Why do we sin? Why is the pull so strong? Why is it we feel powerless to overcome attitudes and behaviors; leaving us with a sense of defeat? What are the tactics that Satan uses to tempt us? The bible tells us that we are not to be ignorant of the devil’s schemes and “that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.” (2 Corinthians 2:11). Yes, there is a design by Satan to overthrow our relationship to our heavenly Father. It would be helpful for us to know these tactics so that we are able to position ourselves for victory in areas where the enemy has a stronghold. The answer in large part lies in the area of choices or having options. Dallas Willard in his book ‘Renovation of the Heart’ made a thought provoking comment. He said, “Choice is where sin dwells”.  The kind of choice he is speaking of centers on moral choices. These are choices that will directly affect our spiritual life and fellowship with God, ones that can either harm or develop our inner and outer life. It should be clear that what he is not talking about are ethically neutral choices; such as decisions about what color to paint a room or what flavor of iced coffee a person chooses to drink. At first you may wonder about this statement, but I think as we dig to uncover some truth we will come to realize that this indeed is one of the most powerful tools of the enemy and the underlying modus operandi of all that he designs. With this as a starting point there can be no better way to illustrate this than to watch Jesus in the wilderness as he faces moral and mortal combat with Satan himself.
Jesus begins his ministry in the waters of Baptism at the Jordan River. The voice of the Baptizer who “cried in the wilderness” was a clarion call that the Messiah, as prophesied by Isaiah, had now arrived. But the assurance that this was indeed the Son of God could not have been any more pronounced in the ears of Jesus when his Father said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17). He had been conferred upon by the Holy Spirit receiving His anointing and power. It is at this point, at the outset of his ministry, when Jesus faced the temptations of the Deceiver, and when the ‘liar’ exploits both of these heavenly affections and affirmations. The evil one comes after  the Savior’s 40 days of fasting and prayer. And so, Satan wastes no time in his attempts to bring down the Savior’s mission, which would be the first of many confrontations. And he plots in all these first temptations to rip apart the union of the Beloved One with the Father. By the trickery of suggestion he plants in Jesus’ mind an alternate idea by what seems to be the harmless means of a choice. The simple tactic of presenting options is so subtle and cunning that it is almost missed.
We shall see that the devil always begins his attack upon the mind. For the mind is the gate to the heart. Our mind is therefore the first line of defense into the spiritual battleground. It is where thoughts are born, examined and weighed. It is where choices are made that will bring victory or captivity. Once a thought is dropped into the heart it begins to shape and form the soul. For good or evil, the choice we make brings freedom or enslavement. Let’s witness how the devil strategically engages the mind of the hungered and weary God/Man, Jesus the Christ.
The Inward Struggle
“And the devil said to Him, “If You are the Son of God…” (Luke 4:3) In Luke’s gospel the Greek words literally read “Son of God command that these stones become bread.” . The addition of the word ‘if’ in Luke’s account, by the translators, nuance the meaning enough to make Satan’s statement appear as if he was bringing into question the sonship of Christ. It was as if he wanted Jesus to prove to Himself that he was the Messiah. The emphasis of Satan’s statement, however, is a clear recognition that he knew who Jesus was and who Jesus knew himself to be-The Son of God. In other words, the devil knew full well who he was going to bout with. Did not the words of the Almighty rumble through the dungeons of the damned when He gave affirmation to His “beloved Son” at the waters of the Jordan? With news of these words echoing in the halls of hell, Satan would deploy a series of temptations based on this affirmation. He knew better than to go one on one with the Son of God. Therefore, he would get Him to wrestle within Himself. The devil would do this by presenting options. Because this “beloved Son” was clothed in sinful flesh the devil believed, as with all human beings, that the incarnate Son would be susceptible to its cravings and selfish desires. Satan’s ploy was this: To create in Jesus’ mind a tension of thought that would have him wrestle inwardly between his divine and human natures. All he needed to do was to plant the idea, a scheme that worked ingeniously with the first children of God. The devil trusted, as he did with Adam and Eve, that the mind would soon buckle under the pressure to act independently of God but instead act as God. If he could invoke a response that would cause Jesus to choose between His divine nature or His human nature by the temptations set before Him, the bout would be over-forever. If Jesus were to make an independent decision to act on his divinity alone, by the miraculous turning of stones into bread, then He would gain an unfair advantage in his humanity and so disqualify Himself by responding as a person who could call upon his divine nature, at will, to resolve any normal human dilemma. And yet his hunger was real and severe enough as to desire immediate relief and nourishment. To presume upon His right as the Divine Son of God would exempt him from the role of mankind’s human representative. He would therefore relinquish his qualification as the second Adam negating himself as humanity’s Redeemer. On the other hand if he chose not to turn the stones into bread this would display either divine impotence on his part or His Father’s. But alas we must comprehend the Divine intent: Jesus must redeem humanity in the fashion of men and not gods.
