Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Why We May Have to Give Up Some Good Things to Avoid Temptation

During these seven days of unleavened bread, from last Friday night when we kept the night to be much observed to sunset next Thursday, we in the Church of God will be abstaining from eating any leavening such as yeast, baking soda, and baking powder, and any leavened products. We will also make sure we do not have these things in our houses. We are also to eat unleavened bread for seven days. God commands this in the Old Testament.

"Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the Lord. Unleavened bread shall be eaten seven days. And no leavened bread shall be seen among you, nor shall leaven be seen among you in all your quarters" (Exodus 13:6-7). "You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread (you shall eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt; none shall appear before Me empty)" (Exodus 23:15).

"And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord; seven days you must eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it. But you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord for seven days. The seventh day shall be a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it" (Leviticus 23:6-8).

The reason for these days of unleavened bread and meaning for the Church are given in the New Testament.

"Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Corinthians 5:6-8).

Paul said, let us keep the feast, so we know we are to observe this feast, and by extension all the feasts of God. But we are to do these things while understanding their spiritual meaning under the New Covenant.

During these days, leavening represents sin for us, and by putting leavening out of our lives for seven days we are reminded that we need to put sin out of our lives. Just as we need to be diligent to keep leavening out, so we must be diligent to keep sin out.

Also, unleavened bread represents Jesus Christ, the bread of life, and His righteousness (John 6:35, 1 Corinthians 5:8). Eating unleavened bread reminds us of our need to feed on Christ and put on His righteousness. It can remind us of our need for prayer, Bible study, and meditation on God's law and way of life.

It is best if we eat some portion of unleavened bread on every one of the seven days to help us learn the lesson of daily prayer, Bible study, and meditation.

Passover represents the sacrifice of Christ and what God has done for us to make forgiveness of our sins possible. The days of unleavened bread represent our part, what we need to do in response to God's grace and Christ's sacrifice. These days represent repentance and our responsibility to put sin out and the righteousness of God into our lives.

Jesus taught that we need to go all out to quit sinning.

"If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell" (Matthew 5:29-30).

What was Jesus talking about here?

It is obvious He is not advocating physical mutilation of our bodies. We know that because it is a principle of God's word that we try to take care of our bodies. "Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are" (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). "Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Our bodies are the temple of God.

"For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones" (Ephesians 5:29-30).

As Christ loves His body, the Church, and nourishes it, so we should take care of our bodies and our health.

So if Christ is not talking about literally cutting off our hand or taking out our eye, He is speaking figuratively. But what is He saying?

If we are fighting an addiction to sin, a sinful habit we are trying to break, and there is something that seems to be a "trigger", something that tempts us to sin and triggers a process that leads to sin, we may have to give up that thing that tempts us, that triggers a mental process that leads to sin, in order to avoid the sin.

Why do I say Christ is talking about sinful habits or addictions? Because the sin is recurrent. He is talking about a sin that has repeatedly occurred in the past and has a tendency to occur, else we would not know that a certain thing, spoken of figuratively as a hand or an eye, causes us to sin. The verb tense of "causes" indicates something ongoing. That means an addiction or sinful habit that has to be overcome.

Yet, ironically, the thing that we must give up in this case, figuratively cutting it off from ourselves, is not in itself wrong. In fact, it might be very good, like a healthy hand or eye. And it may be very hard to give it up, like cutting off our right hand.

Yet if it is a trigger that leads to temptation that causes us to sin, we must give it up no matter how hard it is, even if it is as hard as cutting off our hand. Why must we give up something as important to us as our hand or eye, something that we love and is precious to us and is not in itself wrong?

Because we do not want to perish forever in the lake of fire. "...for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell" (Matthew 5:30).

That's how important it is that we overcome our sins!

"Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am tempted by God'; For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death" (James 1:13-15).

What might it be that triggers temptation and sin, yet in itself is not wrong or even may be good?

One example might be TV. There may be many things on TV that are good, if you can find them, such as nature programs, educational programs, documentaries, some sports programs, and even a few fictional TV series or movies (though most fictional TV shows and movies are not good, especially the ones made in recent decades).

Yet in finding or watching these on TV, we are exposed to commercials for other shows and movies, and for some Church members, those brief exposures to commercials for other shows, violent movies, sexually oriented TV shows, etc. can be a trigger to sin. Such a member may have to give up TV altogether, cancel his cable service, and get rid of his TV. The same can be true for the Internet.

So to avoid sin and the lake of fire, a member for whom TV can be a trigger or a cause to sin may have to give up some good and wholesome TV shows by giving up TV altogether. Is that as hard as cutting off your hand? Is eternal life in the kingdom of God worth it?

A person fighting an addiction to alcohol may not only have to give up over-drinking but even moderate drinking, if it is a trigger, and even social gatherings where liquor is served, even Church of God dances if necessary if liquor is served. Why?

A person can reason, "Well, I'll just go to the dance and not drink liquor. That is good, isn't it?" Then at the dance, "I can have just one drink - there is no sin in drinking in moderation, right?" But that one drink can lead to a second. Then when the person goes home, he may stop for another on the way, then go to a store to get more for home.

What starts out seeming innocent can end up being spiritually deadly.

And it is the very fact of the innocence of the trigger, the thing that of itself may be good but for a particular individual can cause him to sin, that makes it so hard to avoid, because he always has the excuse, "This isn't wrong."

And that may be true. The thing that causes us to sin may not be wrong by itself. It may not be wrong for other people for whom it is not a trigger to temptation and sin. Of and by itself, it can be a very good thing. But if it affects one of us by being a trigger to temptation and sin, and if it has several times in the past caused that particular member to sin, that member may have to give it up.

