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What Is God Up To?

Souls In Conflict

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | November 25, 1990

Selected highlights from this sermon

Our sovereign God is up to something incredible in this world. He is training His people through trials. 

Joseph, Job, and John the Baptist all chose God when they were faced with trouble. Will we do the same and glorify God in the midst of conflict and temptation? 

Now if you are counting, you know that this happens to be number six in a series of messages entitled What Is God Up To? And if you’ve been listening to these sermons, you know that the bottom line is that the whole purpose of the creation of the world – this little planet – in the midst of an incredibly large universe is that God may have an opportunity to magnify Himself. That’s what it’s all about, and no matter where you and I fit into that, the fact is that God has certain desires and ends that He has in mind that He’s going to accomplish. And so He allowed sin, the fall of Satan, the fall of mankind and the history of redemption – all of the things that we have talked about – to bring to the surface an opportunity for the world, for angels, for demons, for men and for Himself to be glorified. And that’s the bottom line.

We’ve noticed, for example, that in His confrontation with Satan, God is proving that no will that is opposed to Him can ever benefit. There’s no such thing as a person taking on God and winning, and in the end, coming out victorious. It is impossible, and God is proving that.

Last time we stressed that the cross of Jesus Christ brings into sharp focus all of His attributes, that there is a convergence of the merciful attributes of God at the cross of Jesus Christ. And so we learned also that the cross magnifies the grace and the love and the compassion of God, but also His justice and His eternal purpose.

Today I want us to understand that another hidden agenda that God has, that is really not so hidden, is that He might develop a relationship with us, and that He might be able to prove that He is adequate to meet the deepest needs that we as His creation have. He’s interested in showing His sufficiency, His worth in our lives. He is building a relationship of love that exists between Him and us, and that’s what life is really all about.

You know it says in Peter, that very familiar verse that all of us know by memory, that the trial of our faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto the honor and the glory and the praise of God. Notice that. The trial of our faith, the Scripture says, is precious to God. Now how better could God try our faith than to put us in situations, in which it appears as if He is opposed to us, and then tell us that He is for us and expect us to believe it? And that’s what life is all about. God is constantly putting us in predicaments and situations where it appears as if He is doing things that work against us, and yet wanting us to believe that He is actually working for us. That’s what the trial of our faith is all about, and that is precious to God. And you are in circumstances that God could improve but doesn’t. And you are involved in relationships that are difficult that you wish you could get out of, but you can’t get out of those relationships, and you are saying, “God, why is it that life is so hard?” And God is saying, “I’m doing things that appear to be opposed to you. I’m telling you that I am for you and I want you to believe it.” And that’s what the trial of faith is all about.

What I’d like us to examine today is the fact that no matter what trial God brings into our lives, it really turns out to be a choice that we need to make, a choice in which we can honor God or dishonor Him. And whether that is a trial or a temptation, it all boils down to the same thing. God is constantly asking us to make decisions in which we can either prove our love and gratitude to Him, showing how much we value our fellowship with Him, or we can turn against Him and we can devalue our fellowship with Him and our love. And you and I are confronted by choices like that every single day. Some are big choices. Some are little choices. But that also is always the bottom line.

Now what I’d like to do today is to show you three people in the Scriptures who faced choices like that and made the right choice. Normally we use examples that are negative, and there are many in the Scripture of people who made the wrong choice, but today we’re going to look at some souls who were in conflict. That’s the title of our message – Souls in Conflict. And they came out choosing God against incredible odds.

The first conflict that I want you to see is the conflict between God and sexual temptation. And I want you to turn to Genesis 39 because, as I mentioned to you, it’s a story of someone who made the right choice. It’s the story of Joseph. Recall that he was in Potiphar’s house, and spending a great deal of time with Potiphar’s wife of necessity because of his responsibilities. And it says in Genesis 39:7-9, “And after a time his master's wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, ‘Lie with me.’ But he refused and said to his master's wife, ‘Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?’”

