Temptation (Jon Fryer)
A study based upon Luke 4;1-13.
The very first thing that struck me when reading Luke 4 and the most important thing to remember about temptation is this: Satan is real. He exists. Jesus doesn't see Satan as a myth, or as a joke with horns and a pitchfork, or even as some unavoidable trait of human psychology because 'society was to blame' or any such rubbish. Satan is a real, intelligent, evil personality. The Bible tells us this. He hates God and wants to hurt Him, but since God is God and is therefore more-or-less bullet-proof, the only way Satan can hurt God is by getting at us. He hates us as well because we have a relationship with God that he can never have and we show him what he has thrown away.
Satan is the author of all sin who tries to separate us from God by any means possible. In John 8;44 Jesus calls Satan a 'murderer' - his aim is to kill the spiritual life of man – if it was not for him, Adam would never have died. Fortunately for us Satan has no power of his own to harm us - Satan is Hebrew for 'The Accuser' and he only has power when there is sin present for him to accuse and condemn. This is the purpose of temptation – Satan can not push us off of the straight and narrow way into the quicksand that is sin, because a Christian is completely protected by the armour of God, but what he can do is to try and talk us into jumping into the quicksand of our own freewill, and he is very good at this - John 8;44 also calls Satan 'a liar and the father of all lies.'
Romans 8;31-39 tells us that nothing can separate us from the love of God, not even sin, because Jesus died for us. Why then does Satan even bother to tempt Christians? After all, he has already lost us from his kingdom and we are already forgiven. The thing is, Satan may not be able to separate us from the love of God, but he can try to trick us into leaving the will of God. When we give into Satan's promptings we leave behind' God's will for us, and this is a double victory for him - firstly, it hurts God for us to reject Him even temporarily. It doesn't show up as well in English as it does in Hebrew, but when Adam first sins in Eden there is a vast sense of loss when God cries out 'Adam, where are you?' (Gen 3;6-9). We were created to be His companions and to never be apart from Him, and sin ruins this. Secondly, if we deliberately walk out of God's will we leave behind all of His promises except His love - we leave behind His guidance, we leave behind His protection, and we leave behind His power. Although this is only temporary until we ask for forgiveness, and can have no possible bearing on our eternal salvation, it is still a period when we leave ourselves wide open to attack from evil and are completely useless' in advancing Christ's kingdom. Sin doesn't stop you from being a Christian, because it is already paid for, but here and now it does stop you from being an effective Christian - at the very least it damages your credibility with non-Christians.
Some Christians refuse to talk about Satan because they say that it attributes too much power to him. I agree that those Christians who see Satan everywhere often come close to attributing the power of God to the enemy - only God is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. On the other hand, in WWII people used to say 'That Hitler is bombing London again', but they didn't think that he was personally flying the plane, but rather that he was ultimately responsible. In the same way Satan is ultimately responsible for inflicting sin on this world. He may not be all powerful, but he is the Prince of this world and of all the evil spiritual powers of this present darkness (Eph 6;11-12). His demonic forces are as real and as active as the angels of Heaven. Although his side lost the war at the very instant that Jesus rose again, the battle still goes on in the heavenly realms. However, it is not only in the invisible world that the battle takes place - it takes place every time a Christian is faced with a choice between God's will and the Devil's temptations.
Some people find the idea of Satan and his demons frightening, and quite rightly so, but the idea is also strangely comforting. If the psychologists and sociologists are right, then evil is a part of us and we have no hope of beating it. However, the concept of a Tempter means that evil is outside of us, alien to us. We are made in the very image of God, and evil has no part with us. Therefore it is possible to resist and to overcome evil, and the Bible tells us of the weapons and armour that God provides for us to enable us to fight the enemy and to win.
So how do we resist temptation? As in everything else, Jesus is our model and best example. In Luke 4 we see him resist every attack by returning to the truth of the Word of God. He says 'It is written...', and if God wrote it then it is therefore true, and all Satan's lies, distortions and half-truths are shown up to be false. Jesus uses the verses almost as if he is fencing with the enemy - back and forth, attack meets defence, and indeed the Bible often uses the picture of a sword to describe the Word of God – see Heb 4;12-15. The sword is two edged because it can be used in defence, to resist the enemy as Jesus does in Luke 4, but it can also be used to attack the Devil's kingdom, cutting the chains of deception that bind others - 2 Cor 10;3-5.
To carry the sword-fight imagery further, fencing needs practice! If you get good at fencing but then let it slip for six months then it all falls apart - the knowledge is still there, but the subconscious reflexes are gone. The same is true with the Bible - I may know the whole thing backwards, but if I don’t put in regular time then my responses to a spiritual threat are often too slow. Even if the armour of God in Eph 6;14-18 is enough to protect you from the enemy, the only method of counter attack mentioned is the sword of God's word, and a sword needs practice!
