Memorize the Promises of Sin
Fighting Three Great Temptations
Nothing will help us fight temptation like intimacy with the promises of God. To overcome the seductive force of sin’s deceit, we need to know the sweeter, stronger, and surer voice of our Father in heaven. One way he trains his children to escape the entanglement of sin, however, is to study the awful and intoxicating voice of our enemy. He wants us to know our enemy’s schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11), and recognize temptation wherever we find it.
When the sage of Proverbs imparts wisdom to his son, he begins with a warning: “My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent” (Proverbs 1:10). One mark of godly maturity and wisdom is a heightened awareness of, and vigilance against, temptation. But how will the boy know when he’s being enticed?
“Satan seeds the disturbing idea that we deserve so much more than we have.”
What would you say to your own son? How would you prepare him to recognize and reject temptation when it inevitably comes? Sin preys with subtlety and ambiguity, even when the sin itself is not subtle or ambiguous. The wise father wants his vulnerable son to be able to discern enticement in all its disguises, so he goes on to rehearse several of the promises of sin:
If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood;
let us ambush the innocent without reason;
like Sheol let us swallow them alive,
and whole, like those who go down to the pit;
we shall find all precious goods,
we shall fill our houses with plunder;
throw in your lot among us;
we will all have one purse . . .” (Proverbs 1:11–14)
Do you hear the enticement — the seductive power of this kind of corruption? Do you recognize the deception — how each honeyed promise hangs on some lie? Ask yourself what makes these evils appealing to the human heart, to a heart like yours. God, in his word, teaches us to meditate on the promises of sin, so that we are not fooled, allured, and destroyed by them.
“You are the lord of your life.”
The first temptation may be the hardest for many of us to relate to: “Let us lie in wait for blood; let us ambush the innocent without reason; like Sheol let us swallow them alive, and whole, like those who go down to the pit” (Proverbs 1:11–12). Who secretly wants to ambush and murder anyone, much less the innocent? How would such a violent and vile thought ever entice someone?
When King David writes about the wicked, he provides a key for understanding this kind of temptation:
In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him;
all his thoughts are, “There is no God.” . . .
He says in his heart, “I shall not be moved;
throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity.” . . .
He sits in ambush in the villages;
in hiding places he murders the innocent. (Psalm 10:4, 6, 8).
Pride has the power to make even murder intoxicating. Only a heart who says, “There is no God,” can plot, and hide, and wait to harm the harmless. Do you hear the exhilaration in his monstrous voice? “I shall not be moved.” I can kill an innocent person for no reason, and still not be punished. Nothing will happen to me. There is no God — no god but me. The height of wickedness is believing God will not have his vengeance against our sin, that he will not judge our every thought, word, and action with perfect justice.
As I began to see how violent pride can be, I thought of a mystifying headline I read about a horrible viral video of a gang attacking an innocent, unsuspecting stranger. Why would anyone ever do that? I thought. “There is no God. . . . I shall not be moved.” The wicked relish doing the worst they can imagine to prove no one can punish them. They even recorded the crime, and then posted it for all to see, including the police. Pride desperately tries to prove itself.
“The height of wickedness is believing God will not have his vengeance against our sin.”
Worse, even still, we are all grossly acquainted with the murder of innocents in our day, at least in America — millions of innocents. Abortion persists because of the prideful illusion of anonymity. Planned Parenthood (and others) survives on this gospel: No one will know, and there are no consequences. “You are the god of your body” — not the God who composed the masterpiece playing in your womb (Psalm 139:13). Pro-choice preachers may not recite the words of Proverbs 1:11–12, but the merciless insanity is written across every pretty pink ad and billboard: “There is no God.”
But there is a God. He sees every speck of our evil, and we will all meet him. On that day, he will call every ounce of wickedness to account until he finds none (Psalm 10:15). Solomon highlights the irony in the wickeds’ cruelty: “These men lie in wait for their own blood; they set an ambush for their own lives” (Proverbs 1:18). When sinners lure us, saying, “You are the only lord of your life,” they are enticing us into an ambush of our own making. Our pride whispers us toward self-destruction.
Do you see this impulse in your own heart — to pretend that God does not see your secret sins, or that he will not really do anything about them? How quickly have we murdered in our hearts (Matthew 5:21–22), telling ourselves that no one knows the anger we’ve nurtured? How often have we draped the flag of grace over our shoulders while we plunged back into lust, or greed, or selfishness, assuming God must forgive us? If God must forgive us no matter what we do, then we believe we are god. Perhaps the horror in this temptation is not so foreign after all.
When Satan whispers otherwise, remember that God will account for each and every sin we have committed, either in the blood of his precious Son or in unrelenting waves of wrath. He will not be mocked (Galatians 6:7), and the cross will not be prostituted. If God has forgiven our pride, it will and must die.
“I can give you more than God.”
Having fueled and inflamed our pride, temptation turns in the next verse to our desires, where greed and covetousness often disguise themselves. “We shall find all precious goods,” the wicked say, “we shall fill our houses with plunder” (Proverbs 1:13). The allure here is more obvious: We can satisfy all your secret desires for more. The chorus is as old as it is familiar. As Satan slid up to Eve in the garden, he held out the precious good God had forbidden: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1).
