Overcoming Trials and Temptations (III): The Snare of Temptations
Based on a sermon series by Aun Quek Chin—Singapore
As part of their journey of faith, Christians have to handle trials and temptations. The first part of this series considered Elder James’ guide on how to distinguish between trials and temptations; the second part looked at the joy of trials. In this final part, we focus on how we can avoid the trap of temptations.
THE SOURCE OF TEMPTATION
Human Justifications and Excuses
The natural tendency for humans is to look for something or someone else to blame when they have erred. Many who have fallen to temptation blame God, the devil, or both!
We are convinced that we are the victims; we blame God for allowing the devil to harm man. We even justify our first ancestors’ sin! We reason that without the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve would not have been enticed. And even if the fruit were there, Adam and Eve would not have touched it had it not been for the smooth-tongued serpent.
“If God had not allowed the devil to tempt us, we would not have been tempted to sin and fall.”
“God knew that the devil was out to tempt and destroy man. Why did God not immediately destroy this evil one? It was God who allowed the devil to survive and carry on tempting and killing. I should not be blamed for sinning; it is all God’s fault for permitting this malevolent being to continue his heinous mission!”
The Origins of Temptation
Enticed by our own desires
Elder James tells us that the above reasoning is wrong. Humans are tempted and enticed by their own desires (Jas 1:14–15). The origin of sin, and the relationship between sin and man, stems from man himself, not the devil. Temptation does not arise from the existence of the forbidden fruit, but from the desire within us. According to Apostle Paul, sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin (Rom 5:12). He did not say that sin entered the world through the devil, and death through the devil. In short, the apostles were consistent in their teaching—those who sin should not blame either the forbidden fruit or the devil.
Some insist that temptation would not have arisen had the fruit not existed or the devil not been present. Such arguments overlook or deliberately ignore the fact that humans have freedom of choice. The fruit hung from the tree, but man had choices at different points: of walking toward the tree, of reaching out to touch it, of plucking it, and of eating it.
It is no sin to look at the fruit or to touch it. But
doing so brings us to the dangerous frontier. The single act of reaching out,
plucking the fruit and eating it would push us over the border into the realm
of disobedience to God, i.e., sin. Clearly, this action is of our own volition.
We can, or should, blame no one else.
The important question that we must consider is why we choose to succumb to our desires.
Did not curb our desires
Some rapists blame their crime on their victim. They claim that the woman was too beautiful or provocatively dressed. Clearly, no clear-thinking judge or jury would accept such a rationale! We cannot stop birds from flying over our heads, but we can stop them from building a nest in our hair. Similarly, we cannot stop a beautiful woman from walking past us, but we can stop ourselves from following her with our gaze (Job 31:1).
David was a mighty warrior who defeated the towering Philistine Goliath in his youth. But as king, he was defeated by his own uncurbed desires. The sight of beautiful Bathsheba in the bath led him to inappropriate thoughts and, eventually, sin.
This is often what happens to us. Our first view of inappropriate material—pornography, for example—may have been pure coincidence. But because we allow our thoughts to dwell on these images, our desires are aroused. Even when concerned brethren warn us, we dismiss them, and may even accuse them of being nosey, overly suspicious, and prudish. We refuse to make a conscious and concerted effort to curb our desires and avoid these opportunities to sin. Finally, and fatally, we cross the boundary into sin.
David had a thousand ways to justify inviting Bathsheba to his palace after that first accidental view: She is a neighbor to whom I should demonstrate hospitality. She is the wife of my loyal warrior to whom I want to show gratitude. And thus his desire grew until they both committed adultery.
Therefore, an indispensable spiritual workout for us is to
exercise control over our hearts; to prevent sinful desires from germinating
and drawing us into making choices against the will and commands of God. When
Jesus Christ comes again to judge man, He will judge according to each one's
THE DEVIL’S METHODS OF TEMPTATION
Nevertheless, it is undeniable that the devil is tireless
in his efforts to tempt man (
First, he makes it a huge disincentive for man to remain faithful to God. This could take the form of extremely difficult circumstances. For example, both Job and his wife were put through great suffering. While Job persevered, his wife surrendered her faith in God (Job 2:9).
