As Reformed believers we confess the truth of God’s preservation and our perseverance. By God’s preservation we mean that God will certainly preserve us in the salvation we have in Jesus Christ. He will not allow any power, whether in heaven or on earth or even in hell, to rob us of that which we have in Christ. By perseverance we mean that, in the power of God’s preserving grace, we will indeed persevere in the way of our salvation. In other words, we will remain faithful to God, if needs be even unto death, and thus receive the crown of life.
In this present article we wish to discuss this truth in the context of temptation. According to Ephesians 5:16, the days in which we live are evil. That is, they are dangerous, perilous. They are this because of the great temptation we face. Every day of our life we are surrounded by temptation, all of which is designed to lead us into sin and destruction. Every child of God knows what these temptations are. He knows their power and how irresistible they can sometimes be. He also knows his own weakness in the face of these temptations. And he often wonders whether he will be able to persevere in the future.
Temptation is a tool in the hand of the Devil designed to lead God’s people to their destruction. Satan is the archenemy of God and His people. His one purpose is to frustrate the purpose of God by leading the elect of God to their eternal ruin in hell. And the Devil knows full well how this may be accomplished. It is the way of sin. The Devil knows the Word of God better than we do. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). And so to lead us to our eternal ruin the Devil tempts us to sin.
The Devil uses especially the wicked world to tempt us. The world are those who have with us fallen into sin and depravity but who have not been redeemed and sanctified with us in Christ. They are those who are still under the spiritual dominion and control of Satan. It is especially through this world that Satan tempts us.
The Devil tempts us to sin in especially three different ways.
First, there are the vain philosophies and false doctrines of men. By this we mean the doctrines and attitudes of man that stand in direct opposition to the teaching of the Bible. What the world today has to say about God, marriage, sex, the role of the woman, family life, and a host of other subjects stands diametrically opposed to the teachings of the Bible. You are confronted with these views over the radio and TV, in books and magazines as well as in the daily newspaper. These views are even proclaimed from many a pulpit. These teachings lead to a complete denial of God and the way of salvation. In other words, they lead straight to hell. And that’s where many are being led today. This is because these doctrines of man are so appealing to the flesh.
The Devil also tempts the child of God through the treasures and pleasures of the world. The world today has much pleasure to offer. Some of this pleasure is the pleasure of sin. Society is characterized today by immorality and debauchery. In fact these are openly and proudly flaunted. We are confronted with them daily. And this sinful pleasure is very appealing to our flesh. They present us with great temptation. How difficult it often is to deny our flesh which is excited to lust by these carnal pleasures!
However, not all pleasures of the world are of themselves sinful. Think of all the conveniences that man has today because of recent inventions and advancements in technology. And consider all the exciting things the world has made it possible to do. It is possible today to live very comfortably and easy. Nor is this in itself wrong. And that kind of life is very appealing to us. It certainly appeals to the flesh. And we can have these things too. The world gladly offers these things to us. The only thing it will cost us is our salvation. That’s the price the world sets for its treasures and pleasures. Remain faithful to God and His Word and the world will deny you access to its pleasures. It will not allow you a job or the profession needed to attain these things. Quite a different story it is, however, if you are willing to sacrifice your principles and your God. How tempting this can sometimes be.
Then there is persecution. The world may at times hide behind a facade of toleration and coexistence. But ultimately the world has no room for the church. The world hates the way of God and actively opposes it. We can see this in a number of ways today. This is evident from the attitude of the world toward those in the church that still cling to the traditional and biblical mores. How stupid and narrow-minded! Evident this is too from the move to ban any semblance of the Christian religion from the public school system or from any institution somehow affiliated with or supported by the government. This is also evident from the fact that the child of God is ostracized by the world when he refuses to conform to the world. Walk with the world and the world will embrace you. Walk the way of God and the world ultimately has no room for you. This is not pleasant. What a temptation to conform to the world that we may be accepted and embraced by the world!
