In scanning the headlines, it’s amazing how many of them chronicle the fall of those who have given themselves over into one temptation after another.
We are all sinners. We all need the salvation Christ has provided for sinners through His atoning death. But when He enters a life and forgives the sinner who believes, Jesus puts His Holy Spirit in that person and gives them the power not realized before to resist temptation.
Throughout the centuries, the bells of Christendom have pealed a tune that actually reminds the knowledgeable hearer of our need for God’s help to overcome temptation that very hour.
This tune I refer to is called “the Westminster chimes,” as in Westminster Abbey. This tune is heard in churches and college campuses across America—and if you own a grandfather clock, or any kind of chiming clock, you too are very familiar with this 16-note melody that plays at the beginning of every hour.
The words to the hourly tune go like this: “Lord, in this hour, be thou our guide, that by thy power / no foot shall slide.” A foot sliding was an old-fashioned way of referring to falling into sin.
We can learn about dealing with temptation through the Biblical account of Cain and Abel, especially in the dialogue between God and Cain. By way of review, Cain and Abel were the first born sons of Adam and Eve after our first parents were expelled from paradise because of their sin.
Cain was a farmer. Abel was a shepherd. They both made offerings of their harvest to God, but the Lord accepted Abel’s and not Cain’s. This made Cain sullen and angry at his brother. He kills Abel, and when God confronts him about it, he replies—as if he could hide from God—“Am I my brother’s keeper?”
But before Cain does his evil act, God reaches out to him to offer him a way of escape from himself: “So the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it” (Genesis 4:6-7).
In John Steinbeck’s book, East of Eden, there are four elderly Chinese men who study the first sixteen verses of Genesis 4 over a period of two years. Initially, they think that God’s command to Cain was that he shalt or that he must master sin. But they learn from the original Hebrew that it could be better translated as “thou mayest” (implying choice).
Steinbeck goes on to say that it is this choice that makes a man a man (rather than a beast). He is pointing out that God has given man the possibility of triumphing over sin. We are not puppets who are predetermined to do evil.
The founders of America gave us limited government, which requires people to act in self-controlled manners, not giving in constantly to temptation.
After the founding fathers wrote the Constitution in Philadelphia, a woman asked Ben Franklin what kind of government they had given to us. He famously replied, “A republic, madam, if you can keep it.” One of the ways we keep it is through greater self-control.
Dr. Os Guinness was a guest in our Providence Forum series of films on America’s Judeo-Christian heritage. It’s called “The Foundation of American Liberty.”
In the episode on the Declaration of Independence, “Endowed by Their Creator,” Guinness, the eminent Christian writer and thinker, tells our audience: “The key question for the founders [was]: how do you sustain faith? Faith of any sort requires freedom. Now, rather like the recycling triangle, it goes round and round ad infinitum. Freedom requires virtue, virtue requires faith, faith requires freedom, which requires virtue, and so on.”
Guinness added, “Now, the trouble is, the word virtue today has become sort of goody-goody. But for the framers, virtue, obviously, [comes] from the classic understanding, that all ethics has to be rooted in courage…[V]irtue included honesty, loyalty, patriotism, and above all, character, who you are when no one sees.”
The late Dr. Walter Williams told our viewers, “Our Constitution and our government was made for a moral people, people who love liberty. And the reason why is that initially we had very, very few laws, because people’s behavior was governed by customs and tradition and religious values. Today, we’re moving away from that…we’re seeing more and more laws being written to control human behavior, as opposed to personal values.”
Self-rule under God is the essence of the American experiment. To succeed it requires that citizens must, of course, with God’s help, rule ourselves first.
Dr. Jerry Newcombe is the executive director of Providence Forum, a division of D. James Kennedy Ministries, where Jerry also serves as senior producer and an on-air contributor. He has written/co-written 33 books, including (with D. James Kennedy), What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? and (with Dr. Peter Lillback), George Washington’s Sacred Fire.