How do you know if it’s the devil who is tempting you to do something, or if God is just testing you to see if you’ll do what’s right? I try to make the right choices, but I’m not sure I always know what to do. — J.T.H.
The most important thing for you to remember is that God never tempts us to do anything wrong. The devil tempts us to do wrong, and so does our own sinful human nature — but not God. The Bible says, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone” (James 1:13).
But it is true that God tests us — that is, He allows us to get into situations where we must make a choice between right and wrong. Remember: At the beginning of His ministry Jesus was tempted by the devil to abandon the mission God had given Him — and God allowed that test to happen. (You can read about it in Matthew 4:1-11.) But Jesus passed the test by confronting the devil’s lies with the truth of God’s Word. So must we.
Sometimes Satan’s temptations are obvious and the choice is very clear. For example, he may tempt you to lie, or be greedy, or commit immorality, or any of the other sins God has clearly forbidden in the Ten Commandments or elsewhere in His Word. When that happens, seek God’s help at once and turn your back on it, definitely and without hesitation.
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But sometimes the devil’s temptations are more subtle, and at first it may not be clear which way is right. The key is to pray, and to seek God’s will above all else. And when we choose the right way, we will be spiritually stronger as a result.
Many years ago, when I was a teenager, someone took me to hear an evangelist. At the time, I really felt I ought to respond to his call to give my life to Jesus, but I resisted and turned my back on God. Will I ever have another chance, or has God passed me by? — K.M.
It is never too late to turn to Christ — never. One of the Bible’s greatest truths is that God will forgive anyone who turns to Christ for forgiveness and trusts Him alone for their salvation, no matter what their past has been.
How is this possible? It is possible solely because God loves us and yearns for us to be His friends forever. He doesn’t want for us to be alienated from Him! Even if we ignore Him almost our whole lives, He still is ready to receive us — if we will receive Him. The Bible says, “You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you” (Psalm 86:5). This is why I urge you not to let another day go by without Christ.
Don’t misunderstand me, however; it would have been far better if you had heeded the Holy Spirit’s prompting and given your life to Christ as a young person. Think how different your life would have been — walking with God every day and finding strength to meet life’s challenges. You also ran the risk of dying without Christ and His salvation.
By a simple prayer of faith do now what you should have done years ago, and give your life to Christ. It won’t change the past — but it will change the future. The Bible says, “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).
How can two people who were raised in the same way by the same family be so different when it comes to God? Jesus means everything to me, and my parents were the same way. But my sister has never wanted anything to do with God or the church, and she just laughs when I try to talk with her about it. — Mrs. A.R.
I don’t know all the reasons why this happens, but it does — sometimes in extreme ways. We’re all different, and some people by nature seem rebellious and independent, and they grow up determined to run their own lives without God — no matter what their upbringing has been.
But that doesn’t mean they are beyond God’s reach — not at all. Do you remember Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son? (You can read it in Luke 15:11-32.) It tells about two sons who grew up in the same family — but in time one son became rebellious and decided he didn’t want to be part of that family any longer. The Bible says he “set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living” (Luke 15:13).
But when he finally got up enough courage to return home, to his surprise his father forgave him and welcomed him back into the family. The same is true for us when we turn to God, our heavenly Father. He loves us, and no matter who we are or what we have done, He wants to welcome us home.
Pray for your sister, that God will convict her of her need for Christ. Pray too that she won’t let her pride get in the way — which it easily could. (After all, it’ll be hard for her to admit that she was wrong all these years and you were right.) Most of all, let her know you genuinely love her, and so does God.
I’m in prison, and everyone here is talking about an inmate who claimed he found God just a week before he died of cancer. How could he live like the devil most of his life but still get into heaven? He didn’t deserve to be saved. — L.H.
If God only let people into heaven who deserved to go there — then heaven would be empty! We all have sinned, and even one sin — just one — would be enough to keep you out of heaven.
In other words, someone who has followed Christ all their life doesn’t deserve to go to heaven any more than this man who had been a Christian only a week. No one “deserves” heaven because we are all sinners. As the Bible says, “There is no one righteous, not even one … for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10, 23). This is hard for us to accept, because down inside we all think God ought to reward us and allow us into heaven if we’re good enough. But it isn’t true, because God’s standard is nothing less than perfection.
This is why we need Christ, for only He can save us. He was without sin — but on the cross, all our sins were placed on Him, and He died in our place. Open your heart to Christ today.
The Rev. Billy Graham, whose column appears in Faith & Values every Saturday, can be contacted at “My Answer,” c/o Billy Graham, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, 1 Billy Graham Parkway, Charlotte, NC, 28201.