Second, the devil instigates man to go against the word of God. This second approach is more complex and insidious. Many have fallen by this strategy. The devil used this to tempt the Lord Jesus. In fact, he tried three times to use the word of God to tempt Jesus to go against God!
The First Temptation: Challenging Our Identity
Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ” (Mt 4:3–4)
This first temptation is a challenge to prove our identity. It was no mere test of Jesus’ ability to perform miracles. What was the devil’s true intent?
Just before the Lord Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit, He had been baptized. When Jesus came out of the water, the heavenly Father proclaimed that Jesus was His Son, and sent His Holy Spirit to prove that Jesus was His Son (Mt 3:16–17). By challenging Jesus to perform a miracle, the devil was implying that the heavenly Father’s endorsement of Jesus’ identity was not enough; the devil wanted Jesus to prove His own identity by demonstrating His power.
The devil knew Jesus had fasted for forty days and was hungry. So he tried to drive a wedge between Jesus and His Father by suggesting that his way was superior to the heavenly Father’s method. By turning the stones to bread, Jesus not only proves His identity but also feeds Himself.
This was the devil’s stratagem. He provided an incentive for Jesus to go against the word of God; he challenged Jesus to use a miracle to prove that He was the Son of God, and to resolve the problem of hunger. As humans, we would find the devil’s reasoning logical and appealing. If Jesus was truly the Son of God, God would not allow or want Him to go hungry. Performing a miracle both proves Jesus’ divine power and status, and generates food. The devil could then be silenced.
But Jesus immediately rejected the temptation, saying, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God” (Lk 4:4b). By this, Jesus was emphasizing that He would rather forego miracles and food than cast doubt on the heavenly Father’s testament to His sonship. Jesus’ priority was to affirm and submit to His Father’s words.
Had the Lord Jesus yielded to the natural human impulse of performing a miracle in order to kill two birds with one stone, He would have effectively obeyed the devil, rather than His heavenly Father. He would have denied the Father’s wisdom and way, and the sufficiency of the Holy Spirit’s testimony.
We may also encounter a similar temptation today. God uses the truth and the Holy Spirit to testify that we are children of God. The truth that saves tells us that baptism in the name of Jesus washes away our sins, making us the sons of God. Then when we pray for and receive the promised Holy Spirit, this Spirit of sonship will prove that we are children of God (Gal 4:6). However, in our afflictions (e.g., poverty, unemployment, illness) the devil tempts us with insinuations that God has abandoned us: “Are you really a son of God? Then why are you hungry? Why are you so ill? If you are truly a child whom God loves, you should pray and ask God to perform a miracle, to resolve all your problems, to heal your sickness! If God heeds your request, you have proved that you truly are a child of God!” The unspoken corollary hangs in the air: “But if God does not heal, are you truly the son of God? Does God really love you? Perhaps He’s not the right God for you ….”
While this may sound farfetched when we are strong in
faith, many Christians have yielded to doubt; many have left to pursue other
beliefs that can bestow more and immediate “blessings” (
Hence, we must be alert to the devil’s lure. Counter him as Jesus did: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” We believe and affirm whatever God has said and whichever approach He chooses. We are not deterred by the absence of miracles, lack of food, or impending death. The heavenly Father has given us the truth and the Holy Spirit to testify that we are children of God and we are saved—this is enough.
The Second Temptation: Challenging Our Physical Wellbeing
Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written:
‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’
‘In their hands they shall bear you up,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ ”
Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’ ”
This second temptation is a challenge to our physical wellbeing. The devil taunted Jesus with “God will protect you." The reference to Psalm 91:11–12 shows that the devil had not misquoted Scripture. However, he misinterpreted and misapplied it. The complete Psalm 91:11 is “For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.” The phrase “all your ways” refers to ways which are according to the word of God. It definitely excludes situations where we choose to go against the word of God. If we walk according to the word of God, and walk on His path, He will protect us. But if we deliberately defy Him by walking on the wrong path, how can we demand God’s protection?
