Over the past 6,000 years, the great controversy between Christ and Satan has been fought with one supreme objective in mind: the allegiance of all created beings. However, because all intelligent beings were created by God as free moral agents, one’s allegiance is fundamentally determined by who they trust. This article will therefore explore the role of trust in the context of the great controversy, especially as it relates to the process of temptation.
By way of introduction, Lucifer’s rebellion in heaven began when he allowed his pride and desire for self-exaltation to overpower his love for God. He sought equality with His Creator; it was his desire to receive the same worship and adoration that God Himself received.
Instead of seeking to make God supreme in the affections and allegiance of all created beings, it was his endeavor to secure their service and loyalty to himself. (Patriarchs and Prophets, pg. 35)
It thus became Lucifer’s objective to win the allegiance of all created beings, that he might receive the praise and loyalty he so desired. However, because God had bestowed upon all intelligent beings the freedom of choice, (see Patriarchs and Prophets, pg. 34), Lucifer could not achieve his desired allegiance through force and coercion. His object must rather be achieved through persuasion and deception.
Allegiance may be defined here as obedience rendered voluntarily by an individual. Our allegiance is determined by whom we obey:
Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness. (Romans 6:16)
This conclusion naturally begs the question: How does one secure the allegiance and obedience of an individual who already possesses all they could ever desire or hope for?
You offer them something better.
Lucifer insinuated to the heavenly angels that the government of God was selfish and unfair, and that God was withholding freedom by upholding unnecessary laws. He postulated that he could govern more fairly and justly if their allegiance was bestowed upon him, rather than upon God.
Until this point, the angels had been perfectly content with the government of God. In order to secure their allegiance, Lucifer warped their perception of reality. Through his insinuations and deceptions, he progressively led them to become dissatisfied with their current status and with the existing government of God. As a result, the angels began to doubt the goodness of God, and to trust and obey Lucifer instead.
It was through this process that Lucifer secured the allegiance of ⅓ of all heavenly angels. He offered them the opportunity to obtain something ostensibly better than that which God had provided them. As a result, the angels were led to doubt the love and justice of God, and to become dissatisfied with God and with His government. With trust in God’s goodness fractured, the angels chose to follow Lucifer over God, and render to him their allegiance and obedience.
Thus the rebellion began. Lucifer, the light-bearer, became Satan, the adversary.
Satan employed this same process of temptation to cause Adam and Eve to sin, likewise securing their allegiance and obedience. Eve was promised the opportunity to become a god, knowing good and evil. Adam was led to choose Eve over the service of God, believing that she was worth more than all God could provide in her stead.
In each case, Satan led the individual to believe that what he had to offer was of greater worth and value than that which God had promised or provided. When this supposition is accepted, trust in God is broken and allegiance passes from God to Satan, as the individual chooses to rest their fate in the promises of the deceiver, rather than those of the Creator.
However, it should be noted that in every case in which Satan has employed this deception, the alternative which he offers as the “better option” is never of greater value or worth than that which God had provided or promised. His promises are empty; his pleasures are shallow.
If the tempted individual possessed a complete grasp of reality, if they understood the true nature of God’s character and provision for them, if they understood the worthlessness of Satan’s promises and attractions, they would never depart from the will of God.
Satan understood this fact when he was evicted from the courts of heaven. He understood that the entire success of his war against God depended on his ability to deceive mankind, to warp their understanding of reality, and to lead them to believe that what he had to offer was of greater value than all that God had promised.
The glory and peace of heaven, and the joy of communion with God, were but dimly comprehended by men; but they were well known to Lucifer, the covering cherub. Since he had lost heaven, he was determined to find revenge by causing them to undervalue heavenly things, and to set their heart upon things of earth. (Desire of Ages, pg. 115)
If mankind fully grasped the reality of heaven and the character of God, Satan’s power would be broken, as there is nothing on earth which compares to that which God has in store for those who love and serve Him. For example, when Ellen White, in her first vision, was given a view of heaven, this was her response:
After I came out of vision, everything looked changed; a gloom was spread over all that I beheld. Oh, how dark this world looked to me. I wept when I found myself here, and felt homesick. I had seen a better world, and it had spoiled this for me. (Early Writings pg. 20)
Satan’s great advantage in this conflict was that humanity, by and large, possessed no such glimpse of heaven with which to break the spell of the world’s allurements and attractions. If he could prevent them from gaining a true knowledge of God and of eternal things, if that greater reality could be dimmed and rendered incomprehensible, he would succeed in drawing their minds to the things of earth, and leading them to place their affections upon the things of the world.
Thus, Satan’s strategy in the great controversy centered around a grand deception. It became his object to lead humanity to believe that the reality in which they existed (the world and all it offers) was more to be desired than all which God could offer them, both temporally and throughout eternity. His purpose was to lead humanity to give supreme value to the temporal and physical desires, and thus to undervalue and neglect the eternal realities of God and of His promises.
It was through this exact means that Satan orchestrated the fall of Israel, God’s chosen people. By leading them to progressively place the highest value on worldly acclaim and greatness, he taught them to set their highest affections on the attractions of the world. As a result, Israel progressively lost faith in God’s providence, and failed to hold fast to His promises. Simply speaking, Satan led them to overvalue the temporal and undervalue the eternal.
