Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Temptations of Christ: Self-Gratification
(Turning Stones into Bread)

 St. Paul warns us to "not be ignorant of the devils' devices, lest he gain an advantage over us." ( 2 Corinthians 2:11)

Successful generals study their enemy's tactics. The Bible gives us a clear picture of satan's strategy throughout human history.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world -- the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life -- is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever" (1 John 2:15-17)

From the above passage, we see that people of the world and their systems are held sway by three dynamics:

Lust of the Flesh
Lust of the Eyes
Pride of Life

These forces are governed by satan, meaning he is the prevailing influence in the philosophies, opinions, and views of the unbelieving world, which affect the educational, commercial, political, and religious systems of nations.

"...In whom the god of THIS world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them." (2 Corinthians 4:4)

Note the use of the word "this" not "the"...signifying that satan does not have absolute authority in the earth, but operates deceptively with limited power primarily over those who do not believe, and only in this current age.

When satan rebelled against God in Heaven, he was full of pride; he coveted God's Throne (which he covered continually with his wings) and desired to possess its power at any cost.

His rebellion was characterized by a) lust of the flesh, b) lust of the eyes, c) pride of life.

He and his angelic followers were cast to earth, doomed to wander their "penal colony" while they watched mankind, created in God's image and likeness, spread the Father's glory over all the earth. It was to be eternally tormenting!

Satan soon realized that if he could find a legal way to gain the mandate of earthly authority granted to Adam, he could reanimate into the physical world and work to steal, kill, and destroy God's beloved humanity.

Could he tempt man to also rebel and be kicked out of Paradise? Could he persuade man to follow his lead and forfeit his estate?

We all know the story as recorded in the third chapter of Genesis. Let's pick up where Eve succumbs to the same three dynamics in verse 6:

1. She "saw" the tree was good for food (flesh)
2. It was pleasant to look at (eyes)
3. She desired it in order to become wise (pride of life)

All temptations--then and now--land in one of these three areas.

Although Christians are not of the world, we are nevertheless in it; and when our hedges are down, we become the devil's prey, as well.

What do I mean by "downed hedges"?

"Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:
But every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death." (James 1:13-15)

When we are tempted, we can't blame God. He doesn't have anything to do with it! Even satan has to seek an opportunity to tempt; he cannot indiscriminately pick a victim:

"Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world." (1 Peter 5:8-9)

Unbelievers do not live within secure spiritual parameters; Christians do. Nevertheless, we can find ourselves compromised due to careless neglect. 

Conversely, as James tells us, we may linger and listen to voices outside the hedge that speak to the needy areas of our heart, drawing us away from our safe place. Ultimately, we step out to embrace the tempter.

We are blinded under temptation, unable to see a vicious predator--only beauty, desire, and personal fulfillment. In other words: lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh, and the pride of life.

James tell us to resist temptation "stedfast IN the faith"...not with the faith. This is important, saint.

Remember, you are IN Christ, and He is your faith--not a set of rules and regulations. The only place you can win is in Christ!

"In Christ" is where you positionally, legally reside at all times, but you have to make that truth a daily reality here on earth--in your mind, in your sexuality, at your job, in your choice of friends and entertainment.

Why is this important?

God, the Son assumed human flesh in order to undo man's disobedience by becoming what Adam was not--a trustworthy representative of God to all creation. The Incarnation was a radically brilliant plan that would not compromise the integrity of a just God nor deny mercy to the fallen.

After Jesus' baptism, the Holy Spirit led Him into the desert to face the three temptations that Adam and Eve failed. Satan used his standard M.O. to try to disqualify this new representative--the SAME methods he uses against you and me as God's representatives in the earth today.

Although Jesus was God in the flesh, the temptations He faced were very real.  His divinity was willingly submitted to serve the Father's purpose, thereby manifesting only by permission as it fit into redemption's plan, such as with healings and miracles. (Jesus explained, "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does." John 5:19)

The temptations were aimed at  pressing Him to question His Heavenly Father's  intents and goodness  while in His human condition, thereby compelling Him to step outside of God's provisions and into self-attainment.

However, it was not the humanity of Jesus that answered those temptations, but God within. As a result, He passed the test.

With his sinless life and sacrificial death, He ransomed us from the curse of rebellion, paid its penalty in our place, and credited that obedient life to our account. Our statement is stamped "Paid in Full"!

That's what being IN CHRIST means. In the Kingdom, we reside IN His righteousness, His perfection before the Father, His faithfulness to God. We trust what He has done for us, not what we do for Him (which can never measure up to His holiness).

However, in the material world that has yet to see the full manifestation of Christ's Kingdom, we are the visible representatives of that which is to come and its Sovereign.

"The mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints.  To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." (Colossians 1:26-27)    

Therefore, as refractions of the life and ministry of our Lord, we face our temptations in the same way. The battles are very real, but Christ within makes the final decision!

The minute we 'step outside' of that protective place by doubting God's ways of relating to us and caring for our needs, we choose to take matters into our own hands; we want to determine what's good and evil...we want to control the how's and when's of getting what we want. We take the bait again--just like Adam and Eve--and open ourselves up to unnecessary trouble and consequences.

Let's look at how the Bible records the temptations of Jesus:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”

But He answered and said, “It is written,
‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God'."

Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, 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 shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone'."

Jesus said to him, “It is written again,
‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God'."

Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written,
‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve'." Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.

From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:1-11; 17)

Notice that none of the things used to tempt Jesus were in themselves illegitimate.

God created us to enjoy food, but Jesus was in a God-inspired fast that required a season of self-denial. God didn't want to withhold sustenance from His Son, but it was not yet time for Him to eat again.

God was going to raise His Son from the dead in spite of fatal wounds, but it was not time. The Cross was God's way. Jesus would validate His claims to the world by saving others. He was not in the world to please or prove Himself.

Jesus was going to win back what Adam forfeited to the devil, but not by bowing to the enemy. He was going to die instead, rise from the dead, then triumphantly, openly strip satan of the keys to death and the grave!

He stuck to the Father's plan, although the end result took longer and was certainly not as easy.

Jesus understood the WILL (or plans) of God for His life. He was not in His season of Kingship. He was to first come as the suffering servant, the sacrificial Lamb.

Jesus relied on the Holy-Spirit inspired WORD of God to keep Him in God's Will (see His response to the devil's temptations).

Jesus accepted the WAY of God as to how the Father's plan of redemption was to unfold and be fulfilled--the how's and when's.

What season are you in as it relates to God's will for your life?

Jesus is the Living Word. We are hidden in Him (Colossians 3:3). He is our armor (Ephesians 6). Abiding in Him enables us to resist the enemy and bear the fruit of obedience to the Father's plan.

We surrender to the way the Father has chosen--the how's and when's. Many frustrated Christians are trying to follow the right plan, but in the wrong way or time. Some have rejected their calling altogether, thinking they missed God.

God has promised to meet our temporal needs as El Shaddai, the God who is "more than enough". He has promised to vindicate every wrong and be our defense against accusations and insults. We need not take matters into our own hands to prove anything.

Our loving Father has promised that we have been "given all things that pertain to life and godliness" in Christ (2 Peter 2:1-4) and that indeed, we are joint-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17).

We already sit in Heavenly places in Christ Jesus, "far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come."

If all things are under His feet, then they are under ours as well. He is our head, we are His body--the FULLNESS of Him that filleth all in all." (Ephesians 1:21, 23; 2:6)

Beloved, being in Christ means we not only have unrestricted access to His divine blessings, but we assent to obtaining them in the same manner as our Lord--surrendered to the Will, Word, and Way of God at all times.

This may appear impossible until we remember that we are In Christ--abiding in and expressing outwardly the life and power of One who already surrendered on our behalf and won the victory!

"For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:15)

Now, we'll look further at the first temptation of Jesus to turn stones into bread. It falls into the category of "lust of the flesh", or what I define as self-gratification.

God created us with a genuine hunger mechanism--a signal that our bodies are 'running on empty'. But our heart (the seat of our emotions) also releases uncomfortable feelings when it is approaching "E".

God created us with the capacity to give and receive affirmation, attention, and affection. Emotionally healthy people have mostly full tanks, and do not rely on constant input from others to keep them running.

Affirmation says: You're valuable to me.

Attention says: You're worth my time.

Affection says:  You're desirable; I want to be near you; I am not repulsed by your flaws.

Don't get me wrong; it's nice to receive these blessings from other people. We can all benefit from "topping off our tanks", but do you get what I'm saying?

Only God can heal and satisfy the heart's complex hunger for affirmation, attention, and affection. If it's not met in Him first, our hunger will drive us to look for fulfillment in ungodly people and places.

Pause for a moment and reflect once again on what affirmation, attention, and affection means. Do you have the kind of relationship with Jesus Christ that makes it easy for you to hear and believe these words when spoken by Him? If not, to whom are you looking for validation?

Deficient hearts are desperate. They want to end the discomfort NOW! They can't stand being told "no" or "not yet"; they take it as a personal insult or attack that screams, "You're not worthy to be gratified."

This vain imagination leads them to desperate choices in their relationships, finances, business, and ministry--often leading to sinful ways to try to escape the compounding consequences. Notice in the temptation passage that satan prods, "COMMAND that these stones become bread!"

Indeed, needy people are quite demanding, and insist on getting their way every time...regardless of whom it affects:

Achan in Battle (Joshua 11): He took material blessings out of the timing of God.

What do we do when God says, "Not yet"?
Do we go ahead and buy on credit and extend our debt?

King David with Bathsheba (2 Samuel, chapter 11): He had sex with another man's wife after seeing her bathe, and the cover-up led to greater wickedness. Though he had many wives, David lusted after a particular woman and would not rest until he had her.

How do we react when God says, "No!" Do we nevertheless keep flirting with what is forbidden until we reach a point of no return?
Do we heap more sin unto our account by the way we try to erase our footprints or escape a consequence?

King Solomon, who was willing to compromise his faith to please his foreign wives and concubines: (1 Kings 11)

Although God's Word is clear, do we deceive ourselves into thinking that our anointed gifts, talents, position or wealth makes exceptions for us?

Judas and his thirty pieces of silver: (Matthew 26: 14-16)

What is your price? Can your confession for Christ be exchanged for money, fame, a  certain person's favor or a position of power?

St. Paul observed:

"...for I have learned how to be content (satisfied to the point where I am not disturbed or disquieted) in whatever state I am.
I know how to be abased and live humbly in straitened circumstances, and I know also how to enjoy plenty and live in abundance.

I have learned in any and all circumstances the secret of facing every situation, whether well-fed or going hungry, having a sufficiency and enough to spare or going without and being in want.
I have strength for all things IN CHRIST Who empowers me [I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him Who infuses inner strength into me; I am self-sufficient in Christ's sufficiency]."
  Philippians 4:11-13 (Amplified Bible)

Contentment is not automatic. All of us must learn that only living spiritually IN CHRIST will we be able to, in turn, live in the natural world under any circumstances--with plenty or little, appreciated or not, loved or alone.

Focusing on Christ and His sufficiency prevents us from embracing a lying vanity that causes us to doubt God's goodness and care for us in the seasons of "No" or "Not Yet". It prevents us from stepping outside of Him to meet either a legitimate or a perceived need.

Up Next: Self-Empowerment

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