by Jason Caywood
How We Are Defeated But Can Be Victorious (Part 1)
One of my relatives some years back purchased a piece of furniture for her home—a rather nice looking foot rest. Her son tried to sit on it and it began to give way under his weight. So she went back to the store and complained to them about the fact that it would not hold weight. They responded, “Oh, that’s not made to be used.” In other words, it was designed to only look fashionable in your living room!
Who would sell furniture that was not made to be used—to bear the weight of use by people? But this is precisely how many people think of believing in God and Jesus is like: That faith is not really intended to be put to work—to be used in the hard reality of living. This is that kind of “faith” which James mocked when he said, “Show me your faith without works, and I by my works will show you my faith.” (James 2:18, NRSV).
What Christian people have gotten very good at over time is devising means and methods to keep themselves busy with religious activities in order to avoid actually obeying the Lord Jesus in the concrete circumstances of life. The clear message of the NT is this: Learn how to do as the Master has done and is doing in the Kingdom of God. One of the main strategies of our spiritual enemy is to convince us by deception to live double lives; to make a pretense of having faith but denying faith in practice by disobeying God’s word written.
The Gospels give us a narrative (Matthew 4:1-11) that is an example of how the enemy works to deceive us. I want to explore this and mine it to find help in my own time of need. I hope that this will be of help to the reader.
We humans are “spiritual animals”. Thus here is the demonic strategy: Appeal to the most basic of all human needs: The nourishment of food to the body. Why not use your power as the Son of God to turn these stones into bread so you get a little bit to eat? What would be the problem with that? He would be taking care of himself, right? Since when is that a sin to provide for the things one needs?
But the Lord recognized what underlie this deceptive challenge. To agree with the Devil is to affirm the right to assert one’s will against the will of God for oneself. It is to say to God in effect, “I do not need to wait for you to provide bread for me—I must seek to find this sustenance myself utilizing my own resources and power.” Our Lord understood this and simply affirmed that human beings live by “every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (v.4; Deut. 8:3, NRSV). He left us an example of radical faith in trials and depravations that God would provide for our needs—specially when placed us in the “desert”!
We too are tempted by the enemy using this same deceptive suggestion. We can utilize the talents, resources and methods available to secure things which are essential or which we consider to be essential to our life on earth. And we can get them (or at least try) without God or any conscious dependence upon God—but it only leaves one in state of death.
The second temptation of the Devil to the Lord Jesus, as narrated in Matthew 4:1-11, was specific to who he was as God’s Anointed. For the devil knew that he was the Messiah, the Son of God. The devil did not dispute this fact in suggesting this tactic. Rather he is trying to bait him into showing off his divine power to do something that no ordinary human being could possibly do! The devil wants Jesus to act in a way that defies the means and method of God’s work.
The Lord’s response tells us what kind of attitude is proper and right for a human being to have: One of humble obedience to God while seeking to excel in living out one’s calling—for God as the sole audience. The devil does bring to us a parallel temptation to that of Christ when he suggests that we use any worldly means to use our talents or influence in order to win the applause of others or to make money for ourselves.
The Lord saw right through this because he understood that we are not to “put the Lord your God to the test.” (v.7; Deut. 6:16, NRSV) That is, we must listen to God and do what we are called to do in God’s way and in accordance with what he has revealed. This means that we must not utilize humanly designed publicity stunts or tricks to convince others that we are great or important. God called us and God will back us up as we follow his will.
This third temptation of the Devil is the most direct and bold of the three he presented to the Lord Jesus. It is also the simplest one to name: Idolatry. The Lord dismisses it outright with this quote from the Scriptures, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” (v.10; Deut. 6:13, NRSV)
The heart of the temptation was to pull Jesus away from his rightly relating to God and doing his good will by offering to bestow upon Jesus something that the Messiah was said to be given by God—namely, to rule the whole world (see Psalm 110). The devil offered a shortcut around the narrow road of following the will of God to being glorified through his suffering on the cross and thus be Ruling Messiah of the heavens and earth.
The appeal of this temptation for us sinful humans is obvious. Do we not all feel inclined to get into that “inner circle” and access “power positions”? And like the devil we naturally want to wield power to suit our own purposes—not God’s or our neighbors. Thus if we are not fearers of God and decide that the end goal of life is gaining power over others and wielding that then the devil’s offer will be very attractive indeed! But even if we get some power to wield in life it comes at the eternal loss of our souls—if we do not repent and turn to Christ for life.
This is why we need to understand and apply the biblical rational of Jesus’ refutation of the devil’s offer. To take the devil’s offer is to subjugate oneself to a creature made by God rather than God himself. This devalues and degrades human dignity because that value comes from a vital worship of God through active faith and trust in God alone. This offer also cuts off one from the destiny God has for redeemed humanity to rule with his authority and power with Christ—that includes the angelic beings!