The devil was implying that the Son of God deserved God’s protection in every way even if Jesus deliberately threw Himself off the pinnacle of the temple—because it had been recorded that God would protect Him. But this is wrong. Putting ourselves in harm’s way in order to compel God to demonstrate His love for us is tempting God. If God does not protect us, He will be accused of not keeping His word. But if He stretches out His hands to protect us, we have treated the Lord of the Universe as a servant whom we have compelled to fulfil our whim in our foolish desire to refute the devil’s taunt. But Jesus was wise enough to see through the devil’s manipulation and unequivocally rejected him with “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’ ”
Today, we may unknowingly fall into the devil’s trap. For example, someone may challenge us to pray for a seriously ill person, with the words: “If he recovers, I will believe, because it proves that God is with you.” In our eagerness to prove that our God is true, we quickly accept the challenge, and then proclaim a fast-and-pray drive. In our prayer, we tell the Creator what a wonderful opportunity this is for evangelism and order the Creator to perform this miracle of healing. And if after countless announcements and prayer sessions, the potential convert is not healed and leaves to join another religion or Christian denomination, are we tempted to secretly rebuke God? Are we tempted to demand that God helps us to keep up with churches of other denominations whose pastors appear to be performing so many miracles that they attract new believers by the thousands? Indeed, the Lord Jesus promised that signs, miracles and wonders will accompany our evangelism (Mk 16:15–18), but these are performed as and when God wills; not as and when to rebut the devil’s challenge.
The Third Temptation: Buying Our Loyalty
Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ ”
This third temptation is the attempt to buy loyalty. The devil knew that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; he sought to bribe Him with the highest price possible. The devil offered no mere billions or trillions, but all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory—literally, the whole world. But Jesus was terse: “Away with you Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ ”
The devil—through people in the world—will try to bribe us by offering us the world and all its pleasures. Can we reject these glittering prizes as Jesus did? Jesus dismissed the devil’s offer without a second thought because He knew that only one Being is worthy of worship. Similarly, our ability to reject such a proposition ultimately depends on whom or what we allow to have power over us.
Logically, the authority over all life—absolute sovereignty—belongs to God since He is the Creator of man and the source of all man has. However, the loving God gave man the freedom of choice. Hence we can decide whom we want to worship and to whom we cede control over our lives. The devil will try to persuade us not to worship God by warning us that following Christ means having to bear the cross. He will remind us of Jesus’ words—those who believe in Him will be rebuked for His name’s sake; persecution, imprisonment and even death are likely outcomes (Jn 15:18–21; Mt 24:9). It takes a lot of willpower to choose the narrow path of Jesus when the devil dangles a smooth and easy way before us. It would seem insane to turn down glory, honor and riches for persecution and death.
Another of the devil’s favorite tactics is to strengthen his offer with visual allure. When the devil attempted to buy Jesus’ loyalty, instead of just describing the reward he was offering, the devil took Jesus up to an exceedingly high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. Looking down, Jesus certainly saw all the world’s glory, honor and riches. But Jesus also saw beyond that. Jesus saw a world that would ultimately be destroyed when the kingdom of God comes. Hence He could reject the temptation.
The secret to help us reject the bribe offered by the devil is the ability to see the ultimate destruction of this world, no matter how glittering and attractive it appears at present. The kingdom of heaven often seems an abstract and nebulous concept compared to the concrete reality of everyday life. This is exactly what the devil is tirelessly trying to convince us: to exchange the incorruptible, immutable, but invisible, heaven for immediate material gain. So we need to see further and perceive what is the most precious; we need to see through the devil’s wiles. We need the Holy Spirit to help us believe and trust in the eternal glory that God can offer. In His incorruptible kingdom, we can enjoy everlasting life. So God is the only One worth ceding the authority over our lives to (Eph 1:18).
To overcome the snare of temptations, it is not enough to know God’s word. We must believe in and hold fast to the words of the Lord Jesus. We must also be ever vigilant against attempts by the devil to sow doubt in us regarding God’s promises. We must not yield to the devil’s instigation to prove our identity, secure our physical wellbeing, or gain the world at the expense of losing our Savior.
In our weakness, we may go astray occasionally. But we must not allow ourselves to be mired in this weakness or push the blame for our transgression onto others. Instead we must quickly realize our mistakes, ask God to forgive us, to help us walk on the right path once again, and no longer succumb to temptation and sin.