(…continued) The devil will probably not be appearing to you to make the kind of all or nothing offer that he made to Dr. Faust. But that doesn’t mean the devil is not tempting you in other ways. I Peter 5:8 says that the devils prowls about the earth like a lion, seeking whom he may devour. We will most certainly find ourselves being tempted in smaller, subtler ways than Jesus in the wilderness or Dr. Faust.
A while back someone said to me, “My grandma always told me that if I don’t go to church every week I am going to go to hell. Is that right?”
I replied, “There is a short answer and a long answer to that question. Let me give the short answer first, and that is NO, that is not right. We are saved by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and his death on the cross for us. We are not saved by going to church. That’s the short answer.”
“But,” I added, “more needs to be said– so here is the long answer. God does say in one of the commandments ‘Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it Holy.’ Most Christians, in most times and places, have found going to church each week an important way to do that. If you choose not to do that, you need to ask yourself what else you are doing on that day, or any other day, to keep it holy. And if there is nothing you are doing that day to keep it holy, then what does that do to your faith to disobey so basic a command by God each and every week?”
I went on to say, “I am not going to get into how often you have to go to church, or which excuses are valid and which are not, or anything like that. As I said, we are not saved by going to church, but by faith in Jesus. But going to church is one very basic thing that can strengthen and sustain faith, whereas when one decides not to go to church and not pay attention to God in any other way, faith can weaken and die, and the Bible says you have to have faith. Even faith is a gift, but the Bible says faith comes by hearing the Word, so you have to keep yourself within hearing distance of where that Word is spoken– or faith will die.”
This goes not only for going to church, but in all the ways we may obey or disobey God: in telling the truth or telling a lie, in loving or in hating, in forgiving or in bearing a grudge, in being generous or being selfish, in being thankful or being jealous, in keeping our promises or in not being faithful to your commitments, in being honest or in being dishonest, in choosing to be kind or choosing to be mean, in trying to be understanding or in being quick to criticize, and so on. Every act of obedience draws us closer to God, and every act of disobedience can draw us away from God.
Faust, in selling his soul to the devil, said to God, “I am not indebted to you for the life you gave me, so I want to forget you, God, and live for myself.” In one big move, he then abandoned God and followed the devil. The Bible cautions us to guard against temptation, because sin can, in a million smaller steps, lead us away from God just as sure and certain as Faust was led away in one big step. God can forgive every sin, no matter how great. But God will not force himself on someone who, because of sin after sin, is led farther and farther from God until they no longer look to or believe in God at all. Grace is not automatically smeared over everything that moves. One can turn their back on God. One can be led away.
It was a bad deal Faust made with the devil, but at least he made a deal, and got something in this life for abandoning God. But Satan gets all kinds of people to abandon God for nothing at all, as they lose their eternal hope because of a blind and foolish indifference.
So we pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” or, may we not be led astray. The Bible tells us that while God may test us, he does not tempt us to sin, so this prayer is a prayer for help in the midst of the temptations that are a part of every life. In the wilderness Jesus resisted all temptations and defeated the power of the devil, and in the resurrection, Jesus defeated the power of death. On our own, we can not defeat those powers as Jesus did, but God has promised that as we continue to look to Jesus in faith, his victories can become our victories. Keep your eyes on Jesus, and you‘ll be all right.
Romans 10:17 — Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.
I Peter 5:8,9a — Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith…
John 16:1 — (Jesus said), ““All this I have told you so that you will not fall away.”
I Corinthians 16:13 — Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.
James 5:8 — Be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.
AN OLD HYMN:
In the hour of trial, Jesus, plead for me,
Lest by base denial I depart from Thee.
When Thou seest me waver, with a look recall,
Nor for fear or favor, suffer me to fall.
With forbidden pleasures should this vain world charm,
Or its sordid treasures spread to work me harm,
Bring to my remembrance sad Gethsemane,
Or, in darker semblance, cross-crowned Calvary.
Should Thy mercy send me sorrow, toil and woe,
Or should pain attend me on my path below,
Grant that I may never fail Thy hand to see;
Grant that I may ever cast my care on Thee.
–James Montgomery, 1834