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"More Weight!" - On Death With Dignity and Unwavering Conviction in the Face of Temptation

There is only one thing that we say to death; not today!” - Syrio Forel, Game of Thrones.


It’s been a few years since I watched intently as The First Sword of Braavos taught young Arya Stark about the ways of dancing with the sword; nonetheless, these wise words from the dancing master have stuck with me over the years. Spoken just moments before the character is slain at the hand of the Kingsguard, his words speak volumes about managing our emotions in the face of

overwhelming danger and being prepared when the floodgates of trouble open wide, giving both Arya and the viewer a lesson to put in their “suitcase,” as my mother often says. If you aren’t familiar with the series, or this scene, that’s okay; I'll explain as we unpack today's topic: Temptation. (Scenes linked here for reference: Syrio Trains Arya, Syrio Last Stand).




Now, you may find yourself saying, "Noah, what’s all this about death if today’s topic is temptation?" Well, Diligent Disciple of Christ, I am glad you asked! You see, to defy death, to look this behemoth of an adversary in the eye and say - “you have no power over me; you’d better get on to someone else,” seems, at best, the exact kind of thing you would read in a work of fantasy. But my dear reader, we possess this very sentiment when we refuse to give into temptation! Don't believe me? Just keep reading, and by the end of this post, you will be certain that you, yes you, a mere mortal human being, can say no to death when the opportunity presents itself, and with the proper preparation and steadfast conviction in the face of danger, death, and its master will have no choice but to leave you be.


As we begin our dissection of all things temptation, I sense your next question is something to the tune of: “Hey man, I’m not exactly tempted to die at the moment, so what is it that you’re getting on about?” And that’s a fair question, which I fully intend to answer; however, before we get to that, first, a foundation of understanding needs to be laid. We must clearly comprehend what it means to sin and how giving into temptation leads to sin and, ultimately, to death. From a biblical perspective, sin is generally understood as any thought, word, or action that goes against the will of God and violates His moral law. It is a separation from God and a rebellion against His righteous standards. The concept of sin is central to Christian theology and is addressed throughout the Bible in many different places. The apostle James puts it this way in Chapter 4, verse 17, saying, "If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” The apostle Paul explains in Romans 3:23 that all of us have sinned at some point in our lives and have “fallen short of the glory of God.” In the original language of these scriptures, the Greek word ἁμάρτανε (pronounced ham-ar-tan'-o) is used, or some variation of it. Its closest definition in English would be something along the lines of “missing the mark" or “coming up short.” I am reminded of King Belshazzar in Daniel 5:27, who was “weighed and found wanting.” So, there you have it, do what you know you should do, and definitely don’t do what you know you shouldn’t; a failure on either end of this spectrum would be considered a “sin.” If you're still having trouble determining what “sin” is in your life, read through the following passages to gain a better understanding: Galatians 5:19-21, 2 Timothy 3:1-5.


I can hear you saying, “Okay, Noah, I’ll admit it. I am tempted to fall short, but I promise I am not tempted to die; I quite like it here on Earth, and I figure I’ll stick around a little while longer if God allows it!” Au contraire mon frère!!! You see, if you think this way, you still lack a fundamental understanding of the nature and consequence of sin! So, let us return then to the question of sin and its relation to death with an open mind and a flare for the dramatic. (Que dramatic "DUN DUN DUN!).

In the book of Romans, Paul expounds on this very topic in Chapters Five and Six. In Chapter Five, he takes us all the way back to the initial sin and the fall of man: Romans 5:12-14


Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned— To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.


This passage suggests that perhaps if we had chosen differently, we could have lived in peace and unity on Earth for all time, as was (and still is) God’s intention for us. And so, it seems to me that the greatest tragedy in the history of mankind is this: that innocence was not, though it could have been. And please don’t fool yourself into thinking things would have been different had you swapped places with our first ancestors; it’s an insidious and prideful line of thinking that leads to nothing but idle hands and self-righteous nonsense. It’s for the best not to get distracted harping on what could have been because it is not the reality in which we live. Paul continues his exposition, declaring emphatically at the end of Chapter Six that “the wages of sin is death.


