By Joyce Long
The shortcut confused her. Then the directions changed. The programmed GPS voice announced, “Recalculating.” Again the trip rerouted. Sound familiar? Plans change. Often our journeys take a detour before we reach our final destination.
There are no shortcuts to following Jesus. The road to the cross confronts us with his ultimate sacrifice for our sin—our personal, sometimes guarded sin. As the serpent asked in the Garden, sin often begins with, “Did God really say?” For Adam and Eve, Satan planted the first seed of doubt in God’s almighty providence. The father of lies (John 8:44) reaped his first harvest when Adam and Eve disobeyed the Creator’s wise decree to avoid the fruit that would introduce death.
What tempts us? What distracts us from obeying God? These questions must be asked and answered. The warning is clear. “We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. . . . how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?” (Hebrews 2:1-3).
Taking Sin Seriously
Soon after Adam and Eve faced the consequences of their sin, its devastation resurfaced. Their firstborn son Cain offered “some of the fruits of the soil” as a sacrifice to God while his younger brother Abel brought “fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock” (Genesis 4:2-4). When God favored Abel’s offerings, Cain became angry.
God confronted Cain. “Then the lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it’” (Genesis 4:6, 7).
Are we ever jealous of those we know and love? Do we demand God’s favor even when we give less than our best? Is pleasing God more important than anything else in our lives?
“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Fatheris not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world”
(1 John 2:15, 16).
Fleeing from Temptation
The word lust denotes pleasure, delight, and intense craving. What do we crave daily? Coffee, chocolate, sleep, entertainment, or time spent on social net-works? Do we spend more time than we should dreaming about our next shopping trip or vacation? Has our preoccupation with the things of this world diminished our submission to God’s will? If we lose sight of God’s purpose for our lives, sin creeps in.
When King David chose not to accompany his troops into battle and instead remained at the palace, he found himself in a situation that led to lust, adultery, murder, and cover-up. God was not pleased with David’s failure to live up to his calling, and the consequence of his sin with Bathsheba plagued him throughout his life.
In contrast Joseph, when a slave of Potiphar, the captain of the Egyptian guard, ran from temptation when Potiphar’s wife attempted to seduce him. “‘No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?’ And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her”
(Genesis 39:9, 10).
Depending on the Spirit
I’ve noticed that opening a twist cap or running to the mailbox in the rain requires more stamina than it did a few years ago. Thankfully our spiritual character doesn’t depend on our physical prowess. We can’t live in God’s righteousness through our own strength. Even our obedience must come through the Spirit’s leading. I’ve tried to please God on my own, empowered with good works and determination. But my efforts simply result in burnout.
As a growing Christian, I was encouraged to “continue to work out [my] salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12, 13). For years the second part of that passage escaped me: “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” The power for a godly life comes from God through his Holy Spirit. We need to let God do his work in our lives.
A study released by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that nearly 75 percent of Christians who are now unaffiliated with a religion said they had “just gradually drifted away” from their faith.
When we’ve drifted away from God and his will for us, it often helps to remember the high cost of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for our sins.
Satan doesn’t like it when God prevails in our lives. If he tempted Jesus in the wilderness, we can be assured he will also pursue us—especially when we’re standing firm in the truth and in our faith. It’s no coincidence both the Old and New Testaments echo the command to stand firm.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).
Christians are engaged in a spiritual battle every day. Neglecting time in the Word and in prayer erodes our ability to stand firm. Our busyness, even if it involves good works, often becomes our downfall. The old adage rings true: “If the devil can’t make us bad, he’ll make us busy.”
When celebrating Christ’s victory at the cross, remember whose sin put him there. Let his mercy, his agony, and his everlasting love melt your heart. Then you can follow in Jesus’ steps, finishing strong and walking in his righteousness toward your ultimate destination.
Joyce Long is a freelance writer in Greenwood, Indiana.
Psalms of Repentance
Out of the depths I cry to you, lord; Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
If you, lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
I wait for the lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit.
When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin.