RECOGNIZE AVOID AND REJECT TEMPTATION The temptations of Jesus help us understand aspects of a person’s life the devil may target and how it may disguise itself to operate on the targets. We discuss reducing temptation in our lives through prayer, recognizing and rejecting temptation through its attributes and potential disguise, and evaluating potential actions and events based on whether they will fit into or work against our general purpose of living in the image of God.
Nature of Temptation
How to Recognize Avoid and Reject Temptation
Temptation persists among us as the devil tries to pull each person away from living according to God’s purpose. As we discussed in several previous studies (e.g. Keeping Watch by Living in the Image of God), God creates every person to live in his image, i.e., represent him in every human interaction as his provider assistant and conveyor of his image. Representing him means your actions and words radiate Godliness and provide opportunities for other people to feel God. Furthermore, you fulfill your responsibilities as God’s provider assistant by willingly and gracefully providing service to benefit others when God places a need in your path. Also, you receive service provided by others with heart-felt appreciation and happiness. This type of behavior pleases God and draws a person closer to God’s purpose. The devil wants to pull each person away from God’s purpose and devises schemes to lure people into committing sin by behaving in a manner that is opposite to living in the image of God.
Apostle Peter warns about the devil: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” [1 Peter 5:8]. He devours a person by luring them into sin, away from living in the image of God. Our first line of defense against temptation is to pray as Christ taught: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” [Matthew 6:13]. Although we know the devil’s objective is to lure us away from living in the image of God and will readily reject such objective when recognized, the devil succeeds a lot of times because of its disguise and stealth. Therefore, we need to reduce its access to our lives and understand its methods in order to recognize and reject its attempts when it does enter.
In this bible study, we discuss the nature of temptation based on a study of the temptations of Jesus. His temptations help us understand aspects of a person’s life the devil may target and how it may disguise itself to operate on the targets. We seek to understand reducing temptation in our lives through prayer, recognizing and rejecting temptation through its attributes and potential disguise, and evaluating potential actions and events based on whether they will fit into or work against our general purpose of living in the image of God.
Temptation of Jesus
After he was baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus went into the wilderness, fasted for forty days and nights, and was tempted by the devil. We can learn the attributes of temptation from his interaction with the devil because his temptation covers the full range of attributes of potential human temptation: “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” [Hebrews 4:15]. The first temptation tried to exploit his physical need. He had just completed a forty-day fast. Therefore, the devil attempted to exploit hunger when it challenged Jesus to “tell these stones to become bread” to prove that he is the Son of God [Matthew 4:3]. In another temptation, the devil probed for self-pride by challenging Jesus to jump off the highest point of the temple if he is the Son of God. In a third temptation, the devil probed for greed or selfish ambition by challenging Jesus to “bow down and worship me” in order to gain authority over “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” [Matthew 4:8–9]. Jesus recognized and rejected all three attempts.
By allowing the devil to tempt him, he provides us an opportunity to understand the various ways that we might be tempted and how the temptation could be disguised to lure us away from God. His temptation provides information about the attributes or types of temptation and disguise for temptation.
Attributes of Temptation
The three temptations of Jesus tried to exploit potential human weaknesses of physical desire, pride (obsession with one’s status or importance), and greed or covetousness (desire to own or control, especially in disregard of others’ rights). As Apostle John explained: “For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world” [1 John 2:16]. Based on the experience of Jesus and subsequent explanation by Apostle John, we recognize three general targets for temptation as lust of the flesh (i.e., physical desire), pride (i.e., obsession with status or relative importance), and lust of the eyes (i.e., greed, selfish ambition, or covetousness). Also, we recognize based on the experience of Jesus that temptation often comes in a disguise.
Lust of the Flesh
Temptation could be targeted at exploiting a person’s physical desire: such as for food or drink, shelter, clothing, or protection. As we discussed in a previous bible study under Parental Responsibility Based on Childhood of Jesus, every human need can be described in terms of five basic needs. A person’s desire to provide for a need either for self or others could be exploited to lure him/her onto activities that accomplish an objective of the devil.
For example, the devil challenged Jesus to prove he is the Son of God by turning stones into bread. He probed for physical desire (for food) and attempted to exploit the desire to accomplish an objective of getting Jesus to follow his direction. Jesus could perform the miracle of turning stone into bread but the miracle wasn’t the issue. He turned water into wine [John 2:1-10] and on two occasions turned a small supply of bread and fish into enough food to feed thousands of people (as we discussed in a previous bible study under Feeding Crowds of Thousands). However, by refusing to make food from stone in this occasion he rejected an attempt at using him to accomplish an objective of the devil.