In Matt 26;41 Jesus warns his disciples to 'Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.' We are also warned to be prepared or to be alert in Eph 6;18, 1Cor 16;13, and 1 Pet 5;8. Temptation comes whether we are ready for it or not, but the Bible is a battle-plan that tells us how to defend ourselves and what to expect. You don't have to be intelligent or super-spiritual, you just have to read the Bible regularly and with prayer - God is very good at showing us exactly what we need to get through the day, which is why it is best to pray and study first thing in the morning - spiritual warfare is like any other exercise - you need to do a warm-up first to get all the kinks out!
So how does Satan attack? Mainly he goes for our weakest points. The medieval theologians claimed that all sin could be traced back to three causes: the flesh, the world and the devil. It is the first two of these that give Satan his greatest opportunities in our lives.
As a whole, man's weakest point is the flesh, his body. Since Eden our bodies have been prone to weakness, illness etc.
Read Luke 4;1-4. Luke tells us that Jesus was hungry in the desert, and Satan instantly seizes on this for his first temptation. He tries to use the weakness of the body to cause Jesus to rely upon himself rather than God's providence, and he often tries something similar with us. The word ‘Satan’ originally comes from the Hebrew word sut, which means 'the Roaming Eye', as in Job 1;6-7. He is continually looking for any weakness or illness or fear to exploit, and if he can't find any then he tries to create them - the story of Job shows us that. In 1 Pet 5;8-9 the Bible describes Satan like a lion stalking a herd, looking to take down the weakest prey. Satan tries to use such weaknesses to give us excuses to disobey God, but such weaknesses are not supposed to be our problem. All we have to do is to obey, and God will do the work, using our weaknesses for his glory - 2 Cor 12;9-10. All we need to do is to obey God, ignoring the Devil's doubts. If you feel too ill or tired or depressed to go to church, ignore it and go anyway! If you feel too depressed or too tired to read the Bible or to pray or to worship God, ignore it and do it anyway! If you feel too scared to pray for someone or to speak to a stranger, ignore it and do it anyway! That is what the Bible describes as 'faith'!
Our fallen bodies are also prey to a whole host of seemingly irresistible temptations - greed, drunkenness, lust and all of the other so-called 'fun' ones. The world spends its entire time doing these things, but the Bible makes it clear that we should know better, since we are no longer ignorant of what is truly good for us – see 1 Pet 1;13-16. In 2 Pet 2;10 St. Peter also talks of the 'corrupt desires of the sinful flesh', but this NIV translation is not quite accurate.
The Greek is a genitive of quality and so the correct translation should read 'the corrupting desires.' The sins of the body are lethal to our Christian lives because they are addictive, gradually devouring the person until they can think of nothing else. Every time one gives into these temptations it becomes easier and easier to do until one is so entangled in sin that ones Christian life is essentially paralysed, rotted from the inside, until only Jesus can sort the problem out. Far easier to avoid the problems in the first place by resisting the temptations at the start. Fortunately, Jesus provides an alternative. John 6;63 tells us that 'the spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing'. This should be our attitude to the desires of the body that are outside of God's will - "The Spirit is alive, but the flesh is a carcass"! Instead we should fix our eyes upon Jesus and upon his good, pleasing and perfect will. If we look at this life from a heavenly perspective then the fake pleasures of this life look tacky compared to those of the next. Everything Satan offers is a distortion or cheap imitation of God's gifts to us. Why allow a second-rate copy to distract you from acquiring the real thing? - see Matt 6;19-21. Personally I find it difficult to give in to temptation when I know that God is watching, so I try to remind myself of that fact by reading the Bible or praying whenever the distractions of sin come looking for me - it tends to work.
The psychologists and chat-show hosts on things like 'Oprah' put forward the idea that a person has a right to anything that makes them feel good - alcohol, drugs, sexual gratification, whatever - or even that we have a duty to our own mental wellbeing to seek out such 'fulfilment'! The Bible tells us that this is a load of tripe. Rom 7:14-8;16 makes it clear that although our bodies may still have such wants, our obligation is no longer 'to the sinful nature' but rather to the God who owns us, and our duty is not to seek out pleasure but rather 'to put to death the misdeeds of the body.' He spells out clearly the ultimate reward for living according to the corrupting desires of the flesh - 'If you live according to the sinful nature you will die, but if you live by the spirit you will live.' That’s plain enough. It’s comforting to know that St. Paul had the same problems living up to perfection as the rest of us though!
