Fighting Temptation Like Jesus
What if Jesus responded to temptation like we usually do? I have been reflecting lately on the nature of temptation and suffering, and the relationship between the two in the life of Jesus and my own life. When the Devil tempted Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4), how did Jesus respond? “And the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’” But he answered, “Well, um, I am pretty hungry, but really I shouldn’t. I can’t do that. Wow, I’m hungry. How can I say no? I have to say no. Man shall not live... but, I do need bread, after all. God knows that I need bread. How can I survive without bread?” Was this Jesus’ response? NO! But I confess to my own shame that I often give that kind of response to temptation. I reason it through in my own head, instead of giving a decisive instantaneous “NO!” like Jesus did. Matthew does not record Jesus mulling over the Devil’s offer. Jesus gives an immediate response in the negative, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matt. 4:4). And that is the end of it. The temptation was real but Jesus decisively said NO each time.
Was it easy for Jesus to resist temptation? No. The author of Hebrews tells us, “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.” (Heb 4:15). Did you see that phrase, “in every respect”? We may be tempted to think that Jesus had an easy time resisting temptation to sin, but he did not. It was difficult and painful. The temptation that Jesus faced was in every respect as difficult and painful as it is for us. Actually, it was likely more difficult and painful because he did not give in. When we stop fighting temptation and just give in, we are no longer struggling with all our might against sin. We are laying down and letting ourselves be slaughtered. It is easy to give in. It is hard to resist. We often times don’t want to fight so we give in. The painful struggle against sin gives way to the momentary deceitful pleasure of sin. Resisting temptation is painful and we must fight with all our might. The old maxim, “No pain, no gain” is true. Unless we are willing to suffer angst in our soul in fighting temptation, resisting the call of our sinful flesh, we will never gain victory over temptation.
Want to see a vivid picture of how Jesus suffered as he struggled against temptation? “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” (Heb 5:7-8). Why did Jesus shout out with loud cries and tears? Because resisting temptation is difficult and painful. It is not easy, even for the son of God when he was on this earth, before his glorification. If fighting temptation was this difficult for the Son of God, should we expect it to be any easier for us? Certainly not.
The key thought that keeps coming up in my mind again and again is this: If I want to successfully resist temptation, I must be willing to suffer. The suffering that I imagine is primarily the suffering of self-denial. It often seems that giving in to temptation will be more satisfying and more fulfilling that obeying God’s command but it just isn’t true. While the world, the flesh, and the Devil whisper to me, “You need this. You deserve this”, I must remember that if God said, “Don’t do it” then God knows what is best regardless of the justifications and rationales that flood my mind. And many times my own logic seems better and more well reasoned than the simple command of God, but that is where faith comes in. Even if I don’t understand how obeying God is going to make things work out better (in the big picture, that is), I need to trust Him enough to just do it. And the act of saying that decisive “NO!” to temptation like Jesus did when tempted by the Devil may seem painful because my sinful self will be screaming in my face telling me how much I am missing out on. But delivering a swift strike to temptation with the overwhelming firepower of simple trust in God’s command and His character, will bring about victory and joy. But in every great conflict there will be pain, blood, sweat, and tears. And often the battle will be long and arduous before victory comes.
Jesus was willing to go to the cross at great personal cost to himself because of the joy set before Him (Heb. 12:2). Jesus was convinced that the suffering that He must endure for the sake of obeying God was worth it. He trusted God. “Not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). We may think, “I am not Jesus. I can’t do like He did. I am sinful.” Yes, you are not Jesus but at the cross, Christ destroyed the power of sin so that we need not consign ourselves to continual failure (Rom. 6:5-14). And God does not allow us to face any temptation for which there is not a way of escape (1 Corinth. 10:13). It is a question of trust or arrogance. Are we arrogant enough to listen to ourselves in moments of weakness when we face temptation? Or will we humbly trust God enough to be willing to endure suffering for the sake of obeying His Word? My own life is too often characterized by the former, namely arrogance. But I do not despair for God is at work (Phil 2:13, Phil 1:6). Let us cry out to God that increasingly our lives would be characterized by a humble obedient trust which is willing to suffer because God is good and God knows best.