More Than Conquerers (Part 2)

When we encounter the passages presented in the gospel regarding Jesus’ temptations (which can not only be found in Matthew 4:1-11, but also Mark 1:12-13 and Luke 4:1-13), one of the first questions that probably spring to mind is “could Jesus have even sinned?”  He’s God after all.  Holy and perfect and incapable of evil or sin.   In the sense of His divine nature, no, He could not have sinned.  Yet, Jesus is also fully man.  So yes, he was fully tempted.  His human and divine natures are distinct yet united.  (Take a look back at my 4-part Incarnation study for further insight into Jesus’ nature as both God and man.)  So in His humanity, Jesus was tempted in every way we are, and in His divinity He was not tempted.

David Platt, in a sermon on temptation, likened it this way.  If someone asked you to point out someone you love then posed the question, “could you murder that person?” you would emphatically answer “no!”  Morally speaking you could do no such thing.  Yet the question really has two meanings.  Physically, yes, you can absolutely commit the act.  Inasmuch,

“…Jesus, in His deity…could not have sinned.  He is morally incapable of such an action.  Yet at the same time, Jesus could have sinned in the sense that He was physically capable of eating bread or throwing Himself off a temple or bowing the knee to Satan.”

The temptations we face are nothing new.  All temptations are common to man, as 1 Corinthians 10:13 states:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.  -1 Corinthians 10:13a

Sure, we’ve devised new ways of surrendering to old temptations.  But we will be tempted no differently than Jesus was in the desert in those days because He was tempted in every way that we are.  The core to all temptation is the casting off of God as Father.  We see this in the methods Satan used against Jesus.  And there are three frontiers upon which all temptation falls.  And here they are:  we are tempted to provide for ourselves, protect ourselves, and exalt ourselves.  Let’s look at each of these.

Providing for ourselves has at its inherit temptation, the desire to fulfill our wants apart from God’s will.  God is a good Father who satisfies any desires we have.  The problem is, Satan is working in those areas of want.  So we are going to either trust that Jesus satisfies and is sufficient or we are going to find our own way and not be led into delight, but destruction.  Satan presented Jesus with the opportunity to do something about His intense hunger from His 40 days of fasting.  I can’t imagine going without food for that long! I get cranky when I go much longer than four hours!  But He knew the words of the Father that the bread of demons destroys.  The bread that fills the stomach would not last, but the daily bread of God’s Word would endure.

The fact is people turn to substances (legal or illegal), self-help, therapies, entertainments, and all other manner of substitutions, and they will never be satisfied apart from God’s will.  In my battle against sin, I finally decided one day that I simply wanted Jesus more than I wanted to fulfill my own desires, however good they made me feel.  I had made it so complicated with all my “yah, but God, it’s just that…” justifications and it really came down to simply that.  I chose to devote time to the discipline of Bible study and God was faithful to reward me.  He showed me His goodness in His Word and I knew I could never want anything else!  Jesus Christ is sufficient for me, and while I’ll potentially always struggle to want that which is not in God’s will, I will not choose it over the good that God gives.  That is, God may never see fit to free me from my weakness, but I at last believe and trust that He has enabled me to fight it.  Just the small taste of His goodness whetted my appetite for more.  It’s giving up the mud pies in the slums for the paradise that awaits (paraphrased from C.S. Lewis).  Urges may tempt me, but I choose to let them drive me to prayer and Scripture and God Himself.

We are also tempted to protect ourselves. Satan had taken Jesus to the top of the temple.  He even used the Word to manipulate Jesus.  Satan knows Scripture!  So do we!  But what’s the difference?  It’s hearing vs. doing.  (James 2:19)  But Jesus was faithful!  He knew Satan’s lies because He was that in-tune with the Father.  He knew not to put God to the test in such a way.  And this is the heart of the temptation.  Self-protection is a lack of trust in God.  We cause ourselves to question His inherent presence in our lives and what He really says in His Word.  Satan was attempting to make Jesus test God’s protection.  But Jesus’ faith did not require such a test because He had complete faith and trust in His Father.

The first sin was committed because Satan twisted God’s words to Adam.  Be so wary when the question arises “does God really say?”.  In our societal pressures of tolerance and universalism, we would do well to remember that Scripture says the way is narrow that leads to life.  I believe it is much more narrow than any of us really care to think about.  Few walk that road, so when we find ourselves in the popular majority of the world’s opinion, let it be a red flag.  We must search the Word, ask the Spirit for wisdom, and let Him do His work, if we are humble enough to lay aside our political and social agendas.  We are tempted to question, twist, doubt, ask for signs, and complain, even though God has given us every reason to completely trust Him by sacrificing His Son.  When we remain in spiritual infancy, our faith wavers with our circumstances and we develop the attitude of “what has God done for me lately?”  But when we understand Jesus because we’ve invested time in the Word for ourselves, we can rest and not worry in His unshakeable, sovereign security.

