One morning as I was taking a shower this text came across my mind: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” I didn’t give it much thought until a few days later…
There I was sitting in the bath tub at a spiritual crossroad. I felt as if all of hell was pulling at my soul. Tempting me, sifting me…sifting me…wait, was God communicating something to me a few days ago. I had no idea. Everything was cloudy.
Here I was a youth pastor. I am supposed to be leading teenagers. I was preaching about the glory of God and having satisfaction in Christ alone. Yet inwardly, I was so screwed up. I had thoughts that a believer should never have. I had doubts that ravaged my soul. And with that came dejection, depression, and deep feelings of condemnation. I wanted to hide but knew there was no place to run. There I was alone, cowering in the bath tub.
This time in my life was perhaps the most intense period of temptation that I have faced. I felt as if I were seconds away from turning my back on Christ and running in the other direction forever. I’d have to quit as a youth pastor. My marriage would be altered forever. My relationships with others rocked. I’m not sure if it was good or not but I kept going through the motions trying to hang on to what little faith I seemed to have left.
Then the lights came on. Suddenly I felt as if the sifting had subsided and I was able to see the beauty and sufficiency of Jesus. Actually its not as if I had somehow returned to normal. Actually, through this experience I was utterly transformed. The gospel became so much sweeter. I was slowly being stripped of every vestige of self-righteousness, and I saw Christ as the only home for my tattered and tempted soul.
I would love to tell you that I have never had a doubt sense that moment. I would love to tell you that temptation was not still sometimes really strong. I still have really dark moments. I used to think that I was a total nutjob and a poor excuse for a Christian minister. But now I think I experience the normal Christian life. And I also heed the part of that text that I didn’t remember in the shower that day, “and when you have turned again strengthen your brothers”. I’m not alone in my fight and that is comforting.
I’m Not Alone
It was with great excitement that I read through Russell Moore’s book Tempted and Tried. Dr. Moore is one of those revered Christian men that walks through the halls of Southern Seminary every day. He’s a guy that many of us younger guys look up to. It was encouraging to know that this man of God struggles with some of the same crazy “disqualifying” temptations that I struggle with.
Moore is refreshingly honest with his temptations in this book. From the beginning, with his story of paying a little too much attention to the woman behind the counter, the reader is reminded of the subtlety of temptation. And it is this very subtlety that leads us unaware to the slaughterhouse.
As refreshing as it is to know that Dr. Moore struggles with temptation it is even more refreshing and encouraging to see how Jesus Christ dealt with temptation. Central to this book is the belief that Jesus was tempted in every way as we are and yet he did not surrender to that temptation. He was tempted, tried, and he ultimately triumphed. And it is only through Him that us broken sinners will find redemption from not only the pull of sin but also forgiveness in the battles that we have lost.
The book is 200 pages long but only seven chapters. The first two chapters serve as a wake up call. In these chapters Moore expounds why temptation matters as well as attempts to convince us that through the subtlety of sin “you are on the verge of wrecking your life” (58). He can say this because we are all tempted, and we are all tempted in a number of ways. As he further remarks, “The issue isn’t whether you’re tempted, but whether you’re aware of it and striking back” (59).
In the third chapter Moore looks at the first temptation of Christ: the temptation to get need met outside the Father. Here Moore tackles the consumerist temptation that faces American Christianity. He doesn’t pull any punches, consider this quote:
Why do we speak endlessly about marital communication and “love languages” but never address the question of whether institutionalized day care is good for children or for their parents? It’s because pastors know that couples would reply they could never afford to live on the provision of the husband alone. And they’re almost always right—if living means living in the neighborhoods in which they now live with the technologies they now have. Why do we never ask whether it might be better to live in a one-bedroom apartment or a trailer park than to outsource the rearing of one’s children? It’s because the American way of life seems so normal to us that such things do not even seem to be options at all. (89, emphasis mine)
Moore moves on to the next temptation: finding certainty and identity outside of the Father. Few wonder how the temptation to jump off a tower could relate to anything that we would struggle with in our day. But Moore hones in on the core of this temptation, and it is one that we all face. We all want to be secure. We all want to be right. Christ is being tempted to prove to himself and Satan his identity as the Messiah. But he is being tempted to do it apart from faith. And that is where we too falter.
The fifth chapter is given to expounding the final temptation of Christ: the exchange of the end-time exaltation by our Father for the right now exaltation of a snake (131). I have quoted this section at length before, so I will point you there to save some length to this review. But it is worth noting that Moore’s exposition of this temptation is wonderfully helpful. He not only tackles political Christianity but he also tackles the rising apolitical Christianity of our day. It is a very helpful critique.
The book closes with practical suggestions and a helpful theology of overcoming sin in the midst of temptation. The final chapter is only a couple pages long but here Dr. Moore closes with his ultimate aim for the book:
That’s really what this book is about. I want you to see how imperiled you are. I want you to see how fought for you are. And I want you to be prompted to drop the book and pray to the only One who knows how to “destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). And I want to remember to do that too. (196)
I absolutely love Crossway. They have put out a myriad of excellent books. I had heard from someone that had read this that it was one of the best books ever published by Crossway. I thought that a pretty lofty statement. But after reading this book I lean towards agreeing with them. The writing is phenomenal. The chapters are lengthy but reading them is never laborious. In fact I will probably try to read through this book again soon.
This book is very helpful and life reorienting. It was helpful for a struggler like me to know that I’m not a total nut-job because I sometimes experience dark temptations. In fact this strugglers faith was greatly strengthened. I know that I’m being sifted quite frequently. But I also know that Christ is standing with me through temptation—and he is doing so as one that has already been tempted, tried, and is ultimately triumphant. My hope rests on nothing but Jesus Christ and in Him I am totally secure.
I received this book free from Crossway in exchange for a review. Don’t tell them this but I would have bought the copy myself had they not sent it. I would strongly encourage you to buy this book as well. You can get the e-book for only 7.99. Or if you prefer the hard copy you can buy it for only 10.19.