As history rushes towards the end of time, these temptations will not lessen but increase. This will simply follow the natural course of the development of the world. As time marches on, the world will continue to develop in technology. This in turn will give impetus to further growth in sin and wickedness. And this will mean greater temptation for the saints of God. Immorality and debauchery will increase. There will be development in the vain philosophies of man. And the world will become less and less tolerant of the church.
This will all culminate in the Antichrist. In the days of the Antichrist temptation will abound for the child of God, the likes of which we have never seen. That temptation will center in the great tribulation that the Antichrist will instigate against the church. In those days the faithful child of God will not be able to buy or sell. He will see his children starve before his eyes. He will be hunted down as an animal. And there will be no place to hide. Hideous will be the torments laid upon the faithful in those days. However, if the child of God is willing to forsake his God and his Savior, all this persecution will cease. In turn he will be given all the treasures and pleasures of the world, which in those days shall be great indeed. Certainly the time of the Antichrist will be evil. So dangerous will they be that our Lord warned us in Matthew 24:22, “Except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.”
Those days of the Antichrist are not all that far off. It is not our purpose in this article to speculate on how near we are to the end of time. However, every discerning child of God who takes seriously the admonition of Scripture to watch knows that the end is near. The signs of the times all point to the fact that all things are ready for the Antichrist, yea, will soon demand the Antichrist. It is very well possible that we and our children will live to see the Antichrist.
And every child of God who has contemplated these things has asked whether he will be able to stand in that evil day. Many will fall away, we are told. Will we be able to stand? How can we be so sure in light of the fact that we can scarcely stand now in the face of temptation? If we can scarcely stand the wiles of the devil now, how will we be able to do so in the great day of temptation? And what of our children? What assurances do we have that we and our children will be able to persevere and be faithful even unto death so as to receive the crown of life?
We have this assurance: “God is faithful, Who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (I Cor. 10:13).
Notice, God is faithful. We are often unfaithful; but God is faithful. That means that God always keeps His promises. The promises in this instance are the promises of God to preserve us in the face of temptation. To those promises God is faithful.
In His faithfulness God will not allow us to be tempted above what we are able to bear. He will always make us a way to escape. This of course does not mean that God will never allow us to fall to temptation. God certainly allows and even wills this. However, God will never allow us to be led away completely by temptation so that we lose our salvation and fall from grace. It may be that we fall into temptation and are led astray for a time. But God will always bring us back in the way of repentance.
God preserves us in the face of temptation in especially two ways.
First, God limits and controls the temptations that beset us. It is true of course that God does not tempt us. According to James 1:13, “God can not be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man.” Nevertheless, temptation is under God’s sovereign control. This is because the devil and the powers of darkness are under His control. The devil and the wicked world can do no more than what God wills them to do. Without the will of God they can not present before the child of God so much as one temptation. And God so controls the temptations of the world and the devil that we are never tempted above what we are able to endure. It may be that the temptations we face are very severe. It may even be that they sweep us away for a time. But God will never allow the powers of darkness to sweep us completely away. This is true not only now. This will also be true in the great day of tribulation.
But in the second place, God does not allow us to be tempted above what we are able, by supporting us in His grace. In and of ourselves we are totally helpless to withstand temptation. Facing temptation in our own strength we would be led astray by the smallest temptation. To persevere in the face of temptation we need the grace of God and the strength of Jesus Christ. And God in His faithfulness will provide us grace sufficient to overcome all temptation. This grace will come to us as we need it. The greater the temptation we face, the greater will be God’s grace to uphold us to overcome and be victorious. This will also be true in the great day of tribulation.
And so we have the promise of God to preserve us even in the face of the worst temptation. This is certainly to comfort us and give us confidence for the future.
But this also implies a calling. The calling is that day by day we fight against temptation in our life in the power of grace. And let us remember that the grace of God is not automatic. We receive the power of grace only in connection with the means of grace: the preaching of the Word, the sacraments, prayer, Bible study, the fellowship of the saints. When these are properly used by us, we are strengthened in Christ to overcome all temptation. Let us therefore make good use of these God-given means day by day that we may have grace to persevere. And by making this a daily practice now, we are preparing ourselves to meet the onslaughts of the Devil in the darker days that are sure to come.