Let’s stop there for a moment. Let’s think through all of the reasons why Joseph could have so easily given in to this temptation. First of all, it was because of his location. He was far away from home. He was in a strange language area. He was with people whose culture was different from his. There was no way that his father or his brothers would ever find out as to what he was doing. You know, there are people who come to big cities just to get away from their parents so that they can do what they want to do. Joseph was in a perfect location.

Notice also his position. He was doing work for Potiphar, and obviously God had blessed him, and that made him very vulnerable because a person who is blessed by God thinks this blessing is going to carry on even if he should happen to sin, because God understands his weakness, etc.

He was tempted because of his reputation. People would believe him because of his appearance. Joseph was a handsome man, and he felt the full power of the temptation. And after all, he was single, and this is the kind of thing that singles do in the world – not all singles thankfully but oftentimes – and in society that is accepted.

And then he was tempted because of his temptress - because of Potiphar’s wife herself. She was a beautiful woman, sexually neglected evidently, and she and Joseph could have done this. And then they could have done what all immoral people do – arm themselves with a pack of lies so that they’d be able to give any explanation as to what really happened, and they could conceal the whole thing, and they could enjoy it and they could get by. Those were the possibilities.

Now, you know, Joseph did not give in to this temptation, but I want you to understand why. It wasn’t because he thought of all of the bad consequences that might come as a result of sexual immorality. I’ve long ago learned that one can know all of those consequences, but there are many people who understand the consequences all too well, and they do it anyway because you can always rationalize saying, “I can get by; I can contain the consequences.” And so there are people today, and I am sure that there are some who are listening to this message, involved in sinful relationships, absolutely convinced that they can hide it and they can get by with it because they’ve rationalized it. But there was one thing that Joseph could not rationalize. He said, “How can I do this great wickedness?” He didn’t say, “How can I have this little affair on the side?” But he said, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?”

Here’s what Joseph is saying. Joseph is saying, “God means so much to me. How can I put Him through this grief?” That’s what he’s saying. You see, a person who doesn’t think highly of God says, “Well, who cares what God thinks? God is not that valuable. I don’t care what He thinks. I don’t care about His opinion. Let Him think what He wants to think. I’ve got to do what I want to do.” Joseph is saying, “How can I grieve God? I love Him too much. He means too much to me. I have valued Him. It is irrelevant whether we can get by with this or not. I’m hurting God, and how can I hurt the One I love who is taking care of me here in Egypt?”

My dear friend, do you understand the principle? The more highly we value God and the more we love Him, the less ability we will have to rationalize our sin because we know that we are hurting Him. You see, that’s why you can give somebody all the reasons in the world. You can give to young people all the reasons in the world, and to older people, and to children all the consequences that are built into certain kinds of action, and they will say to themselves, “I can beat the system. I can circumvent the consequences. I can get by.” But there’s one thing that you do when you do that. You’re blowing God off. You’re saying, “Who cares what He thinks as long as I can get by?”

Joseph says, “I love Him too much. How can I sin against God?” And I believe that we will never be pure in our lives until we love God so much with all of our hearts and minds and souls that we’ll say, “I can get by with this. I can cheat. It can happen and the whole thing can be covered up, but what about God?” God versus sexual pleasure – Joseph!

Let me give you a second example of someone who faced a test. Let me give you another soul in conflict. Turn to the book of Job. Job is a fantastic story, and you remember that God raises the issue of Job’s righteousness. If Joseph’s temptation was God versus sexual pleasure, Job’s temptation is God versus possessions. Now the Lord is saying, “Have you considered my servant, Job? He is righteous. There is nobody like him upon the earth, etc. And Satan says in Job 1:9, “‘Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.’”

