Pastor Albert Tiangco pastors Promised Land Baptist Church and teaches theology and language courses at BJMBC.
Christians are engaged in a spiritual warfare. Every day is a battle. Often, this non-physical engagement occurs as God’s children face temptation. Believers are enticed to sin relentlessly in this age—the allurement of the world, ubiquitous (1 Jn. 2:15f; Jam. 4:4), the inward seduction by man’s sinful nature, unrelenting (Rom. 6:12f), and the temptations of Satan, attractive (Gen. 3:1ff). The incarnate Son of God experienced such unrelenting temptations, perhaps even to the most potent degree that the Enemy can offer. In each temptation, the Lord Jesus came out victoriously (Heb. 2:17-18). The Lord’s temptations recorded in the Gospels present key principles or truths that can lead every believer to triumph (Mt. 4:1-11; Lk. 4:1-13).
The Holy Spirit led Jesus to be tempted by the devil (Mt. 4:1). The first truth towards triumph is that God has total control over all the temptations we face. Just as Satan won’t be able to tempt the Lord apart from the permission of the Holy Spirit, so the enemy cannot touch us beyond what God has allowed. God will not allow His children to face temptations beyond their ability to resist (1 Cor. 10:13). Since the Lord was led by the Spirit, He was in the center of the will of the Father. This leads to the second truth: Great temptations come even (and perhaps more so!) when one is in the very center of God’s will for his/her life. If you are following God, expect more ferocious enticement to do otherwise.
The story of the Lord’s temptation follows the narrative of His baptism in Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts. Christ’s baptism signified the commencement of His public ministry. The temptation, therefore, came just right after He launched into what the Father sent Him to do. He was tempted no less than by Satan himself. This shows that great temptations come when one enters upon service for God or when one has decided to do something for the Lord. It is not a coincidence, therefore, for example, that temptations to be impure come with more appeal and force at the time when one has committed to live a pure life for God. This reminds us that temptations are designed ultimately to render us useless for the Lord; Satan is never really concerned about man’s happiness. The Devil ultimately views each people as means of attacking God.
Matthew sets the context of the first temptation: Jesus had just fasted for 40 days and nights and became hungry. Fasting, in the Scripture, is often, if not always, accompanied by prayer. Why did He pray for that long? Perhaps as a preparation for His public ministry and for facing Satan’s temptation. The truth here is that facing temptation is a very serious matter. It is a battle, not a game. We need to totally depend on God for victory. One’s prayer life, then, indicates one’s view of spiritual warfare. It is small wonder that many Christians fail to overcome temptation because many believers fail to prepare for battle by praying for victory.
At the height of Christ’s hunger, Satan tempted Him to act independently of the Father’s will and turn stones into bread. Temptations are appealing. If it isn’t, no one will sin. Even in the very first temptation Satan garbed his lies with wisdom by using a wise creature. As one poet has stated, “Not all that glitters is gold.” Believers must not be deceived; hindi kailanman sulit ang magkasala. Satan’s first temptation illustrates that often temptations urge us to meet our legitimate needs through illegitimate means. For instance, it is not wrong to provide for you family, but taking a job that would prevent a believer from regularly taking part of corporate worship is an illegitimate means because it hinders you from obeying a God’s clear mandate.
Satan begins his second temptation by quoting Scripture (Mt. 4:6). He was tempting the Lord to presume on God’s care. The next truth is that temptation to sin can also come in a form of misinterpreted and misapplied Scripture. Ironically, sometimes Christians justify their sins by appealing to certain “verses” in the Bible. An extreme example is that some believers argue against the necessity of church attendance by appealing to verses about the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit—“I have the Holy Spirit and my Bible. I don’t need to go to church.” This reasoning fails to consider other parts of the Bible that mention the importance of corporate meetings (e.g., Heb. 10:25). One’s interpretation or application is wrong when it contradicts a clear Scriptural statement.
In the third temptation, Satan bluntly asked the Lord to worship him in exchange for earthly wealth, glory, and power (Mt. 4:8-9). The essence of all temptation is putting self before God and others. There is a sense that all sin is an act of pride and selfishness (cf. Isa. 53:6—“All we like sheep have gone astray...”). The essence of temptation is so much in harmony with what Satan really is all about–coveting the place of God (Isa. 14:13-14).
The Lord’s responses to all three different temptations were the same. He achieved victory through God’s Word. The key to victory in times of temptation is Christlikeness: knowing and obeying God’s Word. Treasuring God’s words in our hearts keeps us from sinning (Ps. 119:11). God’s Word is the sword of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 6:17). Believers must fill their minds with God’s Word, specifically, with passages that directly address their current struggles. But equally important is that Christians must be resolved to obey God’s Word. Jesus did not merely quote verses; He obeyed them.
Reading, learning, growing. God calls us to be changed through His Word. At BJMBC, our goal is to speak truthfully and clearly about that Word, while we prepare a future generation of students to proclaim it.