I wrote a blog post a few weeks ago about learning what it means to live locally. This followed after I began to read Zack Eswine’s book, Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being. Eswine writes, that we are “merely human and only local.” We forget that only “Jesus is human, but not merely. Jesus is local, but not only” What then are the implications for me (us) if we admit that we are merely human?
This requires a choice. To be merely human means, in contrast to Jesus, that we are not God. Most, if not all of us know this theologically but many of us resist this practically. To be human means that we accept that we have limits. It means we cannot do it all, we cannot know it all and we cannot be everywhere. Eswine’s writing should liberate us, “Being human does not mar greatness; it informs it and sets its noble boundaries.” 351
Sadly for ourselves and for those we live with and minister to, our refusal to accept and live within these limits only creates insurmountable problems, “Trying to be an exception to the human race encourages arrogance among most of us and burnout among many of us.” 246 We have bought into the serpent’s lie in the Garden, “You will be like God” (Gen. 3:5). Our grasp for attributes that only belong to God gets us into trouble and in the end prevents us from loving others. Again Eswine nails it, “As ministry leaders we endeavor to give of our lives in such a way that every neighbor we minister to will know that we are not God. The Serpent’s invitation to celebrity, immediate gratification, and using people to advance ourselves as if we are God poisons the air.” 652
We can only be at one place at one time. “We will resist and want to act like we are omnipresent. But he will patiently teach us that as human beings we cannot be, and this admission will glorify God. Others will likewise resist Jesus and want you to be omnipresent. They will use his name to praise or critique you accordingly, but they too will have to learn that only Jesus can be with them wherever they are at all times. This fact is actually good news for them and for us.” 766
We cannot do everything that needs to be done. “Jesus will teach us to live with the things that we can neither control nor fix. We will want to resist Jesus and act as if we are omnipotent, but we will harm others and ourselves when we try. Others will also resist Jesus. Using his name, they will praise or critique us according to their desire that we fix everything for them and that we do it immediately. But they will have to learn too that only Jesus can fix everything and that there are some things Jesus leaves unfixed for his glory.” 771
We are unable to know everyone or everything. “Jesus will teach us to live with ignorance, our own and others’. In other words, we are not omniscient. Jesus will require us to stop pretending that we are. Others will resist Jesus and in his name praise us or critique us on the basis of their estimation of what we should know. They will have to learn that only Jesus knows everything they need; his invitation to faith and to trust in his knowing is a good one.” 777
In what way are you most tempted? Thinking you can do it all? Thinking you can know it all? Thinking you can be everywhere? Eswine asks us, “What do you feel you will lose if you stop pretending in these ways and entrust yourself to Jesus?” 782
Drawn from Gerald Sittser’s Water from a Deep Well. Part one is here.
Sittser uses STRUGGLE as the key word to describe the spirituality of the desert saints but it was a struggle related to the battle between flesh and spirit. Paul had something to say about this in Galatians:
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” (Galatians 5:16–17 ESV)
Following are reflections by Sittser on the desert saints with regards to their struggle against the temptations of the flesh:
It was the battle for the soul that mattered most to them. The desert saints believed that the Christian life requires struggle against the darkness that resides in the heart, epitomized by the egoism that runs in every human being. Only by facing that darkness will we find true life and freedom. 83
Evagrius describing the problem of egoism, “It is not in our power,” he wrote, “to determine whether we are disturbed by these thoughts, but it is up to us to decide if they are to linger within us or not and whether or not they are to stir up our passions.” 84
According to Evagrius, gluttony consists of obsession with food, whether or not we actually eat too much of it. Vainglory tempts us to angle for attention and honor, regardless of how it can be attained. Pride causes us to claim credit for our virtues and successes rather than acknowledge our indebtedness to others and to God. 84
With regard to temptations, Evagrius said that thoughts toward sin cannot be overcome by simply resisting them. They must be replaced by positive virtues—gratitude instead of gluttony, humility in the place of pride and especially love. 85
One monk even carried a stone in his mouth for three years to overcome the temptation of gossip and frivolous talk. 86
For Abba Abbas, spiritual leaders were not to impose their own will on disciples, as if they were the superior; instead they were to offer suggestions, provide encouragement, impart the wisdom of the desert and, above all, set an example. 87
Sittser concludes his chapter on the value of the desert experience for us today:
The desert will also enable us to see how unfriendly modern culture is to the spiritual life. It seduces us into being too busy, too ambitious and too self-indulgent. We never seem to be satisfied; we always want more. 94
Abba Antony once said, “The man who abides in solitude and is quiet, is delivered from fighting three battles—those of hearing, speech and sight. Then he will have but one battle to fight—the battle of the heart.” 94
The desert will force us to hold our appetites in check, to resist the temptations of the devil and to seek the face of God. 94
Sittser suggests the following exercise. After reading Luke 4:1-13, identify an appetite that seems to be dominating your life. Commit yourself to fasting from the appetite you have identified, for a period of time and in place of the appetite, memorize an appropriate passage and pray for areas of the world that lack what you so desperately crave. 95
This chapter stirs up all kinds of questions for me. But on the topic of the desert:
What (if anything) can replace the desert experience for us today? Beyond going to a literal desert (which I personally find attractive), what alternatives exist for us today? What has worked for you?