Exalting ourselves, the third form of temptation, is an issue of pride.  Jesus was tempted to receive his reward right then and there, apart from the path the Father had planned for Him.  This was probably pretty enticing considering where Jesus was headed, and given the insight we get to the anguish He expressed over it (in the Garden of Gethsemane).  He had the choice of receiving His glory by the path of suffering that His Father had before Him, or the easy way Satan offered, if He’d just bow His knee to him.  Jesus was presented the choice for right-now gratification in place of eternal glorification. To choose gratification is a dually damning choice.  Asserting ourselves means we are taking from God His worship. Lifting ourselves; lowering God.  Doubly destructive.

We can take all the accomplishments, pleasures, and possessions now in an instant gratification world, and the Bible is very clear that that will be all we get.  Or we can heed Jesus’ words that the first will be last, and the last will be first in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Jesus told His followers, as recorded in Luke 9:23:

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

In following Jesus Christ, we have willingly abandoned our rights for the better will of God.  We are humble because we know we have nothing to bring to the table to make us right.  God did it all.  So we set a blank check before us to give to Him.  Our lives to do as He wills for the spread of the gospel.  The exaltation of His name, not our own.

We can triumph over temptation through Him.  This was the greatest truth God showed me from this passage. My weaknesses become an asset that I may use to rely on Him and be content in all circumstances.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. -2 Corinthians 12:9-10

We have the hope of Satan’s defeat and the assurance that the Church will be victorious in the war of the Kingdom: the exaltation of God by every tribe, tongue, and nation.  Jesus showed his qualification to be King in His victory over Satan.  Being tempted in every way common to man, He remained obedient to God and became the sacrifice for all sin.  Adam failed; one man’s sin condemned all.  Jesus won; one man’s sacrifice made recompense for all sin.  Hebrews 2:17-18 tells us why Jesus is not only the example, but the basis of claiming victory in our own lives through Him:

“Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation of the sins of the people.  For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

We do not have to be like the cattle being led into the slaughterhouse.  The Word does say that God will not let us be tempted beyond our ability.

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. -1 Corinthians 10:13

Oh how I wrestled with that verse, not seeing any evidence of its truth in the suffering I endured in the battle.  I thought I had no way of escape and if God did not remove it from me, I would not last much longer, but be lost to it forever.  But a wise pastor told me to see the difference in my expectation.  God said He would open the door, but I have to choose to walk through it.

More Than Conquerers (Part 2)

More Than Conquerers (Part 1)

The temptations of Jesus as presented in Matthew were critical accounts to my recent liberation from a long-time sin in my life.  (I recently shared with my church this story, and invite you to watch it, if you have not, in my “But God…” post.)  I feel like I should lead with the summary statement right up front.  Jesus Christ was tempted in every way that man is tempted and was victorious, so He provides the basis from which I can be victorious in resisting temptation.

Never has there been more evidence in my life that there is a battle going on on a spiritual level between good and evil.  In those days of intense anguish, wanting so much to not do the thing I wanted to do, I could literally feel the crushing weight of combat.  With tears of frustration, I would cry aloud to God the Father to help me in that moment to resist the evil one.

Spiritual warfare is not something to consider lightly, especially to those who seek to live obediently in the global command of making disciples.  There is very much a spiritual world and we are involved in the war.  As I faced my battle I came to a clear determination in my mind that the devil is not omnipresent as God is.  Satan is created; God is Creator.  Satan is subordinate; God is sovereign.  I also realized that when I face temptation, it is Satan’s attack on the Kingdom of God, not just me.  That’s why temptation doesn’t end when we receive Jesus’ grace.  If anything, the intensity of battle has been ratcheted up a few notches.  Satan lost us, and he is going to make dang sure we don’t multiply disciples according to the Word of God.  That’s why it is so intense!  It’s about more than just ourselves!  It’s an assault on the Kingdom!

The spiritual war has high stakes.  Eternity hangs in the balance, and the battle is being waged wherever the gospel has the opportunity to be preached.  Which means, every tribe, tongue, and nation are subject to the war.  And you and I are involved personally as soldiers for the gospel.  For me, it came down to the fact that Satan was distracting me from being on the front lines of being a formidable force for the gospel.  The greatest scheme of the devil is to lure away followers of Christ from gospel effectiveness without us even realizing it.  In his book “Tempted and Tried,” Russell Moore likened it to cattle being led into a slaughterhouse.  Here’s an excerpt from his book:

In this system the cows aren’t prodded off the truck but are led, in silence, onto a ramp.  They go through a “squeeze chute,” a gentle pressure device that mimics a mother’s nuzzling touch.  The cattle continue down the ramp onto a smoothly curving path.  There are no sudden turns.  The cows experience the sensation of going home, the same kind of way they’ve traveled so many times before.

