The devil tempts us. God tries us. When we resist the former and persevere through the latter, God produces character in us. Jesus models how to do both. Over the next two days, I want to look at his example, beginning today with how he resisted the devil. My remarks are based on the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness (Luke 4:1–13).
First, Jesus overcame temptation because he was already spiritual prepared. Luke writes: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” Notice two very important phrases: “full of the Holy Spirit” and “led by the Spirit.” We cannot resist temptation on our own power. We must rely on the power of God’s Holy Spirit, as Jesus did.
Second, Jesus overcame temptation because he understood the nature of temptation. Temptation attacks us where our identity and mission as the children of God intersect. Notice how the devil prefaces the first and third temptations: “If you are the Son of God….” The devil knew full well that Jesus was God’s Son. The temptations attempted to distort Jesus’ identity and pull him off mission. The first temptation, turning stones into bread, attempted to do so by getting Jesus to use his power for selfish ends. The second, bowing down to the devil, attempted to do so by getting Jesus to use the wrong means (worship of Satan) to accomplish the right end (the obedience of the kingdoms of the world; on which, see Matt. 28:18–20 and Phil. 2:9–11). The third, leaping off the precipice of the Temple, attempted to do so by forcing God to rescue Jesus from the consequences of a reckless choice. In each case, Jesus clarified the meaning of his divine sonship and stayed faithful to his divine calling. When we are tempted, do we remember that we are the sons and daughters of God and act accordingly?
Third, Jesus overcame temptation because he knew the Word of God and how to apply it to his situation. In each temptation, Jesus responded by quoting Scripture. “Man does not live on bread alone” comes from Deuteronomy 8:3. Deuteronomy 6:13 is the source of “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” And “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” is a quotation of Deuteronomy 6:16. All these passages come from the period when Israel wandered in the wilderness following its exodus from Egypt. During that time, the Israelites were tempted greatly and chose to fail often. Jesus, however, read Scripture and learned the right lesson from Israel’s wrong example. He succeeded where it failed by leaning wholeheartedly on the wisdom of God the Father. The question is: Do we know what God has said, and do we heed his words?
Overcoming temptation is not a matter of being spiritual clever but of being wholeheartedly obedient to God, as Jesus was himself.