William J. Stewart
At the end of Genesis 25, Esau sold his birthright to his brother Jacob. He had come from the field weary and hungry, and set a greater value on a bowl of stew than on the privilege that fell to him as the older brother. The chapter ends, “…thus Esau despised his birthright.”
In Esau, we see the pitiful place of those who yield to temptation. Sin is about fulfilling fleshly desires while ignoring spiritual accountability. It may seem like a good idea at the time, like something we’re going to enjoy and not regret, but it is a lie. Consider what the Hebrew writer penned:
“…afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears” (Hebrews 12:17)
We tend to make a distinction between trials and temptations, but the Bible does not. The same Greek word is used to discuss both (see James 1:2, 12; Luke 22:28). Satan will use trials to break and destroy us; God uses them to prove us (or to break us at times, but always for our benefit) (see 1 Peter 1:6-7, 5:8).
Let’s use the temptation of Christ as recorded in Matthew 4 and Luke 4 to learn a few things about temptation and how to prevail.
Have you ever considered the timing of this 40 day period in the wilderness? Jesus had just been baptized by John the Baptist (Matthew 3:13-17). Temptation will often follow close after high moments in our walk of faith. Perhaps that is why the apostle Paul warned, “…let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). What better time for the enemy to strike than when we may be on a spiritual high, and not as focused or concerned about an attack? It works in the physical world (consider the fall of Babylon in a single night, during a high moment—a party, when they were completely distracted and drunk on their own success). Satan knows that it can work in the spiritual realm also.
Luke 4 parallels Matthew 4, and is the source of an interesting statement. Verse 13 reads:
“…when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13)
When it became obvious that Jesus was not going to stumble on this occasion, the devil left. We don’t like hitting our heads against a brick wall, neither does the devil. There may be times when our focus on the will of God is so great that the devil will not be able to seduce us. Oh that it were so all the time, but sadly, that is not the case.
How did Jesus overcome temptation? Did He have some kind of advantage? Let me be very clear—Jesus had no advantage that we do not have when it came to temptation. If He did, then He is disqualified as our High Priest (Hebrews 2:17; 4:15). Luke 4:1 says He was filled with the Spirit. Did His relationship to the Spirit keep Him from sin? The Holy Spirit was not exclusive to Jesus. All of God’s people have received the Spirit. How did He overcome? When Satan tested Jesus, He responded with three simple, yet powerful words, “It is written.” God’s word was the power by which the Son of God overcame the devil. The same resource is available and equally effective for you and (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Led By The Spirit
Did you notice in Luke 4:1 that it was the Spirit who led Jesus into the wilderness? Satan used it as an opportunity for evil, but God was proving His Son. God will not shield us from temptation, but He helps us endure and overcome. Temptation is not sin, else the Spirit would not have led Jesus into the wilderness. Don’t let Satan convince you that if you have been tempted you have sinned. Jesus was tempted as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Sin happens when we give in to temptation (James 1:13-15).
The Lord did not use some divine ability to overcome temptation. James 1:13 says that God cannot be tempted. Temptation is a human experience. When the devil urged Jesus to turn stones into bread, He was hungry. He wanted food, but He refused to sacrifice purity and faithfulness to God for bread. Satan knows how to play on our desires—natural, God-given desires—but when we use them to do the devil’s bidding, it is sin. May we purpose in our heart that we will not defile ourselves (Daniel 1:8).
Jesus endured temptation and overcame, leaving us an example to follow. We do not need to yield to temptation; we do not need to sin. Let us use the way of escape, let us bear temptation and overcome. But God be thanked, if we do sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous (1 John 2:1-6).