You understand Satan’s reasoning, don’t you? What he’s saying is, “Of course Job is worshiping You. Of course he loves You. You’re bribing him. You’re paying him off. You’ve built a hedge about him. You have blessed him. You’ve given him a fine family with children that are known for their righteousness. You have given him 7,000 sheep, 300 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 female donkeys, and very many servants. And he’s the greatest man that is in the east. Of course he’s going to worship You if you do that. Can’t you see it, God? He’s in it because it’s profitable. But all that You have to do is just touch what he has. Take it all away, and he’ll curse You.” So that was the issue. Is God valuable to us? Is our relationship important to us only if it’s profitable to believe God? What about when it becomes unprofitable and He kicks the props out from under us?

I failed to mention in the illustration of Joseph that later on when he said no to Potiphar’s wife, she grabbed him and he left his coat with her and fled that later on she told a lie, and he ended up in prison for two years of all things – in prison for two years for doing nothing but choosing God and righteousness. So that’s what you get when you serve God. And this is what Job gets when he serves God. God takes it all away, and the Lord says, “Satan, you can go and you can take everything that he has, even his children.”

I read this passage and I get goose bumps. His children! They are expendable, if you please. God says, “Do away with the children. Have a huge storm come.” And the fire of God comes, lightning comes, and wind comes, and the Sabaeans
come and they take away all of Job’s cattle and all of his servants, and he ends up absolutely totally desolate in one single day. And Satan is saying, “Well, Job, what are you going to do now? Serving God isn’t profitable any more. It’s just like Joseph in the dungeon. Are you going to continue to serve God now that it’s clear that obedience to God doesn’t pay off? Is He still worth something to you?”

And by the way, for those of you who are going through times of discouragement and God is stripping you clean perhaps, and you really have nothing left in life again, is He worth it still, or isn’t He? That’s what the issue always is. Interestingly, Job not only lost his children and his cattle and his possessions, but in the next chapter God says, “Take it a step further and take away his health.” And so Job ends up with boils from the top of his head to the soles of his feet, and now Satan says through his wife, “Curse God and die. Just be done with the whole thing.”

Job didn’t. He said, “Shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord, and shall we not also receive diversity?” Isn’t God still worth something when He blesses us, and in those times when He removes the blessing, God still has value? And that’s the issue. So when it comes to your possessions, the things that you have that God may take away from you (or from me), the issue always is: is our love for Him greater than the blessings that He happens to give?

Let me give you a third example of someone who chose correctly, and that is God versus success. Turn to John 3 in the New Testament where we have the story of John the Baptist. I love this story because it shows us John’s heart. The issue was this: He was a popular preacher and people were coming to him to be baptized. They were turning to God as a result of his ministry, and then the crowds began to drop off. And the minute that the crowds began to drop off, his disciples began to feel a little badly for their teacher. They felt embarrassed for him, and so they came and in verse 25 of chapter 3 it says, “Now a discussion arose between some of John's disciples and a Jew over purification. And they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness — look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.’” What they are saying is, “Jesus is taking away your converts and your crowd is depleting and it looks like your ministry is over.” It’s difficult for a preacher to admit that his ministry is over. I’ve seen it time and time again. Someday it may be very difficult for me to admit that my ministry is over, and maybe I’ll need someone to tell me that my ministry is over.

But notice what John says in verse 27: “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.” That is one of the most beautiful explosive verses that one could ever read. I’ll tell you if we understood that verse, we would never envy anyone who has more gifts and abilities than we do. We would never be jealous of anyone. We would be able to rejoice in the success of any person, either in the business world or what we generally call ministry. We would be absolutely free in our spirits if we understood that a man can receive nothing except it is given to him from heaven. We’d be able to rejoice if somebody had more ability or better looks than you or me because God gave it to them. And He has the right to give to some people one thing and to others another. A man can receive nothing except it be given to him from heaven.

And then he says in verse 30, “He must increase but I must decrease.” John says, “It’s okay for my ministry to be over. It’s okay for me to go lower as long as the result is that Christ goes higher.”

