In every house I’ve lived, sooner or later, we have to deal with pests. We’ve battled everything from snakes to bats, all looking to make a home with us. But of course, the most common little pest has been the mouse. Unfortunately for him, but thankfully for us, its downfall is always its palate. I can drop a tidbit of something savory onto a trap and be guaranteed to seduce and eliminate any rodent within sniffing distance. What dumb little critters they are that let the growling in their stomachs obliterate their ability to discern their impending destruction.
But stupidity moves up the predatory chain as well. Depending on what my mind, emotions or body is craving, I easily ignore or minimize the potential consequences of my choices. It’s called temptation. And its allure defies my rational thought and spiritual values. My feelings don’t actually catch up with what’s truly at stake until I taste the bait and experience the pain of the sprung trap. And even then, if I don’t always learn my lesson.
In case you’re not sure where temptation leads, the Bible is clear: “Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death” (James 1:14-15 NLT). Yikes! It’s the starting point of a very nasty ending and nothing to mess around with—if I’ll take it to heart. For a Jesus follower, it’s vital to recognize what tempts me to disobey God and wisely install defenses against such deadly enticements.
Jesus urged His followers to take radical preventative steps, saying we should identify the sources of our temptations and sin and gouge them out or slice them off (Matthew 5:29-30). He metaphorically speaks of our eyes and our hands as being the causes, but of course we all know that our physical body parts are not where temptations begin. They take root somewhere deep within, among our insecurities and fears and they only use our body parts to accomplish their purpose—our destruction. Jesus says don’t coddle any of it. Find their points of supply and their triggers and cut them off.
To make matters even more difficult, we have a spiritual enemy who uses temptation quite skillfully to accomplish his goals. Satan is also known as the Tempter. He has observed our habits and weaknesses enough to know exactly where each of us are vulnerable. His suggestions and urgings always promise relief, comfort and a way out of difficult situations but at the cost of compromising or breaking covenant and fellowship with God. We are instructed to resist him (read post on Choosing to Be a Fighter). But how?
Jesus, Our Example
Temptation is so common for all people, it’s considered part of the human condition. The Bible tells us that although Jesus was God in human flesh, He was still tempted in every way. And yet He did not sin (Hebrews 4:15). This is good news! It tells us that just because we experience temptation does not necessarily mean we have sinned (read post on “the Problem”). It most certainly means each of us are human. But Jesus provides guidance for how a human who is committed to honor and love God is to respond when tempted.
The Bible tells us that the Spirit of God led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1). After not eating for 40 days, Satan said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.” What’s so bad about that? What was the real temptation here? I don’t think we’re being told that it’s wrong to eat when we’re hungry. Jesus’ response, however, gives a clue. His comeback is, “No, the scriptures say, ‘people do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” He was quoting Deuteronomy 8:3 from the Old Testament.
Jesus recognized what Satan was trying to do. It was His submission to the Spirit of God that had led Him into the wilderness and into a time of fasting. The enemy, on the other hand, was enticing Jesus to draw His strength, energy and purpose from physical stuff He could control rather than from relationship with the Father through the Holy Spirit. Jesus was offered immediate relief and satisfaction in His physical body along with personal assurance that He was the powerful Son of God by performing a simple trick. Instead, Jesus chose the longer route to comfort and relief by reminding Satan and Himself where His true, long-term strength came from—obedience to and fellowship with the Father.
What does this mean for us?
Temptations of the flesh can be so alluring. They urge us to prioritize the fulfillment of our mental, emotional and physical desires and needs over what God has already told us (read post on Gluttony). The pathway to satisfaction looks so clear in the moment of temptation. Yes, I will have to minimize or completely ignore some of the things God has spoken to me, but surely He too wants me to find relief in this situation. God will understand.
Such temptations exalt our personal feelings and perspective as the final judge of what’s good for us, above the word of God already given. Jesus cut right to the heart of it: my nourishment for life comes from what God says to me, he proclaimed with His actions. We must meditate on and nourish our souls with what He shows us here so we can be ready when Satan or even our own desires seek to ensnare us.
The trap can be baited with the promise of comfort, security, excitement, enriched ego or feeling more alive. And it may take the form of food, entertainment, porn, self-pity, approval from others, workaholism or any other indulgence that offers relief and satisfaction apart from God’s word. But the end is always the same. We accept the enticement, and sooner or later the triple hammer of guilt, shame and confusion pin us to the ground.
But fleshly temptations need not always defeat a follower of Jesus. It depends on how badly you want to overcome them. If you’re ready to cut off the sources of temptation or invite a new level of accountability into your life, things can change. Temptation does not have to automatically equal defeat. You don’t have to take the bait. Jesus wants to show you how.
In the next two posts, we’ll look at what we can learn from the other two temptations Jesus experienced in the wilderness.