This episode of The Gospel Coalition Podcast is sponsored by Lifeway, publisher of Jen Wilkin’s newest Bible study, God of Deliverance: A Study of Exodus 1–18. Learn more at lifeway.com/deliverance.
Russell Moore led a session for TGC’s 2017 Arizona Regional Conference titled “Discipleship and Temptation” as a part of their series “Help Me Follow Jesus.” In his message, Moore addressed four questions that arise from Genesis 3:1–13 and serve as a warning for all who lead others to faith in Christ, disciple them, and teach them the Word of God. The questions posed were:
- Who are you (are you tempted to think of yourself higher or lower than you ought)?
- What do you want (does it align with God’s desires)?
- Where are you going (do you live with an understanding of the coming judgment)?
- What have you done (are you allowing your sin to be exposed in order to overcome it)?
“If you and I are discipling people, leading people to faith in Christ, and leading people in the Word of God,” he said, “we must understand what it means to wrestle, not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers in the heavenly places—which means we have to understand the nature of temptation as it intersects with discipleship.”
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Russell Moore: Well, thank you. I’d invite you to turn your Bibles to Genesis chapter three, very familiar pastor scripture. Genesis chapter three. I’d like for us to read beginning with verse one and read on down through verse 13. Genesis three, one through 13. And the holy spirit says this. “Now, the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, did God actually say to you you shall not eat of any tree in the garden? And the woman said to the serpent, we may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, you shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden. Neither shall you touch it, lest you die. But the serpent said to the woman, you will not surely die, for God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God knowing good and evil.”
“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened and they knew that they were naked and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and the wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, where are you? And he said, I heard the sound of you in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked and I hid myself. And he said, who told you that you were naked?”
“Have you eaten of the tree which I commanded you not to eat? And the man said, the woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me the fruit of the tree and I ate. Then the Lord God said to the woman, what is this that you have done? The woman said, the serpent deceived me and I ate. And the Lord bless his word to us this afternoon.
I don’t know how many of you in this room have had the experience of having someone who poured himself or herself into your life, discipled you, ministered to you, maybe taught you the Bible, who later fell morally. I had that experience in my own life and it showed me, as I processed this situation, when I received the news of this person that I had respected so much and this person that I’d learned so much from falling morally, it told me a lot about myself. Because my initial reaction after I got through the shock of it all was a sense of anger and a sense of personal betrayal. I felt as though, how could it be that all of these things that you’ve handed to me, you were willing just to blow all of that up in this ridiculous, immoral situation? And it started me to thinking through, well, how much then was real and how much was fake? And if that’s the case, then how much of the discipleship and teaching that I received from this person was real and how much of it was fake?
It showed me the fact that I really had a deficient theology and understanding of sin, understanding of temptation, showed me that I had a sense of entitlement and a sense of expectation that someone should be above spiritual warfare simply because I needed him to be above spiritual warfare. And I found it happening again one time when I had someone that I had poured a lot of my life into and that I had taught a lot who went through a difficult time, and I became exasperated and I became impatient. It was the same sort of thing. How could you use your gifts in this way, rather than in a way that you ought to? A sense of anger and a sense of personal betrayal as though I were the one to which this person was giving an account, as though this was some sort of personal situation with me.
But beyond that, I think that most of us in this room who have seen either someone who’s discipled us or someone we’ve discipled fall morally, one of the things that typically comes with that is a sense of sobering, a sense of, if this can happen in the life of this person that I know so well, then that means that this could happen to me. If this person is so vulnerable to these sorts of things going on under the surface, then I am vulnerable to these things going on under the surface. If you and I are discipling people, if you and I are leading people to faith in Christ and we’re leading people in the word of God, we cannot do that if we do not understand what it means to wrestle, not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers in the heavenly places, which means we have to understand the nature of temptation as it intersects with discipleship.
And in order to do that, I think we need to see four questions that come out of the biblical texts that we just read some moments ago. The Genesis text here, as it relates to the man and the woman, is not simply telling us what went wrong at the beginning of human history. This text also is to serve as a warning to us. The Apostle Paul said to the church at [inaudible], “I would not have you to become as Eve and to be taken down by the schemes of the devil because are not ignorant of his designs.” In discipleship often, we are ignorant of his designs. And in order to follow Christ, in order to disciple, we need to ask and answer these four questions.
