5-The Heart of Temptation
5-The Heart of Temptation
We have watched Eve in the garden of Eden being assaulted in mind and will by the Tempter. As a shining one he appeared to her and sought to arouse a desire in her for the forbidden fruit. The basic nature of temptation, then, is always a pressure upon us to exceed the limitations which God has placed upon us. God has established these limitations for us, not out of cruelty or unkindness, but out of love and grace. They are necessary to our humanity. But the character of temptation is to make use of this limitation, to make us restive and discontented so that we will be drawn out beyond the limits.
With Eve, the Tempter actually accomplished this by first creating a sense of unfairness in her. This is most revealing in the light of the situation we find so widespread today when many are seething in a ferment of discontent and restlessness, suffering (often justifiably) from a sense of being treated unfairly, but allowing that resentment to take control of the thought and mind. The Tempter has created a sense of unfairness, Eve's mind was prepared to receive the lie that God is not trustworthy and does not really love. The third step was to present to her an incomplete and misleading statement of truth; to twist it, distort it slightly. Thus her desire was aroused for the forbidden fruit.
Now stage two occurs, In many ways this is the most important of all. Before this stage was reached it would have been quite possible for Eve to resist the temptation that had been aroused within her, but after this point it becomes more difficult; in fact, practically impossible. This stage is given to us in one verse:
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate (Genesis 3:6).
Up to this point the Tempter has worked upon Eve's feelings and aroused a strong desire within her for the forbidden thing. But now the mind must come into action. It is the function of the mind to pass upon the logic of the situation.
Our mental faculties are a tremendous gift from God. Basically they are the ability to reflect on circumstances and facts, and relate our attitude or activity to these. There is a logicality that must prevail. The question of the mind is always: Is the action about to be taken, or the attitude about to be formed, a rational one? Is it consistent with the facts?
Rationality demands that the whole man become involved, that one acts as a total being. Irrationality, or insanity, is the action of a person based on only part of his being--only his emotions, or even the direct activity of the will, apart from the exercise of mind or emotions.
But rationality insists that the total man be involved, so the mind must come into play.
The Deadly Power
At this point, therefore, the mind of Eve is engaged. But a terrible thing has already happened to her. She does not realize it, but it is evident from this account that the arousing of her emotion, the strong desire to have this fruit which hangs there in all its tantalizing mystery, has already prepared her will to act. Even before her mind conies into play she wants the fruit and has secretly determined to have it.
Thus, when her mind comes into action it can no longer do so rationally. It cannot consider the facts as they are, but must act on the facts as they appear to her. Since it can no longer act rationally it must rationalize. That is the deadly power of the mind in man. It has an amazing ability to rationalize, to twist the facts so that they accord with desire, to satisfy the urge that is springing up within by justifying it, even though doing so must slightly distort the facts of the situation.
Notice the process here. The first thing is that Eve looked at the fruit and said to herself, "It is good for food. It is something that will help me; it is physically profitable. Never mind the long-range effects--I'm not interested in that--it will satisfy a present and immediate need, and what can be wrong with that?"
Second, she saw that it was "a delight to the eyes," which means it was pleasurable, it satisfied the aesthetic sense. This element is always present in temptation. Each of us is well aware, because we are all experts in this, that sin is always fun--for awhile! It has an element of pleasure about it and there is no use trying to pretend otherwise. It is the pleasure of sin which makes it so enticing and alluring to us. The desire to have that pleasure, at whatever cost, is really the essential element of temptation.
It feels good to indulge myself. I love the feeling of splurging, of doing something that gives me pleasure. It feels great. That is why I do it, even though my mind may be telling me that it will be ultimately harmful. It feels good to act on pride. It satisfies me in some way. It feels good to lose my temper. Have you ever had the perverse delight of telling somebody off? Oh, how good that feels--for awhile! It feels good even though you do not do it to someone's face but go out in the woods to do it. Even that relieves the pain for a bit. It feels good to hurt my wife when she has done something that displeases me.
There is pleasure in sin, wherein lies the deceitfulness of sin. As Eve saw the fruit she said, "It is good for food, and it is a delight to the eyes. It is beautiful to look at."
Finally, she saw that it was "to be desired to make one wise." Thus, again, in the Book of James, we have a reference to the wisdom that is in view here. Desired to make one wise? Yes, says James, but there are two kinds of wisdom. There is the wisdom that is from above, from God; and there is a wisdom which is from below, which, he says, is "earthly unspiritual, devilish" (James 3:15). Paul wrote to the Corinthians that "the wisdom of the world is folly with God" (I Corinthians 3:19). But it appears to us to be alluring and satisfying.