Okay...Meaning, what exactly?” You ask. "Who is dying when we tell a lie or harbor jealousy in our hearts?" Another fantastic question, my dear reader! You are on quite a roll, if I do say so myself! Well, we learn in Isaiah Chapter 59 that the consequence of sin is a separation from God, and we learn in Hebrews that the only thing that can reconcile this separation is the shedding of innocent blood. (Hebrews 9:22). Under the old testament Levitical law, this was done through animal sacrifice, a practice that was held until around 70 ad. The old way was replaced when Christ sacrificed himself, as Hebrews 10 says, "once, and for all time." And thus, the second greatest tragedy of mankind’s brief existence had to occur, the death of Christ. A man who was in every way perfect and pleasing to God, whose blood was spilled to cover a multitude of sins, none of which were his own.


Wow! Noah, all of that is a bit excessive, don’t you think? Blood sacrifice!? Sort of archaic, no?” In all honesty, I won’t pretend to know why it has to be this way, but for one reason or another, something in God’s divine nature will not allow for sin to be in His presence. In order for us to find redemption, something worthy must take our place. The debt simply must be paid. At this moment, I think it is important to remind ourselves that God isn’t some vampiric overlord hellbent on the destruction of humanity and out to drink our blood. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Let’s look at an excerpt from Ezekiel 18 on this exact topic (this is from the message version, I find it is a bit easier to understand):


But a wicked person who turns his back on that life of sin and keeps all my statutes, living a just and righteous life, he’ll live, really live. He won’t die. I won’t keep a list of all the things he did wrong. He will live. Do you think I take any pleasure in the death of wicked men and women? Isn’t it my pleasure that they turn around, no longer living wrong but living right—really living?

24 “The same thing goes for a good person who turns his back on an upright life and starts sinning, plunging into the same vile obscenities that the wicked person practices. Will this person live? I don’t keep a list of all the things this person did right, like money in the bank he can draw on. Because of his defection, because he accumulates sin, he’ll die.

25-28 “Do I hear you saying, ‘That’s not fair! God’s not fair!?

Listen, Israel. I’m not fair? You’re the ones who aren’t fair! If a good person turns away from his good life and takes up sinning, he’ll die for it. He’ll die for his own sin. Likewise, if a bad person turns away from his bad life and starts living a good life, a fair life, he will save his life. Because he faces up to all the wrongs he’s committed and puts them behind him, he will live, really live. He won’t die.


And so you see, it is our continued persistence to rebel against the laws of God that creates this rift between us. And this “death” that Ezekiel refers to seems (at least to me) to be more of a spiritual death than a physical one. Thus the consequence of sin grows deeper, even more so than just the physical death of the animals sacrificed under the Levitical Law or the ultimate sacrifice of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Of course, if God wanted to smite down each and every one of us, he could as he has done before, but that’s no longer his prerogative. Fortunately, the days of Genesis 6 have come and gone, and with the blood of Christ, we have hope that forgiveness and salvation can be obtained through our faith in Christ and obedience to the word of God.


For fear of digressing into a theoretical discussion on what is meant by “spiritual death” and the ins and outs of what human beings understand “Hell” to be, I will simply say this about the aforementioned: Most anyone reading this, barring folks whose life circumstances have put them in a state of consciousness barren of all hope and reeking of nothing other than utter destitution, would likely agree that death, given what we know of it, is quite undesirable and should be avoided as earnestly as possible. So for the sake of time, let us consider this “spiritual death” as a separation from God for all eternity that is by no means desirable under any circumstances, even the most dire. One might even infer that this spiritual death is of much more consequence than our physical death here on Earth, given the whole eternity thing. (Forever is a really long time, in case you were wondering).


Now, with what I hope to be a well-formed foundational understanding of sin and its consequences, we can begin to discuss temptation. The temptation to sin that is. You would think with such straightforward instructions it would be simple to avoid sin. To just look death in the face and say, “Not today!” Yet, I find myself here, writing this post on temptation and how to work up the courage to tell the devil to back off. As I reflect on my walk with God and my time spent in the battle of Good and Evil, I am reminded of a blood sport that was put on for entertainment in a rather barbaric 16th-century Shakespearean England. They called it “bear-baiting.In its best-known form, arenas for the purpose were constructed called bear gardens. They consisted of a circular high-fenced area known as the “pit” and raised seating for spectators. It was a gruesome practice where they would chain up a bear to a post, either by the neck or by the legs, and then proceed to allow trained fighting dogs to come and have their way with the bear. The result was mayhem, a spectacle that left all of its unwilling participants either dead or severely maimed. Fighting for survival with its back to the wall, the bear would claw, bite, scratch, and stomp the life out of its canine adversaries, trying to maintain its life force and break out of the chains that were holding it back. On occasion, the bear would break loose, and may God have mercy on the souls of anything or anyone that was found in its wake.