Satan attempted to tempt Christ to sin in the same manner. After He had fasted for forty days and forty nights, Christ was tempted by Satan to turn stones into bread, thus placing His physical needs above obedience to His Father. Christ replied as follows:
But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. (Matthew 4:4)
Through His response to the advances of the temper, Christ demonstrated that He possessed a correct conception of reality. His reply illustrated the fact that man’s life does not consist merely in the satisfaction of physical needs and urges, but that it also contains a spiritual dimension. Something greater is at stake.
Satan may have insinuated that unless Christ departed from what He deemed to be the path of duty, He would die. If so, by His response Jesus affirmed that death within the orbit of God’s will is preferable to life apart from it. This form of temptation Satan presses upon many who seek to be obedient to the revealed will of God. He who sets out to live by and for “bread” alone does not really live at all, and at best is doomed to die, for “bread” without God brings death, and not life. (Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 5, pg. 312)
Christ valued the eternal over the temporal. By His response He affirmed the principle that the spiritual must always be given first place in one’s life, and that it is neither safe nor wise to depart in a single particular from the will of God, even if death is the natural consequence.
It was this recognition of the supremacy of the eternal, this faith in the eternal promises of God, which led Abraham to leave Ur, with all its wealth and opportunities, and venture into a strange land, guided only by the promise of God. It was this same faith which led Moses to reject the throne of the richest and most powerful nation on earth, in order to lead a nation of reviled slaves to freedom. It was this same recognition of the supremacy of eternal things which persuaded martyrs in all ages to sacrifice their lives (the temporal) in order to remain true to their faith (the eternal).
However, at this juncture it is important to recognize that while it may be easy to value eternal things when life is going well, it is also the foundational purpose of temptation to slowly lead us to undervalue heavenly things, and thus yield our supreme affections to the temporal needs and desires in our lives.
It was in the time of greatest weakness that Christ was assailed by the fiercest temptations. Thus Satan thought to prevail. By this policy he had gained the victory over men. When strength failed, and the will power weakened, and faith ceased to repose in God, then those who had stood long and valiantly for the right were overcome. (Desire of Ages, pg. 120)
As we explored previously, all temptations succeed or fail based on whether they lead an individual to choose temporal allurements and desires over eternal gain and the promises of God. Since the temptations of Satan are fundamentally of less value than that which God has provided, a correct understanding of eternal things leads to allegiance to God and the rejection of the temptations of Satan.
However, the fact remains that all we know regarding eternal things comes, not from first-hand experience, but from Scripture. Thus, our perception of the value of eternal things in relation to the allurements of the world, and thus our perception of reality itself, may be reduced to an issue of trust. Do we trust God, whom we cannot see, when His Word tells us that what He offers us is of greater value than the temptations of Satan?
Temptation, then, is fundamentally an issue of trust. If we doubt the truth of the Word of God, we doubt the value of eternity and the validity of the promises of God, and thus find ourselves open to the insinuations of Satan. It was through this process of doubt that Satan overcame Eve:
Satan sought to instill into the mind of Eve the thought that God would not do as He had said; that the withholding of such beautiful fruit was a contradiction of His love and compassion for man. (Desire of Ages, pg. 118)
Doubt was also the chief object of his assault on Christ:
If Christ’s confidence in God could be shaken, Satan knew that the victory in the whole controversy would be his. He could overcome Jesus. (Desire of Ages, pg. 119)
Doubt, then, may be defined as the active ingredient in temptation, the first point at which Satan must assault if his advances are to succeed. Doubt occurs when the mind entertains the thought that God might not do what He promised, that the eternal reward may not be worth the temporal sacrifice it requires.
If our confidence in the promises of God can be shaken, our entire religious experience will be shaken along with it. This is because the promises of God are what keep us grounded in the value and preeminence of eternity. They are the means by which we understand that what God offers us is of greater value than the allurements of the world.
Without a firm grasp of the promises of God, we will fall prey to Satan’s deceptions. Any doubt we cherish, any area in which we have allowed our love for the world to eclipse our love for God will be leveraged to cause us to yield to his temptations:
To men he offers the kingdom of this world on condition that they will acknowledge his supremacy. He requires that they sacrifice integrity, disregard conscience, indulge selfishness. Christ bids them seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; but Satan walks by their side and says: Whatever may be true in regard to life eternal, in order to make a success in this world you must serve me. I hold your welfare in my hands. I can give you riches, pleasure, honor, and happiness. (Desire of Ages, pg. 130)
The question of whether or not we will surrender to temptation ultimately depends on what we value most in life. Do we value our feelings, desires, and passions most of all? Or do we recognize that their temporal fulfillment is worthless in comparison to the eternal promises of God?
What we value is a function of who we trust. Do we trust the promises of God, the Word of God, so much that we will let its influence shape our reality more powerfully than the physical world which we can see, taste, touch, and smell? If our faith is not stronger than our feelings and desires, we will be overcome by Satan’s temptations, which appeal directly to the temporal needs of man.
Therefore, if sin is to be overcome, one must first possess an unbreakable trust in God and in His Word—a trust which leads to a reshaping of one’s values to the point that one values eternal things supremely in comparison to all worldly allurements. The mechanics of that process will be reserved for a future article.