How to Beat the Devil: Try… Trust… Know! (Romans 8:31-39)

Sermon for the 1st Sunday of Lent (2/22/15)

Text: Romans 8:31-39

Theme: How to Beat the Devil:

Try… Trust… Know!

I don’t know if I could do it… I don’t know if I have it in me…

You see, my wife says I get “hangry.” If you feed me, I’ll work like the Energizer bunny, all day, every day. If you don’t feed me and expect me to work, I sometimes stop being the person I should be. Sometimes hunger leads to anger = hanger. I don’t always deal well with hunger, so 40 days (like Jesus in the desert) with nothing to eat at all, and the devil tempting me on top of that… if my track record gives any indication, after those 40 days the devil would say “jump,” and I’d say “how high?”

I don’t know if I could do it… I don’t know if I have it in me…

You see, one of the things I thank God for most is being a dad. I’ve always wanted to have kids of my own, and now that I have them it is even better than I could have possible imagined.

What I still can’t quite imagine is what it must have felt like to walk up that mountain. I can’t quite imagine what it must have felt like to have my curious son ask the obvious question, “The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”  I can’t quite imagine what Abraham must have been thinking and feeling as he tied his son up, put him on the altar, and looked down at the knife in his hand, knowing what he had to do next.

I don’t know how I would react, but I have to be honest… if my previous success rate with trials and temptations is any indicator, my chances of passing that test are not all that promising…

I don’t know if I could do it… I don’t know if I have it in me…

We are at war, friends. The Bible makes clear that public enemy #1 is the devil. The spoils of this war/what’s at stake is your heart. Ever since Genesis chapter 3, that slimy serpent has been there tempting and testing God’s people every step along the way. And God allows this because he didn’t create us to be robots. He created us to love and serve him of our own accord, and part of loving and serving him means hating what he hates and fighting what he fights– the devil. God allows us to be tempted and tested to give us opportunities to serve him, to show him how much we love him.

We are at war. Every day God calls us to get up and do battle against the devil – to try with everything we are and everything we have to beat the devil.

And I have to confess to you: I’m not doing very well…

Every day I wake up and I’m called to go to battle against the devil – to try and win, to resist his temptations, to pass the tests. And every day I fail.

He presents a test – an opportunity to show love to my wife or show love to myself… and I fail.

He throws in a temptation: $500,000,000 lottery, wouldn’t it be nice if I never had to worry about money again? I’d by a new car, a bigger tv, a new wardrobe. Man I wish I had more… and I fail.

Another test pops up: You think you had a lot to do today? You think your plate is full now? Just wait till you see the curve balls I have planned for you! Let’s just see if you remember your daily devotion when you get real busy. Let’s just see if you remember to let God stress about the future while you remain worry free when you see what I have in store… and I fail.

I do ok… some of the time.

There are times and days when the devil tries to trick me into selfishness, when he wants me to get lazy in my devotion, or discontented, and I tell him to hit the road.

I certainly do a lot better than some of the other people I’ve met. I mean at least I am trying. There are so many people out there who don’t even care!…

But you know what I’m gonna say next.

God has not called us to “so-so” love and service or “better than the next guy” love and service. He wants a perfectionist’s attitude when it comes to trials and temptations. And what’s that oft-quoted Bible passage from Isaiah?… All our righteous acts are like filthy rags…

Even when we try our best, by itself, our best isn’t good enough. Even our best acts are still tainted with sin. Too often we proudly fight the devil with one hand and invite him to stoke the fires of pride and arrogance in our hearts with the other. We try to beat the devil, but even on our best days it seems as if he wins the war of temptation more often than he loses.

God has called us to fight the devil perfectly. He has called us to resist his temptations, to pass the tests with flying colors, to try with everything we have and everything we are. But we fail. And that would be a massive problem, if not for one thing. The devil would be dancing with glee right now as the victor in this battle, if not for one thing…

God doesn’t allow the devil to tempt and test us simply so that we can serve and love him. He has another reason – one that is equally, if not more important than just loving and serving. He does it to force us to trust him.

Leading up to verse 31 in Romans Paul has been making the point that often in this world it seems as if everything is working against us. Everything has been corrupted by sin – so everything frustrates us. Everything has been made into a tool the devil can use in his war against us – so everything is dangerous to us. He’s made clear that following Jesus is going to mean suffering like Jesus did – being tempted like he was in the desert.

But then he says, “What, then, shall we say in response to these things (these sufferings, temptations, trials)? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

On our own, we don’t stand a chance against the devil. He comes into our lives wielding his power and his lies and he wins – all too often he wins! I don’t know how I would react if God told me to sacrifice my own son like Abraham. I don’t know how I would react if I didn’t eat for 40 days and was tempted face to face by the devil because my life has proven to me that by myself I don’t stand a chance – and that would be a big problem if not for what Paul says here. On our own we don’t stand a chance, but we are never on our own! From the moment God called us to faith and called us to try against the devil, we never have been alone, and we never will be alone.

Paul continues, “Who will bring a charge against those whom God has chosen? Who is the one who condemns?” The simple outcome should be this: the devil tempts us – we fail – the devil presents his evidence before God – God condemns us to hell, because that’s the consequence for sin. And the devil tries. He gets you trip headlong into sin, he wins so many of his daily battles with you, and he would love to drag all those sins before God on Judgment Day and rub it in your face and God’s face that he won.

The devil tires, but he can’t… not any more… not against those whom God has justified (declared not guilty). Paul goes so far as to say “no one” can condemn you, not even God himself, because, “Christ Jesus who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is interceding for us.”

God sits in his courtroom and asks the question about you: why should I love this person anymore? Why should I let this person into heaven?

Jesus, standing right next to God the Father, holds out his hands and displays the holes that are still there. He pulls he cloak aside and shows the gash in his side. This is why God still loves us – Jesus did what we couldn’t and can’t do on our own, he beat the devil, once for all. Paul ends Romans chapter 8 the same way he started it: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!”

And the next part is where it really hits home for us – this is a section of the Bible you all should memorize. It’s, hands down, my favorite section of the entire Bible. It’s the section I chose at my confirmation to be the passage that would guide me in life. It means everything for people like us who try and fail every day:

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Every day the devil attacks with his trials and temptations – God allows us to be tested so that when we try and fail we will be driven to trust (the only option we have left). We are called to hear the words of Paul in Romans and be just as convinced as he was – to know –  that nothing, nothing, will stop God from loving you – the devil will continue to fight with every ounce of strength he has left but we trust and we know a truth that the devil cannot deny – he has already lost. We’ve already won because of Jesus.

So, tomorrow morning you are going to wake up, the devil is going to be there. What are you going to do?

You are going to try with everything you have and everything you are. And when you fall short of the perfection you are striving for you are going to trust. You are going to trust that even though the devil is great, even though his temptations are practiced, and his trials impressive, your Jesus is greater, and wherever you fall short in your battle against the devil he has done more than enough to make up for it . And you are going to know that come what may, no matter how many trials and temptations come your way, nothing can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Amen.

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