“Great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh.”
1 Timothy 3:16
That mystery is so great that even when you get to heaven you will not understand all about it. Mrs. White says that it will ever be a mystery and the subject of study throughout eternity, and yet we need to understand as much as we can about it in this world.
The apostle Paul speaks about the great mystery of godliness in Colossians 1:26, 27: “The mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” What is the glory of Christ? In 1892, Ellen White wrote this sentence: “The glory of God is His character, and to us it is manifest in Christ.” The Present Truth, December 29, 1892. The riches of His glory are the riches of His character manifested in the life of Christ.
“It was through Satan’s misrepresentation of God’s character that man was led to doubt the reality of His love, and came to look upon God as his enemy. As Satan had done in heaven, so he did on earth—declared God’s government unjust, the restrictions of His law unnecessary, and bade man, as he had angels, to throw aside the yoke and let the dictates of their own nature be their only guide and law. He promised liberty; but as he himself is the servant of corruption, he brought the race into bondage, to sin, misery, and death. He represented God as claiming all and giving nothing, as requiring men’s service for His own glory, but denying Himself nothing for man’s good.” The Signs of the Times, February 13, 1893. Satan presented lies and deceptive reasoning to the mind of man to entice him to disobedience. He lied about God’s character, and he reasoned that God’s government was unjust and restricting. He uses the same deceit and lies still today.
What is the relationship between God’s character and His government? “God’s ideal for His children is higher than the highest human thought can reach. The living God has given in His holy law a transcript of His character. The greatest Teacher the world has ever known is Jesus Christ; and what is the standard He has given for all who believe in Him? ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’ Matthew 5:48. As God is perfect in His high sphere of action, so man may be perfect in his human sphere.
“The ideal of Christian character is Christlikeness.” Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students, 365
“The law of God [the transcript of His character] is the foundation of His government in heaven and in earth, and as long as the follower of Jesus imitates his Lord by exalting the divine precepts in word and life, Satan has no power to deceive or mislead his soul.” The Signs of the Times, March 30, 1888
Satan entices men by lying to them regarding God’s law, His character and love, and if he is successful in persuading the very elect to believe his lies, then they will be indifferent to their high calling in Christ Jesus and fail to be filled with all the fullness of God’s love.
What is our high calling really? Paul said, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Our high calling is in Christ. “Let it never be forgotten that the teacher must be what he desires his pupils to become.” Fundamentals of Christian Education, 58. Was Christ what He desired His pupils to become? Yes, He was. His divine nature combined with His human flesh were a perfect representation of what we are and what we, by striving to develop a character like His, can become.
“He was the embodiment of the law of God.” The Signs of the Times, November 15, 1899. The embodiment of the law of God is “the transcript of His character.” Ibid. It is God’s purpose that your life will become an embodiment of the law of God. That is our high calling.
But we have an enemy. Peter said, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” 1 Peter 5:8. Satan does not want you to become an embodiment of the law of God, and he uses enticements and deceptive promises to lure men and women into sin.
What is the purpose of temptation? Many people who are tempted ask, “If God is all powerful, wise, and loving, why does He allow this?” “Our heavenly Father sees the hearts of men, and He knows their characters better than they themselves know them. He sees that some have susceptibilities and powers, which, directed in the right channel, might be used to His glory to aid in the advancement of His work. He puts these persons on trial and in His wise providence brings them into different positions.” Testimonies, Vol. 4, 84, 85
People think they are in charge of their own lives. But it is by way of temptation that we can know who is truly in control of our lives. God places His children “… under a variety of circumstances, testing them that they may reveal what is in their hearts and the weak points in their characters which have been concealed from their own knowledge.” Ibid., 85
Notice two points. God allows these temptations to reveal what is in a person’s heart, and to reveal the weak points in their character. We often do not know what is truly in our own hearts, nor what our weaknesses are. Temptations come and reveal to us what we did not know about ourselves.
“He [God] gives them opportunities to correct these weaknesses.” Ibid. As long as we have breath, God gives us opportunity to see and correct our weaknesses. Upon recognizing that there is something in my heart that is out of harmony with God’s law, I must surrender myself to the sovereignty of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. Surrendering myself and asking that a miracle be performed to change my heart requires that I cooperate and do my part.