We learn from his rejecting the attempt that the objective of an activity matters. For example, giving a person a ride in your luxury car to assist in the person’s transportation need could fulfill a Godly objective. In contrast, an objective of the devil will be fulfilled by giving the same ride to show off or assist in harming, defrauding, or doing any wrong to someone. A person’s ability to provide for a basic need could be harnessed by the devil for its own purpose. Therefore, it is important to recognize such temptations and distinguish them from genuine cases of God placing a need in the person’s path in a call to compassion.
Pride of Life
Temptation could be targeted at exploiting a person’s consciousness of status or importance among other people. The devil probed for and sought to exploit pride when he asked Jesus to prove he is the Son of God by jumping from the temple. A person’s pride could be exploited in temptation by urging the person onto an activity for the purpose of elevating him/herself in the eyes of other people.
As we discussed in a previous bible study under Responsibilities of Leaders and Followers, Jesus rebuked the teachers of the law for focusing their life on seeking admiration and honor for themselves. He gave example with their wearing wide phylacteries (leather patches with inscriptions of the law) and long tassels to promote themselves as religious leaders while ignoring the essence of religious leadership. He ascribed their behavior to hypocrisy and likened it to cleaning “the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence” [Matthew 23:25] or “whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean” [Matthew 23:27].
The devil often uses the motivation of pride to lure people into working for his objective. As we discussed in a previous bible study under Motivation for Righteousness, an act of worship or righteousness could advance an objective of the devil if it is motivated by self-promotion, seeking human recognition, or any purpose other than serving God. For example, a giving could accomplish an objective of the devil if it is motivated by seeking self-recognition. In contrast, a giving fits well into responding to God’s call to compassion if it is motivated by a hunger and thirst to alleviate the sufferings of another person. The motivation for an action distinguishes between doing something to serve God’s purpose and doing the same thing to advance an objective of the devil. Is the action motivated by pride or compassion?
Lust of the Eyes
Temptation could target a person’s selfish ambition, such as desire to gain ownership or authority, often in disregard of other people’s right to share from the same source. For example, the devil probed for and sought to exploit covetousness or greed when he asked Jesus to worship him to gain authority over “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.” In another example, David succumbed to greed when he slept with Bathsheba, wife to one of his fighting men, Uriah, while Uriah was at the war front fighting for Israel [2 Samuel 11:2–4]. As we discussed in a previous bible study under David and Bathsheba, he sought to cover up the affair and, as a result, opened the door for more temptation that resulted in a conspiracy to murder Uriah by over-exposing him at the war front. Thus, one temptation could open the door for several more.
Disguise for Temptation
In two of the temptations of Jesus, the devil challenged him to prove he is the Son of God and in one case added a bible citation (Psalms 91:11–12) to support the challenge. The third temptation also challenged his Godliness by asking him to “bow down and worship me.” These temptations highlight Satan’s objective to challenge and possibly destroy a person’s Godliness. Additionally, targeting a person’s Godliness is a powerful disguise because the temptation presents itself coated with a semblance of Godliness to confuse its objective. Jesus is God and was not confused. However, a human being tested the same way could be confused and will have to determine if the request or idea is of God or is Satan’s attempt at destroying the person’s Godliness.
As we discussed in a previous bible study under God Does Not Show Favoritism, God may communicate with a person in different ways. He can send a message through another person, appear in a vision, send an angel in human form, introduce ideas through the person’s thinking, send the Holy Spirit with or without physical manifestation, or use any other form of communication. For example, he sent an angel in human form in a vision to Cornelius [Acts 10:3] and communicated with Peter through a vision [Acts 10:9–16] and through the Holy Spirit [Acts 10:19–20].
However, the devil can imitate any of these forms of communication and, therefore, disguise a temptation to look and sound Godly. If God talks to a person in a quiet voice, the devil can imitate the same to confuse. If God talks to a person through other people, the devil can send messages through people under its control but with a coat of Godliness. If God talks to a person by planting ideas in his/her mind, the devil can inject its own ideas to create sufficient confusion. Therefore, in almost every case, the distinction between a message from God and an attempt from the devil is not necessarily in the method or manner of communication. The devil is able to disguise its attempts under a coat of Godliness.
Temptation of Adam and Eve
In the temptation of Adam and Eve at the Garden of Eden [Genesis 3:1–13], the devil exploited the couple’s desire to gain authority (lust of the eyes). The devil spoke through the serpent and convinced the couple that they would gain the wisdom of God by eating the forbidden fruit [Genesis 3:4–5]: “Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’” Her husband Adam apparently shared in the desire to gain God’s wisdom and authority. He listened to the conversation and shared in the fruit when the woman offered it to him. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate” [Genesis 3:6]. They questioned why the fruit was forbidden and believed it was the source of God’s wisdom. Also, they believed they would acquire the wisdom and authority of God by eating the fruit. Therefore, they succumbed to the temptation.
