I've done the church thing now for most of my life. I'm thankful for many of my experiences. While I do have my share of "church owies" — minor scrapes to gaping wounds — I am still grateful for God's people in my life.
I've heard many messages about Jesus' temptations and how the Lord overcame them. Nearly all of these lessons insisted that knowing the Scriptures is how we can overcome temptation. But I'm skeptical. I don't doubt the essentiality of the Scriptures to help us identify sin, know truth, and see through the lies of Satan. Unfortunately, however, flawed humans need more than knowing the Scriptures to overcome temptation.
This may sound blasphemous to some who "cut their teeth in Sunday school and were raised in the church." Before you write me off as a heretic, please read Matthew 3:13-4:11 and Luke 3:21-22, 4:1-14. Then, please pray about what I am about to share. Ask the Holy Spirit to confirm, correct, or dismiss it, but please, make an intentional, prayerful, and thoughtful choice. We all do battle with temptation every single day of our lives.
Matthew and Luke connect the accounts of Jesus' baptism with his temptations. They show us that Jesus' rebuke of Satan with Scripture was the final step in the Lord's triumph over Satan, but not the actual power to resist. Jesus accessed power in other areas of his walk with God as his Father to stand against temptation.
Jesus faced temptations just as we do. Satan dialed up the perfect set of enticements for Jesus' points of vulnerability at the most opportune moment, for Jesus to succumb. The evil one was going to war with God's plan to save us. So, when Jesus was hungry, alone, and had been contemplating his mission that would end on a cross, Satan's offers were quite enticing:
- Use your power to benefit yourself — turn these stones into bread!
- Make sure your Father will protect you — prove that God will protect you before you have to face the cross!
- Don't go through the suffering, shame, and abandonment of the cross when you don't have to — bow down to me, and I will give you all the world's kingdoms.
These were real temptations for the Lord when Satan pitched them to him. They each spoke to the heart of Jesus' ministry and his role as the suffering servant of God. When Satan presented them, the Lord resisted and then rebuked the evil one with the Scriptures the devil had distorted. So, how did Jesus do it? How did he defeat Satan in these temptations and the many others that followed?
Here are several things for you to consider, and I believe they are important:
- Jesus was confident in his relationship with the Father.
The Father emphasized this strong relationship when he affirmed his relationship with Jesus ("This is my Son…"), his love for Jesus ("...whom I love..."), and his pleasure in Jesus ("...with him I am well pleased.") If you doubt the importance of these three affirmations, notice the first words from Satan to Jesus: "If you are the Son of God..." If we are going to have the power to defeat Satan's temptations, we must seek a relationship with the Father.
- The power of the Holy Spirit helped Jesus defeat Satan and his temptations.
the Holy Spirit led Jesus into and through his time in the wilderness. The Spirit led him to and through his temptations. Jesus emerged from this wilderness time full of the Spirit. As important as knowing the Bible is, the Scriptures have little power outside our willpower to help us resist temptation. Knowing the Scriptures without relying on the power of the Holy Spirit is like loading a pistol with blanks with the enemy approaching us with live ammunition. When we invite the Holy Spirit to lead and empower our lives, we have the spiritual ammunition and armor to defeat the evil one.
- Jesus rebuked the lies of Satan.
Many believers don't realize they don't have to believe everything they think. Many lies Satan feeds into our hearts are words he presents to us through our thoughts. Learning to speak truth back to lies in our private thinking is critical. Knowing the Scriptures is important. The Spirit can work on our own spirit, along with the Scriptures, and help us distinguish the truth of God from the lies of the evil one. We can resist the false and destructive messages of the evil one often disguised as our own self-abusive and self-destructive thoughts. Our thoughts and desires can be the source of many of our temptations. We must learn to speak rebuke to the wrong thoughts we receive from the devil.
- Jesus knew his mission as God's Son so he could refuse the distractions of temptation.
He knew he was sent from God and would return to God. He knew the role the prophets had foretold for him. He knew that only he alone had the power to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. He knew his mission, so he could choose to stay on mission for God and for us. The Spirit can help us discern our mission for each stage of our lives. As we sharpen that focus, we, too, can refuse the distractions and enticements of the evil one, knowing that people need us to live out God's mission for us.
How do we resist the enticing allures of temptation, especially when the evil knows how to present them so enticingly?
- We spend time in God's Word to further know the Scriptures to discern truth from error.
- We know the heart of God behind the Scriptures because we have a relationship with God as our Father.
- We rely on the leading, discernment, and might of the Holy Spirit to guide us and empower us through past our temptations.
- We argue back against the evil, self-condemning, and tempting thoughts the devil puts in our heads by using the truth of Scripture, propelled by the Spirit.
- We realize God has a mission for us to impact and bless others, and we don't want to damage that mission.
We are all going to stumble and fall into temptation. Hopefully, however, as we grow more experienced in executing these five spiritual strategies, the number of our stumbles will become less frequent and less severe. As we are more like Jesus, we can say an emphatic "NO!" to temptation!