John, in his first letter, says that there is a threefold appeal in the things the world values, which corresponds to the appeal of the fruit to Eve's physical, sensual, and ego-satisfying desires. He wrote:
For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world (1 John 2:16).
The tree was "good for food." That is John's "lust of the flesh." Then it was "a delight to the eyes." There is "the lust of the eyes." Finally, it was "desired to make one wise." And that is John's "pride of life." So much of the philosophy of the world is based upon this "pride of life." We must discover ways of building ourselves up, enhancing self, taking special courses by which we can develop the powers of our personality, or going to school to develop charm or poise. All of this is ministering to the pride of life, the satisfying of the ego--but is the snare of the Devil.
The Divine Order
Eve did not realize that her mind had played a trick upon her. It had taken the apparent facts which the enemy had set before her and had justified them, so that they looked reasonable, rational. The thing to do then, of course, was to give in. After all, anything that is good for food, pleasurable to the senses, and satisfying to the ego must be all right. But this is nothing less than a prostitution of the mind! It is reversing God's order.
In man as God made him, the order is to be, first, an appeal to the mind, then the stirring of the emotions based upon the facts presented to the mind; and then the two working together, the mind and emotions, to move the will. This is why, throughout the Scriptures, the appeal of the gospel, the good news from God, is addressed first to the mind.
The first appeal of the gospel is never to the emotions--it is always to the mind, to the understanding. It is a presentation of certain historic facts which have significance, and the significance of those facts is what constitutes the good news. Paul says, "I preached to you the gospelÉthat Christ died for our sins" (1 Corinthians 15:1,3) He died, (the fact); for our sins, (that is the significance of it); and he rose again, to be a living Lord imparting himself to us.
This is what constitutes the good news, that Christ died to solve the problem of our rebelliousness and our estrangement from God, and be rose again, to minister to us constantly of his life, of his grace, and of his strength. Upon these facts we can then make a decision. These facts move us and stir us--they ought to, they are designed to. But there must constantly come first the appeal to the mind. That is why any evangelism which does not begin with teaching is a false evangelism. Any evangelism which moves directly to an appeal to the will to act, or to the emotions to feel, is distorted and results in abortion instead of birth.
Now this technique of reversal prevails throughout the world. This is the technique of Madison Avenue and the advertising business. Thumb through a magazine and notice that all the advertisements are designed to arouse desire first. There sits a beautifully designed and painted sports car, displayed in living color. You cannot look at these beautiful advertisements without beginning to drool a bit. There is a color TV set, the color so real it is unbelievable. Then you look at your drab, black-and-white set in the corner, and you think "How can I put up with a thing like that any longer?" All showrooms and windows of stores are designed to short circuit the mind and appeal first to the will through the emotions.
This is the technique of politicians and propagandists of every school. They too seek to arouse an emotional reaction first. They cleverly and carefully think through what will appeal to the emotions first and they start on that note. Someone wishes to move students, so he begins talking about war, the draft, or the curriculum. When the emotions are properly stirred, they present their plea for action, whatever the cause may be.
There are certain emotionally-charged words that immediately arouse blacks: civil rights, black power. and so on. To white middle classes, the propagandists talk about property values, free enterprise, and the "American way of life." By this sloganeering they attempt to arouse emotions first, with the realization that when the mind conies into play (as it will), it will not think rationally but will rationalize; it will take facts and distort them to justify the desire that has been aroused.
This explains why the propaganda to convince people of the hazard of cigarette smoking has been relatively ineffective. Cigarette smoking is not based upon rational observation. If it were, no one would smoke. Who wants lung cancer? But the only way by which the effects of cigarette advertising can be counteracted is by fighting fire with fire--by arousing emotions in the opposite direction. To that end, there has been a proliferation of articles on the terrible effects of throat and lung cancer.
All this is with the hope that the emotion of fear will turn people from the dangers of cigarette smoking. But why do people smoke? Why do boys begin to smoke? I remember my own boyhood and my attempts at smoking. Why? Because I thought that in some way it made me a man. In my desire to be a grown-up individual, it ministered to my sense of pride.
Now it would be entirely wrong to get the idea from this account that everything that is pleasurable is wrong, and everything that is right is boring, dull, and flat. That, of course, is what the enemy would like to have us believe about God; anything God wants for us is very dull, uninteresting, and lackluster, and the only exciting things are the things that are wrong.
For after all, it is God who designed our emotions. He made us to have feelings, and he intends to satisfy them. Desire is wrong, however, when it is contrary to the facts and thus prostitutes the mind, subjecting it to a rationalizing process, so that it must justify the facts in terms of that aroused desire. That is what is wrong.
