When Christ encountered the temptations of Satan in the wilderness, He was merely participating in the physical manifestation of an invisible conflict which has raged unabated throughout the universe for the past 6,000 years. This was (and is) a conflict between the government of God and the rebellion of Satan, between two competing world-views vying for the allegiance and trust of all created beings.
At the genesis of this conflict, Satan succeeded in claiming the allegiance of Adam and Eve, and through them, the dominion of planet earth. However, Christ came to earth to create a way by which men could be freed from the power and condemnation of Satan, and be restored to God’s original design.
However, in order to achieve this objective and to restore the dominion which Adam had lost, Christ must first overcome the tempter at the same point where Adam fell to his devices.
In a previous article in this series, we explored the means by which Satan had first deceived the human race, and the means by which Christ was ultimately able to overcome every temptation which Satan brought upon Him.
We recognized that Satan’s success in deceiving humanity lay in the fact that they did not fully grasp the love and character of God; it was possible for him to tempt them with temporal attractions because they did not fully understand the riches and glory they were giving in exchange.
We thusly concluded that success in overcoming temptation is dependent on one’s ability to trust God and His Word supremely, irrespective of any attractions and temptations which Satan may present. In this article, we explore the mechanics of how to accomplish that.
First of all, the Bible is quite clear as to the means by which we may overcome sin:
For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. (1 John 5:4)
The essential ingredient for overcoming sin is faith. But what exactly is faith? Why is it so crucial to overcoming temptation?
Hebrews 11:1 refers to faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” A closer examination of Hebrews 11 yields this deeper insight into the definition of faith:
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. (Hebrews 11:13)
Here we see faith defined as a complete, sold-out belief in the promises of God, to the point that one would sooner sacrifice everything else in life than lose confidence in God’s faithfulness. Faith is an unbreakable confidence in the fact that God will do exactly what He says He will do.
The overcoming of sin requires a belief in the eternal that surpasses our belief in the temporal. This is exactly what faith provides us. Therefore, overcoming temptation simply requires the development of an unbreakable faith in the promises of God.
How then does one build faith?
Romans 10:17 teaches us that “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” In other words, faith comes from understanding and internalizing the Word of God. Why does faith come from this?
As has been noted earlier, Scripture is the means by which we gain an understanding and knowledge of eternal things. It is the means by which we come to a knowledge of the love of God, of His righteous character, and of His eternal promises.
It is by familiarizing ourselves with God’s word—through gaining an understanding of the great controversy and the plan of redemption, through learning to trust God by observing His love and justice in all His dealings with humanity, and through the contemplation of His character—that we build faith in His faithfulness—confidence that He will do exactly what He said He will do.
Scripture was Christ’s source of strength in the fight against temptation:
From childhood Christ had studied the Scriptures with diligence and was intimately acquainted with them (DA 70). In this lay the secret of His strength to meet temptation. It is faith that brings victory over the world (1 John 5:4), and faith is developed through a study of the Scriptures (Romans 10:17). Here Christ affirms that adherence to the written Word of God is of greater value and importance than even the performance of a miracle. (Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 5, pg. 311)
The Spirit of Prophecy likewise emphasizes the value of a practical knowledge of Scripture as a bulwark against temptation:
But what means did He overcome in the conflict with Satan? By the Word of God. Only by the word could He resist temptation […] When assailed by temptation, look not to circumstances or to the weakness of self, but to the power of the word. All its strength is yours. (Desire of Ages, pg. 123)
The practical application of this principle is that we must become so saturated and immersed in Scripture that the world ceases to attract us. Through the study of the Scriptures, our minds may become so captivated by eternal things that the attractions and the temptations of the world will lose their attraction to us. This is how Christ overcame, and this is how we may likewise overcome in His footsteps.
At this juncture, let’s briefly recap the strategy by which Satan first sought to achieve the allegiance of humanity:
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)
Satan’s objective was dual. He sought not only to teach men to 1) undervalue the eternal, but also to 2) overvalue the temporal. Thus far, we’ve explored the means by which we may give proper value to the eternal. However, we must also counter Satan’s advances by setting the temporal world in its proper context. We must learn, not simply to seek after righteousness and the eternal promises of God, but also to reject the temptations and deceptions of Satan.
In The Desire of Ages, we find revealed the means by which Satan sought to lead men to overvalue the temporal world and to blot out eternity from the minds of men and women:
In all ages, temptations appealing to the physical nature have been most effectual in corrupting and degrading mankind. Through intemperance, Satan works to destroy the mental and moral powers that God gave to man as a priceless endowment. Thus it became impossible for men to appreciate things of eternal worth. Through sensual indulgence, Satan seeks to blot from the soul every trace of likeness to God. (Desire of Ages, pg. 122, emphasis added)
It was Satan’s design to lead humanity to overvalue the things of the world through a process of progressive temptation. Each time we give in to temptation, we train ourselves to regard our physical and temporal desires as being of greater importance than eternal interests. One small decision in favor of the gratification of self turns into another, as we slowly train our minds to value temporal gain over eternal reward.
Ultimately, there is only one defense against this creeping compromise:
The will must consent, faith must let go its hold upon Christ, before Satan can exercise his power upon us. But every sinful desire we cherish affords him a foothold. Every point in which we fail of meeting the divine standard is an open door by which he can enter to tempt and destroy us. And every failure or defeat on our part gives occasion for him to reproach Christ. (Desire of Ages, pg. 125)
The truth is, every sin we knowingly cherish is a denial of our professed surrender to God. It becomes a foot in the door for Satan to continue implanting his philosophy and temptations in our minds.
If we would serve God supremely, we must be fully committed to eliminating any and all opportunities for the enemy of souls to infiltrate our minds, or we will ultimately be overcome by his devices. We must expel anything from our lives which gives Satan the advantage, anything which gives him a foothold, anything which weakens our grip on Christ.
Susanna Wesley illustrates well this mindset of ruthless intolerance to temptation in any form:
Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, takes off your relish for spiritual things, whatever increases the authority of the body over the mind, that thing is sin to you, however, innocent it may seem in itself. (Susanna Wesley)
It was this comprehensive intolerance to sin and temptations that enabled Christ to overcome the temptations of Satan:
The prince of this world came to Christ and found nothing in Him that responded, even in the least degree, to temptation (see John 14:30). (Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 5, pg. 315)
The reason why we so often fall prey to Satan’s devices is that we fail to first commit wholly to Christ, both in theory and in practice. If we are to overcome temptation, there can be no middle ground. We must be “all in” for Christ, or Satan will slowly but surely gain complete control over us.
The belief that man can serve two masters is a deception of the devil (see Matthew 6:24). Any philosophy of life that offers us “all these things” and heaven too is part and parcel of the devil’s own doctrine. (Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 5, pg. 315)
In the end, there is nothing external which can force us to make any decision on our lives. Temptation is ultimately a choice—a free-will decision. However, the decision of whether or not to surrender to temptation is not a decision which we make in the moment of temptation.
We choose the outcome of temptation in the hours, days, months, and years preceding the event itself. We make that decision through the way we spend our time, through the entertainment we choose, through how we spend our money, through how we deal with the minor trials in life, through how we choose our friends and associations.
Every decision in life, no matter how seemingly trivial or unimportant, either draws us closer to God, or further away from Him. Every decision either serves to bring the value of eternal things more clearly before our eyes, or to drown out the voice of Christ with the manifold lusts and attractions of the world.
The only remaining question we each must answer is: Are we “all in” for Christ, or are we content to merely dabble?
And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15)