Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Thursday, 3 January 19:
Matthew 4:1 – “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Was Jesus led into temptation by the Spirit? No, he was led by the Spirit “into the wilderness.” God ordained that in the desert, Jesus would be “tempted by the devil.” At first glance, this verse seems to contradict James 1:13 – “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” And considering Matthew 4:1, how could Jesus later teach His disciples to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”? I think a key to resolving this apparent contradiction is to understand the difference between external temptations, and internal temptations.
External temptations are offered to us by an agent of temptation (a tempter), whether or not we have any desire to accept the invitation to enter into sin. External temptation is someone else’s sin, not ours. External temptations are a test, and throughout the Bible, we see that, in His sovereign will, God allows us to be tested. In fact, God uses tests to develop us into Christ-like character.
However, we are responsible for internal temptations, sinful thoughts and desires that come from our prideful, self-centered hearts. Tomorrow, we will hear Jesus’ teachings on these thought sins, which are a violation of the Greatest Commandment of love.
Contrary to what Adam and Eve said in the Garden, no person or circumstance can ‘make’ you sin. Others might tempt you to sin, and certain situations might weaken your moral resolve, but how you respond to external factors is your choice.
Based on many Bible verses such as Ephesians 2:1-3 and 1 John 2:16, church tradition teaches about three enemies of the soul, which have been called “the trinity of temptation” – the world, the flesh, and the devil (mundus, caro, et diabolus). The world and the devil are external tempters, and the flesh is internal. As per James 1:13, God is not affected by agents of temptation, nor does He act as an agent of temptation. Therefore, Jesus was led by the Spirit in the proximity of an external tempter (Satan), but He (the Son of God) was not tempted internally and didn’t sin.
The Bible calls us all to be led by the Spirit rather than the flesh, and as Ambassadors of Christ in a sinful world, the Spirit will definitely lead us into environments full of external temptations. In fact, in Jesus’ last recorded prayer for us before His crucifixion, He prayed to the Father, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:15) His final prayer is in direct parallel with the Lord’s Prayer — “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil (more accurately translated as “evil one”).” The prayer is that God will not allow external temptations to become internal temptations, to prevent us from “entering into” temptation. In other words, “Lord, Give us strength!”
Certainly, the Bible tells us to make every effort to avoid external temptations – you cannot play with fire without getting burned. However, we cannot accomplish our mission on earth and avoid all external temptations. As Marines say, “The enemy gets a vote.” Fortunately, the Bible also says, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13) The key point of this verse is when being tempted, we must not attempt to meet the challenge in our own strength – we need to turn to God and ask Him to show us the way out and to give us Holy Spirit strength to endure. As Galatians 5 teaches, self-control (internal strength) is really Spirit-control, which comes from God, not from mere willpower. And the Bible is also clear that the first response to a temptation is prayer.
More verses for consideration are provided below:
– Hebrews 2:18 — For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
– Hebrews 4:15 — For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
– James 1:14 — But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.
– Mark 7:15 — There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”
– Matthew 18:7 — “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!
– 1 Thessalonians 3:5 — For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.
– Matthew 26:41 — Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
– 1 Corinthians 7:5 — Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
– 2 Timothy 1:7 — for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
– Luke 22:46 — and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
– 1 Timothy 6:9 — But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.
– Galatians 6:1 — Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
– 1 John 2:16, 17 – “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life —is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”
– Psalm 141:4 — Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with men who work iniquity, and let me not eat of their delicacies!
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 3 Jan 19: Pray that God will not let your heart incline to any evil but rather give you the strength to face the sinful world as a faithful Ambassador of Christ. And when you fail to pass the test, trust in God’s grace and remember 1 John 1:9 – “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”