None of us are immune to temptation, and if we’re being honest, we’re all a little too familiar with the regret that giving into temptation can cause. We’re not alone in facing temptation, though: even Jesus was tempted during His time on earth. By looking at Jesus’ responses to temptation, we can learn a lot about the best ways to beat it when it shows up in our own lives.
Read Matthew 4.1–11.
Before we jump into the temptations Jesus faced, let’s look at the wording of verse one: “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” James 1.13 says that God doesn’t tempt anyone, but Matthew is telling us that Jesus was led by the Spirit to be tempted. How do we reconcile these? Another way to translate the word “tempted” from the ancient Greek here is “tested.” A temptation is something that the devil will use to lead us into failure, but a test is something that God uses to grow and strengthen us. What the devil intends as temptations can actually become a test in God’s hands, and Jesus shows us how in His response.
Question: What are some temptations you are currently facing?
The first temptation that Jesus faces in the desert is the temptation to turn stones into bread. Jesus had been fasting for 40 days and 40 nights, so He was probably more than just a little hungry. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with Jesus creating bread for himself. In fact, He creates bread for 5,000 people just a few chapters later in Matthew 14. What’s more, the Bible doesn’t tell us that eating bread is a sin.
How is Jesus being tempted to sin here? The devil is tempting Him to practice self-sufficiency instead of God-dependency. If Jesus created bread, He would essentially be saying that He was no longer going to rely on God’s power to provide for Him, but on His own power and resources alone.
Jesus’ response to the devil, “Man shall not live on bread alone,” actually comes from Deuteronomy 8.3 which says, “…man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
Read Deuteronomy 8.16–18.
God is reminding us that it is by His power and His alone that we are able to accomplish anything. He is saying that there may be a day when we will be tempted to brag about what we have accomplished or accumulated, but He wants us to remember that it was only made possible because of God.
We are tempted to self-sufficiency all the time. In fact, it may be one of the biggest roots of many other temptations we see. Too often, when we give into temptation it is because we are attempting to meet our own needs instead of turning to God to fill them. We can be tempted to self-sufficiency financially. Instead of waiting on God to provide something we want or need, we buy it on credit and go into debt. We can be tempted to self-sufficiency emotionally. If we’re having a hard week emotionally and turn to other ways of coping instead of asking God to fill and refresh us, we are attempting to be self-sufficient.
Question: Reflect again on the temptations you’re facing in life. How is self-sufficiency at the root of these temptations?
Self-sufficiency isn’t just a sin, it’s actually a pretty miserable way to walk through life. A life of self-sufficiency is marked by three costs.
- When we attempt to be self-sufficient, we cut ourselves off from the power of God and, because of this, never live up to our true potential.
- A self-sufficient life is marked by either intense pride or intense self-loathing. If we are relying on ourselves and our talents, we can very easily fall into pride when things are going well. We can be tempted to say, “Look at what I’ve done, what I’ve accomplished, and what my life is amounting to.” On the flip side, when things are going poorly, we buy into the lie that it is all our fault and that there is something not good enough about what we are doing.
- When we attempt to live self-sufficiently, we live out of a place of worry and anxiety. When everything depends on us, there is so much more to worry about.
Question: Which of these three costs of a self-sufficient life do you see the most in your own life? How have you seen that affect your relationship with God and others?
Now that we know the costs of a self-sufficient life, how can we beat the temptation to live our lives that way? Jesus shows us three ways.
1. Get Rooted in Divine Reality.
Jesus’ first response to temptation is to get rooted in divine reality. Jesus knows that a life of self-sufficiency is not what God intended for us, and He knows that God’s favor and blessing is far more important than anything temptation might bring. The only way to get rooted in divine reality is reading the Bible and learning more about God’s character. Jesus turned to the Word when He was tempted to self-sufficiency and we can do the same.
2. Pray Over Every Moment.
In the Bible, fasting always accompanies a time of intense prayer. Whenever someone is going through a time of fasting, it is always a given that they are also praying. The second thing Jesus does to beat temptation is to pray like His whole life depends on it. It’s easy for us to pray over the big moments: exams, life decisions, sicknesses, etc. But if we make a habit of praying over our entire lives—even ordinary and mundane moments—we are constantly aware of our dependency on God and then we won’t drift towards self sufficiency. Ephesians 6.18 says to, “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” If we pray over every moment in our lives instead of just the big ones, we’ll be constantly practicing God-dependency instead of self-sufficiency.
3. Embrace Divine Limits.
The last thing that Jesus does is embrace divine limits. By the time He was tempted by the devil, Jesus had already been fasting for 40 days and 40 nights. We can bet He was pretty hungry, and He knew that He had the power to change that in a matter of seconds by creating bread. But, Jesus also recognized that God was calling Him to rely only on the Father. Instead of fixing His own problem, He surrendered Himself to God’s power and timing and trusted in knowing God’s character. We may not be able to turn stones into bread, but God did create us to be uniquely talented and gifted. Most of the time, we are called to use those gifts to overcome obstacles we face in life. However, we should always be listening for God’s voice and be willing to back down if that’s what He calls us to do. Maybe we find ourselves in a situation where we could easily solve a problem by giving our financial resources, but God is calling us to step back and wait on His timing. Jesus realized that even though He had the ability to change His situation, true victory could only come from God.
Read Proverbs 21.31.