Think about the last time you were tempted and fell into sin. What were the thoughts going through your mind? What weapons did you use to wage war against your flesh and against sin? Now think of a time when you defeated sin and rose victorious over the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil? What was different about that situation?
Last week, we looked at the crafty serpent and how he tempted Eve into eating the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden. While it is good to know the anatomy of temptation so we can recognize when we are being tempted, it is essential to know how to actively fight temptation the way scripture commands. Jesus, being our great High Priest, has been tempted in every way like us and yet withstood. Who is better to teach us how to fight temptation?
In Matthew 4:1-11, we can see at least 5 ways Jesus fought temptation. By His grace, we too can fight temptation as Jesus did. It’s a lifelong fight, and much of what we see happened long before Jesus was in the moment of temptation. By implementing these strategies in reliance upon the Holy Spirit, we will be able to overcome the whispers of Satan, the lustful draw of fleshly desires, and the enticements of the world.
1. Know Your Identity
When you see Satan’s attempts to draw Jesus into sin, it is clear that Satan tried to confuse Jesus about His identity as he did Eve in the garden. He begins his tempting words with “If you are the son of God…” (v. 2 and 6). In verse 9, Satan was so bold as to try to subject Jesus to idolatrous worship in exchange for earthly glory.
However, Jesus is so confident in His identity as the Son of God that He isn’t moved by Satan’s attacks. Instead, He launches counter attacks that shift the focus from the Satan’s questioning to the most important matters. Instead of making a stone become bread, Jesus points to something greater than bread—the Word of God. Instead of jumping from a building to test God’s miraculous provision and care, He reminds Satan not to put God to the test. Lastly, instead of bowing down to Satan to receive “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory”, He knew He was the Son of God who is appointed the “heir of all things” (Hebrews 1:2, Matthew 28:19).
As Jesus rested in His identity as the Son of God, we need to rest in our identity as adopted children of God who are in Christ. If we are in Christ, we are “dead to sin” (Romans 6:11) and “slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:18). We can consider ourselves crucified and risen with Christ because He has nailed our sin and record of debt to the cross (Colossians 2:12,14). We are no longer “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3) for we are “saints… in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 1:1). We could go on and on about who we are as new creatures in Christ. If you don’t know who you are, the enemy will try to entangle you in a web of lies and accusations. Let the Word untangle that web by taking you directly the cross of Christ.
2. Know the Meaning of the Word
Satan attacked Jesus using the Word of God in Matthew 4:6. He did the same to Eve. The ancient serpent has seen and heard God’s Word far more than any human on this planet. That should humble us! This knowledge allows him to twist and turn it in more ways than we could ever imagine. Having hearsay of biblical concepts will not suffice for us. Christians need to know the Word of God and its true meaning.
This is not to say that God will not also graciously protect those Christians who are weak and feeble in the Word. He surely will! But mature saints must, by grace, imitate the Bereans and the blessed man of Psalm 1 through searching and meditating on the Word day and night. With an enemy so knowledgeable and crafty, knowing the Word is not an option.
Through the Spirit we can know the Word:
3. Hide the Word in your heart
It is clear from Matthew 4:1-11 that Jesus knew the Bible and knew it well. He had the Word hidden in His heart and he didn’t sin against God. We should long to say with the Psalmist, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11). Temptation is a major reason to take up the task of memorizing scripture on a regular basis. If you want to use the sword of the Spirit and fight as Jesus did, you’ve got to have it memorized. Jesus didn’t use Google or the Bible app, He used His memory. This is spiritual work even for those who feel that they don’t have a good memory.
Memorization and meditation go hand-in-hand. As you memorize, you can meditate on the meaning, depths, and applications of a passage. As you meditate on the words, phrases, and structures of a passage, you begin to memorize the passage. As you memorize more passages, they begin to come together to bring deeper and fuller meditation than ever before. As you meditate more, your mind is renewed and you become more Christlike because you are beholding Him. The Word begins to slowly move from your mind to your heart. As hot water seeps through coffee grounds picking up the scents, flavors, and characteristics of the beans, we absorb the Word of God and become conformed to it through meditation.
Applying the Word to your life will also hide it deeper in your heart. Think of those times when you made a concerted effort to obey God’s specific teaching in your life. Do you have to go back and open your Bible to remember what it said? Instead, you are able to give yourself counsel directly from the Word of God because you’ve been there before. You may have used directions to get to work the first few times, but by the hundredth time, you recognize the streets, houses, mailboxes, cars, and know exactly where to go. The more you apply the Word of God in everyday life, the more you will be able to use it fight temptation. The Spirit will bring it to remembrance at the perfect time.
4. Walk by the Holy Spirit
It is easy to miss the seemingly insignificant detail that Jesus was “led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1). Jesus was not alone! He was walking “full of the Holy Spirit” (Luke 4:1). As believers, we too must be filled with and led by the Spirit, especially during times of intense temptation (Ephesians 5:18). How often do we fail to pray “lead us not into temptation” and then walk aimlessly as though Satan has taken a day off?! We aren’t conscious of our enemy or the Spirit of Christ within us.
If we are going to walk by the Holy Spirit, we need to:
5. Fight with the Word as your sword
If it isn’t obvious yet, Jesus’ primary weapon in his war against temptation was the sword of the Spirit—the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17). Each time He refuted Satan, He used the Word of God powerfully to pierce His enemy. Each deceptive attempt to lead Jesus into sin was met with living and active Word of God. It should bring us great confidence to know that we have access to the same sword used by our Savior to defeat satanic temptation! How great it is to have the heaviest artillery ever wielded against temptation!
The culmination of knowing your identity (through the Word), knowing the Word, hiding the Word in your heart, and walking by the Spirit who inspired the Word of God is found here. When you’ve believed the gospel, you can counter attacks on your faith with the truths of the gospel. When you know the Scriptures, you can use them to dismantle the corrupt arguments crafted to deceive you. By hiding the Word in your heart, you can be armed and ready at any given moment. If Satan is prowling like a lion, we better be ready to defend ourselves! If we are walking by the Spirit, He will guide us in what scriptures to hide, what prayers to pray, and give us the power to walk in obedience.