1 Pet 4;1-8 and 2 Pet 1;3-8 provide further means of resisting temptation. Love plays a prominent role in both verses - we are commanded to 'love one another deeply, for love covers over a multitude of sins.' In fact, if one keeps love, true agape love, in mind at all times then it is impossible to give into temptation and sin, since love is the only law in the entire Bible – see Matt 22;34 40. If we devote ourselves to loving each other then Satan has no power over us.
Read Luke 4;5-8. Satan's next temptation in Luke 4 relies on the external world. He offers Jesus worldly goods, fame and position, just as he uses them to distract Christians every day and draws them away from spiritual values. What we need to remember is that in Luke 4;6 Satan says that the world has been given to him to give to whoever he pleases, and as Christians we shouldn't really want anything to do with anything that belongs to Satan's kingdom. Mind you, I'm not saying that owning a car, or money, or a house or whatever is wrong. Its when the car, or the money, or the house start to own you that the problems begin, because they tie you down to this world when we should be flying into the next. St. Peter describes the Christian entangled in the world as 'the most miserable of all men' because such a Christian knows what he is missing out on in terms of blessings from God, and his conscience stops him enjoying the sins of the world as he used to – see 2 Pet 2;20-22. Even so he can not break free short of dramatic intervention from Jesus.
Satan certainly makes the world seem attractive and fun - lets face it, if he couldn't then he'd be out of a job! - but Jesus tells us how pointless such things are in comparison with heaven in Luke 12;16-21. Pride in earthly power and possessions can be extremely damaging - See 2 Kings 20;12-18, and especially 1 Chron 21;1-30. Note vs.30 - David was separated from God by his pride in his great nation. Colossians 2;8 warns us to 'See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ'. This description could well apply to the 'I want' business ethics of this world. No matter how hard you work and how much you take you are always hungry for more because such things are hollow and empty. This is contrasted with Col 2;9 which speaks of 'the fullness of the Deity in Christ's body'. In the world is emptiness but in Christ is fullness and satisfaction. Even the church has problems remembering this at times. James 4;1-10 traces most problems in the church to worldly concerns, and calls the church to follow God rather than money. James also states a great truth: 'Resist the Devil and he will flee from you'. If we stand firm in rejecting temptation then Satan has no further power and his kingdom is forced to retreat by the prayers of righteous Christians who are truly seeking God's will rather than selfish worldly comforts. "The physical world creates a spiritual haze." - Only when we fight free of the worlds smog can we see the battle clearly and begin winning in a big way.
Of course, if Satan can't get us on the 'I want more' trip then he often tries the opposite - fear that we won't have enough. When you think about it, this is laughable - Our God is called YHWH Jireh, the God who Provides! See Matt 6;25-34 and Heb 13;5-6. Often in our fear and worry we forget our faith, but Gal 5;1 tells us that 'It is for freedom (from the worries and entanglements of this world) that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.' The world is slavery to worry, and to bills, and debts, and security fears, but the world does not own us. If you think about it, all of these things are adult worries - when did you last hear a four year old worry about mortgage repayments?! We are all children in the Father's House – therefore let Him deal with the adult problems. 'Adult' worries are not our concern, and we shouldn't allow Satan into tricking us into thinking otherwise!
1 John 2;15-17 sums up the Bibles view of the worlds glittering temptations, and in verse 16 lists their various attractions. We have already mentioned the cravings of the flesh and the pride of possessions, but the lust of the eyes deserves a closer look. This is perhaps best illustrated in 2 Sam 11;1-5. What was David playing at? He shouldn't have been there. As the king he should have been miles away leading his army, or at the very least asleep in his palace. As it was he went looking for temptation, and so of course he found it, and ended up entangled in a whole web of lies and murder that ended in the death of his son. The Bible makes it clear that we should not go looking for temptation and sin in Eph 4;17-5;20, 2 Tim 3;1-5 and 1 Thes 5;21-22. In Luke 4;13 it says that Satan left Jesus until 'an opportune time' - obviously the best way to resist temptation is to give him no opportunities to tempt us into sin in the first place. For example, if drugs are being passed around at a party, the best way to avoid temptation is not to be there! I think that often we try to fool ourselves 'Oh I'll be alright if I go to this nightclub / go out with this person / watch this film / whatever. I'm strong enough so that it won't be a problem.' Its not true. Satan is lying back in his armchair and laughing, saying 'Hey, they're doing my job for me!' Don't be there. Don't give him opportunities. Don't go looking for sin or it will find you.
