Matthew 4: 1. says: “When Jesus was led by the Spirit, into the desert, to be tempted by the devil”, and it is clear that the 'Spirit' is the Holy Spirit of God himself. This has puzzled many Christians…
…but, Christ had to be 'in the world', otherwise he could not function as Messiah and Redeemer; and the fact of living in our world, placed Jesus in exactly the same position as us; subject to temptation.
Hebrews 4: 15., says: "He was tempted in all parts, like as we are, yet he remained without sin”. That Jesus could face up to, and overcome, such great temptation, should be an encouragement to us: but, how did he do it?
When things were at their worst for Jesus, he did the only sensible thing to be done: he refuted the temptations of the devil, through applying the Word of God to each part of the ongoing situation. And this is the way forward for us, when we are tempted; to apply the Word of God, and work our way through, and beyond, each temptation.
To live, rather than to merely exist, is to be a decision-maker. No matter how many choices or alternatives we may appear to have; in certain situations; eventually, they have to he narrowed down to just one decision.
In Christian terms, this 'one decision' has to be the right one, because, when we are faced by ‘either-or choices’; good or evil’; there are no ‘grey-areas’ in between.
Christ did not 'merely exist'. He was vibrantly alive! Therefore, from the beginning, he not only recognized the alternatives, but came to right decisions, through making Godly choices.
Throughout the Bible, the desert, or wilderness, is a place where properly-used quiet, creates opportunities for thoughtfulness and prayer: and where people may face up to reality; make decisions, and fix their choices. Biblical examples of this, relate to Abraham; Jacob; Moses; Elijah; John the Baptist; Paul, and, of course, Jesus himself
People who have been advised what to do, may or may not take that advice, and apply it. Those who have come to their own, powerful decision; about any worthwhile matter; in a difficult situation; are likely to stick to it. In the wilderness, that classical context of examination; Jesus was confronted by two, main, opposite-direction choices. He came to an immediate decision about them; and fixed his choice on remaining fully obedient to his calling of God; and stuck to it, come what may.
Jesus remained obedient to God; not only through refuting the three, specific temptations of the devil; but also through overcoming a fourth, and very subtle one, which the devil wove between the others. The fourth temptation was for Christ to doubt his own position in God's great scheme of things; and, perhaps, to give up a little; or even altogether.
Coming up out of the water, after his Jordan baptism, he heard the voice of the Father saying: "This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased"; and then, a while later, he heard those other, sneering-voiced; doubt-promoting, words of the devil: "If you are the Son of God .... if you are .. “. Christians often find themselves in a similar position. The Bible describes those who seek to obey the Lord, and follow his commands, as being ‘Children of God’; but, down through the ages, many have experienced doubt-promoting thoughts and words, saying: "If you are a 'Child of God'; then why are you behaving like this? And why don’t you do that, like a proper Christian?”.
In our own day, and in our own ways, we are sometimes beset by the same temptation; to doubt our position in God's love, and, perhaps, to give up a little in some events and situations; or even altogether. Temptations affecting us; wherever they come from; and whatever their nature; must be refuted in the same way that Christ overcame those affecting him; by applying the living word of God to each situation as it arises.
For many people, these days; even for many within churches; the very mention of the 'devil' speaks to them of unreality and superstition. Such people feel that, though they believe in a personalized good - Jesus Christ, they have outgrown any belief in personalized evil - the devil.
C.S.Lewis, in his book ‘The Screwtape Letters’, says that, today, the devil's greatest triumph lies in having persuaded people that he does not exist; because those who are not watching out against him, are unprepared in terms of spiritual defence; wide open to attack, and likely to succumb to the temptations that beset them; often unsure how things got like that.
Christians who do not believe Christ's own teaching about the existence and power of the devil, might ask themselves this question: "What other part of Christ’s teaching do I also choose to reject?”.
There are at least five truths that are safeguarded by a belief in the existence and power of the devil. They are:
I)- Evil is real, and it is potent. It is not merely the absence of good. Nor is it the mere total of individual or corporate bad deeds. Instead, it is an active force, which gets a grip on individuals and society.
2)- Evil is universal in its operation; and personal in its application. However, any distinction between 'good' and 'evil', usually arises only when opposite choices present themselves, in terms of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.
Where such decisions directly relate to us; we cannot duck out of them; for the final choice is always personal; ours alone to make.
3)- Evil is distorted good. Jesus described the devil as being God's enemy; who is at work in the world, perverting events and situations, and then presenting them in such a way that, at first sight, they seem acceptable.
This 'blinding-of-the-inner-sight', comes about because, so often, evil masquerades as good. The Bible calls the devil the ‘Slanderer’, and ‘the Father of lies’, whose cunning makes untruths sound like convincing truths.
4)- As Jesus taught, the devil is not only God's enemy, but ours also. An enemy seeks to destroy! Evil is anti-life! Nothing of it is ever ‘for us’. All of it is always against us’. Therefore, it must always be utterly resisted.
5)- Lastly, evil is attritional. Just as the water of a stream gradually wears away a stone, until it no longer exists as such: so evil can wear away the spiritual and moral qualities and attributes of a life, until a 'Child of God' no longer exists as such.
All temptation has at least something attractive about it; otherwise it would not have power to lead people astray. The power to lead people astray, differs from person to person, because each has their own idea of what is attractive; what may or may not be permissible; so each will be approached from their own, personal weak spot.
To overcome temptations, Christians must do as Jesus did. He had no agendas of his own. He said that he had no desire, other than to do the will of the Father, who sent him to do a particular work; and he staked his life on that. And so with us: within our, personal calling of God, who gives us the particular work of witness to Christ, through our lives of service. We should have no agenda of our own. Our only exercise of free will, and decision-making capacity; in each moral and spiritual, ‘either/or’ situation; should be to fix our choice upon God's will, and to follow it.
If we are to overcome temptation, through doing what Jesus did; then we must understand the method that he used. His method was very simple.
There, in the wilderness, and later, through many subsequent events; Jesus did not enter into debate with the devil, as tempter; nor discuss the details of the temptations that beset him. Instead, the Lord simply refuted what was offered: had nothing to do with it; by turning to the Word of God, in each and every case.
At Proverbs 4:10., the ‘Word of God’ is described as being ‘Life to those who find it', because it is powerful; strengthening, and enabling.
At Isaiah 55: 11., God says that he never speaks an idle word; that what he has said, will achieve what he had in mind. Part of what God had in mind from the beginning was to guard and guide, nourish and preserve, spiritually, all those who turn to him; thus enabling them to resist temptation; to be obedient, and to overcome evil.
St. Paul was a man who resisted and overcame many temptations. Out of his own experience of God’s words and promises, he was able to write this:
"No temptation has overtaken you, that is not common to man. God is faithful; and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation, he will also provide a way of escape; so that you may be able to endure it ".
As said, Jesus successfully applied the ‘Word of God’ to each and every temptation; through never debating the source, nature or details of it; but, instead, refuting and rejecting the whole thing - straight away.
Christ's clear demonstration that the immediate application of God’s Word actually works, should be both an encouragement and example to us; as also should Paul's testimony to his own experience.
Christians should never he so unwise as to seek other ways out of the temptations in their lives; for 'other ways' never work!
Instead, they should heed the One who says: ‘Follow me’; for it is only in following Jesus, that we can do as he did, and overcome temptation. Amen.