You Can Resist Temptation

Drew Dyck
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Sinful, fallen, broken, crooked—whatever word you use, it’s essential to face the warped side of our nature. If you believe you’re essentially good, you’ll be completely unprepared to combat the sinful impulses lurking in your heart. “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12 ESV). Accepting the biblical vision of human nature arms you with a sober self-awareness. It makes you wary of your impulses and desires. It helps you realize that you need wisdom and divine help to resist temptation and pursue righteousness. Ultimately, it’s the first step to leading a self-controlled life.

The Enemy

So we have an enemy within, sabotaging our efforts to please God. As if that weren’t bad enough, the Bible also warns of an external enemy of our souls. “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Oh no, you might think. Is he really going to get all spooky and talk about Satan? Well, yes, I do believe what the Bible says is true, that we have a spiritual adversary. I also believe that some Christians get downright weird about the topic, so I get your apprehension. They adopt a “devil made me do it!” mentality or start seeing a demon under every bush.

The Bible, however, is matter-of-fact in describing the devil— and in telling us what we must do to fight him. We’re to arm ourselves with truth, righteousness, faith, salvation, the gospel, and God’s Word (Eph. 6:10–18). Since Satan works in tandem with our fallen nature, we’re instructed to avoid sinful or foolish behaviors that might give him a “foothold” in our life. In short, we defeat Satan by turning to God, and obeying His commandments.

Self-control plays a major role. Look at the broader context of the “roaring lion” passage above. “Be sober and self-controlled. Be watchful. Your adversary, the devil, walks around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8–9 web, emphasis mine). James commends a similar strategy. “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). We don’t need exotic tools or secret knowledge to defeat him. When we resist temptation, Satan flees.

Jesus’ Temptation

Of course no one responded to a spiritual onslaught better than Jesus. The Bible tells us that Jesus was tempted in every way and yet did not sin (Heb. 4:15). The Gospels give us a front-row seat to an unusual showdown between Jesus and the enemy. Satan shows up when Jesus is alone in the wilderness and has been fasting for forty days. He knows Jesus is weak, depleted.

The first temptation: bread. “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread,” Satan sneers. It’s actually a two-pronged enticement. He’s challenging Jesus to prove His divine identity and to satisfy His hunger. Jesus rebuffs Satan with words from Scripture. “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).

Next, Satan leads Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple, and challenges Jesus to jump. He even quotes Scripture, promising that God will send angels to “lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” It might sound like a silly stunt, but the sensational spectacle would validate Jesus’ messianic identity in full view of the Jewish religious leaders. Again, Jesus parries with holy writ. “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’ ” (Matt. 4:7).

Finally, Satan takes Jesus to a high mountain and shows Him all the kingdoms of the world. “All this I will give you,” Satan says, “if you bow down and worship me” (Matt. 4:9). At this point, Jesus is fed up. “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only’ ” (Matt. 4:10).

As I read this exchange, one thing stands out to me. Satan’s temptations are all shortcuts. Think about it. What did Satan offer Jesus that He wasn’t going to get in the long run anyway? Bread? The moment Satan leaves Jesus angels come to feed Him. Proof of His identity? Jesus knows He’s the Son of God—He doesn’t need to perform miracles to prove it. How about the kingdoms of the world? This too His Father would ultimately grant Him (Phil. 2:8–9). Everything Satan dangles in front of Jesus is something Jesus is going to get eventually anyway.

We don’t need exotic tools or secret knowledge to defeat him. When we resist temptation, Satan flees.

This doesn’t mean Satan’s temptations were easy to resist. Not at all. Their appeal lay in the promise that they could be obtained painlessly. Satan offers Jesus exaltation without the cross, vindication without faith. And it’s immediate. He’s promising them now. In resisting Satan, Jesus chooses the slower and more painful course that His Father has set for Him. Jesus knows it will require passing through hardship, rejection, and death. Ultimately, what Jesus will receive from His Father will vastly surpass anything Satan can offer. But it will require faith and humility, patience, and trust. Jesus opts for the slower, harder way.

Our Temptation

I don’t think Satan has changed his strategy. He offers the same shortcuts to us. I’ve encountered them myself. For instance, I know if I obey God, I will be fulfilled. Jesus has come to give me an abundant life. God promises to “fill me with joy in [His] presence, with eternal pleasures at [His] right hand” (Ps. 16:11). But Satan sidles up to me, usually when I’m hungry, dissatisfied. “Why don’t you just grab that fulfillment on your own right now?” he says. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a sin. You deserve it.”

God has promised to clothe and feed me, to take care of my needs (Matt. 6:30–34). The One who owns “the cattle on a thousand hills” (Ps. 50:10) certainly has the resources to do it. Yet Satan plants doubts in my mind about this promised provision. “Will he really take care of you?” he whispers. “Maybe you better grasp for your own security, even if it means doing something dishonest.”

The best way to head off such temptation is to follow Jesus’ example. It starts with listening to His sermon—and not Satan’s. It means countering the lies the enemy whispers in our ear with the unchangeable truth found in Scripture. And it requires trusting God and taking the longer, harder road to fulfillment. When we do those things, Satan runs for the exit.

Unfortunately, we don’t always follow Jesus’ example. We’re weak, sinful. Sometimes we can’t spot Satan’s lies, let alone resist them. The good news is that we can make progress. With use, our spiritual muscles get stronger. As we follow the Victor in the wilderness, our self-control will continue to grow.

For Further Reading:

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