As they mosey along the path, they don’t even notice when their hooves are no longer touching the ground.  A conveyor belt slowly lifts them gently upward, and then, in the twinkling of an eye, a blunt instrument levels the surgical strike right between their eyes.  They’re transitioned from livestock to meat and they’re never aware enough to be alarmed by any of it.

I knew I had to examine my life hard and take on a level of vigilance against the devil’s schemes I had never maintained.  But how can I know I’m being led astray if I’m not aware that I am?  A clear gospel description of the life being lived in obedience of faith unfolded itself to me as I studied the Word.  It is the opposite of what the world, and regrettably many teachings in the church, say.  Jesus told His followers that the more they looked like Him and obeyed Him, the more the world would stand against them.  So that’s a measure.  What kind of hardships do I face for my faith?  Persecution is little known here in America, but there are ways in which we can and will suffer for the gospel.  We don’t go looking for suffering, but we should be expecting it.

It also became clear to me that I was subconsciously using religious activities to somehow balance my sin, as if I were justifying them.  That’s not too different from the Pharisees in Jesus’ time.  They honorably thought they were pleasing God by following a strict set of man-imposed rules (which they elevated to the same level as God’s Law).  But Jesus condemned them.  The scribes knew about the prophecies of the coming Messiah, yet they ignored who Jesus was while He was with them.  Was I fooled into thinking practices like going to church on Sundays or attending Bible studies or giving or serving in a prescribed ministry role earned me favor with God?  I never said that in so many words, but oh how deceived I was to acknowledge Christ but live my life the way I wanted.  But James implores followers of Jesus:

But be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (James 1:22)

This is the subtle battleground where Satan wages his war.  And it’s a pattern that we must recognize and understand if we are to avoid.  So I’d like to recount some of the teachings I learned during my time dealing with the sin in my life.  The path of temptation always starts with the question of identity.  Whether you think too highly of yourself or too lowly, as long as you are focused on your present circumstances instead of the eternal picture, he will have his entryway.  This is why people are able to agree with one thing but do another.  (For example, “I believe sexual immorality is wrong.  But I will watch movies with openly sexual graphics.  Or I think it’s okay to have sex with my girlfriend now because we are going to be married.”)  Paul, in Romans, outlines the process.  First we practice a thing even though we know that those who do deserve to die.  Then we begin to give approval to those who practice them.  We have to remember who we are in Christ.  A very simple and powerful question I ask before a choice I am battling with is this:  will I honor Christ with this choice or am I crucifying Him again?

With our identity in a state of flux, our desires then become conflicted.  James says we are enticed by our own evil desires.  So make no mistake about it:  God does not tempt you.  Tempting has as its goal evil work.  God only accomplishes good.  God allows for testing to come in our lives to build our character to look more like Jesus and give glory to Himself when we make the right choice.  This is the purpose to which all things work together, in the well-known Romans 8:28 verse.  God intends for good what Satan intends for evil.  God, the Sovereign One, allows Satan, the subordinate one, to tempt us as a matter of testing us.  Desires build up slow and steady, driven by each of our unique personalities.  But God is able to change our desires to His desires if we live in obedient faith to His Word.  That’s why it is so important for us to all individually invest time and effort into studying this Word for ourselves!

Temptation progresses into a concealment of the future.  We are so easily able to put consequences out of our mind, whether temporal or eternal.  Not only are the evil spiritual forces willing to point us to what we desire, but they help us cover it up, fueling our repetition.  All the while, our relationship with the entirety of the Triune God is damaged.  The conscious choice of sin destroys our connection with the Father (Isaiah 59:2), it re-crucifies Jesus (Hebrews 10:26), and it grieves the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30).  Our gospel effectiveness is destroyed and the kingdom of God is stifled through us.

…but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. -Isaiah 59:2

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins…  -Hebrews 10:26

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. -Ephesians 4:30

[For further insight into how I believe our choices of entertainment are among the most deceptive in killing our God-given purposes, read my former post “A Recipe for Frog Soup”.]

Temptation is an assault on our claim as children of God.  When we commit sin, we reject Him as God the Father, who only wants what is best for us and detests that which destroys us.  The suffering we endure as followers of Jesus aligns us to be conformed to His image (Romans 8:17) because it is suffering that He endured.  But there’s hope in Him as we face being led to the slaughter like sheep.  For we are made to be “more than conquerers through Him who loved us.”  (Romans 8:36-37)  And we should expect no less than what Jesus endured and was yet victorious over.

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. -1 Peter 2:21-22

 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. -1 Peter 4:12-14

In the next post, I’ll explore what God made alive to me in the account of Jesus facing temptations.

More Than Conquerers (Part 1)