“He gives them opportunities to correct these weaknesses, to polish off the rough corners of their natures, and to fit themselves for His service … . He in mercy reveals their hidden defects, that they may look within and examine critically the complicated emotions and exercises of their own hearts, and detect that which is wrong; thus they may modify their dispositions and refine their manners. The Lord in His providence brings men where He can test their moral powers and reveal their motives of action, that they may improve what is right in themselves and put away that which is wrong.” Ibid.
“For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.” Matthew 12:34, last part, 35
“The heart must be diligently searched as with a lighted candle, that all defects may be seen in the light of the law of God, His standard of character.” Manuscript Releases, Vol. 7, 179
“All defects of character originate in the heart.” The Review and Herald, September 1, 1885. Pride, vanity, evil temper, covetousness, they all proceed from the carnal heart of flesh, unrenewed by the grace of Christ. “Never should we lower the standard of righteousness in order to accommodate inherited or cultivated tendencies to wrong-doing.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 330. We have both inherited and cultivated tendencies to sin, but we are not to lower God’s standard to accommodate what we are. “We need to understand that imperfection of character is sin.” Ibid.
God allows temptations in our lives that we might see the defects and imperfections in our characters, that we might repent of and confess these sins—not only to be forgiven, but also to be cleansed from all unrighteousness.
“The purification of the people of God cannot be accomplished without their suffering.” Testimonies, Vol. 4, 85. It is impossible to be purified without going through this process. “God permits the fires of affliction to consume the dross, to separate the worthless from the valuable, that the pure metal may shine forth. He passes us from one fire to another.” Ibid. Has this been your experience—rejoicing as you walk out of one fire, only to walk into another one?
“God’s work of refining and purifying must go on until His servants are so humbled, so dead to self, that, when called into active service, their eye will be single to His glory. He will then accept their efforts; they will not move rashly, from impulse; they will not rush on and imperil the Lord’s cause, being slaves to temptations and passions and followers of their own carnal minds set on fire by Satan. Oh, how fearfully is the cause of God marred by man’s perverse will and unsubdued temper! How much suffering he brings upon himself by following his own headstrong passions! God brings men over the ground again and again.” Ibid., 86
When you are in trouble, God does not give up on you. He brings another test. It may be harder, the circumstances a bit different, but it is necessary that you successfully pass each test until your character has been purified and is ready for heaven. “God brings men over the ground again and again, increasing the pressure until perfect humility and a transformation of character bring them into harmony with Christ and the spirit of heaven, and they are victors over themselves.” Ibid.
Let’s review the purposes of temptation:
- to reveal the hidden things in my own heart that I did not see before;
- to reveal the weak points in my character;
- so that the dross of selfishness can be separated from the true gold and silver of Christian character;
- that I might be purified;
- that I might reflect the radiance of divine love and be filled with all the fullness of God.
When these purposes are accomplished, then we are ready for the marriage supper. “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready. And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteousness of the saints.” Revelation 19:7, 8
The second coming of Christ is drawing nearer every day. God’s church must be pure and perfect so that she can make a full and final display of God’s grace, mercy, and love. But can I make a full and final display of these things if they are not a part of my character? It is impossible.
God’s last day church, every member, must have a character that displays His grace, mercy, and love in order that she might be pure and perfect in these last days.
The Role of Desire in Temptation
“Every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lusts and enticed. He is turned away from the course of virtue and real good by following his own inclinations.” Testimonies, Vol. 4, 623. The dictionary definition of inclinations is “a propensity or a disposition more favorable to one thing than to another.” Inclination has to do with desire, love, affection, regard for, and disposition of mind. By following our own inclinations, we find ourselves, too often, in trouble.
James says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” James 1:13–15. “Feeling the terrible power of temptation, the drawing of desire that leads to indulgence, many a man cries in despair, ‘I cannot resist evil.’ ” The Ministry of Healing, 174. She calls it the terrible power of temptation, the drawing of desire. “Tell him that he can, that he must resist.” Ibid.
