It has been said that opportunity knocks once, but temptation beats on the door every single day. How true that is.
We wish that we could just stop giving in to temptation, but it is always going to be there. But what we need to know about temptation is that to be hooked by it, to give in to it, we must first listen to it and then want what it is offering. We play a part in our own temptation.
Another thing we need to know about temptation is that it can be overcome. There is always a way out, and sometimes that way is as simple as the door. Sometimes it comes down to simply taking some practical steps. Just turn off the computer. Just walk away from the television set. Just walk out the door. Just throw it in the trash. Just take the practical steps.
While we can’t escape from temptation, there is a way to resist it. Jesus himself modeled this for us. Jesus was not just a good man; he was the God-man – fully God and fully man. He walked this earth as a man and experienced the physical limitations that we experience. For instance, he would get tired. He experienced physical thirst. When he went to meet the woman at the well in Samaria, he was weary. He experienced physical weakness. When he carried his cross, he fell beneath its weight. We know that He experienced anger when he drove the moneychangers out of the temple – but it was righteous indignation, not a temper tantrum. He also felt sorrow. As he stood at the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus wept.
And Jesus was tempted. The Bible tells us, “For we do not have a High Priest [Jesus] who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 NKJV). As another translation puts it, “We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all – all but the sin” (MSG). When we are tempted, Jesus knows what we are going through, and he has given us a model of how to resist temptation.
When Jesus was ready to begin his public ministry, he had to take a couple of very important steps. The first was to be baptized, and the other was to face a time of testing and temptation in the wilderness. After being baptized by his cousin John and hearing the words from heaven, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17 NKJV), the Bible tells us that “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1 NKJV).
Right after this blessed moment, Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted. And we need to recognize that sometimes we are more vulnerable after a time of blessing. When we are the most exhilarated with success, we are also the most vulnerable to pride.
Temptation always will be graded to the fiber of our lives. God will never give us more than we can handle. Yet the Bible gives us this warning: “If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12 NLT).
We can look at individuals in the Bible who seemed to be strong in certain areas, yet they fell. Moses was known as the meekest man on the face of the earth. Yet it was pride and presumption that dealt him a serious blow as he took personal credit for what God had done. Samson was known for his feats of supernatural strength, but he was defeated because of some very natural desires. Elijah was known for his great bravery and courage, but he was also paralyzed by fear. And Simon Peter discovered that in the very area he believed himself to be the strongest, he actually was the weakest. So we need to keep up our guard. We need to always be aware of the fact that we could fall prey to temptation.
The essence of Jesus’ first temptation was the lust of the flesh. Or, to put it another way, the temptation to live for the moment, to put physical needs before the spiritual. Jesus had been fasting for 40 days and 40 nights, and so the devil tempted him to turn stone into bread. The irony is that Jesus, being God, could have materialized food at any moment. So in effect, he said, “No. You are wrong. There are some things that are more important than the physical.” And when we are tempted, that is what we need to remember as well.
The next temptation involved the pride of life, the temptation to live as you please without considering the repercussions. He took Jesus to the highest point of the temple, probably a 450-foot drop, and said, “Why don’t you jump off?” In other words, “Push the envelope. Don’t trust God – test God. Just jump.” But Jesus said, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God’” (Matthew 4:7 NKJV). There was one phrase Jesus used each time the devil tempted him: “It is written. … ” And in fighting a spiritual battle, our best defense is the knowledge of the Bible, God’s Word. It is great to carry a Bible in your briefcase or your purse. But the best place to carry it is in your heart.
Then the devil came to Jesus with a temptation that involved the lust of the eyes. The devil is very good at making bad things look attractive. And he was essentially saying, “Live for this world. Pursue all that this world has to offer.” He showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and then basically offered him the title deed – if he would bow down and worship him. For Jesus, that would mean no suffering on the cross. But Jesus wouldn’t have any of it. He said, “For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve’” (Matthew 4:10 NKJV). Jesus knew that one moment before the altar of sin can lead to a lifetime of regret, and he wouldn’t bow for even one instant.
Temptation will come into every life, whether it is through the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes or the pride of life. But the good news is that God will never give you more than you can handle. And he will allow it in your life to make you stronger.