Such a member may have to draw a line for himself or herself and say, "I will not watch any TV", or, "I will not look at anything on the Internet except known sites such as certain Church of God sites", or, "I will not go to any social gatherings where alcohol is served" - and then not cross that line.

It is very hard, but it sometimes is necessary. We may have to give up some good things to avoid sin.

It is especially hard to do this because, when Satan wants to attack us, he doesn't have to tempt us to do something wrong, at first. He can tempt us to do something that seems right, that is right by itself, that is right for others, but not for us because it is a trigger.

Satan can pump thoughts into the mind of a Church member struggling against alcoholism, one who has made a decision to draw a line and avoid social gatherings where alcohol is available because that has caused him to sin in the past. Satan can say, "You've just been invited by brethren to a Sunday barbecue where there will be beer and wine. You should go, after all, it is with Church members.

"You don't have to drink alcohol. You can resist that temptation now - you're stronger now, you can handle it. Don't you feel stronger?

"There is absolutely nothing wrong with going to a party with friends in the Church. You want to do it, and it is not sin, so go. Enjoy yourself - you won't drink. Besides, you may offend the host who invited you if you don't go."

Satan can try to twist scriptures in our minds, as Satan misapplied scripture in the temptation of Christ telling Him to cast Himself down from the temple (Matthew 4:5-7). So Satan can pump his thoughts into into the Church member, "If you don't go, you may offend, and didn't Christ say that if you offend a Church member it would be better to be drowned in the sea - Luke 17:1-2? And you are setting a rule or law for yourself to not attend gatherings where there is alcohol, yet didn't God say that whatever He tells you, don't add to it - Deuteronomy 12:32?"

So Satan persuades that member to cross a line he has drawn for himself to not attend parties where there is alcohol, and he goes.

But at the gathering, at some point Satan changes his tune. He puts it into the mind of the Church member, "You can have one beer, that won't hurt. You won't over-drink, there are brethren all around. Besides, you are strong enough to resist a second drink - look, you have been here for two hours without a single alcoholic drink, so you are strong today. Anyway, maybe you should learn to drink in moderation. That may actually be easier than not drinking at all."

So he has one beer. A second line has been crossed. Twice now he has compromised with what he had previously resolved.

But that one beer doesn't make him stronger, it makes him weaker. Why? He has been reminded how much he enjoys the beer. And he has crossed the line he has set for himself, and his conscience is already compromised.

He has two more beers before the end of the party. Then he goes home, but on the way he picks up a six-pack.

A few days or a week of over-drinking later, he asks himself, "How did this happen? I was doing ok for a while, until I went to that party."

A person may think of making a vow to enforce his self-imposed limitation. I don't recommend that. Making unnecessary vows is often a bad idea. We never know all future circumstances and may be buying more trouble than we know. A vow to God is a serious thing (Ecclesiastes 5:4-6, Judges 11:30-40).

But we can make a serious resolution, a commitment to ourselves, a strong decision to avoid certain things, and we can stick to our decision.

If something that is right and good by itself causes us to sin, we may have to once and for all get rid of it. We do this by making a determination in our minds and sticking to it. It may feel like cutting off our hand. But it is better than the lake of fire, as Christ said (Matthew 5:29-30).

Eternal life is worth it.

Here are links to other posts in this blog on this topic:

"Stay Far from the Edge", dated April 6, 2012, link:

"Overcoming Sin", dated April 17, 2014, link:

Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:

The Days of Unleavened Bread - Repentance, Chapter 2

How to Obtain More of God's Help in Breaking Bad Habits, Chapter 7


Anonymous said...

You say this; "It is best if we eat some portion of unleavened bread on every one of the seven days to help us learn the lesson of daily prayer, Bible study, and meditation."
Why is this such a controversy among God's people??? some teach you need to eat it and some say you do not have to eat it every day--what is your opinion? Is this a liberal thing or a rebellion?
Jerry said...

I am not sure why it is a controversy with some people. Maybe it is only a small controversy.

The instructions in the Bible leave room for interpretation. As far as what I have found, the Bible only says to eat unleavened bread for seven days. It is not specific if that means every day or just during the seven days. But when you understand the meaning, that the unleavened bread represents Jesus Christ, the bread of life, and God's righteousness, it makes sense we would eat it every day of the seven days. That is the way I interpret it.

The idea of eating unleavened bread during the seven days but not every day may be a sign of liberalism, but not necessarily rebellion unless it is against the decision of the leadership of the fellowship a member is attending.

This is a good example of the need for government in the Church and why Christ gave his disciples binding and loosening authority to make decisions. If the leadership of the fellowship we attend makes a judgment that we should eat it every day, then we should abide by that judgment.

Actually, I do not think it is that difficult to eat a portion of unleavened bread, even a small portion, every day for seven days.

Anonymous said...

Hello to all
It seems to me that if God, in so many places repeats those words (seven specific words at times) but in a different order--how could He NOT MEAN to eat it every day?

The "you shall eat" or "you must eat" certainly seems to be a command
The "Seven days" certainly tells us how long------------then UNLB is the subject matter.
there are other passage that confirm the keeping of the feast of UNLB, which does not use these seven words specifically--then there are two passages that mention keeping the feast--then use those seven words--then says "as I commanded you"
it seems pretty clear to me that we are commanded to eat it every day.
It is liberalism to try and avoid doing exactly as God says in any of His commands--but it is also rebellion to decide your just not going to do it as He instructs it to be done.
Just my opinion