I preach on the topic of self-examination frequently. I teach how Scripture tells us to examine ourselves and why it’s an essential part of our growth. But with busy schedules, demanding workloads, and community needs, it’s often the first thing to go.
It was with this in mind that I began to put my pen to paper and write down both the strengths I had observed in my life as well as the weaknesses. We all know our shortcomings are harder to write about. What surprised me, however, was not that I discovered fallen motives within my heart; it was my unwillingness to acknowledge them.
One morning, convicted of a specific case of envy and jealousy, I wrote in my journal: “Lord, please heal me of —”
And I stopped right there. I didn’t want to write it down. If I wrote it down, then I was admitting to myself its reality in my heart.
Wait a minute … why did I stop? What was I doing—cheating at Solitaire? Why was it so hard just to write down this particular attitude in my heart? Maybe because it was easier for me to deny it than face it head-on. This is a classic example of the heart’s ability to cherry-pick what it wants to see and what it does not. Denial might give off an appearance of power, but, really, it is just weakness masquerading as strength. It’s giving in to self-deception.
In the Old Testament, we read of a great king, Saul—Israel’s first. His debut is solid. He is praised by the masses for a great military victory in the first few years of his career. He is good-looking and God-fearing. Yet over the course of his life, he becomes paranoid, jealous, and even crazy violent. A long personal and national decline was followed by a crushing defeat at the hands of the opposing Philistine army, leading Saul to fall on his own sword at the end of a brutal battle. The end of his story is tragic. Now, looking at a person like Saul, it’s easy to say, “No way. Not me.”
But that’s what everyone says.
When Saul is confronted by the prophet Samuel for disobeying God, he practices what some call “perspective switching.” He does not want to admit that he is susceptible to such temptation. So he dismisses an unfavorable view (Samuel’s) for a more favorable one (his own). When you read in the Old Testament about the big, defining moments in his life, you quickly realize that they were preceded by many other moments. They shaped the type of king he would become.
Defining moments never stand alone. Yes, they make the headlines, provide plenty of conversation pieces, and serve as inspiring stories or cautionary tales. But defining moments are always preceded by countless others. The big decisions we must make in public, in the spotlight, are influenced by the daily, character-shaping choices made in private.
Whenever I read in the news a story of moral failure among leadership, scandal within an organization, or infidelity in a marriage, I experience this two-part reaction. Part of me wants to say with a surge of confidence, “I would never. Ever. Do such a thing.” I may even want to give myself a pat on the back, reminding myself of all the ways I have shown courage and integrity in the past, how much Scripture I have memorized, and how many church activities I’ve been involved in. I feel that I am safe because I’m clearly not a candidate for such a downfall. I’ve got this.
The trouble is, this response cannot truly help us face real temptation.
But if one thing is clear when it comes to temptation, it’s that “God … will provide the way of escape” (1 Cor. 10:13). I was just trying the wrong door.
You and I may never be Monarchs or rulers… or even leaders or pastors, but we are all responsible for our lives and will face tests. They may not always be huge or dramatic—in fact, most of them will be somewhat small and much more subtle—but we will face them nonetheless. How we choose to handle these tests reveals what matters most. And over time, it shapes who we will become.
Instead of picking up stones to throw when we hear of a leader’s downfall or moral scandal with a church, maybe pick up the phone and speak to friends and be honest about our own interior life. Maybe then we will realize the smaller choices are actually much bigger than we thought.
I suppose every husband would say that he would take a bullet for his wife. But if I want to become that type of husband who would be able to make a giant sacrifice in a moment of crisis, I must be developing a lifestyle of self-sacrifice, including the small things such as doing whatever I can to relieve the burden of her daily responsibilities. Even making the smallest of good decisions daily is like flexing a muscle that strengthens you for the challenges ahead.
Like it or not, these choices must be made daily. And our choices have consequences. This reality should neither lead us to denial nor leave us in despair. Because the topic of temptation raises the issues of the heart, it’s not enough just to have some good principles in place, hoping that through our rule keeping or image management we will actually bring inside-out change. Temptation is a battle that’s not just about winning or losing; it’s about discovering who you really are. And what you love most.
Through the transforming message of the gospel, even moments of temptation become the training ground for a life of abundance, as we choose truth over lies and our hearts are radically reshaped and reordered by the love of Jesus. Because ultimately, the key to facing temptation is not merely a principle; it’s a Person – it’s Jesus.
About Tim Chaddick:
Tim Chaddick is the founding pastor of Reality LA and the author of The Truth About Lies: The Unlikely Role Of Temptation In Who You Will Become, releasing Aug. 1 from David C Cook. Reality LA is a thriving church in the heart of Hollywood, CA, and is a part of a movement committed to relational church planting and serving the broader body of Christ. Tim and his wife, Lindsey, live in Los Angeles with their three daughters. For more information, go to www.timchaddick.com, @timchaddick and www.facebook.com/timchaddick.