*A Perplexing Question
Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.
James 1:14 NIV
Many who are sincere of heart have been frequently perplexed by the questions “Does sin precede or follow the loss of faith? Does a child of God first commit sin, and thereby lose his faith? Or does he lose his faith first, before he can commit sin?”
I answer: Some sin of omission, at least, must necessarily precede the loss of faith—some inward sin. But the loss of faith must precede the committing outward sin.
The more any believer examines his own heart, the more he will be convinced of this: Faith, working by love, excludes both inward and outward sin from a soul watching unto prayer. Even then we are liable to temptation, particularly to the sin that does easily beset us.
If the loving eye of the soul be steadily fixed on God, the temptation soon vanishes away. But if not, we are, as the apostle James speaks (v. 14), drawn out of God by our own desire and caught by the bait of present or promised pleasures. Then that desire, conceived in us, brings forth sin (v. 15). And having, by inward sin, weakened and then destroyed our faith, we are cast headlong into the snare of the devil, so that we may commit any outward sin whatever.
Thou, therefore, watch always, that you may always hear and always obey the voice of God!
*From How to Pray: The Best of John Wesley on Prayer, published by Barbour Publishing, Inc. Used by permission.
In this sixty-fifth lesson on prayer, Wesley examines the spiritual equivalent of “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Does sin weaken our faith or does weakened faith open us up for sin?
Wesley comes to the conclusion that an inward omission precedes an outward commission. He draws from the apostle James in James 1:12-16, which says,
“12Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. 13Let no one say when he is tempted, ” I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 14But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. 16Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren” (NASB).
When we persevere under the trial of temptation, it is as if we weed the garden of our hearts and use that good soil to cultivate good fruit. Galatians 5:22-24 instructs us, “22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
So, we must be on guard over inward workings of the flesh to prevent the outward workings of the flesh. In 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, the apostle Paul gives us insight how to guard our hearts, in saying,
“3For though we walk in the flesh, we do not wage battle according to the flesh, 4for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. 5We are destroying arguments and all arrogance raised against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ”
We first see in this passage that we cannot fight the flesh with the flesh. We fight, divinely powered, to take down fortresses, that is, arguments and arrogant thoughts that exalt themselves against and above the knowledge of God. We do this by examining every thought and capturing those thoughts not of Christ and making them obey the true knowledge of God in Christ Jesus.
When a lustful thought first comes to mind, we capture it and put it in the cell of Christ’s revelation and light. When a hateful or envious thought comes, we do the same, and so on. We train ourselves in “…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8).
Wesley ends with, “Thou, therefore, watch always, that you may always hear and always obey the voice of God!”