggested Further Reading: Romans 6:3–4

What connection has baptism with faith? I think it has just this, baptism is the avowal of faith; the man was Christ’s soldier, but now in baptism he puts on his regimentals. The man believed in Christ, but his faith remained between God and his own soul. In baptism he says to the baptizer, ‘I believe in Jesus Christ;’ he says to the church, ‘I unite with you as a believer in the common truths of Christianity;’ he says to the onlooker, ‘Whatever you may do, as for me, I will serve the Lord.’ It is the avowal of his faith.

Next, we think baptism is also to the believer a testimony of his faith; he does in baptism tell the world what he believes. ‘I am about,’ says he, ‘to be buried in water. I believe that the Son of God was metaphorically baptized in suffering: I believe he was literally dead and buried.’ To rise again out of the water sets forth to all men that he believes in the resurrection of Christ. There is a showing forth in the Lord’s Supper of Christ’s death, and there is a showing forth in baptism of Christ’s burial and resurrection. It is a type, a sign, a symbol, a mirror to the world: a looking-glass in which religion is as it were reflected. We say to the onlooker, when he asks what is the meaning of this ordinance, ‘we mean to set forth our faith that Christ was buried, and that he rose again from the dead, and we avow this death and resurrection to be the ground of our trust.’

Again, baptism is also faith taking her proper place. It is, or should be, one of her first acts of obedience.

For meditation: This sermon, preached against the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, provoked a fierce backlash against Spurgeon. Baptism comes second to repentance (Acts 2:38), receiving the word (Acts 2:41) and believing the gospel (Acts 8:12,3718:8), things which a baby cannot consciously do.

Sermon no. 573
5 June (1864)

365 Days with C.H. Spurgeon, Vol. 2: A Unique Collection of 365 Daily Readings from Sermons Preached by Charles Haddon Spurgeon from His Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit (365 Days With Series); edited by Terence Peter Crosby; (c) Day One Publications, 2002.

The Beauty of Surrendered Sexuality

Article by

President, Wheaton College

Many Christians know at least some of the biblical do’s and don’ts about sex — especially the don’ts. What we don’t always understand is the beauty of the why — why God says what he says about sex, and why it is meant for our blessing.

The better we understand God’s sacred design for human sexuality, the less we will settle for smaller pleasures that quickly turn into spiritual bondage. Instead, we will be so captivated by God’s sacred design that we will feel compelled to surrender our sexuality to Jesus Christ, and experience the freedom and the joy that will come as a result.

Part of a Glorious Story

We won’t understand sex unless we understand marriage, which we can’t understand unless we see its grand purpose in God’s eternal plan.

God designed marriage to show us our soul’s relationship to him. After the apostle Paul gave the Ephesians explicit instructions about the one-flesh relationship between husband and wife, he went on to say that he was not really talking about human marriage at all. “This mystery is profound,” he wrote, “and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32). The gift of marriage is meant to teach all of us about our personal, communal, covenantal relationship with Jesus Christ, which we do not have to be married to experience.

Blind Date to Beautiful Bride

We encounter this theme all the way through Scripture, not just in Ephesians 5. The story begins in Genesis with a blind date, in which God the Father introduces the first woman, Eve, to the first man, Adam, and tells them that they are designed to become one flesh (Genesis 2:24).

The story ends in Revelation with a wedding to end all weddings, where the people of God are presented to Jesus as a “bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2) — the most beautiful bride ever, clothed “with fine linen, bright and pure” (Revelation 19:8). The giving of the bride is followed by the best wedding reception ever: “Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb [namely, Jesus] has come, and his Bride [that’s us!] has made herself ready” (Revelation 19:7). This is the beauty we were always meant to become.

Between the blind date and the wedding reception — from Genesis to Revelation — the Bible sets our relationship to God in the context of marriage. For example, the prophet Isaiah tells us that our “Maker” is also our “Husband” (Isaiah 54:5). Our relationship to God is so exclusive that we are spiritually “betrothed” to him (2 Corinthians 11:2).

When we turn away from God, then, we are guilty of nothing less than spiritual adultery — as the children of Israel often committed (Jeremiah 3:20Ezekiel 16:30). But praise God, when we confess and repent of our sin, we become God’s virgin bride all over again (Jeremiah 31:4); this is how complete our cleansing is. We become as pure and pristine as a perfectly white wedding dress.

In short, the Bible uses marital imagery to help us understand our soul’s relationship to our Savior. No other human relationship is as exclusive as the love covenant between husband and wife. Thus, the Bible uses marriage as a metaphor to tell the story of salvation. The story even comes with a soundtrack: the love songs that we read in the Song of Solomon.