This is one of sin’s favorite promises: I can give you more than God. How many of our besetting sins are rooted in the twin beliefs that we’re entitled to more than God has given, and that God alone cannot satisfy our souls? Satan seeds the disturbing idea that we deserve so much more than we have. That God will hold back his best from us. That holiness and purity are safe paths to boredom and regret. Our flesh desperately chases that sinful fantasy, but we will lose everything in our search for more than God.
The wise man warns later in Proverbs 1, “Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain; it takes away the life of its possessors” (Proverbs 1:19). Greed steals even more than it promises. Instead of satisfying the restless hunger in our hearts, it cuts off all the oxygen. Just like pride, when the wicked give in to greed, they set a deadly trap for themselves:
The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Timothy 6:10)
While they lie in bed, with their eyes closed, imagining themselves indulging in the next comfort or luxury, they stab themselves over and over and over again.
“God teaches us to meditate on the promises of sin, so that we are not fooled, allured, and destroyed by them.”
As I write, another billionaire is in the news for this wicked, insatiable search for more. Unsatisfied with enormous success, wealth, and fame, he preyed on dozens of young girls. And when the United States Attorney agreed to a horrifically soft plea deal in 2008 (the attorney has since been forced to resign over the case), the billionaire thought he had gotten away with his evil — “There is no God. I shall not be moved.” He did not stop plundering the innocent then, and so he’s back in court for charges of sex trafficking. Enticed by sin, there was no price too high — even his soul. The only consolation is knowing that God, unlike human justice systems, can and will punish every evil committed. The billionaire will realize then that the price for abusing those girls — for ignoring God to steal sinful gain — was far higher than he ever imagined.
The secret to discontentment — in plenty or in hunger, with billions of dollars or without — is to place our hope and joy in something or someone other than God. To believe that precious good lies anywhere outside the beauty of God’s commands. For followers of Christ, death, not sin, is gain (Philippians 1:21). Because in his presence is fullness of joy, and at his right hand are pleasures — real, intense, unrivaled pleasures — forevermore (Psalm 16:11).
“You never have to feel left out or alone.”
One of the easiest phrases to overlook in the father’s warning is also one of the most revealing. “If they say, ‘Come with us . . .’” (Proverbs 1:11). Loneliness quietly terrifies many of us. And the plague is spreading in America, not only among Baby Boomers, but across younger generations too. Satan spreads the plague in a thousand ways, separating the weak from the rest of the pack, and then feasting on our fear and self-pity.
The wolves in Proverbs 1 circle back to this vulnerability in us: “Throw in your lot among us; we will all have one purse” (Proverbs 1:14). The lie should be so obvious — why would we entrust ourselves to the ones murdering the innocent to satisfy themselves? — and yet the promise is undeniably enticing: You never have to feel left out or alone again.
It’s not simply the appeal of community, but of community without judgment or boundaries. We can hear them whispering, “We won’t judge or reject you. We won’t confront you over sin; we’ll sin with you!” Their “friendship” makes sin feel so safe (we’re hidden and protected by one another), satisfying (everyone else is doing it and loving it), and even sentimental (we’re enjoying this together). Sin’s promises weave a stronger and stronger fabric of lies that become harder and harder to discern.
We need not avoid our fear of loneliness, because God told us we were not made to be alone (Genesis 2:18). In fact, to the degree we try to deny our need for others, the words become even more enticing: “Come with us.” No, we need to know our need well, and recognize the counterfeit community sin offers — the kind that falls apart when trials come.
“Sin’s promises weave a stronger and stronger fabric of lies that become harder and harder to discern.”
Everyone who follows Christ will feel left out and alone at times in this life. If others shared the gospel with you and failed to ever mention that, they did not prepare you well to walk with Jesus. Jesus says, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Matthew 10:22). We will not only be ignored, neglected, and left out; we will be hated — not by some, but by all. Again, he says, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19). Being chosen by God means being rejected by man. Even Jesus’s promises remind us we will feel snubbed and shunned: “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!” (Luke 6:22).
So, we should expect to feel left out and alone — even by our families (Mark 10:29). But not ultimately alone. Jesus also says, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Even when we feel the most alone, we are not alone if we are in Christ. And along with him, we are adopted into a deeper, wider, and forever family. Christ says, “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29).
Expose the Promises of Sin
As part of your war against sin, meditate on its false promises. Don’t live there, but don’t let them catch you by surprise, either. We can confront the enticing lies head-on, without insecurity or trepidation, because we have far better promises — and because we have a Savior who has already fought and won the war against temptation.
When sin says to our starving desires, “I can give you more than God,” we can say with Christ, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4). When sin says to our lonely hearts, “I will keep you safe, and you never have to feel left out or alone,” we can say with Christ, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Matthew 4:7). When sin says to our pride, “You are the lord of your life,” we can say with Christ, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’” (Matthew 4:10).
Having memorized the promises of sin, we conquer them with the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17), which is the word of our God.