Comment (for 21/2/2010. For 17/2/2013 click here)
It is striking how Jesus conquers the temptations of the devil simply by quoting Scripture. The first temptation was twofold: first, to doubt who he really was (‘If you are the Son of God’) and second, to use his power to look after his own needs. The other two temptations were to doubt God’s plans and to achieve his goal to become Lord of all the easy way, Satan’s way (thereby avoiding the cross). The second temptation was a frontal attack: put yourself under my authority and I will give you what you want. The third temptation was more subtle: you can achieve your goal if you demonstrate that you really are the Messiah by a miracle – after all, the Scripture you love to quote promises that you’ll get away with this.
What was wrong with these suggestions?
The temptation to doubt who he was flew in the face of what Jesus had heard God say when he was baptised: ‘You are my beloved Son.’ He did not need to prove to himself that he had the power to turn those loaf-shaped stones into bread. Nor were physical needs the main thing – however hungry he was. If he put God’s kingdom first, his Father would deal with the rest. We do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from God (Deuteronomy 8:3) It boils down to a question of trust.
It should be obvious to us that worshipping Satan will never lead to godly results. But it is easy to be so seduced by a vision of what the end might be that we don’t care how we get there – especially if the road looks like a short cut. In the Christian life, no end justifies ungodly means. God alone is to be worshipped: his will is what matters.
How about the temptation to do a miracle – a temptation backed up with Scripture? We can easily misquote the Bible to back up our plans. What is needed is not to abandon the Bible, but to get to know it better and to know the way God works. Although God does work miracles, and sometimes does so to demonstrate his power, that is always at his discretion. Awesome power does not produce love for God, and trust in his power is not the same as trust in him. We are not to attempt to boost our faith or that of other people by putting God to the test (Deuteronomy 6:16), unless God tells us to (e.g. Isaiah 7:10-14).
We face similar temptations to Jesus – to doubt our relationship to God, to doubt his purposes or his goodness. We have similar resources he used to conquer those temptations – Scripture.
1) What temptations are you most prone to? What does God say to them?
2) How can Scripture help us?
Jesus was led by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil. What does that mean? How can God the Holy Spirit lead anyone to be tempted to do something evil? Who is the devil? What are we to learn from this?
Many people do not believe there are such beings as evil spirits or the devil; they assume such belief is mere superstition. Many others have experienced evil in ways that suggest malevolent spiritual powers are at work. I believe it is best to accept the traditional interpretation of the Bible’s teaching unless it can be proved to be wrong.
The word ‘devil’ means ‘accuser’ (or ‘slanderer’ if the accusation is false). The name ‘Satan’ means ‘adversary’ or ‘opponent’. In the Bible Satan is seen as the opponent of God, who chiefly works by tempting human beings (the crown of God’s creation) into doing wrong so that their relationship with their Creator is spoiled. Satan is seen not as a mere force, but as a malevolent spiritual being of immense power and authority – the ‘prince of this world’, Jesus calls him (John 12:31 and elsewhere). He is not alone; he has his own angels, and is the ruler of demons or evil spirits (who may be the same as his angels). Satan, however, is not equal to God; Jesus has conquered him, and his doom is certain.
In this passage we see the devil trying to spoil Jesus’ mission. He could not force Jesus to sin; all the devil could do was to tempt him, by trying to sell to him all the advantages that he would gain if only he agreed to the devil’s suggestions. He does the same with us. Temptations often come in the form of thoughts: something which we know deep down to be not God’s will for us is presented to our minds as attractive, beneficial, fun, and worth the risk. The initial idea often comes ‘out of the blue’; we need to recognise that it is not from ourselves, but from Satan or his minions.
The Bible tells us that Satan is not alone in tempting us. Our nature has a bias towards evil – James 1:14 tells us we are tempted by our own evil desires. This is called ‘the flesh’ in older versions of the Bible. There is also ‘the world’ – there are plenty of temptations in the world around, a world which so often leaves God out of the reckoning.
Temptation is unavoidable. It is not a sin to be tempted to do wrong. Jesus was tempted but remained sinless. When we are tempted, when these thoughts and desires come upon us, they do not defile us and make us guilty of sin. It all depends on what we decide to do – whether we give in to temptation or resist it. If we give in, that is when we sin. If we resist, we remain guiltless.
Temptation seems to be necessary. Jesus had to face temptation. So do we. The word for temptation is the same word in Greek as the word for testing or trial. When we are being tempted we are wrestling with evil, and that is something each of us has to do. Such wrestling develops our spiritual muscles – our dependence on God, our faith, and our willingness to obey. Any success we have is a defeat for evil, and that helps pave the way for God’s kingdom to advance. We are promised that we will never meet situations we cannot handle (1 Corinthians 10:13); we will never as Christians meet an irresistible temptation.
Obviously we do not seek temptation (‘Lead us not into temptation.’) But when we meet it, by God’s grace we can resist it, and choose to do the right thing.
1) What temptations do you think are the most difficult to resist?
2) What has helped you resist temptations in the past?