By David Faust
I asked members of a Bible college faculty to take a piece of paper and write down a temptation they struggle to overcome. I joked that they also should feel free to write down a temptation they suspect others in the room struggle with. A theology professor glanced at the guy sitting next to him and quipped that he needed a bigger piece of paper!
Temptation is “common” to all of us (1 Corinthians 10:13). When you see a sign that says, “Wet cement—do not touch,” what makes you want to write your name in the cement? Why can you go on a diet, and by the next evening find yourself consuming a hot fudge sundae? Is it possible to overcome temptation?
Matthew 4:1-11 tells how Jesus faced the battle and emerged victorious.
The Truth About Temptation
Temptation often comes on the heels of positive experiences. Immediately after his baptism at the end of Matthew chapter 3, Jesus entered a season of temptation at the beginning of chapter 4. Likewise, a believer’s baptism produces joy, but usually it’s followed by intense spiritual tests. A few verses earlier, the Father affirmed Jesus by saying, “This is my Son” (Matthew 3:17), but the devil tried to plant seeds of doubt: “If you are the Son of God, prove it!” We are children of God, but the devil snarls, “How can you be a Christian? Remember all the things you’ve done wrong?”
Temptation intensifies when we’re weak. “After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry” (Matthew 4:2). What an understatement! Forty days mark the limit of what the physical body can endure without food. We’re vulnerable when we’re tired and hungry. We grow short-tempered, irritable, and discouraged. Or we simply get bored and yield to forbidden pleasure and excitement.
Temptation happens over extended periods of time. For a month and 10 days Jesus battled with the devil. Likewise, trials come at us day after day, in every season of life.
What does the devil use to trip us up? Misplaced physical desire: “Tell these stones to become bread” (v. 3). Misguided pursuit of recognition: “Throw yourself down” from the pinnacle of the temple (vv. 5, 6). Misdirected worship: “All the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” can be yours, the devil suggested, “if you will bow down and worship me” (vv. 8, 9).
Triumphing Over Temptation
When tempted, Jesus relied on God’s Word. He insisted, “It is written,” and quoted repeatedly from Deuteronomy. He made decisions based on principle, not his feelings alone.
He received the Spirit’s help. “Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness” (v. 1), and when the battle subsided, “angels came and attended him” (v. 11). On our own, we’re like kids with BB guns trying to stop an armored tank, but “the one who is in [us] is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Jesus wasn’t alone in the desert, and neither are we.
Still, we shouldn’t become complacent. Luke’s Gospel notes, “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). Satan did his best to derail Jesus’ mission, but the Lord remained faithful even when obedience to the Father took him to the cross. Our Savior “has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
1. What temptation seems strongest in your life right now?
2. How has the Lord given you victory over temptation in the past?
David Faust is president of Cincinnati Christian University, Cincinnati, Ohio, and past Executive Editor of The Lookout.
Use this guide to read through the Bible in 12 months. Follow David Faust’s comments on the highlighted text in every issue of The Lookout.
The Lookout’s Bible Reading Plan for January 13, 2013
Genesis 25, 26
Genesis 27, 28
Genesis 29, 30