This brings up another interesting point to consider. Is this perhaps the reason that Jesus referred to Himself as the Son of Man instead of the Son of God? In this way he could provide the reassurance to people that he indeed was truly flesh and blood and so could identify with sinful humanity and thereby offer the hope, the love and the understanding necessary to the downtrodden and repentant? By using the self imposed title “Son of Man” he could be more easily identified as the Messiah of mankind. Perhaps should he describe Himself as the Son of God, it would be to raise His rank among men and so cloud his earthly purpose as the suffering servant. In all the life of Jesus he never made a self declaration as ‘The Son of God’. Devils did, the apostles did, people did, angels did and God did. However, Jesus did allow this title to be spoken of him when others declared it, and in doing so acknowledged the truth of his divine nature. But even when pressed by the Sanhedrin at His trial he remained humble, never allowing this title to pass through His lips. Listen to this episode from Matthew 26:63-64:
“But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest said to Him, “I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.“
As the second Adam, Jesus refused to allow His divine status to overshadow His mission- the redemption of human lives by the actions of a suffering servant.
“…who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8)
Every temptation that Jesus faced had spiritual implications. So therefore, every temptation that we face is not an end in itself. It’s not just about satisfying a longing or fulfilling a selfish desire. Temptations are designed for one ultimate purpose- to disconnect and destroy our communion with our Creator. The devil does this by propositioning us with a choice. A consideration that will bring enough pause to start us thinking independently from God. To reason within ourselves. To consider the possibilities and opportunities apart from the wisdom of His Spirit, though at times they may seem like spiritual advantages. To gaze upon the forbidden fruit, long enough, so that our inner passions are stirred. To engage our mind into the pleasures of the ‘what if’ mode. So was the tactic Satan engineered for the first son of God, Adam, and the woman who wombed the human race.
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.” (Genesis 3:1-6)
To act independently of God’s commands and reason within ourselves, convincing ourselves that we are still within the scope of God’s word is to head for a perilous outcome.
Choice vs. Obedience
So as Dallas Willard has noted, “Choice is where sin dwells”. And this is how the Christian is led down the path of despair and ruin. But let’s ask ourselves: Do we as Christians really have a choice when it comes to moral decisions? Well we do and we don’t. Let me try to explain. We most certainly do, as free moral agents, have the ability to choose right and wrong. On the other hand there is only one real choice a Christian can make when we are confronted with temptation: self surrendering obedience to Jesus. Saints of God, it then is not a matter of choice (where sin dwells) but it is a matter of obedience (where freedom reigns). With the transforming work of God’s Spirit resident within us it may be at times a fierce inner battle, but if we are obedient to the Lordship of Christ then we will overcome. When we are submitted continually to the ruling authority of the Spirit of God, then it becomes more natural for us to make the only truly satisfying choice; which is obedience to God’s word and increased empowerment to live as victors of righteousness and not as captors of transgression. And in this we become truly free.
The Roar of Temptation
Satan is cunning. Don’t expect him to tempt you when you are at your spiritual best but, like Jesus who was tempted in the wilderness, when you are physically and emotionally spent. When you are squeezed by the pressures of life or fall into despair; when hopes have been extinguished and the voice of the Father is silent, that is when the prowling lion of hell comes to prey upon our souls. The apostle Peter describes these moments aptly,
“Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8
The temptations of the devil can be very strong- like a roar. He comes to pin us down and then roars into the deepest chambers of our hearts. With penetrating force we are confronted with the loud blast of temptation that can shake the very foundation of our faith in God. We are made to feel powerless and weak in the strength and pull of its might. We are a piece of humanity waiting to be devoured by the teeth of Hades’ lion. We know that our heart will be ripped apart should we succumb to the tempter’s roar. Now, we may not be able to immediately silence the roar but we can face it and not allow it to consume us. Peter assures us that we are able:
“Resist him [the devil], standing firm in the faith.” 1 Peter 5:9
Temptations are relentless and unyielding, sometimes one after another, like the vicious jabs and punches of a blood thirsty street fighter. Round one for Jesus was in the ring of the wilderness, where he would stand against the 1-2-3 punch of the devil’s temptations. But he would stand firm on the Word of God no matter how strong this hellish lion roared and deflect his best shots. So the Lion of Judah faced off with the lion of hell. Two lions seeking the souls of mankind. One for good and one for evil. And only one can be king of earth’s domain and ruler over all humanity. The scriptures coach us to resist the devil, no matter the roar of the temptation, and stand firm in our faith. You might be thinking ‘Easier said than done’. This is where the transforming work of the Spirit empowers us to resist. Peter instructs us to stand firm in the faith. But how can I stand firm in something that I cannot see? After all“faith is the substance of things hoped for