We don’t have to do it. When our flesh demands that we vent all our frustrations like a foghorn, we don’t have to give in. When we feel the impulse to fulfill our sexual urges, we don’t have to give in. And, when we feel like hope resides at the bottom of that ice cream tub, we don’t have to eat through it. The Christian does not have to surrender to the flesh when it makes demands upon his or her soul.
Such a resistance comes not from asceticism, wearing simple clothes, or minimalistic living. As one of the first monks, St. Antony, discovered, temptation and Satan can hound the soul who resides in a desert cave just as easily as they can torment the man living on the fourth floor of an apartment building in Paris. We cannot resist temptation in our own strength. Rather, we gain the ability to resist temptation when we repent of our sins and trust in the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus for salvation.
Why Jesus Was Tempted Part 1
In Matthew 4:1-11, the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the desert so that Satan can tempt the Messiah to sin. This temptation has two purposes. First, it reveals that Jesus fully understands what it is to be human. Like you and me, he got tired and hungry. He faced real temptation. He gets us. Hebrews 4:15 declares, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has in every respect been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Because Jesus is one of us, he can empathize with us and save us. Thus, when we mess up and surrender to temptation, we do not have to fear that God will strip us of our salvation. Jesus who is the guarantee of our salvation has already fulfilled all righteousness. The moment we come back to our senses, we can ask for forgiveness, knowing He will grant it. Jesus gets that we are weak. That is why he came. But that is not all.
Why Jesus Was Tempted Part 2
Jesus’s temptation also reveals that Jesus has defeated the devil. Satan called Jesus to turn the stones into bread. Though his stomach had growled more than a million times during his 40 day fast, Jesus does not surrender to the lust of the flesh as Adam and the nation of Israel had done before him. Jesus resists the Devil. He declares, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matt 4:4).” In other words, spiritual life does not come through listening to one’s-self, through giving expression to what we feel, or through living out the Nike motto which calls us to “Just do it.” Life comes through the Word of God. Psalm 19:7-9 reminds us:
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.
Because Jesus delights in the Word and not in his physical needs, his children can do the same. This is not some ideal beyond our reach reserved for those in a perfect world. Jesus felt urges that did not align with the commands of God. Despite the intensity of the temptations, Jesus still successfully resisted sin in a fallen world. His children can do the same. In Ephesians 3:17, Paul says, Christ dwells “in your hearts through faith.” The God who resisted Satan resides in us. Through faith, we can resist the Devil. We no longer must fall to temptation.
Temptation vs. Sin
Temptation itself is not evil. To encounter the thought, “I desire sex” does not make one sexually immoral. But to act on idea by cultivating private fantasies or by swinging over to your girlfriend’s house to give to that desire is sin. Like us, Jesus was tempted, but he did not turn the stones to bread. He obeyed God. Though our temptations may be intense, we too can obey God.
What If I Always Fall?
The failure to find victory over temptation reveals that we do not know Christ. Admittedly, Christians always remain vulnerable to sin for they are not Christ and do stumble at times. Noah got drunk, Abraham lied, and Peter showed favoritism, refusing to eat with Gentiles. Perfection will allude us. But if we lean into Christ through faith, making use of the Word, prayer, and the church, we will stand far more than we fall. Through Christ, we will resist the Devil and watch him flee from us.
However, if we only fall, regroup, and then fall again when hit by the impulses of the body, we reveal that we do not know God. Thankfully, God remains forever compassionate and forgiving. If we will but repent and believe, Jesus will forgive us, breaking the chains of sin and death.
Friend, I don’t know what temptations have surrounded you today. But this I do know; you do not have to surrender to Satan’s demands. We are children of the new Adam and the new Israel. By the power of Christ we can resists the lusts of the flesh. Expect Victory