Temptation is not a sin; it is the enticement to sin. Temptation is the voice of the world, the flesh, or the devil, attempting to lure us away from the life Jesus calls us to. When we give in to temptation we turn away from our identity as God’s beloved children; we step out of the Lord’s will for our lives.

Everyone gets tempted. This is a fundamental fact of human life. As such, we can never fully escape this reality. Even Jesus was tempted. Following his baptism by John in the Jordon, Jesus “was tempted by the devil for 40 days” (Luke 4:2).

The good news of the gospel, however, is that Jesus defeated the devil’s temptations. Though he was tempted just as we are, he did not sin (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus remained obedient to the Father in all things.

We can, therefore, look at Jesus’ experience with temptation as a model for overcoming temptations in our lives.

As Christians, the Holy Spirit empowers us to respond to our temptations in the same manner that Jesus responded to his. Responding to temptation in a Christlike way involves three important steps.

1. Do Not Justify Temptation

Temptations play upon our desires. This makes the temptation easy to justify. We can rationalize the temptation to a point where we feel that the temptation is sensible, reasonable, or even good.

Essentially, we talk ourselves into accepting the temptation and embracing the desire to which it points. In doing so, however, we walk away from our obedience to Jesus.

What might it have looked like if Jesus had justified his temptations? The first temptation, for example, is the temptation to make stones into bread. This would have been a strong urge for Jesus, given the fact that he had fasted for the entire 40 days (Luke 4:2).

Jesus was hungry. Into this hunger, the devil says, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread” (Luke 4:3). Jesus could have easily justified satisfying his hunger in a myriad of ways:

  • “I am alone in the desert; no one will know if I snap my fingers and make some bread.”
  • “Making some bread out of stones doesn’t harm anyone.”
  • “The Father would want me to be strong for the important spiritual battles ahead, I should eat some bread to keep my strength up.”
  • “Why is it wrong to eat some bread when I am obviously hungry?”

Jesus could have easily talked himself into giving in to the temptation. Instead, he remained obedient to his heavenly Father. Jesus recognized the temptation for what it was, the lies of the devil. Never once did Jesus justify the voice that attempted to lure him from the Father’s will.

When we justify our temptations, we give them power over us. We make it easier for the temptation to turn us away from godly obedience.

To avoid giving in to temptation, we need to recognize them as devilish lies. In recognizing this, we can turn our ears away from the voice of our temptation and stand in stalwart faithfulness to the Lord.

2. Live for the Father’s Will

Although Jesus faced three temptations, they were, at their heart, essentially the same. Each of Jesus’ temptations was an enticement to forsake the will of the Father. The devil wanted Jesus to use his divine status to serve himself, rather than the will of God.

The temptation to make bread was about satisfying his hunger. Bowing before Satan was about claiming power for himself at the expense of divine obedience. To hurl himself down from the highest point of the Temple was a temptation to prove his Messiahship without suffering the cross.

The aim of every temptation was for Jesus to use his divine status to benefit himself, rather than serve God or others.

In essence, this is the same temptation of the garden. Prior to the Fall, Adam and Eve were firmly rooted in God’s will; they served God in everything. Things changed when they ate the forbidden fruit. (Genesis 3:6).

They believed the lie that said, “Your eyes will be opened and you will be like God” (Genesis 3:5). Instead of living with a God-ward focus, Adam and Eve focused upon themselves and acted in a way that benefited them alone.

The devil uses the same tactic when tempting Jesus. Jesus, however, remained steadfastly obedient to the Father.

He did not “consider equality with God has something to be used for his own advantage; rather he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant” (Philippians 2:6-7). Instead of living for himself, Jesus lived for the Father’s will.

Temptations try to trick us into believing that God’s will is somehow flawed or mistaken. Temptations tell us that we control our lives, and that ultimate satisfaction is found in maximizing our own will.

This is a lie. Any call to step outside the will of God is clearly a step in the wrong direction. Jesus himself taught us to pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done” (Luke 11:2). As Christians, we are to delight in God’s will and walk steadfastly in his ways.

3. Let Scripture Speak

To each of Satan’s lies, Jesus offered a retort taken from the Book of Deuteronomy. Jesus responded to the devil with the holy words of Scripture, applying them directly to the temptation he faced.

This makes sense, given that, as a faithful Israelite, Jesus spent countless hours being immersed in the scriptures.

Furthermore, as the Incarnate Lord, Jesus did not merely know the content of the scriptures, he knew their intent and their power. Thus, when temptation besieged him, Jesus knew the scriptures he could rely on to silence the voice of the devil.

We do not overcome temptation by relying on our own skills or strength. The primary way we overcome temptation is by relying on God’s Word, the “sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17). We have the scriptures before us and can use them to combat the lies of the devil.

We can respond to our temptation by repeating the words of Jesus, “Man does not live by bread alone” (Luke 4:4) or “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only” (Luke 4:8).

We might even boldly cry out “Get behind me Satan!” (Matthew 16:23). By making the words of Jesus our own, we allow the Word of God to have authority in our lives, thus aiding us in our battle against temptation.

The Three-Step Plan

While we can never escape temptation, we can withstand them. We can recognize them for the devilish lies they are and choose to remain rooted in our obedience to God.

By overcoming temptation in the wilderness, Jesus illustrates how we can overcome temptation in our lives. Christ shows us the way.

We can respond to our temptations in the same three ways that Jesus responded to his. Importantly, these three ways must work together. Refusing to justify a temptation, for example, will do little good if we do not commit ourselves to the Father’s will.

Our lives are lived in devotion to the presence and will of God; it is only from this solid basis that we are able to stand up under temptation. 

For further reading:

Is Temptation Sin?

Why Do We Pray Not to be Led into Temptation?

What Is Temptation in Christianity?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Jtasphoto

SWN authorReverend Kyle Norman is the Rector of the Anglican Parish of Holy Cross in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He has a doctorate in Spiritual Formation and is often asked to write or speak on the nature of the Christian community, and the role of Spiritual disciplines in Christian life. His personal blog can be found here.