First question is this, who are you? The scripture starts here with a really interesting phrase. The serpent was more cunning or the serpent was more crafty. That part really isn’t all that surprising for those of us who know the full picture of the biblical story. What’s surprising is the language here. More crafty, more cunning than all of the other beasts of the field. Now, here’s why this is important. God had already, in this book of Genesis, created the man and the woman. He’d already named them. He’d already given them a commission. And part of that commission was to say, you shall exercise dominion over all of the beasts of the field, over everything that creeps along the ground, over everything that flies in the air.
When this beast of the field comes to the woman and gives her direction and gives Lordship over her, he is turning that around. What the serpent is attempting to do is to have the woman to see herself as an animal, to see herself as just another beast of the field, to not see herself as someone who is created with this unique calling and this unique dignity, but to think of herself lower than what she is created to be. But notice how ingenious the serpent is in an evil sort of way, because he not only asks her to think of herself lower than what she ought to, but also to think of herself higher than what she ought to. Because at the same time-
that he’s asking her to think of herself as an animal, he turns around and asks her to think of herself as a goddess. He says, “Has God really said?” What he is asking the woman to do is to discern good from evil apart from the word of God, to discern good and evil on the basis of how the definition of good and evil will serve her. So he hits her both as lower than human and as higher than human.
That is exactly what the serpent continues to do in all of our lives and in the lives of all of the people that we are discipling, hitting right at that question of identity of what does it mean for you to be a child of God? And if we don’t understand that, then we’re not going to be able to prepare people. And we’re not going to be able to prepare ourselves to feel what this pull that comes with temptation, because we don’t understand what it’s really about.
I’ve dealt with many, many people who have blown up their lives, their families, their ministries, with sexual immorality. And I have so far never once seen a situation where someone concluded, working through the Bible or working through some philosophy book, I think adultery is all right. I think actually adultery doesn’t apply in 21st century America, and therefore it would be pleasing to the Lord for me to go out and find someone to date. I’m sure maybe somebody fits in that category. I haven’t met that person yet. Instead, what I find is someone who knows exactly what the scripture teaches on sexual immorality and someone who is able to think, “I am special. This doesn’t apply to me. Somehow what I’m doing is different from what I typically think of when I think of immorality. You just don’t understand, she’s my soulmate. You just don’t understand what happened in this particular situation. I’m unique, I’m special. Think of myself higher than what I’m created to be.”
Or you see people who think of themselves as animals. They think of themselves as being powerless to what’s pulling them. And so if I have this pull and if I have this desire, then that means that is the way that I am supposed to go. That the question here is one of identity. That is always where it starts. That’s why when our Lord Jesus went out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, standing in our place, he did so immediately after the baptism, where when Jesus comes out of the water, what is the voice that comes out of the heavens? This is my beloved son in whom I am well-pleased. You are my son. I am pleased with you.
And what happens immediately after that is the voice of that serpent in the wilderness, if you are the son of God, turn these stones into bread. Your father will not really provide for you. If you are really the son of God, throw yourself off from the pinnacle of the temple. You need to test your father to see to it whether or not he will protect you. Bow down to me and I will give you all of the nations of the world. Your father will not give you the inheritance that he has promised to you. And so you need to find a way to secure it outside of him.
Who are you? That is the question that comes with temptation. Which is why when we see people starting to move into falling for temptation, or when we see people who have fallen and who are caught in the middle of temptation, what we almost always see is someone who is trying to think through a different answer to that question, who am I? Often, when I see someone who is destroyed by sexual infidelity within a marriage, it’s almost always somebody who is not pursuing sex. It is someone who is pursuing escape. Somebody who wants to have a feeling of being back in high school or a feeling of being back in college, a feeling of being someone without all of the responsibilities that one would have in a marriage or in a workplace. When I see someone who’s addicted to pornography, I almost never see someone who started out seeking to satisfy a sexual desire. I see someone who is seeking to numb himself to numb herself, to somehow escape from that question of who I am and what it is that I’ve been doing.
