Thursday, September 6, 2012

One Marshmallow - or Two? - James 1:12-16

James 1: 12-16 Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.  No one, when tempted, should say, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one.  But one is tempted by one's own desire, being lured and enticed by it;  then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. Do not be deceived, my beloved. 

In college, I learned about the marshmallow experiment.  A young child was placed in a room with only a table, a chair, and a tasty treat on the table – usually a marshmallow.  The child was told that she could eat the marshmallow, but if she waited until the tester came back, she could have TWO marshmallows.  Then the tester would leave the room, leaving the tempting treat with the child.
Most of the children resisted temptation.  A few gave in and ate the marshmallow before the tester came back, losing out on the promised second treat.

There are people who think God is like that – placing temptation in our path to see if we can withstand it and then punishing us when we don’t.  That makes God the Cosmic Scientist, the world a maze and each of us rats in that maze.
God doesn’t work like that.  Sure, there are temptations.  We may be saved by grace, but as long as we are on this side of the grave, we still have that sin nature leading us astray (When Luther says we are both saint and sinners, that's what he's getting at).  The old joke goes:  “Lead me not into temptation, I can find it myself.” 

There’s another thing – if you think that God puts temptation in your path to test you, it’s really easy to be proud of all the times you ‘pass the test.’  “Look at me” you boast, “I can resist temptation.”  And by boasting about resisting temptation, you just gave into the temptation be proud – one of the legendary Seven Deadly Sins.
No, we really don’t need God to put temptation in our path.  James is right – temptation comes from our own desires, from inside ourselves.  Jesus said something similar:  “For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person." (Mark 7:21-23).  

When we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation”, we’re asking God to guide us away from those things that tempt us.  “God, keep me away from that room with the marshmallow just begging to be eaten.”  "God help me to not give into my old sin nature today."  "God, create in me a clean heart - remove all those evil desires - and put a new and right spirit - your Holy Spirit - in me (the prayer of David in Psalm 51, paraphrased slighty)
Thanks be to God that through Jesus Christ: He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14).
As we pray and ask for God's help to withstand temptation, it does get easier. The Holy Spirit working in our lives gives us the power to not give into our temptation to eat the marshmallow today. Soon, that particular marshmallow is not such a big temptation.

It’s true - when you leave the marshmallow on the table, good things happen.  You get the second marshmallow (James calls it the crown of life).
But if you’re anything like me, it’s good to know that when I give in to temptation and eat the marshmallow, there’s forgiveness and restoration - a different kind of tasty treat from God. 

To ponder today: 
What is the marshmallow in the room that tempts you?  Pray for God to 'lead you not into temptation.'
Our struggle with sin is as old as Adam.  Read Psalm 51, David's plea for forgiveness after he sinned by taking Bathsheba and murdering Uriah.  Pray this psalm as your own.

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