Tempted Like Eve
See this in the Lord Jesus Christ. He, too, went through a time of temptation. He experienced the same order of attack that Eve did--not in the garden this time, but in a wilderness, in a barren place removed from all the comfort, luxury, ease, and pleasantness of a garden. There in the barren wilderness, after forty days of fasting, he was tempted like Eve.
The first temptation came on the same level as it did to her. She was tempted with regard to food, and the Tempter also came to the Lord and said to him, "If you are the son of God, turn these stones into bread. You need bread. After forty days and nights your body is crying out for bread. Surely God wants you to have bread; therefore turn these stones into bread." But Jesus' answer was, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone'" (Matthew 4:4). That is, bread is not the most important thing in life--God's will is. If you try to use bread for spiritual satisfaction, you are distorting God's design for man. That is not the purpose of bread. It is better to starve to death than to use it for a purpose God did not intend. So Jesus used the facts of the situation, the way God made man, and rejected the enemy's appeal, saying, "It's not right, and I won't do it.Ó
Then the enemy took him to a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world, in all their pomp, glory, and majesty. This dream has entranced men for centuries. Some have caught a vision of even part of the kingdoms of the world and have fallen in love with the glory of it. But Jesus was shown all the kingdoms of the world in their alluring glory, with the suggestion that if he would fall down and worship the enemy he could have all this. This was clearly a delight to the eyes, something to titillate the senses and give a feeling of power. But our Lord rejected it because it was not in accordance with the facts. The facts are that man is made to worship God and God alone.
Then, you remember, the Devil took him up to the Temple and suggested he cast himself off in order to display the power he had. When the people saw that he could do this without physical damage, they would acclaim him as a divine being and he would gain popular appeal, the pride of life. Again he rejected it on the basis of the facts. He said, "No, it is written, 'You shall not tempt the Lord your God'" (Matthew 4:7). "God is in charge of life, and I will not allow anything to enrich me but what comes through his hands." Thus he rejected the temptation.
At this point it is important to note that Eve had not yet sinned. Even though her desire is aroused and her mind has justified it, still it would be possible for her to recover herself, though very difficult. But, as James tells us, desire when it conceives gives birth to sin. And at this point it is recorded that when she saw that it was desired to make one wise, "she took of its fruit and ate." She acted on a he and thus fell into the sin of becoming her own god, of making up her own rules, in violation of her humanity.
But there was still hope for the race. Adam had not yet fallen, only Eve. It is not in Eve that the race fell, it is in Adam that the responsibility ultimately lies. A battle has been lost, but not the war, yet. But then we read that after she took of the fruit and ate, "she also gave some to her husband, and he ate."
The ease with which Adam fell is dreadfully hard on the male ego. Think of it. Here is this whole account of the struggle of the Tempter to reach through to Eve, and only one little line about Adam, "she gave to him, and he ate." Yet in those innocent but ominous words, "and he ate," begins the darkness of a fallen humanity. The fatal twist now appears as mankind is transformed by this psychedelic drug (the forbidden fruit), and all men become the victim of a reverse psychology, mastered by emotional urges, no longer rational beings.
What is the value of this account for us today? The answer is that in this story we can see that what Jesus says of the race is true: it is the victim of a distortion which it is helpless by itself to remedy. We cannot change our basic natures. The fall has rendered us victims of emotional urges, and no matter how desperately we try to be rational about things, we cannot see the facts rightly. We do not even see the whole range of facts, and ultimately we find ourselves the unconscious victim of emotional twisting.
If anything points up the absolute necessity for the new birth, it is this. As Jesus said, there is no other way out for humanity except through him. "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me" (John 14:6). There is no way to see reality apart from Jesus Christ. It is he who opens the eyes, it is he who restores balance to life, it is he who redeems my humanity and helps make it possible for me to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong.
How do we know which is right, among the welter of voices that call to us today from every side, unless we judge them all by the voice of Jesus Christ? How can we find our way through the swamps of relativism that stretch out on every side, unless we are listening to the voice of the one who loved us and gave himself for us, that he might redeem us by destroying the works of the Devil?
Prayer: Our Father, we pray that we might see once again, plainly and clearly, that there is no hope for us apart from the Lord Jesus and our following of him, trusting his love, and yielding ourselves to his redeeming grace. We pray that any who have not begun with him may begin by saying to him now, "Lord Jesus, save me. Come into my heart and life and begin your redemptive work with me. Make me different. Deliver me from the distortions of a fallen nature and grant that I, too, can see things as they really are." For those of us, Lord, who have already begun, grant that we may now resolve anew to follow him, to obey him, to trust him, to day by day listen to what he says. We ask in his name, Amen.