PLEASE READ: Matthew 4:1-11
This week we see Jesus Christ led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. He was faithful to follow. But for what purpose?
To be tempted.
This is the infamous account of Christ’s temptation: forty days and forty nights with nothing to eat or drink, in complete isolation with His heavenly Father and His archenemy.
When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray He said this:
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen,” (Matthew 6:13, KJV).
No doubt, Christ did some reminiscing when He coined this particular part of “The Lord’s Prayer.” He knew firsthand what this was like, and for what it was purposed. Every follower of Christ encounters it at some point. When considering biblical examples of those God allowed to be tempted, there are many. The most poignant are Adam and Eve, and of course our Lord Jesus Christ. Satan asked specifically for Job (Job 1:6-12), and for Simon Peter whom he wanted to sift as wheat (Luke 22:31-32). And you know what? Satan got what he asked for. Request granted. He was given the opportunity — albeit with limitations. For the Lord says through His Apostle Paul,
There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it,” (1 Corinthians 10:13, KJV).
God allows temptation to come to us as believers. But why? That is the question we’re going to answer today. Because when we understand the purpose of temptation, we are much more able to cooperate with God while we’re in its throes and tentacles. It actually serves a divine purpose far beyond what you may realize.
Temptation is synonymous with suffering (see 1 Peter 1:6, 2 Peter 2:9, and Revelation 3:10). It’s very painful. It’s very difficult. And it can actually be mortally grueling. In the account of our Lord and Savior we see the very best divine example of any. We can learn a lot from Him. But the keys are not necessarily in dissecting every proverbial punch the enemy threw at Him. On the contrary, the key to understanding temptation goes much deeper. It does not begin with understanding the enemy. That is actually the lesser of it. It actually begins with understanding our own flesh.
Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: but every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Do not err my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning,” (James 1:13-17, KJV).
Temptation vs. Sin
First, we must understand that temptation is not sin. If that were the case, Jesus Christ could not have saved us from it. He overcame every temptation the enemy threw at Him. He overcame every evil (from which He tells us to pray for deliverance): sin, death, hell, the enemy, and the world. He says this on the night of His betrayal when His final hour had come:
Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me,” (John 14:30, KJV, emphasis mine).
Did you hear that? The enemy had nothing in Him. Jesus Christ walked in the fullness of the Holy Spirit — not in His flesh. That is the key to victory over temptation. We must learn to walk in the Spirit of Christ (see Romans 6, entire chapter). And because He was perfect, the enemy had nothing in Him. Did that mean He was exempt from temptation? Absolutely not. Jesus Christ lived the crucified life before us as an example of what a victorious life in the Holy Spirit should be for each one of us. This is why the Apostle Paul says,
This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law,” (Galatians 5:16-18, KJV).
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your mind. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin,” (Hebrews 12:1-4, KJV, emphasis mine).
Temptation is extraordinarily painful. With Christ as our example, we know temptation is common to us all. And He overcame all so we could be free and overcome through Him as well. That victory is part of the covenant we have with Him through His death and resurrection. If you are facing temptation you can rest assured that victory can be yours, regardless of how painful the fight. But you must know how to wage the war. If you have not yet shed some blood in your war against sin, let it be known that Satan is not your greatest enemy.
Your greatest enemy is your own carnal nature, otherwise known as “the flesh”.
Living the Crucified Life
Living the crucified life is something we all hear about, yet very few of us understand. That misunderstanding is readily apparent, because so few Christians are actually living it. To say that God allows temptation is biblically accurate. What most do not realize is that He reserves the right to lead us into temptation. Hence, “The Lord’s Prayer”. When He does so, it is for a much greater purpose than we may realize: Crucifixion.
I speak to you as one who has had many temptations of my own, and I’ve been sifted myself. That particular season in my life was extraordinarily painful. And it was long (five years to be exact). But it served me well to prove me. In my own season of temptation I battled areas I believed to have already overcome. Little did I know that there were still undetected areas where my flesh had not been fully crucified. The Lord knew these existed. And so did the enemy. But I was unaware — until I was sifted and proven.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings,” (Jeremiah 17:9-10, KJV).
The Lord reserves the right to refine us in the fire of His choosing. He is not the Tempter; nor can He be tempted. But He does allow it, and with purpose:
Temptation serves us well in revealing areas in our lives that have not yet been surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, thereby giving us opportunity to crucify the flesh by the Holy Spirit and live victorious lives in and through Him.
