When one is tempted, they are being lured—pulled—into doing something they know to be wrong. Note the difference: If you are pulled into doing something wrong without knowing that it is wrong—you’re being tricked. If you know it’s wrong, you’re being tempted. Understand this: Temptation by itself is not a sin…giving in to the temptation is.
What’s your #1 temptation? It can be anything. Swearing. Money. Lust. Food. Popularity. Sports. Alcohol. Video games. Drugs. Shoes. Cutting. Boys. Girls. One of mine is soda.
For years, I drank Mountain Dew as if they were about to discontinue it. I easily drank two 20-oz bottles a day. One day, I stepped on a scale and saw that I was a good forty pounds overweight. So on December 31, 2011, I drank my last soda. I made it a symbolic gesture of better health. I dropped the forty pounds, and haven’t had a sip since. You might think that my issue with soda is small and stupid. I don’t care. It’s my issue. It doesn’t really matter what the issue is—we all have something. Some weakness. I’ll put it this way—you have some temptation that someone else doesn’t. But that person has a temptation that you don’t. Consequently, no one can judge you for yours…and you can’t judge them for theirs.
James 1:13 says, “When temptation strikes…” Not if. WHEN. No one can avoid temptation—not even Christians. But we can fight it…and win. Jesus proved that.
The story of the temptation of Christ in Matthew 4 is one of my absolute favorites, partly because it is jam-packed with discussion material, but also because (unless I’m mistaken) it’s the only time in the gospels that we see the Prince of Darkness take on the Prince of Peace one-on-one. It’s the biggest heavyweight fight in history, with Jesus scoring a TKO on the devil.
It says that Jesus spent forty days fasting. For those that don’t know, fasting is eating little-to-no food for a specific amount of time, typically one day. Jesus went for forty days. What can fasting for that long do to you physically and mentally? You experience headaches…body aches…you get cold…dizzy…your organs can stop working correctly or shut down altogether…it can affect your sleep patterns, so you frequently feel exhausted…you can be easily confused. In short—it puts you at your weakest physical and mental state. You are about as weak as you’ll ever be—which is exactly when Satan strikes, when we’re at our weakest. Jesus not only put Himself in these conditions, but did so willingly and still defeated Satan.
Now, most biblical scholars agree that Satan was there for the entire forty days, tempting Jesus the whole time. All we are provided, however, are these specific three. First, Satan says, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Okay…if you don’t eat for a day…you’re hungry. If you don’t eat for forty days? You’re starting to risk death. Satan’s test was simple: “Dude…you gotta eat or you’re gonna die. Hard to fulfill your destiny if you die of starvation out here. Why don’t you do your little hocus-pocus act and David Blaine them into manna?” This doesn’t seem like much of a temptation—except that the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness and instructed Him to fast. At that moment, eating the bread would have been putting Christ’s own desires above God’s. That’s the sin. Furthermore, Jesus never used His divine powers for His own good. All miracles performed were for others. While He could have turned the stone into bread, such an act of power would have been a selfish act of power, and therefore—sin.
So Satan rolls his eyes, calls Jesus a goody-goody and moves on to the ultimate trust fall. “Okay…you believe God will provide food? Fine. Now put your faith in Him by throwing yourself off this cliff. He’ll send angels to catch you, right?” Satan even misquotes Psalm 91 here by saying, “God will never let harm come to you.” Well…God also gives us common sense. Look…the Lord has your back when Satan is attacking like this, but if you jump off a cliff, you’re going splat. So Jesus responds, “Don’t put God to the test.” Meaning—if you are testing God, you don’t trust God, and you should always trust God.
Satan calls Jesus a chicken and moves to his final temptation. He shows Christ the world. Every kingdom. And says, “All this I will give you if you bow down and worship me.” This is Satan swinging for the fences. He’s telling Jesus—“Hey, you’re supposed to be the King of all Nations, right? Here they are. But why go through all of that suffering God wants you to do? Why not just take what is yours? I can give that to you.” At this point, Jesus is pretty irritated…and who can blame Him? He’s hungry, tired, probably wants to be left alone after forty days of dealing with this turd, and they both know that this was a lame attempt from Satan. Furthermore, Christ was not here to rule, He was here to serve—so He says, ENOUGH!! “Away from me, Satan!!” He commands the devil to leave…which Satan does…because he has to…because only Christ has the power to make Satan vanish like that.
