Our witness for Jesus is first and foremost displayed in the quality of our lifestyle. And sometimes we can spoil our witness for Jesus because we make bad choices. So, believe it or not, I have a story about rattlesnakes to help us remember how important it is to avoid bad choices.

A young girl was walking through the woods one day when she almost stepped on a snake. When she saw the snake, she pulled back in horror, but to her amazement, the snake cried out to her, “Oh, I’m so glad you came along. I’m so cold and need a friend. Will you please pick me up and put me under your coat so I can get warm, and will you be my friend?”

In fear, the girl replied, “Oh, no, I can’t possibly do that. You’re a rattlesnake and you will bite me. I can’t pick you up.”

“No,” the rattlesnake answered, “that’s not true. I promise I won’t bite you. I really want to be your friend, and after all, am I not a creature of God’s, just like you? I’m so cold; please pick me up.”

She began to feel sorry for the snake and sat down to think it over. As she looked at the snake, it became more beautiful to her with its many colors. She noticed its graceful lines and movement, and gradually it began to look harmless to her.

She thought, “Well, he’s right after all. God created him. And just because most rattlesnakes bite doesn’t mean this one will. It seems like a very nice snake, and shouldn’t I be willing to be a friend when someone asks me?”

So, she said, “Yes, I will be your friend,” and she picked up the snake and put it under her warm coat. Immediately the snake bit her, and the pain and poison flooded her body. She cried out in pain, “Why did you do that? Why did you bite me? You said you wanted to be my friend.”

As the snake wiggled away from her, it turned and with a smirk, said, “Hey, you knew what I was when you picked me up.”

It’s a fairy tale; snakes don’t talk. But there’s a most important lesson for us in that simple story. How easy it is for us to rationalize away the dangers that we know exist when something looks attractive to us. How easily we are deceived into lowering our standards and going down the wrong path because our human reasoning tells us it will be all right.

I remember talking with a lovely woman who had allowed herself to be deceived into a sexual relationship with a man. He had treated her kindly, and at that point in her life she was very vulnerable to kind treatment. It felt good. Then, when he invited her to spend a weekend with him and purchased the airline tickets, it seemed exciting and flattering to her. She chose to ignore the obvious dangers that lay in following this path.

She never intended for the relationship to become immoral; she thought they could simply enjoy a weekend together—alone. But she had picked up a rattlesnake, though, of course, she wanted to believe it was a harmless friendly animal. But it wouldn’t take an expert to know that she was playing with a rattlesnake. The signs were obvious; she chose to ignore them because at the time it appealed to her. But later on she had to deal with the pain and the poison that were the aftermath of that relationship.

Well, I’m sure we’ve all done things that we really knew were taking us into dangerous territory, playing with rattlesnakes so to speak, but it looked so inviting at the time that we chose to ignore the obvious, and then had to deal with the poison which infected us as a result. I surely have, and I can tell you that rattlesnakes never change their nature. If it looks like a rattlesnake, acts like a rattlesnake, talks like a rattlesnake, you can count on it, it will bite like a rattlesnake, with no respect for persons, no exceptions.

In Proverbs 4:25-27 we read “Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.” And in Proverbs 14:12, “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.”

It’s really important that we don’t allow deceptive allurements to take us away from what we know to be the right path. The writer of Proverbs encourages us to just keep looking straight ahead, don’t even let your eyes wander off the right way. Don’t take even a little detour to the right or the left, because once you do, you’re in rattlesnake country.

When you think of our fairy tale, the first mistake she made was to talk to that snake—right? When you see a rattlesnake, there’s really no need for a discussion. You know their nature, you know it’s not going to change, so you don’t stop and talk; you run away as fast as you can.

Jesus said if your hand offends you cut it off, if your eye offends you pluck it out, if your foot offends you, get rid of it. That sounds very drastic, doesn’t it? Jesus is definitely trying to make a strong point with us, and that is, it’s better to be minus a foot or a hand or an eye than it is to allow ourselves to be caught in sin and led into wrong paths.

I think it is at the initial stages that we make our most serious mistakes. Early on in the process of temptation, when first we are confronted with that rattlesnake, we have the opportunity to get away from it. But so often we make the mistake of thinking we can play around with it just a little bit, never intending to pick it up.

