Maybe we’ve all felt, at one time or another, that if we could somehow remove ourselves from every outward enticement, we never would fall into temptation again.
But that simply isn’t true. The fact is that the problem lies within.
The Bible tells us that we have a heart that is desperately wicked and deceitful (see Jeremiah 17:9). And James wrote in his epistle, “And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, ‘God is tempting me.’ God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away” (James 1:13–14 NLT).
Temptation comes from the inside. The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. That’s why we need to have our hearts changed. And if our hearts change, then our actions will change as well.
Jesus dealt with this in the Sermon on the Mount. He said, “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell” (Matthew 5:21–22 NLT).
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Jesus was addressing an area of sin that is widespread in our culture today: anger in the heart. He wasn’t speaking of the type of anger where we fly off the handle for a moment and apologize later. Rather, Jesus was talking about a settled anger, a malice that has been nursed inwardly.
Someone who has this kind of anger has become bitter, developed a grudge, and is feeding that grudge.
Oswald Chambers wrote, “The man who loses his temper quickest is the one who finds it quickest. The man you need to beware of is not the man who flares up, but the man who smoulders, who is vindictive and harbours vengeance.”
Sin deceives us into thinking that because we haven’t done the actual deed, we are OK. After all, we may be filled with hatred, but we’ve never murdered anyone. But Jesus was saying that it’s still a problem. If our minds are filled with unjustified anger and hatred, it’s as though we’ve committed the deed itself.
Here’s why that’s important. If the only thing stopping us from committing a certain sin is the fear of getting caught, then we indeed will go and do the wrong thing when circumstances change to the extent we think we can pull it off.
We need internal motivation in addition to outward deterrents. We need motivation to do the right thing with a heart that says, “I don’t want to do that because it would displease the Lord. It would dishonor him. And I don’t want to sin against God.”
The problem is that when we’re bitter and angry, we aren’t content to keep it to ourselves. We want to spread it around. That’s why the Bible warns, “Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many” (Hebrews 12:15 NLT).
I heard about a tribe in New Guinea that had an unusual custom. They would get together every morning and have a big fight. They screamed and yelled and pushed each other around. Then they went back to work.
Sociologists were perplexed by this unusual behavior and began studying the tribe. They determined they lacked protein in their diet, and the only way they could find enough energy to make it through the day was to start it with a fight to get their adrenaline pumping. I guess it was their version of having a double cappuccino.
Maybe some of us have a lack in our diet, too – our spiritual diet. If we’re always arguing, upset and angry, if we get our kicks by constantly running others down, there is something wrong in our spiritual lives.
In fact, I have found that the most critical people, the ones who are always nitpicking, who always have a cutting thing to say about someone else, are often guilty of a far greater sin themselves.
Jesus said, “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?” (Matthew 7:3 NLT). In other words, “You are so worried about a minor little thing in someone else’s life when you are guilty of something far worse.”
If only we would stop and think about what we say before we say it. James wrote, “You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires” (James 1:19–20 NLT).
Why do you think God gave us two rows of teeth and two lips? It’s to keep the tongue inside. Think of the damage the tongue does. James also pointed out, “And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself” (James 3:6 NLT).
Can you imagine if you read a book that contained everything you said last week – every single statement? You might be embarrassed. We must be careful, because we will be judged by the words that we use.
Jesus warned, “And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you” (Matthew 12:36–37 NLT).
Samuel Smiles, a 19th-century Scottish author, said, “Sow a thought, and you reap an act; sow an act, and you reap a habit; sow a habit, and you reap a character; sow a character, and you reap a destiny.”
Don’t allow yourself to be filled with unjustified anger, because thoughts can turn into actions. And that can lead to a destiny.
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