“That guy is so gullible; he’d fall for anything!” If you’ve ever heard someone described as “gullible,” you know it means that they are easily tricked. You might picture jokes and tricks as something that only little kids do on the school playground. But that’s just not the case.
There are dangerous and very expensive scams out there. Someone who come to your door telling the story of their rare medical condition and the expensive treatment it needs. It’s not until long after you give them money that you find out they were never sick! Or there are email scams trying to get you to help someone out by sending a little money. But once you send it, they disappear. These scams are everywhere!
And I think most of us like to pride ourselves by thinking that we would never fall for one of these scams. We like to think we’re not gullible and this just isn’t a problem we have. But that’s not true.
In fact, every one of us are susceptible to the most dangerous scams out there, from the biggest scam artist of all time. We’ve all fallen for his tricks more times than we can count. Every temptation to sin that the devil himself sends our way is a scam. It’s a scam that makes us think, “If I commit this sin, I’m going to be happier. I’m going to enjoy my life more. It will have a positive impact in my life.” Of course, that’s just not true. It’s a lie from the devil himself.
I want to talk today about one of Satan’s most dangerous scams. That’s his scam of making us think that our sins aren’t a problem. He tempts us to not take our sins seriously. After all, we go to church! So what’s the big deal? Jesus will forgive us anyway! So why should we sweat a little sin here or there?
The worst part of this scam is that there is a part of every one of us here today that believes it! We don’t believe we could really fall from our faith. We don’t believe sin could ever really do that much damage to us.
I want to warn you: don’t fall for it. Don’t fall for Satan’s lies. Every sin is deadly serious as it pulls us away from our faith. But God gives us an answer, he gives us a way out of every temptation. So watch out for Satan’s biggest scam. Don’t fall for it! We’re tempted to not take our sins seriously, but God gives us a way out.
This scam isn’t exactly new; it’s been happening for literally thousands of years, as we see on the pages of the Bible. Our text from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians takes us back to the Old Testament to see how this scam from the devil caught people by surprise back then. The warning is just as valid for us today.
Paul writes, For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. (1 Cor. 10:1) Paul’s giving a bit of a history lesson from the book of Exodus here. “Under the cloud” refers to how God led the Israelites by day with a pillar of cloud. Where the cloud went, the Israelites would follow. The sea they passed through was the Red Sea when God had Moses raise his staff and the waters parted so the people could pass through to escape the Egyptians who wanted to stop them.
Ok, so that part is history, but the next couple of verses might really leave you scratching your head. Paul says this about the children of Israel at the time of the exodus. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. (1 Cor. 10:2-4)
Now, if you’ve read the book of Exodus any time recently, you might be trying to remember when the people were baptized in the book, or when they talked about spiritual food, or when the rock they drank water from was called Christ. Well, you didn’t forget these parts; they weren’t in Exodus. At least, they weren’t there using these words.
What the Apostle Paul was doing (by inspiration of the Holy Spirit) was telling an Old Testament story with New Testament wording. The Israelites weren’t literally baptized when they walked through the Red Sea, but God brought them through the Red Sea and taught them of his love for them through doing it. And while God fed the people with manna in the desert and gave them water from the rock, he was also feeding them spiritually. Moses was teaching God’s Word to the people, and they were being led to look ahead to the coming Savior.
In other words, the Israelites had everything going for every one of them to have had a healthy faith. They had the best God could give; he provided for them physically and spiritually in every way. God spared no expense with his people. He gave them everything, including the sure promise of a Savior to come.
And that’s what made what happened to them so devastating. The fate of the Israelites should be like a cold class of water in our faces. Paul explains to us that despite everything they had from God, Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. (1 Cor. 10:5) Why were their bodies scattered in the desert? Because God killed them for their sins! The children of Israel at this time stand out for being one of the most rebellious, sinful groups of people of all time, despite the fact that they had everything God could possibly give them.
You see the comparison for us, right? Paul spells it out for us. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the the fulfillment of the ages has come. (1 Cor. 10:11) Like the Israelites, God has pretty much pulled out all the stops for us, spiritually. We’ve had his blessings poured over us in every way for our faith.