If we are going to disciple people as what it means to be conformed to the image of God in Christ and if we are going to disciple people to be able to discern, and to be able to know, here is where the serpent is coming against me, we must over and over and over again emphasize, you are created in the image of God. You are redeemed by the blood of Christ, which means that your identity is not found in how successful you are. Your identity is not found in how attractive you are. Your identity is not found in how you compare with all of the people around you. Your identity is not found in your circumstances. Your identity is found in Jesus Christ. Who are you?
Second question is what do you want? Scripture tells us here that Eve saw that the food was good for food, [inaudible] fruit was good for food. She saw that it was a delight for the eyes, and she saw that he was able to make one wise. These are all, in and of themselves, good things. God has created the trees of the field to be able to be appealing with the fruits that he’s given to his people. Wisdom is of course a good thing that God has told us to pursue.
What the serpent does is to come in and to take those desires that God has created for good, and just redirect them outside of God’s purpose. Satan has no creative power. Satan is always and everywhere, plagiarist. He can only work with what he finds created by a sovereign God. And so the serpent will come in and take the desires that God has created in you for good and seek simply to notice where your particular points…
of vulnerability are, so that he can redirect those desires outside of the plan and purpose of God. What do you want? Why is this so powerful? That’s the reason why the Apostle Paul says, simply putting up rules and regulations, don’t touch this, don’t taste this, does nothing in terms of the sanctification of the flesh. Does nothing. Why? Because God has created those desires to be powerful. Created those desires to drive you toward His good purposes. And you cannot simply manage those the way that you would some sort of behavioral scheme.
Now, doesn’t mean that there’s not a good place for putting these external sorts of barriers around you. And often that’s going to depend upon where your particular points of vulnerability are going to be. I have a friend who came to Christ out of a background of a lot of substance abuse. Apart from drunkenness and bondage to substances for a long time, but he knows that he cannot go into a restaurant that serves alcohol. It’s not anything he would impose on anybody else. But he knows that for him, his particular point of vulnerability is if he hears the clink of the ice on the glass, he knows that that puts him into a place that he’s terrified of. He does not want to be led into that place where he’s not sure whether or not he will stand or fall.
That’s good and prudent. That sort of thing is very good and prudent. And you must examine your vulnerabilities. And as you’re discipling people, teach them to examine their vulnerabilities, to be able to discern those sorts of things. But that is itself not enough, because you are wanting something that God has put within you. And apart from the intervention of the spirit of God, that is itself going to lead you right out into destruction.
I did not watch the movie, The Passion of the Christ, when it came out many years ago. Not that I think necessarily The Passion of the Christ is a violation of the second commandment. It’s not anything that I would impose on anyone else, but I know my own vulnerabilities. And I know that I am very susceptible to visual imagery. And I know that if I were to watch Mel Gibson’s depiction of the Lord Jesus, that for the rest of my life, that would be associated with my picture of the Lord Jesus. I would say, “I can’t do it. I can’t go.” It’s wise and prudent to know those things, but that will not keep you away from temptation. What do you want?
Third question is this, where are you going? The serpent says to the woman, “In the day that you eat of it, you will not surely die. In the day of that you eat of it, you will become as a God, as God, knowing good from evil.” What the serpent is attempting to do here is to conceal judgment, because he knows that an awareness of judgment, an awareness of giving an account before a God who sees will not work in terms of his plan and his practices with this human woman. There’s a reason for that. There’s a reason why when you say to a child, no, you can’t have matches, you are imagining what would take place with the house burning down.
There’s a reason why when you know, and you’re living your life before the face of God, and you know that you will be giving an account at the judgment seat of Christ, but there is a kind of fear, godly fear and expectation of that accountability that comes upon someone. What the principalities and powers, what to do, is not necessarily to convince you intellectually that there is no judgment. Not necessarily to convince you intellectually that there is no watching God, but to convince you emotionally, to convince you that the future perspective isn’t real or right. And that’s a future perspective that can be in the very short term.