I was reminded of this barbaric practice as find that the bear, in its compromised position, fighting for survival, is not dissimilar to that of myself and my relationship with God. On more than one occasion, sin is referred to in the bible in the context of slavery, most notably in Romans 6, saying that “we should no longer be slaves to sin” once we have been baptized into the body of Christ. But sometimes I feel very much like this bear. Put in a compromised position, forced to participate unwillingly in a war that was waged long before I came to be and will likely continue long after I am gone. Not exactly helpless when the trouble comes, but not exactly capable either. Chained up to a post with the devil’s dogs coming after me when I am at my most vulnerable. A willing spirit but a weak mind and an even weaker body. All the while, the devil just sits back and laughs as his hell hounds have their way with my mangled spirit. Like I’m some sort of toy in his play chest. BUT!!! (I say emphatically) Like the bear that sometimes breaks free, there is hope that we, too, might defy all odds and break free from our captivity, from the “sin that so easily entangles.” We can chew up the devil and his dogs and spit them out with a smile! As we dig a bit deeper into temptation, I would like to use this analogy of the baited bear to paint a picture and allow us to bring to life a vision of why temptation comes, when it comes, and how we can defeat it. Let’s begin with this question: Why are we tempted to sin?


The Evil Inclination (“yēṣer hara)


To ask why we are tempted is a theological question that could in and of itself be the subject of a doctoral thesis project or something of the like. But no one has time for that, so I will do my best to answer the question succinctly and with tact. I think the answer takes us to a part of the human condition that has been ingrained in all of us since the fall of man, our innate human nature to do wrong, something many Jewish scholars refer to as the evil inclination (yēṣer hara”). The term “yēṣer hara” does not appear explicitly in the Bible. It’s a Hebrew phrase that is commonly used in Jewish literature and religious teachings, particularly in reference to the concept of the human inclination toward sin and temptation. The concept of the evil inclination is rooted in various passages and themes found in the Old Testament. While the term “yēṣer hara” may not be explicitly mentioned, the idea behind it can be traced to several passages that explore the human inclination toward wrongdoing. Here are a few examples:

  1. Genesis 6:5: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” This verse suggests the inherent inclination of the human heart toward evil.

  2. Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” This verse highlights the corrupt nature of the human heart and its tendency to lead people away from God.

  3. Ecclesiastes 7:29: “See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.” This verse suggests that although humans were created with good intentions, they often choose to follow their own desires and engage in sinful behavior.

This concept is deeply ingrained in Jewish thought and is widely discussed in rabbinical teachings, particularly in relation to moral struggles and the pursuit of righteousness. We are tempted to sin because, as is evidenced by the first man and woman in the Bible, this wayward and rebellious spirit is in our nature as human beings. To be thick-skulled and learn lessons the hard way rather than listening to our parents, teachers, or our divine creator.


Another tool to help visualize why we are tempted is one I picked up during my fraud analytics course at Syracuse University. One week, in particular, was dedicated to discussing how to determine who was at risk of committing fraud. To help prevent more fraud from taking place in the future, a tool was introduced to us known as “the fraud triangle.” The triangle consists of three categories that work in concert with one another (motivation/pressure, rationalization, and opportunity) to determine

who among us might be a walking red flag, a ticking time bomb of fraud waiting to explode, a bear chained to a post willing to do most anything for a chance to feel anything other than pain.


An Opportune Time


How is it that a 40-pound dog would even stand a chance against a grizzly bear that has ten times the size and strength of its adversary? Well, timing is everything, and if there is any time to attack a 400-pound grizzly bear, it would have to be when it is chained up to a post. Let’s return once more to the wisdom of Syrio Forel as he trains his protege:


Arya: “I don’t want to practice today; my father is hurt; I don’t care about stupid wooden swords!


Syrio: “You are troubled? {Yes, says Arya} Good! Trouble is the perfect time for training. When you are dancing in the meadow with your dolls and kittens, this is not when fighting happens. {I don’t care about dolls and kittens, Arya interjects, voicing her frustration} You are not here! You are with your trouble. If you are with your trouble when fighting happens... more trouble for you.


There is much to unpack here, but with the help of the fraud triangle, the wise words of Syrio, and the word of God, we will get to the heart of why and when we fall into temptation and how to avoid it. When Christ was tempted by the devil in Luke Chapter 4, we read that “when the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.” This phrase, “opportune time,” provides a great amount of insight into the workings of the devil and, as such, gives us a way to devise a plan of action against his temptations. And to be clear, Satan himself is the father of lies and the author of all things temptation, and our evil inclination, as I mentioned before, is the very thing the devil preys upon. The apostle James puts it this way in James Chapter 1:13-15:


When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.