Now I want you to turn in your Bibles to 1 John 2, and this is the last passage I’ll ask you to turn to today because if you haven’t noticed it (and maybe you have), the three examples that I’ve given you (God versus sexual temptation, God versus possessions, and God versus success) are really delineated for us in 1 John 2:15 and 16. It says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world (here we go now) — the desires of the flesh (that’s what Joseph encountered), and the desires of the eyes (that was Job’s problem, or at least God wanted to test whether he had that problem), and pride of life (the question of John the Baptist’s success) - all of these struggles, you see, that we face are really the choice between God and the things of this world. And the world is passing away and also its lusts. But the one who does the will of God abides forever. Notice it says, “If you love the world - if you make wrong choices, if you choose the things that these three people didn’t choose - you do not love God, but the love of the world is in you.”

What’s the bottom line? Let me give you three brief conclusions. The first is that every trial, every temptation asks us to choose God. And, you see, we indicate where we stand in our relationship with God by the choice that we make. We yield to temptation and we devalue Him in our minds and hearts. Now, of course, nobody can really devalue God because He is inherently worthy. We know that, but in our minds we are saying, “He’s not important because I have decided to choose that which He hates, and I love it and I’m going to do my own thing.”

Now you understand why life is so difficult. What is God up to? God is up to training us and wooing us and drawing us so that we might love Him so supremely that when faced with trials and temptations we may always say, “God, You are worth more to me than anything else, and I will choose in Your direction, no matter how difficult it becomes. And even when it appears as if You are opposed to me, I will assume that Your word is true and that You are for me, and I’m going to hang in with You no matter what.” And what did Peter say? “The trial of your faith is more precious than gold that perishes, that it may be found unto honor and glory and praise at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” That’s what God is up to – glorifying His name through your decision and mine to follow Him no matter what.

You see, long ago I learned that you can warn people about sin all you like and it doesn’t help much. It helps a little, but not much. The much greater attraction is developing our relationship with God, and when we love Him, sin does not look good.

Let me give you a second conclusion. It’s very important. When we choose for God we are choosing for ourselves. You see, Satan has set up a false dichotomy. The impression that is sometimes given is that as Christians in facing what we call temptation, the real question is do I do what is good for myself, or do I do what is good for God? That’s nonsense. That’s not the issue because when I choose God and value Him, I choose that which is best for myself.

Joseph chose what was best for Him. David did not, and look at the consequences. Job chose that which was best for Job. John the Baptist chose that which is best and good for him, and that’s why I can say to you without any ambiguity at all, I urge you to please pursue your own happiness, but do not pursue happiness on a wrong, imperfect level because that will lead you to pursue sinful ways to become happy and they will always eventually be aborted and turn to ashes in your mouth.

The truest joys, the greatest delight is to delight in God, and that’s the route to happiness. There’s no dichotomy here. But you say, “Joseph chose God and ended up in prison.” But there in prison God was doing something in his life that was so marvelous. God was using Joseph and pruning Joseph that he might become one of the greatest leaders that God would eventually use to get a nation to go down into Egypt. It’s all part of God’s plan. He knows best.

Remember Paschal who said, “There once was a man of true happiness of which now remains to him only the mark and the empty trace which he in vain tries to fill from all of his surroundings. In vain he tries to fill it. Well, there are moments when it appears as if he is, but it is vain. It has to be vain, but there are all these, he says, that are inadequate, because the infinite abyss, that you were created with and I was created with, can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object. That is to say, only God Himself.

Let me give you a third conclusion. When I choose God He is thereby glorified. He is glorified.

Now my friend today, let me just simply ask, have you ever thought about how God feels, because we forget about Him so easily? We just go ahead and make choices and we say, “This appears to be good for me. This is where I am right now. And who cares what God has to say?” And we grieve Him. One of the things that I’d like to preach on sometime is the grief of God. He says in the Old Testament, “The ox knows his owner, and the donkey knows his master’s crib, but my people do not know Me. My people forget Me days beyond measure.” He’s forgotten until Sundays. He’s forgotten until we have a catastrophe, and then we say, “Now where is God?” and we blow Him off week after week, day after day. We are not in His Word. We do not spend time with Him. We do not develop that love relationship, and that’s why it is so easy for us to choose for ourselves.