Pay attention to what words Satan and Jesus use. Satan: You, you, you. If you…I will give you. Pride. Selfishness. Jesus: God, God, God. It’s not about me, it’s about God.
Why is this story so important? Because Christ’s temptation shows that He was a man, and all humans are tempted. However, the fact that He never fell to temptation, He never sinned, shows that He is still God. Turning stones to bread so He had some food may not seem like a big deal, but that’s the point. Sin starts small. As mere temptation. What could really happen? Jesus resisting temptation becomes the most crucial turning point in this part of the Bible. If He caves and turns even one stone to bread and eats it, the Bible is over. Jesus could no longer be the Son of God—He could no longer be God—because He just sinned…and we’d be screwed because it would have meant that Satan defeated our Lord.
The devil wants you to believe that your temptation is small. That it’s no big deal. What could really happen if I drink a soda? Well…small things can turn into huge consequences. Temptation begets sin. And sin begets bigger sin until lives are destroyed. Don’t believe me? Want a “bigger” example than soda?
A few years ago, Steph and I were having some problems. It wasn’t one big thing, but dozens of little things that were wrecking our marriage. Out of nowhere, a woman I used to go to school with contacted me on Facebook. We hadn’t talked in years, so it was nice to catch up. We spent months chatting about our jobs and family (she has children and was engaged at the time). At one point, she even confessed to having a crush on me years ago. Flattery. It was nice. She was giving me time and attention that I did not feel I was receiving from Steph. See how Satan was hooking me in? After months of messages back-and-forth, she had a big fight with her fiancé, and turned to me to vent. That opened the door for me to do the same regarding my issues with Steph. Next thing I know, she’s inviting me out for drinks. Perhaps it was truly innocent, perhaps it wasn’t…we’ll never know. Fortunately, I recognized at that point what was going on, politely declined, and basically cut off communication with her.
Do you see how easy that was? How innocent it began? Something as small as a Facebook message could have resulted in adultery and divorce. I won that particular battle, but how many other marriages have ended in similar fashion because Satan won those battles? What battle is Satan winning with you right now? Guys…Satan is patient. He tempted Christ for forty days. He tempted me for months. He’ll keep coming at you and coming at you until either you cave or he realizes it’s a lost cause—in which case, he’ll come at you with something else.
So what do we do?
First, learn how to avoid situations that lead to temptation. If you struggle with swearing, stop listening to music with swear words in them. If you struggle with gossip, close your Twitter account. Whatever your major temptation is, find ways to avoid putting yourself in a position to be tempted. Unfortunately, this might mean walking away from some friendships. This sucks, but at some point, you have to acknowledge that they are spiritually killing you.
Find a Christian you trust and respect. Someone with whom you can openly share your struggles and call when your temptation strikes. It can be a friend, family member, pastor…whatever. Confess to them. Be accountable to them. You’ll find it’s easier to ward off temptation when you have that person…because you won’t want to have that awkward conversation with them!!
Finally, 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us that God will “provide the way of escape.” Every time Satan tempts us, God gives us a way to combat that temptation…and that way is Jesus. Jesus was tempted by everything we’re tempted by (Hebrews 4:15). Food. Power. Money. Lust. All of it. And who do we turn to when we’re struggling with something? The person who has never been through it? No. The person who is currently struggling with it? Perhaps, because you can help each other, but there’s still only so much that person can do. Ultimately, we want the person who has gone through it and won. Are you depressed? Don’t you think that the best person to talk to is someone who has battled depression and is better now? Won’t they understand exactly what you’re going through, and don’t you want their victory? It’s the same thing here. Jesus was tempted by everything we battle today…and He won. Take your temptation to Him. Allow Him to show you how to fight through it…and win.
You will be tested. You will be tempted. Every day. The rest of your life. In those times, you can be a slave to your temptation or you can be free. John 8:32 says “the truth will set you free.” That truth is Jesus. Take your struggles to Christ—the One who knows what you’re going through—and let Him fight it with you. When you win a battle, praise God and own your victories, regardless of how big or small. My marriage is now stronger than ever. I have not had a single sip of a soda in over two years. Through God’s grace, He’s helped me win these two battles. What battles are you facing? Jesus was tempted and so are you. Christ defeated Satan for you once, run to Him now and allow Him to do it again.