How was it that Christ endured every temptation the devil threw his way? With prayer and an unwavering commitment to God’s word. Much like Syrio, Christ was a master with his sword, the sword of the spirit! If we return to the account in Luke 4 once more, we will see that each time Christ was tempted, he rebuked the devil with the very word of God (referred to in Hebrews 4:12 as sharper than a two-edged blade). Move forward to Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane; what does Christ do as he faces an overwhelming amount of trouble? He prays (Matthew 26:36-41):


Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.


Surely Christ was tempted as he faced certain death, begging God that if there was a way out, to provide it. Further, he tells his disciples to pray so that they do not fall into temptation. I imagine you know the rest of the story, but let’s keep going as we look at another ploy by the devil to tempt Christ. I envision the devil devising his final plan to come back with a temptation even Christ couldn’t withstand. It comes as a last-ditch effort to tempt Christ moments before his death. According to the Gospel accounts, while Jesus was hanging on the cross, he was offered wine mixed with gall to drink. This potent mixture was intended to act as a painkiller to provide relief for the immense suffering of those who were crucified. However, Jesus refused to drink it. The rejection of gall is mentioned specifically in Matthew 27:34: “They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink.


It is no secret that the pain Christ endured would be unbearable for even those among us with the thickest skin, but Christ made a commitment to make his body a temple of the living God and thus chose to keep a sober mind and level head as he endured his suffering. Outside of Christ, another example of a man with an unwavering conviction during troubled times is Job. Upon learning that his family had died, seven sons and three daughters, along with his store of sheep, oxen, and camels all being destroyed or stolen by raiders, Job had this to say:


Naked I came from my mother’s womb,

and naked I will depart.

The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;

may the name of the Lord be praised.


I bring up these examples as I find they provide invaluable insight into when the devil comes knocking, an insight which we can use to see the devil coming and be prepared.


If you take a look at the fraud triangle, you will notice that there are three elements of any potential fraudster. Pressure, Opportunity, and Rationalization. This, dare I say a perfect visualization of how the devil finds his prey. Who among our rag-tag army of believers is under pressure? Perhaps a loved one has recently fallen ill in their family; their bank account is running a bit thin; they just got dumped by the one they thought was “the one”; they have a job that’s put their cortisol levels through the roof, they are unhappy with their marriage, their home just flooded due to inclement weather, the list goes on. For one reason or another, they find themselves under pressure in their lives, a baited bear chained to a post, the perfect time for jolly old Lucifer to present... opportunity.


In the world we live in, rest assured there is no shortage of opportunities to sin. I live in New York City, a place where sin is paraded in the streets like it’s something to be proud of, pun intended. But in the age of the internet, a cell phone and a closed door are all the devil needs to pry his way into the mind of a weary disciple. If there is one thing I am certain of in my walk with God, it is that I have sinned many times over, and, to my disgrace, I will likely sin again. Before joining the church, I lived a life of impurity and debauchery. Feeding my lust and hardly staying sober-minded long enough to attend grad school classes. I was in what seemed to be insurmountable debt (still am in debt, but I have a new perspective that leaves room for hope and joy in any circumstance); I was overwhelmed with trouble, chained to my sins, as they were the only thing that gave me some semblance of happiness. I couldn’t have been more cliche if I tried, as I devoted my life to a cacophony of sex, drugs, and alcohol. Of course, those sins are just the “obvious” sins listed in Galatians. Throughout my life and even after joining the church, I’ve committed a myriad of sins, from dishonesty, to laziness, to pride, resentment, and jealousy, and continued at times to struggle with lust and sobriety. Why am I telling you all of this? Two reasons; one is that the bible says in James 5:16 to "confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed." I am a sinner; I stumble in many ways; pray for me if you would be so kind.


The second reason is that it all ties nicely into my final point as we round out this discussion on temptation. The last leg of the triangle is rationalization, something all sinners like myself struggle with when we fall into temptation. We begin thinking, "It's not that bad," "Everyone else is doing it," or "It's just this once." That last one can be particularly deadly as we rationalize our sins. Impurity is something I have struggled with from time to time since joining the church a couple of years ago. I find myself rationalizing it with a line of thought that goes something like, "I'm doing better than used to" or "It's better than the alternative." I am reminded of this scripture in Hebrews, referencing the story of Jacob and Esau:

“See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done.”

‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭12‬:‭16‬-‭17‬


A devastating analogy, to be honest. Choosing the momentary pleasure of physical impurity is likened here to Esau giving up the blessing of his father for a bowl of soup. The point being that Esau was hungry, and so he rationalized that his inheritance would be worthless if he starved to death. If he could just eat this one bowl of soup, be satiated for this one moment. Nothing else mattered then. But Esau was hungry once more and came to regret that he had traded his father's blessing. Because of that, his brother Jacob received the blessing and became the forefather of Israel, carrying out the lineage of Abraham. All because Esau couldn’t deny himself the momentary satisfaction of eating. Because he was with his trouble when trouble came.


I am like Esau in these moments of weakness when I choose to give in to my lust and impurity. Of course, I am like Esau in any moment that I choose to rationalize my sin, but this scripture references impurity, and it is a weakness of mine, to be sure. To affirm this analogy further, the language of Galatians Chapter 5 caps off its list of obvious sins with this statement: "I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God." I question my relationship with God some days, doubting that my conviction is anywhere close to that of the first-century disciples. Of course, in this country, we do not face severe persecution (and by that, I mean death or imprisonment) from adversaries of the gospel, not yet, anyway. But I wonder if I have the mental fortitude and genuine grit to go to the point of bloodshed, as Christ and many of his disciples did, in defense of my relationship with God. In Hebrews‬ ‭12‬:‭4‬ ‭, the scripture encourages us to be more like Christ and shares this very sentiment: “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” The passage goes on to say we should endure hardship as if it were God's loving discipline, refining us and making our faith more genuine. In reality, I fear being more like Esau, willing to trade my inheritance of the kingdom of God for a moment of lust-filled sin that will leave me empty, hungry, and tempted once more. May God have mercy on my soul.


"Ummmm, okay, Noah, not exactly the death-defying motivation I was looking for," I hear you say. Amen; my sincere apologies if you feel the gutted sensation of uneasiness that comes with the loss of inheritance, but it might be just what you need to dig deep and find the fortitude required to thwart the devil's next scheme to claim your soul. But to avoid ending on such a drab note, I will leave you with one last story, and by the grace of God, perhaps you will find yourself encouraged.


In the late 17th century colonial town of Salem, Massachusetts, lived a man named Giles Cory. Quite famously, he was put to death during the Salem Witch Trials; these true events were masterfully dramatized in Arthur Miller's seminal work entitled "The Crucible." If you don't know, the events unfolded between 1692 and 1693, consisting of a series of hearings and prosecutions of people accused of practicing witchcraft, and are remembered as a dark chapter in American history.


The witchcraft hysteria began when a group of young girls started experiencing mysterious symptoms such as fits, contortions, and strange behavior. The girls claimed to be under the influence of witches. As the panic spread, more individuals, mostly women, were accused of practicing witchcraft.

The trials relied on spectral evidence, which was testimony or accusations based on supposed interactions with spirits or specters. The accused were often subjected to harsh interrogations and pressured to confess. Many innocent people were accused and arrested, and the trials resulted in the execution of twenty individuals—nineteen by hanging and one by pressing (Giles Cory).


Giles Cory was an elderly farmer known for his bluntness and outspoken nature. Cory's wife, Martha, was accused of witchcraft, and in an attempt to protect her, he refused to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. This was a strategic move because if he had pleaded, his land would have been confiscated, leaving nothing for his heirs. Instead, he chose to undergo the brutal punishment known as pressing. Pressing involved placing a board on top of the accused and then piling heavy stones on top of the board until the person either entered a plea or was crushed to death. Giles Cory endured this gruesome torture without entering a plea, even as the weight became unbearable. His last words were said to be "More weight," a defiant statement in the face of his oppressors.


My dear reader, if you take only one thing with you from our discussion today, I pray it is this: There is no room for negotiation when it comes to obeying the word of God. There is only the standard set by the word, exemplified in the flesh by Jesus Christ, and those willing to obey it. When the devil and his hounds come with temptation, I pray that you will not give in, that you will look the devil in the eye and yell "more weight" until your lungs give out as if the only thing you have ever known is obedience to the word of God. Of course, this is easier said than done, particularly when you're tied up to a post, overwhelmed with the weight of life's pressures. But, I trust that when the time comes, you will pick up your sword and fight, study the scriptures daily, and prepare yourself for the attack that is coming for your soul. Remember, what do we say to death? Not today!


Thanks for reading!


Until Next Time,


With Love,


Noah










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