That’s where our problems start. When you see a rattlesnake, remind yourself that there is no safe territory with this thing. The Bible says that when we think we’re standing, we’re most likely to fall. When you find yourself thinking, “I can handle this,” or “I’ll just go so far and no further,” then you know you’re talking to that rattlesnake. Don’t allow the temptation to go any further. As soon as you see it, run.

In 1 Corinthians 10:13 we read: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And 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 endure it.” When you encounter a rattlesnake, you can be certain there is a way out. If you’ll move fast, God has provided a way of escape. The problem is that all too often we are attracted by that rattlesnake and hang around too long, and then the trap door is shut, and we’ve missed the way of escape.

The second mistake our friend in the fairy tale made was to listen to the lies of the snake. His lies sounded reasonable to her. He even used God in there somewhere to deceive her into thinking he was harmless. You know, one thing we know for sure, Satan our enemy is a masterful liar. He knows how to deceive us with his enticing words.

If she had never stopped to talk to him, she would never have been deceived by his lies. But once she listened, she had difficulty discerning the truth and she couldn’t think very clearly.

Remember, when you walk into the enemy’s territory, you are inviting deception, because Satan is the father of lies and he’s very good at it. He mixes the lies with enough truth to stump you. This dear woman who shared her predicament with me was still struggling with the lies that had deceived her. After all, he really was a nice man, and though she knew it was wrong, she kept trying to rationalize it away because it had made her feel good to be treated so kindly.

Oh, do we ever get ourselves into predicaments when we start listening to our feelings. Remember, just because it feels good doesn’t mean it’s right! Your feelings can lead you so far off the right path, you wouldn’t believe it! If that’s the kind of rationalizing you’ve been doing, you’re picking up a rattlesnake.

After she made the mistake of talking to the rattlesnake instead of running away, and then being deceived by its lies, her next mistake was to ignore the laws and principles that are always true about rattlesnakes. When you put a rattlesnake under your coat, when you play in their territory, when you put yourself in places where you know rattlesnakes live, you’re going to get bitten because that’s the nature of rattlesnakes, and it won’t change even for you.

As we’ve seen so many leaders in politics and religion who have been disgraced by immoral behavior and loss of integrity, we wonder how they could have gotten into such a mess. Well, I think many times they just thought the rules didn’t apply to them. They considered themselves above the laws that the rest of us must live by.

Somehow power does that to people. But don’t be fooled. Nobody breaks God’s principles and gets by with it. If you see people who appear to be prospering while living in rebellion against God’s laws, remember you haven’t seen the end of the story yet. No one can live in opposition to God’s moral laws and his principles and escape the consequences.

What kind of rattlesnakes have you encountered lately? There are many kinds all around us. Perhaps it’s a sexual relationship, or a matter of honesty. Maybe you think you can get involved in some occult stuff and not get burned, or take up some of the New Age ideas without harm. Maybe you’re into pornography or music that is not edifying. Could it be that you think you can ignore God’s Word and spiritual things and devote your life to making money and get by with it? Those are some common everyday rattlesnakes that many of us confront.

Have you picked up any rattlesnakes lately? Think you can handle it without being bitten? Trying to rationalize away the dangers you’re facing, and justify your behavior somehow? Well, the facts are you can’t get by with it. Maybe some of those rattlesnakes don’t bite as quickly as others, and you’re thinking that you’re getting by with it. Don’t be deceived; sooner or later the poison will enter your mind and body and you’ll know you’ve been bitten.

Well, perhaps that simple fairy tale will stick with you and help you remember that rattlesnakes never change their nature, no matter how good they talk or how attractive they look. As Christians in a world that is full of lots of rattlesnakes, we can avoid them by staying on the straight and narrow road, keeping our eyes and our feet fixed straight ahead, looking for and taking the escape routes which are provided when we do encounter a temptation, running fast away at the first hint that we’re in rattlesnake country.

Our testimony for Jesus Christ is at stake; our­ ability to be used by God for eternal purposes is threatened. It’s not worth it, believe me, it’s not worth it. Stay away from the rattlesnakes.