I can’t tell you how many men that I’ve dealt with who are in the middle of destroying their families in adultery, who have wanted not to leave their wives, but to simultaneously have a wife and a girlfriend, both of them happy and ignorant of each other for the rest of their lives. And you sit back and say, have you ever met anybody who has been able to do that? Have you ever seen that happen one time? How could you not say, this is going to be the end result of this. Why are they able to do it? That long-term perspective is obscured. It’s concealed. That’s even more the case when you’re dealing with eternity. Just conceal eternity, put eternity to the side, so someone doesn’t see it and doesn’t know it, and doesn’t know where they’re going. That is always going to be the crisis and the problem with temptation.
And with that, comes a kind of false security that the prophets deal with, Jeremiah and Ezekiel and others. With those in the temple who are bringing in images of the foreign deities into the temple and saying, “God is here.” It’s the temple. God is going to protect us because the temple is here. God doesn’t see what’s happening here. God doesn’t know what’s happening here. And the word of God comes in to say, the God who is holy is the God who sees. And the God who has committed to bring you into an inheritance and bring you into a future is a God who is going to work in your life to prepare you for that future, which means he is not going to allow you in tranquility to simply march forward ignorantly toward destruction. Where are you going? What is your end goal?
And then finally, last question, what have you done? “The man and the woman after falling together, hide themselves,” the scripture says, “in the vegetation around them.” They hide themselves in what God has created to serve them in order to somehow be a part from the presence of God, so that when they hear the voice of God saying, “Where are you, Adam? What have you done, Adam?” There is a sense of shame and a sense of hopelessness and a sense of hiding from God.
What the serpent knows is that if he can give you the kind of confidence that says, “God will not really hold me accountable.” Or the kind of confidence that says, “No one will ever know about this.” Or the kind of confidence that says, “This won’t really matter.” Then he can destroy you.
But it’s also true that if you have the kind of hopelessness in which you say, “This is who I am, this is what I’m always going to be, and if anybody knew what I had done or what has happened, I would be not received.” And you hide that and you go underground. The serpent is able to destroy you just as easily with that. The shame and the hiding and the fear of repentance because of the fear of the very presence of God. That’s one of the reasons why you will know if you are in a dangerous place heading toward temptation when you find it yourself very distant in prayer. You find it very difficult to pray. You find it very painful, even, to pray. You find it boring and numbing to pray.
Often this is because you are feeling this sense of shame and of distance from the presence of God. You’re seeking to hide yourself from the presence of God. And sometimes we assume if I just hide, and if I’m just really still, then all of this will work itself out. I don’t want to go and to talk to my spouse or to my elders or to my pastor or to others in my life. I don’t want to cry out to God about these things because I simply want them to go away.
When the way that God sanctifies us is not by hiding our sin. The way that God sanctifies us is by exposing our sin, but merging our sin together with the crucified Lord Jesus Christ, publicly bearing the shame of sin. When we overcome temptation, it is because we are fearful enough of God to recognize that there is judgment, but where we are not ashamed or afraid of the presence of God, but willing to come to him and to say, “I need to be hidden, but I can’t be hidden under the things that I construct. I can’t be hidden behind anything other than the blood of Jesus Christ.”
And what happens is in that moment, is that what we’re doing when we’re teaching ourselves through the time of temptation, or when we’re discipling someone else through a time of temptation is that we are not giving people behavioral tips and practices. What we’re doing is teaching ourselves and teaching people to be aware of that union with the Lord Jesus Christ. His presence, his Holy Spirit, to which we are connected is able to work itself down from the head through the body in a way that can lead to holiness.
But that means we need to be the people who are in ongoing repentance, and in ongoing self-exposure, and in ongoing self-sabotage as we realize and recognize, I am always and at every time and in every place a sinner. I am always in every place in every time vulnerable to the destruction of the evil one. And what I need and what I must have is the prayer and mediation of the Lord Jesus, who is always aware of what is going on in my life, is never shocked by that, is never turning me away because of that.
But also if I’m his child, will not allow me to walk in that toward my own destruction, because Jesus Christ is not a slaughterhouse. Jesus Christ is a shepherd who will turn us and redirect us sometimes very, very painfully, which means we’ve got to be the people who have our eyes open. We’ve got to be the people who recognize spiritual warfare, and we’ve got to be the people who when we see those around us starting to falter and fall, our response is not shock. Our Response is to say, “That’s exactly right. This is the war that we’ve been called to fight, and we’re going to fight it together.”