Haven’t been to Theologica in awhile and it looks like you may have stopped discussing this issue? But just in case, is there not agreement on
1. Full deity and humanity of Christ
2. Jesus was tempted and yet without sin
I thought the original question was about the nature of temptation and how did Jesus actually experience temptation if he had no sinful nature. Seemed to be some discussion as to whether or not Jesus had a sinful nature.
I am sort of recapping here for my own benefit–thinking out loud
1. Jesus had a full human body as in flesh (sarx) but he did not have a flesh (again sarx) as in flesh being life lived apart from the will of God and sometimes translated old nature.
2. Temptation is “to endeavor or attempt to cause someone to sin” (Louw and Nida) and in this sense Jesus was tempted but did not sin. Heb 2:18 says he suffered when he was tempted (peirazo)
3. Jesus was tempted in the same way we were (same likeness of temptation) (homoiotes) yet without sin.
4. As someone mentioned Rom 8:3, the Father sent Jesus in the likeness (homoioma) of sinful flesh. Here sarx is modified by sin (hamartia).
5. Temptation arises from our own desires (epithumia). Seems to me the key is understanding these desires. Desire is not sinful in and of itself (Luke 22:15, Phil 1:23, 1 Thes 2:17) but most of the 37 times they are desires of the flesh (sarx), desires of Satan, coveting desires, deceitful desires, unclean or evil, foolish and harmful, youthful, ignorant, wage war against the soul, contrasted with will of God, corrupt, ungodly. What Jesus did not have any of these disordered desires.
But Satan and the world enticed him to get his good desires met by not following God’s will. As a result, he suffered. He understands what it is like to suffer when we say no to temptation even if he did not have disordered desires.
Comments or reactions?
Enjoying reading the new edition of the Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care, 2009, Vol 2, No. 1. From an article by Gerald L. Sittser, “The Battle Without and Within: The Psychology of Sin and Salvation in the Desert Fathers and Mothers,” p48
In the end, struggle implies that we are engaged with rather surrendered to the enemy. When Abba Cyrun of Alexandria was asked about the temptation of lust, he replied, “If you are not tempted, you have no hope; if you are not tempted, it is because you are used to sinning.”
In a sermon on 1 Samuel 25 about David, Abigail and Nabal, Alan Redpath provides the following warning:
This story tells me that however long I may have been on the Christian path, however often I may have overcome one temptation or another, however many times I have defeated sin in one area, it can strike in another and crush me in a moment. I may have overcome great temptation by the grace of God; I may have stood my ground against the fierce onslaught of the enemy in one way or another and yet be tripped up by the smallest pin prick that gets under my skin.
The victories which I win–by the grace of God and through the power of the blood of Jesus–cannot impart strength to me for the future. No spiritual triumph in my life can give me power to resist the devil the next time he comes. There is nothing so sinful but that I may fall to it at any time, unless moment by moment I am being kept in His love. To show restraint in dealing with one person who has been unkind, highhanded, hateful, is no guarantee that an unguarded moment may not come when I will say, “I am going to wreak my vengeance on this person,” especially if it is someone to whom I think I am superior.
How tragic it is that years after years of Christian experience, men and women, saved by God’s grace, redeemed by Jesus’ blood, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, fall into a silly little trap like that and ruin their testimony!
I think what Abigail said that captured David’s heart is found in 1Sam 25:29 “Even though someone is pursuing you to take your life, the life of my master will be bound securely in the bundle of the living by the LORD your God. But the lives of your enemies he will hurl away as from the pocket of a sling.” (NIV)
David did the right thing in 1 Samuel 25 but at the end of his life, David told Solomon in 1 Kings 2–it’s pay back time now that my son is in charge. A sad ending.