Temptation by threat

What father delights in seeing his son beaten up and disgraced by a bully? And if we as earthly fathers cannot imagine ever taking joy in such a thing, how could we imagine that God is somehow less of a father than we are? That somehow he enjoys seeing us squirm and struggle? No, temptation comes, not because God is toying with us, but because He is training us for victory. The training is arduous, but as the preface to the Geneva Bible puts it, “all things are difficult which are excellent and fair.”

One of the hindrances to conquering temptation are the justifications we make concerning our sin. “It was just too much! The temptation was a freak. A monstrosity. Who in their right mind could be expected to endure it?”

Refusing to wrap your identity in victimhood is so very empowering. Accordingly, God–ever the faithful Father–sweeps away our excuses about the inevitability of falling to temptation. “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man.” You were not a victim. The fight was winnable. These excuses did not fly two thousands years ago in Corinth, and they don’t fly now.

So for those who recognize they are responsible to face temptation with the resources God provides, how shall we proceed? A good start is to recognize that Satan does not merely use enticement, but also threat in order to coerce us to sin.

What do these threats sound like? When you don’t affirm the sexual perversion du jour, Satan says “Give in, or I’ll brand you as self-righteous.” When you are in academia, and you hold to the wrong kind of unpopular position (because there is a popular kind of unpopular position), Satan says “Give in, or kiss tenure goodbye.” When a long shift at work ends, and your friends from work want to smoke a joint and chill out, Satan says “Give in, or your friends will think you’re a dweeb.” Or when you do take a stand for righteousness, Satan says, “Give in, or the state will cease all your assets.”

Satan motivates by both enticement and threat. And though we may endure enticement, in the face of threats we crumble like a six week old peanut butter cookie. But we needn’t, because God has provided protection. Remember that Satan roars, but he has no teeth. His threats are as ethereal as fractional reserve banking. Imagine, for a moment, his absolute worst. Is it blackening your name? Your Father has given you His good name. Is it seizing houses and savings and your other goods? You are co-heirs with Christ, who has been promised “all things.” You are richer than Croesus. Is it destroying your health? He can only do so as God allows, and even then the suffering is only a “momentary, light affliction” in light of the “surpassing value of knowing Christ.” The resurrection is coming. Your aches, your infirmities and afflictions are on a timer. It will not be long before they are a memory.

Satan threatens and coerces. But these threats only have traction when we have substituted an earthbound perspective for an eternal one, and value man’s opinion over our Father’s. When we correct these idolatrous perspectives, and avail ourselves of God’s protection and power, we are invulnerable. “And God is faithful who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide a way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 12:13).

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