With that said, there are two purposes for temptation:
1.) THE ENEMY’S PURPOSE: The enemy purposes temptation so that we may fall into sin and thereby become enslaved or overcome by it. He wants us walking in our carnal flesh which will always lead us into sin and death.
2.) GOD’S PURPOSE: God purposes temptation to prove us; to try the reins of our hearts so that we can submit that particular area of our life to Him and overcome it, becoming stronger, rather than weaker. This is living the crucified life.
The choice is yours. How you respond to temptation is the key. When Christ told His disciples to take up their cross daily, He wasn’t kidding. This is where it gets real. They understood the implication. The cross was a brutal instrument of torture and death. What temptation does is reveal where you’re weak, so you can become strong. These are the areas God is inviting you to overcome, so you can be more like Him, being transformed into His image. That can only happen when we live the crucified life.
Temptation is a gift when we understand its purpose.
It can be used to strategically overcome stubborn and hidden areas of sin and weakness,
transforming us into Christ’s image.
Overcoming the Flesh
For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted,” (Hebrews 2:18, KJV).
Once you realize the victory has already been secured for you, it sets you completely free to pursue it — boldly and with confidence. But what about when we slip, or even knowingly sin in that moment of weakness? You are not alone, my friend. That is common for all of us. This is what I’d like to remind you:
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleans us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us,” (1 John 1:8-10, KJV).
For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again: but the wicked shall fall into mischief,” (Proverbs 24:16, KJV).
For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need,” (Hebrews 4:15-16, KJV).
Learning how to respond to temptation takes practice. You are going to slip, stumble, and perhaps even fall a few times. Get back up! Do not be tempted to give into guilt and shame, which are a trap. Confess your sin, repent of your sin, and receive God’s forgiveness. Paul openly talks about the struggle between the law of his flesh, which is sin, versus the law of God, which is life and liberty in Christ (see Romans 7, full chapter). The only One who can deliver us from this body of death is Jesus Christ our LORD! As we exercise our faith, wholly submitting ourselves to the Lord Jesus Christ in every single area of our lives, hiding nothing from Him, He can then preside over those areas and lead us in His triumph. His grace is indeed greater than our sin. The flesh must die, and we are to reckon it dead unto the Lord.
For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth… put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him,” (Colossians 3:3, 5a, and 10b, KJV, see full text).
Rejoicing in our trials and tribulations are possible only when we understand their God-ordained purpose. This is your opportunity to overcome those areas God wants to set you free from. This is your opportunity to be cleansed and fully embrace your freedom and inheritance in Christ. Temptation is your hour of liberty! You should never view it as anything less. What the enemy means for your destruction, God intends for your good, even as He did for His one and only Son.
Jesus Christ had to be proven before He could embrace the full ministry God had for Him. That began with the Spirit leading Him into a distinct time and place of intense temptation. The enemy threw his best shot, to the degree that even angels had to minister to the Lord. You are not alone in your hour of temptation, and you can indeed overcome! Once you understand the purpose, you can better cooperate with God. Be encouraged. I leave with these last words of encouragement and exhortation:
My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him,” (James 1:2-4 & 12, KJV).
Temptation requires great patience and perseverance if you are to overcome. As our Lord demonstrated, it also can require fasting. So, be ready and willing to fast if He should lead you to do so. When you fast, you surrender your body to the Holy Spirit, using the same spiritual muscle to resist food that you would use to resist sin. This is an honorable sacrifice to God.
Now that you understand the purpose of temptation and how to respond, you should be better able to cooperate with God when faced with the weaknesses of your own flesh. Temptation aptly reveals them. When you love the LORD, and you love righteousness more than sin, you will be able to cooperate with the Lord in moments and seasons of temptation. He will support you, teach you, and enable you to overcome. Temptation is never a trap — it is always an opportunity for freedom in Christ. God has a way of escape prepared for you before temptation ever strikes. That way of escape is not necessarily a physical route. It is found only in the wisdom of Jesus Christ who has overcome all — the flesh, the world, and the devil.
Rejoice! God is calling you higher and deeper in Him. Just as James says, so you can be made perfect and entire — wanting nothing. Once your trial has ended, you will be able to say with Christ, “the prince of this world cometh, and he has nothing in me.”
Cheers & Shalom,
Image Credit: _Marion | Pixababy