SHIFTING BLAME Their response to God thereafter indicates an important lure of temptation is the belief that one can blame someone else for any consequences. The man blamed the woman: “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate” [Genesis 3:12]. He not only blamed the woman but also blamed God for providing the woman: thus, he described her as “the woman whom you gave to be with me.” The woman in turn blamed the serpent: “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” [Genesis 3:13]. A great lure of temptation is believing that someone else will own the responsibility for any consequences.
Temptation of Job
A person’s ability to provide for basic needs also could be targeted in a temptation by destroying his/her resources. Such temptation seeks to generate bitterness that may cause the person to turn away from God. Job experienced this type of temptation but remained steadfast in God, saying [Job 1:20]: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” Job responded to great physical loss by reminding himself that God has a purpose for every event including those that inflict pain.
Temptation of Solomon
Covetousness and pride may have been exploited together in the temptation of Solomon. As we discussed in a previous bible study under Solomon Loses Favor with God, Solomon basked in extraordinary wealth, wisdom, and closeness to God but gradually abandoned his core belief as he drifted into idol worship. Did his extraordinary wisdom and wealth drive him to seek additional social distinction? Did he believe such distinction could result from marrying into every royal family he could find? He married seven hundred wives of royal birth, several from countries God forbid to Israel because they worshiped idols. Each of the wives likely arrived with a different religious agenda and presented unrelenting temptation to Solomon. Did he succumb to the temptations in small increments, each time believing his faith in God to be invincible even as he indulged in what he thought were harmless episodes of idol worship? In that case, his succumbing to temptation and turning away from God likely was gradual and almost imperceptible.
Every person could face temptation similar to Solomon’s, maybe not in the form of a lure to multiple marriages. However, extraordinary wealth; knowledge; eloquence in preaching, teaching, or prayer; or other qualities could draw admiration to someone in a way that makes the person feel almost universally superior and infallible.
Dealing with Temptation
The devil will seek to tempt each of us by questioning our belief and faith in God, exploiting any weakness in a person’s life, and recognizing a person’s vulnerability when he/she relies more on human abilities and less on God. Temptation challenges a person to do something that goes against one or more principles of living in the image of God. Therefore a key aspect of dealing with temptation is questioning the motive for a contemplated action. A proposed action (proposed by another person or conceived in your thinking) should be flagged as a potential path to sin if it points to a departure from living in the image of God.
The devil will exploit any weakness in a person to plant the seed for sin. A weakness could result from lacking faith in God or excessive reliance on another person’s judgment. For example, as we discussed in a previous bible study under Sin Repentance and Forgiveness in Human Interaction, the devil exploited Potiphar’s relationship with his wife to lure him into imprisoning Joseph without trial or any opportunity to defend himself. His action resulted from temptation channeled to him through his wife and was a sin against Joseph.
AVOID TEMPTATION We can deal with temptation by relying on our first line of defense to avoid it. Our first line of defense is using the power of prayer to deflect temptation away from us. Christ taught us to pray against temptation: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” [Matthew 6:13]; and to watch and “…pray so that you will not fall into temptation” [Matthew 26:41]. Prayer will reduce the occurrence of temptation in one’s life but will likely not eliminate it.
RECOGNIZE AND REJECT TEMPTATION Our second line of defense against temptation is to recognize and reject. The devil’s purpose in temptation is to lure a person away from God’s purpose by doing something opposed to living in the image of God. Therefore, one way to recognize temptation is to evaluate potential actions and events to determine what message they might convey to another person. Would your behavior convey humility or haughtiness, love or hate, politeness or rudeness, attentiveness or indifference, responsiveness or evasiveness, peacefulness or hostility, truthfulness or deceitfulness? Would the proposed action or event convey a message that you are willing and available to assist when needed and happy to accept other people’s assistance with appreciation? Would your behavior provide other people an opportunity to know and appreciate God or would it make them turn away as they wonder what kind of God you worship?
IMAGE OF GOD TEST implies evaluating a contemplated action to determine how it conveys the image of God. By subjecting contemplated actions to the image of God test, one is less likely to react impulsively and more likely to respond deliberatively in a given situation. A person will likely screen out temptations by subjecting them to the image of God test. Furthermore, the image of God test increases opportunity to hear and discern God’s guidance.
Summary of What We Learned
The temptations of Jesus help us understand aspects of a person’s life the devil may target and how it may disguise itself to operate on the targets. Temptation seeks to exploit potential human weaknesses of physical desire, pride, and greed (also, covetousness or selfish ambition). We discuss reducing temptation in our lives through prayer, recognizing and rejecting temptation through its attributes and potential disguise, and evaluating potential actions and events based on whether they will fit into or work against our general purpose of living in the image of God.