You really want to bring honor to God, don’t you? I think that you do or you wouldn’t be here and you wouldn’t be listening to this message. You would have tuned me out long ago. You really, really down deep do want to bring honor to God in the months and years that He gives us to live upon planet earth. I want you to know something. The way in which we ascribe worth to God is to face tough decisions and choose in His favor by His grace and by yieldedness, being all that He wants us to be no matter what the cost is, and to simply say, “God, I want to learn to love You so much that my own desires are going to take second place, and in loving You that much, I’m doing something good for myself.”

Now can you believe God to that extent? You see the reason that temptation has so much power is that temptation says to me that if I follow my own desires I will be made happy. I will be satisfied. If temptation never said that to me it would have no power over me at all, but that’s exactly what temptation says to us. Are you willing to call its bluff and to say it’s a lie? When I choose God, that is the infinite sense of satisfaction. And when we choose the pleasures that are on his right hand, we delight ourselves in God, and those decisions will become so much easier.

We say to ourselves, yes I want to please God and yes also, “I would like to become a worshiper of God,” and so we attend a worship service, and we here at The Moody Church have a worship committee and we meet every week and we plan our morning worship services and our evening services because we want people to worship God, and we choose hymns that enable us to worship God. I understand that and I hope that worship takes place, but I want you to know something. Worship means ascribing worth to God, and true worship can only happen at great cost. Talk is cheap.

One day God said, “Abraham, sacrifice your Son please.” And Abraham said, “Okay, I’ve got two sons. I’m going to sacrifice Ishmael.” The Lord said, “No, your only son, the one that I regard, take Isaac to a mountain and sacrifice him.” I’ll bet he never told Sarah what he was going to do. But he got up early and he left and took a three-day journey. I would like to hear the conversation between Abraham and his boy en route to Mount Mariah, but interestingly at the bottom of the mountain this is what Abraham said to the servant who was there with the donkey. He said, “You stay here because the lad and I are going to go yonder to the top of the hill and we’re going to worship.”

Amazing words of Abraham! You’re going to kill your boy! Abraham said, “I know,” and that’s what worship is. Worship is loving God so much that there is no relationship, there is no temptation, and there is no sin that means as much to me as God. And that’s what God is all about in the lives of believers today: training us to love Him so much that angels and demons and men will be able to look at us and say, “There are still some people in the world who love God so much that nothing else matters,” and that’s what He’s about in today’s world.

And then, of course, you know the rest of the story. The Lord came and wouldn’t let Abraham kill his boy. And the ram was sacrificed in his place. But interestingly think of the new revelation that Abraham had when he came down Mount Mariah. Jehovah Jirah – the Lord will provide – because every time you and I value God so highly that we choose Him no matter what, He is glorified and we have worshiped. We have ascribed worth to Him. And every time I choose to sin deliberately, to blow God off, I fail to ascribe worth to Him. I lower Him and say he really doesn’t make much difference in my life.

Now let me ask you this today: Are you letting God develop that love that is so strong that it enables you and me to make those right decisions, or are you rebelling against God? You are rebelling against circumstances. You are rebelling against temptation. You are rebelling against all of the pressures of life, and you are saying no to God. God says today, “Open your life to Me. Learn to love Me so much that you will be able to say yes to Me, no matter the cost.”

Let’s bow together in prayer.

Our Father, today we want to thank You that You are developing us to be worshipers to love You. And we pray for those who have never responded to Your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. And today, Lord, I pray that You might draw them to Him, which is the starting point of all love for the Lord God. Do that for us today Father, we pray. May everyone bowed to your presence make the decision today to love You, to follow You, to seek You.

And before we sing a hymn together, why don’t you just bow in prayer where you are now. Tell God whatever you need to tell Him. Choose Him above that sinful relationship. Choose to believe on Christ.

Thank You, Father, for hearing us. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

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