Friend, if you want to go to heaven, whatever the temptation is, no matter how terrible it is, you can and you must resist, calling upon the Lord to help you. Desire is not only the power of temptation, it is the terrible power of temptation.
There is a particular desire that dwells within the heart of every man, woman, and child, and it plays a vital role in temptation. “It is because selfishness exists in our hearts that temptation has power over us.” Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, 118. Temptation has power over me because there is selfishness in my heart.
“Selfishness is the root of all evil.” Evangelism, 633
“Selfishness is sin.” The Signs of the Times, April 13, 1891
“Selfishness is the strongest and most general of human impulses, the struggle of the soul between sympathy and covetousness is an unequal contest; for while selfishness is the strongest passion, love and benevolence are too often the weakest, and as a rule the evil gains the victory.” The Review and Herald, December 7, 1886. Notice, Inspiration links selfishness with covetousness.
“The whole heart must be yielded to God, or the change can never be wrought in us by which we are to be restored to His likeness. By nature we are alienated from God. The Holy Spirit describes our condition in such words as these: ‘Dead in trespasses and sins;’ ‘the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint;’ ‘no soundness in it.’ We are held fast in the snare of Satan, ‘taken captive by him at his will.’ … God desires to heal us, to set us free. But since this requires an entire transformation, a renewing of our whole nature, we must yield ourselves wholly to Him.
“The warfare against self is the greatest battle that was ever fought. The yielding of self, surrendering all to the will of God, requires a struggle; but the soul must submit to God before it can be renewed in holiness.” Steps to Christ, 43. The terrible power of temptation is the drawing of our natural desires which come from the law of selfishness, the governing principle of Satan’s kingdom. Each and every one of us inherited that selfishness from Adam.
“We have hereditary tendencies to wrong. This is a part of self that no one need carry about. It is a weakness of humanity to pet selfishness, because it is a natural trait of character. But unless all selfishness is put away, unless self is crucified, we can never be holy as God is holy.” The Faith I Live By, 140
“All selfishness is covetousness, and is, therefore, idolatry.” The Review and Herald, May 23, 1907
If there is selfishness in my heart, I am breaking the second commandment in my heart. I’m living with sin within. The Spirit of Prophecy calls these selfish, sinful desires, hereditary tendencies to wrong, defects in my character. Selfishness causes defects in my character, and imperfection of character is sin. All selfishness is condemned by the law of God, and not one of Adam’s posterity has escaped this inheritance. Every single one of us is, by nature, selfish and it is here that Satan has his greatest success.
“Satan finds in human hearts some point where he can gain a foothold; some sinful desire is cherished, by means of which his temptations assert their power. But Christ declared of Himself, ‘The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me.’ ” Ibid., November 8, 1887
Jesus said to the religious rulers of His day, “You are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father you will do.” All the evil desires that Satan puts in our heart are sin. “Every tree in Satan’s garden hangs laden with the fruits of vanity, pride, self-importance, evil desire, extravagance—all poisoned fruit, but very gratifying to the carnal heart.” Ibid., December 9, 1884
“In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ presented before His disciples the far-reaching principles of the law of God. He taught His hearers that the law was transgressed by the thoughts before the evil desire was carried out.” Ibid., June 12, 1888
“Until the requirements of the holy law were applied as the rule of life, fallen man could not understand his own guilt, nor realize his condemned, lost condition. Jesus made application of the law directly to the soul, and laid under its jurisdiction the will and desires and works of man.” Manuscript Releases, Vol. 9, 235. Our desires are under the jurisdiction of the law of God. Any desire that is out of harmony with the law of God is sin.
The Bible describes sin this way: “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Genesis 6:5. Figuratively, an imagination is a conception, a purpose that is formed in the mind. Lust is the desire for something that is forbidden. When evil desires or lusts are conceived in the mind, sin is being cherished. When sinful desires are cherished, temptation asserts its power. The word cherish according to the dictionary means “to treat in a manner to encourage growth.” To cherish means to indulge and encourage in the mind. Growth in the Christian life has as much to do with what goes on in the mind as it does with the actions that are a result of our thoughts and desires.
So if the natural desires of man are continually evil, is man destined to commit sin until Jesus comes? Many theologians, including some Adventist theologians, believe that we will.