Covenant Cement

Sex plays its part in this beautiful story by securing the bonds of marriage. Think of sexual intimacy as “covenant cement” — the physical bonding agent of a holy commitment. It has other purposes as well, including the propagation of the human race. But God has so much at stake in marriage as a symbol of spiritual reality that he has designed the gift of sexual intimacy to help secure its sacred vows. This is how unified a husband and wife become — their bodies literally become one flesh.

The sexual is always connected to the spiritual. The apostle Paul confirms this mystery when he talks to husbands and wives about their sex lives and says he’s especially concerned about their prayer lives (1 Corinthians 7:5), or when he ties his teaching against prostitution to his doctrine of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:15–17). Our sexuality — what we do with it and what we don’t do with it — turns out to be one of the most spiritual things about us.

Given, Not Taken

None of this will make much sense to us unless sex and our sexuality become something for us to give rather than to take. This too is part of the beauty.

God’s relationship with us is one of totally self-giving love. So anything intended to show us God’s love must also display selflessness and even sacrifice. This means we will never experience the beauty of our sexuality until we stop treating it as something for ourselves and start thinking of it as something for God, most of all, and also for others.

Unfortunately, most of us are not givers, but takers, and when it comes to sex, there are so many ways for us to take. Sexual contact without consent is taking. Using pornography is also taking — from the women and men exploited by that industry, from the people around us who suffer from our diminished capacity for affection and purity, and maybe from a future husband or wife. If only we could see the damage that we do when we take instead of give.

Surrendered Sexuality

Giving starts when we surrender our sexuality to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, offering our sexuality up to God and then letting him show us how he wants to use it. He will keep what we shouldn’t have anyway and give us back what is best for us to have.

There is something about the beauty and purity of giving our sexuality to God that unleashes great spiritual power in the world. We see this supremely in the life of our Lord Jesus, who was never a taker, only a giver. Not that he wasn’t tempted, because the Bible says that he was tempted in every way, just like we are (Hebrews 4:15), which presumably includes various sexual temptations.

But in his flesh-and-blood humanity, Jesus surrendered his sexuality to God; this was part of his complete submission to the Father’s will. Jesus was not called to marriage as part of his earthly ministry. He was called instead to celibacy — a calling he embraced with purity and chastity.

We see the results in his relationships with women especially. No woman was ever more secure than she was in the presence of Jesus. Whether rich or poor, homemaker or prostitute, Samaritan or Jew, women were always drawn to Jesus. Part of their attraction was their sense of absolute security. They knew that they could trust Jesus with anything, which they could do only if he had surrendered his sexuality to his Father.

We see similar power in single men and women who so devote their lives to Christ and his kingdom that they choose to offer up their sexuality to God. Some of the most remarkable Christians I have ever known or read about made that holy choice. I think of William Still, one of my mentors in ministry, who devoted more than fifty years to serving the same church in downtown Aberdeen, in Scotland. Mr. Still, who never married, enjoyed remarkably intimate friendships with the people in his congregation.

I think of Helen Roseveare, a missionary doctor to the Congo. Roseveare’s account of the abuse she endured from soldiers who attacked her hospital is one of the most profound things ever written on suffering for the sake of Christ.

There are so many others that I could mention, like John Stott, the English preacher and scholar whose ministry continues to influence the global church, or Lottie Moon, the Southern Baptist missionary to China. Through their single-hearted devotion to Jesus, such women and men became living witnesses to the enduring reality of our eternal union with Christ.

Freedom and Beauty

It’s not just single people either. When we look at exceptional Christian leaders whose ministry lasts over a lifetime — people like Ruth and Billy Graham, Jim and Elisabeth Elliot, and John and Vera Mae Perkins, to name a few — we find a commitment to purity at the core of their ministry. They gave their sexuality to God by safeguarding sexual intimacy within the promises of covenant matrimony — the only lifelong relationship in which our bodies do not belong to ourselves, but are given to someone else in the name of Jesus (1 Corinthians 7:4).

We tend to see sexual purity mainly in terms of things that we shouldn’t do — something negative. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of God’s purpose for our purity. Of course, all of us are called to say no to ungodliness. But there are even more ways for us to say yes, and pursuing sexual purity is primarily a way of saying yes to the beautiful purposes of God.

The more we take sex for ourselves, the more we are in bondage. But the more we offer it to Christ for his kingdom, the more freedom and joy we have, the more we bless others, and the more beauty we see in the world.