Think about it. We can gather for worship freely and without fear. We have access to printed Bibles and free online Bibles pretty much everywhere. Here at St. John’s we run a Lutheran Elementary School that teaches God’s Word as a part and focus of every class. We have people here who have grown up with Christian education. We have confirmation class that has trained people in the truths of our faith. We have Bible classes and worship opportunities for everyone.
With all those blessings, you know our temptation, right? We’re tempted to think we’re all set! We’ve got all these things, we’ve learned about the Bible, we go to church, and now nothing bad could ever happen to our faith! If we give in to different temptations and sin, well, so be it. After all, we’re forgiven! Nothing could ever happen to us!
Meanwhile, despite all our blessings and opportunity to grow in our faith, we treat sin like it’s not important. We look around at our sinful world and think, well, everyone else sins a lot — a whole lot more than I do. So I think I’m just fine. Or we reach a difficult situation in our lives when we’re especially tempted and we start to think we know better than God. We think, I’ve done the right thing, the God-pleasing thing in this situation before, and it didn’t turn out too well. So this time, I’ll do what I want.
You know this idea that sins aren’t important, that they’re no big deal. It’s a scam! It’s one of the devil’s biggest tricks. Don’t fall for it! Or as our text says, If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (1 Cor. 10:12) This fall we’re talking about isn’t some minor thing. We’re talking about falling from our faith. We’re talking about — potentially — falling into the trap of eternal death and hell itself. Every sin, even those minor, no-big-deal sins that everybody else seems to be doing — those sins harm our faith. And if you’re tempted to think that sin isn’t important, don’t fall for it!
Instead, look to God’s way out of sin. Look to Jesus. Look to his cross. In Christ alone is the only true way out of sin, the only true forgiveness from the one who never sinned at all but suffered for ours.
But don’t treat Jesus as a license to sin. Don’t treat him as a get-out-of-hell-free card that lets you do whatever you want. No, sin is poison! It’s poison that leads to certain death! But every day we get a chance to cling to Jesus and his cross and see that he is the antidote to that poison. He is the only cure, the only way out from our sin and its consequences.
If you’d been poisoned and you had access to the antidote, you wouldn’t put off taking it. You wouldn’t say, “well, I can always take some later.” And you certainly wouldn’t take a few extra sips of the poison because it kind of tasted good. No! You’d hold on to that antidote and wouldn’t let anything stand in your way of getting it. That’s Jesus and his cross for us! It is the cure for the poison of our sins. It guarantees our forgiveness. It guarantees our eternal life. Get it! Read it! Grow in it! Cling to that good news with everything you have!
Because guess what, the poison of sin is going to be all around you every day, every second of this earthly life. Knowing that will make you view temptation and sin differently. It will take away your sense of being a “victim” of sin.
I think a lot of us have felt that way before, like a victim of our own sin. “I couldn’t help it! The temptation was too strong!” That’s actually a part of the devil’s tricks. Don’t fall for it! Listen to our text. No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. (1 Cor. 10:13) Temptations aren’t too strong. They’re not the hardest thing to resist ever in history. Everyone has the same kind of temptations, even if they all come in slightly different forms.
But the blessing is we have a loving God to help us with those temptations. God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (1 Cor. 10:13) Do you see what God does for us? We never have to sin. We are never in a situation where we are powerless to resist a certain temptation and we can’t help but sin. There’s always a way out.
So when you feel the temptation, look for the way out! Look for the way that God has provided you to get out of that situation without sinning. It’s there! And you can get better at taking that way out. You get better as you grow in your faith, as the Holy Spirit builds you up by Word and Sacrament. God doesn’t want us to give in to temptation and weaken or destroy our faith. He wants us to grow. So he gives us a way out of temptation and builds us up in taking that way out.
That doesn’t mean it will be easy. That doesn’t mean we still won’t ever fall into sin. But when we do, recognize how serious it is. Recognize how dangerous even one sin can be to our spiritual lives. But most of all, recognize how important God’s ultimate way out is. Recognize that in his Son, God has given us the antidote to sin’s poison. Continue taking that antidote every day. Cling tight to his forgiveness. Look to his cross. And then live as if every breath and every action you do is a loving gift from God. Because it is!
And if the devil ever tells you that you’re not good enough. If he tells you that your sin has already destroyed your faith and that it’s too late for you to turn back. Don’t fall for it! Look to God’s love for you in Christ. Look to the cross. And rejoice that the way out of temptation has already been given you in him.