How effective are you at overcoming temptation? Americans, on the whole, aren’t very serious about it. In fact, we’re more likely to see temptation as a positive tool in the advertiser’s bag of tricks; something to chuckle about or think hmmm, I’d like one of those, as the commercial fades, rather than run from. But temptation is serious stuff to the spiritually minded because it has marked the beginning of the end of so many good things. Before a family ruins their finances they are tempted to buy more than they can afford. Before a governor betrays his oath he is tempted to justify means by their ends. Before a husband breaks his vows he is tempted to believe that the rules don’t apply to him.
Temptation is serious business indeed.
Perhaps that’s why one of the first things Luke records in the life of Christ is his temptation in the wilderness. It’s helpful to reflect on this as we take our first steps into a new year. Take these four quick observations on Luke 4:1-13 and tuck them away as reminders as you head off into 2015.
First, the temptation took place under devilishly advantageous conditions to the tempter. Jesus was under duress in the desert for an extended time, alone, hungry, and exhausted. We are never more vulnerable than when we are isolated, underfed, and fatigued. We can be in a crowd of hundreds and still be socially isolated; well fed yet emotionally hungry; physically rested yet mentally fatigued. Pay attention to the conditions under which you are operating. The more desert-like your circumstances the more vulnerable you are to temptation.
Second, the appeal of instant gratification can be overwhelming, especially in a time of easy credit. “If you are the Son of God,” the devil said in effect, “what’s in your wallet? Prove it!” Every day we have opportunities to live by feel rather than by faith, to do for ourselves instantly (and on credit) what seems to take too long to do God’s way. The more ability we have, the harder it is to wait for God’s provision, to live on his every word. Jesus took the way of faith, trusting God to meet his needs. So should we.
Third, short-cuts seem best when we want to accomplish tough tasks. I can’t help but hear Darth Vader in the Devil’s offer in verses 5-7, “Luke, you do not yet realize your importance. You’ve only begun to discover your power! Join me, and I will complete your training! With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict, and bring order to the galaxy.” How many politicians have fallen for this line, only to find that the alliance they made with a power broker was a devils’ bargain.
Short-cuts to authority to solve problems aren’t limited to politicians. All of us can be tempted to take power that isn’t ours. But as Chuck Swindoll’s recent Facebook post said: “One of the quickest ways to complicate a mess is to jump in with both feet and try to do it all without God.”
Fourth, as frustration and disappointment mount, so does the temptation to manipulate God. The Devil’s taunt to throw himself down was a direct challenge to Jesus about the goodness and love of his Father. “You believe God loves you? God chose you? Make him prove it!”
Times will come in your life and mine, maybe today, maybe this year, when the enemy of souls will whisper doubts in our ears about God’s love for us. When that happens remember to answer back, “No one manipulates God. He is God and we are not.”
Temptation is serious stuff, but it doesn’t have to be the beginning of the end of good things. When it comes your way this year, remember how our Lord handled it, and let it motivate you to trust God more than ever.