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Christian Union
January 14, 2019
Geoff Sackett
Christian Union Ministry Director
Cornell University

Temptation to sin (and actually sinning) is, unfortunately, an abiding aspect of the Christian life. How do we get better at resisting?

Genuine change comes about by the Lord’s doing. If we want to be people who relish (not perfectly, but genuinely) righteousness over sin, Christ over counterfeits, our wills need to be changed. How does God do that? Well, He sometimes does it directly, working directly on our minds and hearts to bring them into conformity with Christ. And sometimes He does it indirectly, working through means to bring about the desired change in us. Since we really can’t do anything to spur God to work on us directly (after all, He’s motivated by his own sheer grace because he loves us), let’s consider God’s indirect work which does require our participation (which is also by God’s sheer grace, grace which stimulates us to faith and participation).

God can use virtually anything in all of his good creation to change us. Glancing at the starry night sky can invoke in us a sense of awe toward the Lord. Experiencing the birth of a child can create within us a heart of thanksgiving to our heavenly Father. But two means are particularly central to the believer’s growth in Christ: the Word and Communion (known also as the Lord’s Supper and Eucharist). Before we consider those means, we need to make something clear.

The reason why God uses His Word and Communion to change us is because both point to the finished work of Christ. Jesus Christ’s once-and-for-all perfect life, substitutionary death, and life-exulting resurrection constitute the basis of our salvation and our ongoing growth in godliness. The Holy Spirit’s work in uniting us to Jesus Christ and applying his work to us constitute the means by which we participate in Christ’s life. God’s Word and Communion only work as means because they rest upon Christ’s finished work and the Spirit’s ongoing work. Now, a few words about the Word and Communion.

The Word is more than a storehouse of information. It is a proclamation of the good news that Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord. He has accomplished salvation! From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible holds forth Jesus as our salvation, our sanctification, and our glorification (I Corinthians 1:30). So, practically speaking, we should attend to the Word as that which centrally and foundationally holds forth the person and work of Jesus Christ as our salvation. Whether we’re listening to the Word preached or reading it on our own or in a group, we should look for and receive the person and work of Christ revealed in its pages. Look for the Christ who was anticipated in the Old Testament (Luke 24:27), revealed in the Gospels, and proclaimed in the rest of the New Testament. From beginning to end, the Bible is about Jesus Christ, his person and work. Receive him and his work as you encounter him through the written Word.

Communion communicates the same thing as the Word. Central to both Scripture and Communion is the gospel: Jesus Christ, Savior of sinners, restores us to loving fellowship with God through the gift of his righteousness to us by faith.
temptation communionCommunion does this by focusing on the finality of Christ’s sacrificial death which effects salvation for the people of God. So in Communion, as with the Word, receive the Lord Jesus’ person and work as yours by faith. With respect to both the Word and Communion, taste and see the goodness of the Lord who gives you everything necessary for salvation in Jesus Christ by the power of the Spirit. It’s there that the Lord is pleased to strengthen us in Christ, to be people who relish Christ over counterfeits, love over lust, righteousness over cowardice, compassion over spite, self-giving over self-aggrandizement. Believers should never tire of hearing and receiving in faith the good news of Jesus Christ.

So, how do we grow in resisting temptation? One way we haven’t mentioned is simply avoiding especially tempting situations. Strength usually accrues when we’re not around known temptations! But the more profound way is by regularly receiving Christ’s person and work by faith. When we by faith take in Christ, the “one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15), the Lord is pleased to conform us into his very image (Romans 8:29). Just as God gets all the glory in our justification, adoption and glorification, so He gets all the glory in our sanctification, too, since he is behind it from beginning to end, “from one degree of glory to another” (II Corinthians 3:18). And when we do fail, which we will, our only recourse is to turn in faith repentantly to the God of the gospel, our heavenly Father, who with great love receives us, his children, on account of his Son’s completed work.

Sometimes our growth in godliness is imperceptible, sometimes it is obvious. Our growth sometimes comes at great personal expense, sometimes it comes with what seems to be little effort on our part. But in every case, God is at work. And he will complete that work because he has promised to:
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (II Corinthians 4:16-18).

geoff sackettGeoff Sackett is the Christian Union director of ministry at Cornell University. After working in federal public policy and media relations for the US Congress and the American Electronics Association in Washington, DC, for six years, Geoff followed a call to Christian ministry. He served as the dean of students and lecturer in theology and philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary. Geoff has spent the past 15 years on the Washington, DC, campus of Reformed Theological Seminary. Geoff graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with a masters of art. He went on to study systematic theology, ethics, and philosophical theology as a PhD student at the Catholic University of America.

Geoff enjoys studying and discussing Christian discipleship, theology, and philosophy. He also enjoys running, biking, and competing in triathlons. He, his wife, Heather, and their four young children enjoy exploring, playing, and laughing.
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