The Bible warns us strongly against deliberately ignoring God's will in favour of sin, as opposed to simply being simply led astray See Heb 10;26-31. This appears to be dangerously close to the unforgivable sin mentioned in Luke 12;10. Fortunately this is not something Satan can simply tempt a Christian into - to reject God's will totally, without any outside influence from the world or the flesh can only come from the utmost spiritual evil. Some Christians worry about 'accidentally' falling into the unforgivable sin, but if you are even the slightest bit concerned then you obviously never have and never will come anywhere close to it, since only someone completely wicked and unconcerned with God could even think of doing it! It is impossible for a Christian to totally reject God in this way! The Bible does warn however that Christians can still be tempted into normal sin - See 1 Cor 10;1-13. These verses also give us the promise that God is faithful and will not allow us to be tempted unless there is an escape route. It remains our responsibility to resist the Devil and find that escape route through the Word of God; verse 12 warns us not to be complacent about temptation but to actively fight back with prayer and study.
Finally, the most important thing to remember at all times is that God is in control of all things. Rom 8;28 tells us that 'All things work together for the good of those that love God'. In Matt 4;1 we are told that 'Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the Devil'. When Satan wanted to tempt Job or Peter he had to ask permission first - See Job 1;9-12 and Luke 22;31-32. This way God can guarantee that we actually do have a way out - otherwise you can bet that Satan would probably cheat, but this way God is in control!
'Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your path straight.' (Prov 3;5-6).
Who is in Heaven,
Hallowed be Thy Name;
Thy Kingdom come,
Thy Will be done
On Earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from the Evil One,
For Thine are the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory,
Forever and ever.
What was Jesus like?
The Character of God
How do we know what God is like?
The Authority of Scripture
How should we obey what the Bible teaches us?
The Wise Mans Tragedy
What can we learn from Solomon?
What can we learn from the mother of Jesus?
Cain and Abel
What can we learn from the first murderer?
Who is Aslan? Who is Jesus?
When the Fire Burns Low
How do we cope when we have grown tired of God's way?
Fix Your Eyes
How do we look for God?
Why should we look after the world God has given us?
How do we know who we are in God?
Lent - Pride, Doubt and Jealousy
What is the period of Lent all about?
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the House of God than dwell in the tents of the wicked...
How do get to have intimacy with God?
Can we feel the breath of God?
Hearing From God
How can I hear what God wants to say to me?
The Story We Find Ourselves In
The Bible tells the story of all creation - what is my part in that story?
What does Passover mean to us as Christians?
What does it mean to say that Jesus is alive?
What is the Fruit of the Holy Spirit?
Teaching for Christmas Eve...
What does it mean to have authority?
What can we do when it all seems like too much?
I Will Be With You
What does it mean to say "God is with us"?
What are angels, and what can we learn from what the Bible says about them?
A contemplative service for Pentecost
A creative/contemplative baptism service
How do we know what we should do?
A creative prayer/worship service
The Holy Spirit
Who is the Holy Spirit, and what does (s)he do?
A Relationship With Jesus
What does it mean to have a 'relationship' with the Son of God?
The Pilgrim's Progress
If we keep our eyes on the prize, what a journey it could be!
Heroes, Promises and Trust
How does our relationship with Jesus realy work?
A liturgy for masculine prayer
Living Life to the Full
How do we get the most out of life?
What is so speacial about the faith of Abraham?
The Presence of God
What does it mean to say God is present?
How Do I Know My Faith is Real?
We all wrestle with doubt, so how can we cope?
Who is Jesus?
...and what does he want from you?
To Act Justly Every Day...
What does the Lord your God require of you?
Sex and Self Image
Don't you know how beautiful you are?
Will you let Jesus be in charge?
Would you know him if he met you on the road?
The Person of the Holy Spirit
Who is the Holy Spirit, and what does (s)he do?
The Passion of the King
What does Jesus really want?
How can we really 'count it all joy'?
More Than Words
"... but words can never hurt me"?
The Armour of God
What tools does God give us to protect us from the Enemy?
The Heart of the Gospel
The Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near to you, therefore...
Do you really want to follow him?
How should I prepare to give a sermon?
The gift of healing comes from the Holy Spirit, but how does it work?
The People of God
What does it mean when we say that the Bible is the Word of God?
Jesus Part 2: The Deity of Christ
How can Jesus be God and Man at the same time?
Jesus Part 1: Who Do You Say I Am?
Who is Jesus, and why does He matter?
How do we resist?
What is holiness and how do we try to achieve it?
The Art of Spiritual Warfare
We're in a constant battle, so how do we try and prepare to fight?
Forgiveness Part Two: Forgiving Others
What is forgiveness and why do we need to forgive others?
Forgiveness Part One: Forgiven by God
Why does it seem so often that God is a million miles away?
Prayer Part Two: Receiving From God
Why does it seem so often that God is a million miles away?
Prayer Part One: The Lords Prayer
We look in detail at the Lords Prayer
It's one of the spiritual gifts, but what exactly is it, how does it happen?
Becoming a Christian
What is a Christian, how do you become one?
Basics of Christianity
Here we delve into the Nicene Creed