Darkness seeps in around the window blinds, and the neighborhood seems asleep, the only sound an occasional car gliding past and receding into the distance. But in your mind the voices won’t stop. Loud voices. Ugly words. Sure she was wrong to act the way she did, but your reaction wasn’t any better. You had sworn you wouldn’t deal with it this way again. Why can’t you keep your promise?
Down the street your old high school friend, a mechanic, sits and looks out his kitchen window. He’s thinking about the high ideals of quality and service he started out with and the corners he allowed himself to cut on his last job in order to save money.
Upstairs, his daughter stares at the ceiling and wonders why a day that started with such impressive plans for a new diet ended with a whole pan of double-fudge brownies with chocolate frosting.
Temptation. There’s no home or heart in your neighborhood, city, or world that doesn’t suffer from its alluring power. All human beings experience the desire to do things they know are wrong. All human beings struggle against long-held habits, grinding pressures, and irresistible rewards that make it seem impossible to refuse to give in to these desires. All human beings have made the choice to do things they know are wrong (Romans 3:23; James 1:14, 15). All human beings, that is, except one—Jesus of Nazareth.
From His awesome home with His Father and the angels at the nerve center of the universe, Jesus came to earth as a human child to save us from the destruction our sins have caused. By His own choice, in agreement with the will of His Father, He lived as a man, subjecting Himself to the limitations and challenges of flesh and blood (Hebrews 2:14, 15). His miraculous words and deeds were the result of submission to the power and wisdom of His Father (John 14:10).
The Bible assures us that although Jesus was “tempted in every way, just as we are,” He was completely “without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Fortunately, several stories of Jesus’ victories are recorded in the Gospel accounts of His life. One of the most helpful passages is Luke’s description of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness soon after His baptism. His account of Jesus’ successful resistance begins even before the wilderness episode, with His earlier experiences and choices.
What Jesus learned
From the beginning, when the going got rough for the poor, apparently illegitimate Boy Jesus, His mother must have pulled Him into her lap and recounted to Him the stories of the events surrounding His birth. Through her He learned who He really was. She taught Him about the mission He had been sent to perform, telling Him of Gabriel’s promise that He would be called Son of the Most High, of Elizabeth’s prophetic recognition of Him as Lord, of the angel’s pronouncement to the shepherds that He would save His people, of Simeon’s prediction that He would bring light to those who did not know God (Luke 1:32, 43; 2:11, 30–32).
Jesus took Mary’s stories seriously, for when He had the opportunity to visit the temple in Jerusalem at the age of 12, He spent as much time there as possible, explaining that it was essential for Him to be in His Father’s house (Luke 2:49). However, despite knowing of His importance and mission, Jesus returned home with His parents and continued to honor them with His obedience (verse 51). Then, when the time was right, He left His home to carry out the task God had given Him.
Jesus’ first destination was the Jordan River. After He had testified to His commitment to God through baptism, He called out to God in prayer, and God answered Him dramatically by the appearance of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. Jesus then submitted Himself to the Spirit’s leading, spending 40 days of solitude and fasting in the desert. There the devil assailed Him with temptation.
Jesus knew that great difficulties faced Him as He sought to carry out the mission God had given Him. The devil sought to take advantage of this awareness, tempting Him three times to take an easier way out (Luke 4:3–12). First, he suggested that Jesus jump ahead of the Spirit’s leading and use God’s power to provide Himself with a quick meal. Then he offered Jesus the opportunity to rule the world in exchange for a few easy moments of worshiping him. Finally, he suggested that Jesus perform a miracle that was sure to make everyone accept Him as a mighty Leader.
Fortified by prayer and His knowledge of Scripture, and directed by the Holy Spirit, Jesus was able to view the devil’s temptations from God’s perspective. Instead of pausing to debate, He immediately rejected them. And the devil, met with three unhesitating rebuffs, “left him until an opportune time” (verse 13).
Principles you can use
Each of the principles that guarded Jesus from temptation’s enticement is powerful today. Any person who chooses to believe in God and follow His lead can use them. I will mention three.
- Like Jesus, you can recognize that you are a beloved child of God (Romans 8:15–17). You will want to make only the best of choices, because you have the assurance that you are a royal person with a great heritage that’s worth pursuing and protecting.
- Like Jesus, you can accept the important mission God has placed before you—“for we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). No temptation can be more exciting or rewarding than obeying God’s personal call.
- Like Jesus, you can follow the lead of the Holy Spirit, whom you received at your baptism (Acts 2:38; Ephesians 1:13). There are many good things you can do in response to temptation, but the guidance and wisdom and power of the Spirit are the key ingredients that guarantee success in the battle.
Immerse yourself in the Bible. Read it, study it, and meditate on it. Then, when temptation comes, God can bring a passage to your mind that will make the correct response clear. Instead of thinking about the possible merits of the temptation and the difficulties you will have in resisting it, keep these words of the Bible foremost in your mind and cling to God’s promises to help you overcome.
The things we’ve done and the habits we’ve built can make overcoming temptation a difficult battle. Yet Jesus offers forgiveness and cleansing from the things of the past. More than that, He gives us His power through the Holy Spirit so that we, too, can overcome and do all things through Him who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13).