“We should preserve the strictest chastity in thought, and word, and deportment. Let us remember that God sets our secret sins in the light of His countenance. There are thoughts and feelings suggested and aroused by Satan that annoy even the best of men, but if they are not cherished, if they are repulsed as hateful, the soul is not contaminated with guilt, and no other is defiled by their influence. Oh, that we each might become a savor of life unto life to those around us!” The Review and Herald, March 27, 1888
This quotation makes it clear that while even the best Christian can be tempted, he or she can also resist temptation. Man does not have to sin. Temptation is not sin and therefore, when refusing to yield to temptation, a person, by the power and grace of God, does not sin.
The gospel tells how Jesus wants to deliver me from this evil world, but before He can deliver me from the devil on the outside, He must first deliver me from the devil on the inside. Jesus said, “ ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.’ ” Matthew 23:27. What we need is to be cleaned up on the inside and then the outside will be clean.
“Christ desires nothing so much as to redeem His heritage from the dominion of Satan. But before we are delivered from Satan’s power without, we must be delivered from his power within.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 174, 175
If there is any kind of sin in your life, the devil has power to overcome you on the inside. “The Lord permits trials in order that we may be cleansed from earthliness, from selfishness, from harsh, unchristlike traits of character. He suffers the deep waters of affliction to go over our souls in order that we may know Him and Jesus Christ whom He has sent, in order that we may have deep heart longings to be cleansed from defilement, and may come forth from the trial purer, holier, happier. Often we enter the furnace of trial with our souls darkened with selfishness; but if patient under the crucial test, we shall come forth reflecting the divine character. When His purpose in the affliction is accomplished, ‘He shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday.’ ” Ibid., 175
To summarize the role of desire in temptation:
Every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lusts and enticed.
- Naturally-selfish desires are the defects in our characters that readily respond to Satan’s lying promises and deceitful arguments.
- God does not tempt any man, but He permits us to be tempted so that we may know what is in our heart so that we might have a deep heart-longing to be cleansed from the defilement of sin.
“No one can be omnipotent, but all can cleanse themselves from filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord. God requires every soul to be pure and holy.” The Faith I Live By, 140. No exceptions.
“By looking constantly to Jesus with the eye of faith, we shall be strengthened. God will make the most precious revelations to His hungering, thirsting people. They will find that Christ is a personal Saviour. As they feed upon His word, they find that it is spirit and life. The word destroys the natural, earthly nature, and imparts a new life in Christ Jesus. The Holy Spirit comes to the soul as a Comforter. By the transforming agency of His grace, the image of God is reproduced in the disciple; he becomes a new creature. Love takes the place of hatred, and the heart receives the divine similitude. This is what it means to live ‘by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.’ This is eating the Bread that comes down from heaven.” The Desire of Ages, 391
“As we partake of the divine nature, hereditary and cultivated tendencies to wrong are cut away from the character, and we are made a living power for good.” The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 7, 943
When we yield our will fully to God, our hereditary tendencies to wrong, our sinful desires are cut away and they are replaced by holy desires. “Some seek to control their surroundings, thinking that if they are placed in favorable positions, the bad traits in their character will not be developed. But God orders our surroundings, and He will place us where we shall have test after test, to prove us and to reveal what is in our hearts. Again and again we shall be brought into strait places, that it may be known whether we are indeed crucified with Christ or full of self-love. How will this proving, testing process end with each of us?” The Review and Herald, June 3, 1884
“Let no one say, I cannot remedy my defects of character. If you come to this decision, you will certainly fail of obtaining everlasting life. The impossibility lies in your own will. If you will not, then you cannot overcome.” Messages to Young People, 99
“Your only safety is to live like a watchman. Watch and pray always. Oh, what a preventive against yielding to temptation and falling into the snares of the world! …
“Watch, lest evil passions should overcome you, instead of your subduing them.
“Pray. Jesus would not have enjoined this upon you, unless there was actual necessity for it. It is well known to Him that of yourself you cannot overcome the many temptations of the enemy … . He has not left you alone to do this; but has provided a way that you can obtain help.” The Faith I Live By, 224
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.