I'm constantly inspired by the deep wisdom of Jesus, and also currently captivated by his extraordinary transformation following a forty-day stint of fasting, reportedly in a rugged mountain wilderness location near the Jordan River. It was after this experience that Jesus returned to Galilee an entirely new man (for just a hint of the power of this type of fasting protocol, I recommend you read the book Atomic Power With God) and commenced performing a host of impressive miracles.
But Jesus' time in the wilderness went far beyond the simple act of solitude and fasting. Matthew 4:3-10 describes the extreme temptations from Satan that Jesus faced during this time:
“And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and on their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”
While it may seem as though these temptations may have been unique to the son of God, they are actually an identical reflection of the three distinct temptations every one of us mere humans face on a near-daily basis.
The Lust Of The Flesh
The first temptation that Jesus faced was the “lust of the flesh”—in this case, the desire for food (“If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”).
From the dawn of time, humankind has had to deal with this lust of the flesh, most notably beginning with the Garden of Eden, in which Adam and Eve were tempted by the fruits from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This lust of the flesh is a temptation to derive physical pleasure from an attachment or an otherworldly object that isn't necessarily “bad” in and of itself (after all, God created all things for good), but if used in a dishonorable way or accompanied by addiction can certainly be problematic.
These lusts can range from food and supplements to medications and drugs to exercise and sex to social media and television. For me personally, examples of lusts of the flesh that I must deal with on a daily basis include food, plant medicines such as marijuana, attractive women, and escapism through physical activity and exercises. You can learn about how those types of temptations nearly derailed my entire journey of spiritual fitness in my “Who Am I?” article.
Notably, with this first temptation, and the two that follow after it, I learn from the story of Jesus above exactly what to do when presented with a fleshly attachment, addiction, or temptation. In this case, I can say to Satan when presented with these temptations exactly what Jesus said: “I shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
And where does one find “every word that comes from the mouth of God”? You guessed it: the Bible. If a Bible is near you (or installed on your phone/computer) at all times, you can simply escape to God's word when faced with a temptation of the lust of the flesh, even by doing something as simple as turning to Psalms or Proverbs and simply beginning to read. I tell you more about how to immerse yourself in God's word here.
The Lust Of The Eyes
The lust of the eyes is a second temptation Jesus faced, in this case the offer for unfettered access to kingdoms, cities, wealth, all the world's riches and beyond (the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”)
Beginning again in the Garden of Eden, in which the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was “pleasant to the eyes” to Adam and Eve, each of us also face a temptation of the lust of the eyes on a daily basis. This can include coveting our neighbor's spouse, children, family, or belongings; consumption of pornography; desiring others’ material possessions or wealth and status; being envious of the body or lifestyle someone is displaying on Instagram or Facebook; or wishing we could have the souped-up car, motorcycle, or bicycle pulled up next to us at the stoplight.
I'll admit that I'm constantly pulled towards a bit of “grass is always greener” syndrome—wishing I had someone else's house, life, belongings, body, wisdom, or unique skills, and often tempted towards discontentedly casting my own eyes upon the visual appeal and anticipation of ownership of these things as I'm washed over with feelings of desire and anticipated pleasure from something somebody else has that I don't.
Yet in the same way that dwelling upon God's word can save us from the lust of the flesh, the simplicity of Scripture offers us an “out” when we are tempted with the lust of the eyes. What did Jesus tell Satan when Satan tempted him with the lust of the eyes?
“‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”
That's right: All you need is to be able to worship God and a relationship of deep union with God to resist the temptation of the lust of the eyes. You can read here how to develop your union with God, so that you can turn to Him in worship, trust, and dependence when you are confronted with anything from porn on your smartphone to your neighbor's spiffy new lawnmower. It's that simple.
The Pride Of Life
The final temptation we all-too-often face is the pride of life (Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,' and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”)
No surprises here: This was also one of the first temptations humankind faced when Adam and Eve desired to be wise by partaking of the forbidden fruit. The pride of life is a temptation for greatness, power, fame, glory, knowledge, and the superior lifestyle that we all feel the constant urge to attain at all costs—not for God's glory, but for our own glory. This can include a desire to get credit or glory for any great thing we accomplish (rather than being content if nobody notices but God), a desire for others to hold us in high esteem so we can “make a name for ourselves,” a desire to feel more valued or more important than others around us, or to be put into positions of power over others in a way that puffs up our own ego for the sake of bragging rights.
I like to think of this temptation as “politician syndrome,” as I see it displayed amongst many power-hungry politicians, but also amongst executives and hard-charging, high-achievers who aren't pursuing glory for the sake of magnifying God, but rather for the sake of magnifying themselves.
And how did Jesus deal with this temptation? He simply said to Satan: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” In other words, when you are tempted towards greatness for greatness' sake, turn to God and acknowledge that He is Almighty and you are merely a creation that He designed to bring glory to Him. Who are you to test God as to whether He is God or you are god? So remind yourself the next time you are tempted towards the pride of life that there is only one God, it's not you, and your greatest calling is to glorify God, and not yourself.
Like Jesus, we all face the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. But in a very simple and easy-to-understand way, Matthew 4:3-10 tells us exactly how to resist these temptations: Read the Bible, worship God, and acknowledge His greatness.
Furthermore, 1 Corinthians 10:13 tell us that:
“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”
That's right: God promises us that no matter how hard a temptation is, He will always provide an escape route. With God’s word constantly saturating our minds and hearts, we can resist, for we know that the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any double-edged sword. My prayer for you on this day is that God would deliver you from temptation, and that this short read will give you the three mighty tools you need to do just that.
How about you? What temptations do you face? What have you found to be helpful for keeping you on the straight and narrow path? Leave your questions, comments, and feedback below. I read them all.