Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Thursday, 31 December 20:
Matthew 4:1 – “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”
The temptation of Jesus by the devil in the desert is a well-known event, and much has been written about it. The main point of the story is Jesus defeats Satan in the desert, succeeding against Satan’s temptations where Adam and Eve failed (and where we continue to fail). Jesus gives us a model for overcoming temptation, but it is His victory, not ours, which enables us to overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil and stand before God. Jesus’ first act after His baptism (Matthew 3:16-17) was to confront Satan on our behalf and overcome sin (setting the stage for the ultimate victory of His crucifixion and resurrection) so He could glorify Himself and transfer His righteousness to us – “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) Through Adam we inherited death; in Christ we receive new and eternal life — “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:17)
- Romans 6:14 — For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
- 1 Corinthians 10:13 — 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.
- Galatians 5:1 — For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
- 1 John 1:8 — If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
- 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
- Titus 2:11-12 — For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age….
In Christ, we are saved from the penalty of sin, are being saved from the power of sin in our lives, and will be saved from the presence of sin when Christ returns to make all things new. So, in our current condition, we will still struggle against sin, but not without hope as we rest confidently in God’s grace and grow overtime into Christ-like character through God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit. (see Romans 8:28-29) We are not yet perfected in our love, but it is God’s love for us and our subsequently enabled love for Him, along with the conviction of the Holy Spirit, which causes us to grieve, mourn, and lament over our sin, “Wretched man that I am!” (Romans 7:24), but simultaneously rejoice in the grace and righteousness we have received through Christ. Paul describes our life-long struggle against sin (though we have been freed from the bondage of sin) very well in Romans 7:14-25, as did the Psalmists. As we seek to follow Christ into our personal battles against sin, we should learn from Jesus’ victorious example in the desert:
You can’t fix what you won’t be honest about. One thing we should learn from Jesus is that sin (giving in to temptation) is not an external problem, it is an internal problem; it is not about what is happening to you or what others are doing to you but rather about what is inside of you, what is in your heart — “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” (Matthew 15:11). Jesus was tempted by Satan (external temptation), but Jesus was never tempted within His heart to sin (internal temptation), which would have been the beginning of sin (See Matthew 5:21-30). There are many versions of the excuse: “If things had been different I (they or we) would not have done wrong,” or, “They made me do it!” We all have a deeply ingrained defense mechanism and tendency to blame someone or something else for our own failures like Adam and Eve did – “I yelled at her, but she was so rude, and I wasn’t feeling well!”
As a society, our philosophies and politics reflect our tendency to proclaim and defend the ‘goodness’ of mankind rather than being honest about our sin nature – ‘With enough education and better economic conditions we can create a morale society.’ However, consider Adam and Eve, they sinned in Paradise without a care in the world. Why? Because they wanted to; because they chose their own desires over God’s will. What was their immediate defense for their sin? They blamed Satan, each other and even God. Can you relate? Conversely, Jesus overcame temptation in the harsh desert after forty days of fasting because He was wholeheartedly focused on loving and serving the Father — “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” (Matthew 4:10) What you care about most determines what you will do next. What really motives you to do what you do and act the way you act?
- 2 Corinthians 13:5 — Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you fail to meet the test!
Be honest about your sin and take it to the Lord in prayerful repentance immediately. Don’t blame anyone else or anything else for the condition of your heart. Nothing or no one makes you sin. You choose to sin because, at the moment, the temptation is more powerful (more controlling) in your life than the love of Christ. (see 2 Corinthians 5:14) Don’t make light of ‘little’ sins or those inappropriate knee-jerk reactions when you are caught off guard – they are often more revealing of the true condition of your heart than your planned responses. Pay attention to your slightest words and deeds which reveal the larger part of the iceberg under the surface – “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.” (Matthew 12:36)
Acknowledge your sin, but don’t wallow in your sin. Prayerfully repent, learn, and move forward joyfully in God’s grace with full confidence that God will continue to sanctify you in Christ. Importantly don’t just seek behavior change but rather heart change, where change is real — Don’t whitewash a tomb or attempt to put new wine in an old wineskin (Matthew 23:27; Luke 5:37, 38), “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy.” (1 Peter 3:15)
- 2 Thessalonians 3:5 — May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.
- 1 Timothy 1:5 — The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
- James 1:4 — And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
- Philippians 1:6 — And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came….” (Matthew 4:1-3) How did Jesus prepare for Satan’s temptations? He spent forty days in fasting and prayer. Though likely physically weak from hunger, Jesus could not have been more ready to face Satan, after 40 days of deep communion with His Father. We must learn from Jesus here: You cannot have the relationship you need with God, and you cannot overcome the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil without constant, fervent prayer.
Jesus was in constant prayer. He rose early in the morning to begin his days on prayer (Mark 1:35), He regularly withdrew to isolated places to pray (Luke 5:16) and would often pray all night (Luke 6:12). He also prayed publicly (Luke 11:1; John 11:41-43; John 17). He prayed before important decisions (Luke 6:12-13), He prayed during times of His greatest need (Matthew 22:36-34; Hebrews 5:7), and He prayed repeatedly (Matthew 26:44; Luke 18:1). Jesus’ prayer life was so evidently powerful to those around Him, the disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray,” though prayer was already part of their religious tradition (Luke 11:1). Jesus was clear that we would not be able to face life’s challenges and temptations without continual and effective prayer —
- Luke 22:31-32 — Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.
- Matthew 26:41 — Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
- Mark 9:29 — And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”
- Romans 12:12 — Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
- Philippians 4:6 — Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
- Colossians 4:2 — Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.
Prayer and Bible study are inseparable. For prayers to be effective, they must be reflective of God’s word. It is through God’s word that we learn how to pray. Just like babies learn how to speak by listening to and repeating the words of their parents, we learn how to rightly pray by first listening to the Father through His word, and then communicating with Him on the basis of His word. Prayer is a universal human phenomena practiced by nearly every known religion, but prayer which isn’t grounded in God’s word and focused on God’s will is ineffective. God’s word is essential to our prayer life and is also essential to our thought life. When temptations arise, we must be on the ready with God’s word.
“But he answered, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4) Another thing we should take away from Jesus’ example today is to always respond to temptation with God’s word, something, of course, you can’t do if you haven’t stored God’s word in your heart – “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11) “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17) Don’t go into the battle unarmed. Bible study and memorization must be a top priority in your life, and again, prayer is inseparable from Bible study.
“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.” Jesus had at the ready a specific response from God’s word for every one of Satan’s temptations. Chances are, you will be tempted in the future by what has always tempted you in the past – jealousy, anger, pride, fear, lust, etc. So, arm yourself in advance with memory verses to counter those specific temptations. When temptations arise, recite in your mind (or even aloud) the word of God with which you have armed yourself. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 31 December 20: Choose, prayer over, and memorize a few Bible verses which will help you overcome your most common temptations, but always trust in God’s strength to overcome your temptations rather than your own will power – “…he will also provide the way of escape….”
- Ephesians 6:10-18 — Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints….