You and I live in a society where instant gratification is not only desired, but also demanded. We want what we want when we want it. And with constant advances in technology, in lots of cases those desires of the moment can be instantly fulfilled. Want news? There are plenty of apps for that. Something to eat? Just hit up a quick-service restaurant. Need to do some online shopping? You’ll be glad to hear that Amazon is actively working toward offering 30-minute package deliveries via an army of drones. If we step back and consider how technology has shaped the world we live in today, it’s pretty remarkable.
But within this lifestyle of instant gratification, there’s an important question to consider. What happens when our desires aren’t for news, or lunch, or a package from Amazon, but are instead for something sinful? As those who have been trained to expect the instant gratification of our desires, what happens when we desire to sin?
When we desire something sinful, we are being tempted. Temptation is all about desire, it’s all about want. And if we’re being tempted to sin, our desires are being pitted against God’s desires for us, and His commands to us.
But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. – James 1:14-15
How can we guard ourselves against being “lured and enticed” by our desires, which leads to sin, which leads to death? How can we fight against temptation before it overtakes us?
We know that Jesus was tempted during His time on earth in every way that we are tempted, yet He never sinned.1 He is the master of fighting temptation, so we have much to learn from Him. One battle strategy we can learn is found in Hebrews 12…
Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:1-2
These verses call us to look to Jesus, then they tell us how He kept Himself from sin in the face of what was surely a time of temptation.
We know that the prospect of enduring the cross, of enduring His Father’s full wrath for elect sinners, was something Jesus struggled with. He was fully committed to do the Father’s will, yes, but He also sweat drops of blood in Gethsemane as the time of His death drew near. He told His disciples, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death,” then He prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.”2 He was surely tempted to run away from the pain that would soon come, to bypass the cross and the unthinkable suffering it would contain for Him. Yet He chose not to give into temptation. How?
Jesus did something very significant when it came time for Him to endure the cross. He looked ahead to the future, to “the joy that was set before him.”
If Jesus had satisfied His human desires in the moment, if He had been bent on instant gratification, He would never have went to Calvary. He probably would have just ascended to Heaven right then, back to a place of comfort and glory. But He resisted temptation and submitted Himself to the Father’s will by looking to what was set before Him, what was ahead for Him: joy. The joy of pleasing His Father, the joy of rescuing His Bride, the Church, the joy of God and man spending eternity in endless bliss.
God has granted His children a future full of eternal joy. Jesus won that for us. Yes we have a powerful joy now, here in the midst of suffering, and that should not be ignored. But our joy here and now is influenced and fueled by our joy in what lies ahead: eternal life with our Maker, the one who loves us with all His heart.
The allure of sin begins to fade when you fix your eyes on what lies ahead. Sin is fleeting pleasure, quickly lost. It is a mist, a vapor, something you can’t get a proper grip on. The momentary high of sin is nothing compared to the unshakeable, incomparable joy of knowing and loving the King of Kings for all eternity and being partakers of His riches.
If we are to succeed in fighting temptations to sin, we must follow Christ’s example and look to the joy that is set before us. Let’s gaze into the future, and by faith believe that what lies ahead is far more valuable, more desirable than the fools gold of sin that leads to death.