the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1). This verse defines what faith is. It isthe substance. But ‘I can’t feel it or touch it’ so how can it be a substance? That’s because it is a spiritual substance, not a physical substance. It is not part of our physical senses; it is a substance that is procured in our inner being by God through the Spirit. This means that faith may be evidenced by speaking the word of God. But we must not be mistaken to think that the mere act of reciting a verse alone will bring about spiritual power. Faith must first be anchored in our hearts. The word of God is to be the foundation of our life and the framework of our inner being. What is released by the tongue is to be fueled by a heart of faith. Remember that scene from Rocky IV? Rocky and Adrian are having a late night conversation at the stairwell. She tells him flat out that he cannot win against a towering and strong adversary. He says that maybe he can’t but his opponent will have to have the will to kill him. And for that to happen he would have to take Rocky’s heart. This is what the enemy wants to do. The devil wants to take our heart. Why? Because that is where the King of our life dwells. And that is where the foundations of our faith our built. If he can win there, then our faith crumbles and our King dethroned. Then no matter how much we may invoke the Word it will be powerless against the devil and his temptations unless the Word of God is established as the bedrock of our hearts. Jesus drew this analogy from the parable of the sower. (see Luke 8:4-8). If the word of God is not rooted deeply in a heart, the devil can simply steal it or easily blow it away by some attending and pressing problem in our lives. Rocky knew the secret- do you?
“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” Ephesians 3:16-17
Sometimes we expect to feel some kind of power at the time of the temptation, but I doubt Jesus himself felt anything but hunger and weariness in his physical body when confronted in the wilderness. We too should realize that if we are expecting to feel some great power to come upon us, which will counter the roar of temptation, we fail to understand the true meaning of biblical faith. The power of the Spirit, though it can, need not come upon us; but is most effective coming from within us. That is when the evidence of our faith which is unseen (for you can’t see faith with the naked eye only the evidence of it) attains the thing hoped for; in this case, the overcoming of evil in our lives. The power that the Spirit provides within is evidenced without (in godly living), when obedient faith is applied. The feeling of power then comes naturally after the temptation. I’ll use Rocky as an example again: During the match all he felt was pain and agony and at times the outcome did not look favorable for him. It wasn’t till he won that the powerful feeling of victory filled his soul. The scriptures make it well known that this is the case when hearts of faith overcome the temptations of the devil. This can be especially seen, in that after Jesus was tempted, he then walked in the power of the Spirit.
“When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time. Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit…” Luke 4:13-15
The Power of Love
Let’s say an alcoholic gives up his drinking through the transforming work of the Spirit of God in his inner being; alcohol may still be a temptation at times, but the desire for drunkenness no longer has a hold. The power of the temptation is broken. The roar becomes a purr. The Christian then, in this area of his life, has become empowered by the new nature to be obedient to the Spirit’s rule and rejects the temptation that leads to drunkenness. The only option that he really has is one that comes from a renewed mind and heart- that is, to turn from the temptation. It no longer has the power to seduce, but a new power resides within the heart or spirit of the transformed individual. This new power is the love of God that was made demonstrable by the cross, is descriptive of his immeasurable passions and realized by the inner consummation of His Spirit.
“hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:5
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39
Look at that life liberating truth: “nor powers”. The powers of temptation that pull us toward sin are now broken. A greater power embraces the heart of the Christian. Where once we were enticed by the power of the devil’s temptation we are now infused by a greater power- the love of God. Where once we had loved the things of the world: self acclaim, popularity, materialism, sensuality and so forth; a greater love now captivates our soul. John the apostle says,
“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For everything in the world — the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does — comes not from the Father but from the world .” 1 John 2:15-17
This is essential to understanding the win over temptation. We sin because we love to. It brings some momentary satisfaction. All sin is like this. In order for our love for a certain sin to be conquered a greater love must entice and fill our soul, something passionate and satisfying that reaches down to the core of our being. It has to be a love that overwhelms us to the point that we give up those worldly sins that we love for some other love. The only love capable of this is the love of God. We divorce our love to the things of the world and the sins that bind us to it, because the love of Jesus Christ is so much more satisfying and powerful. It is enticing. Maybe you have never thought of God’s love in that way but the bible makes many statements regarding how He comes to ravish our hearts. A read through the Song of Solomon would soon convince anyone of God’s intimate love for the church. God could use no stronger image than the intimacies shared between a husband and wife than what is found in this book on love. The Lord wants not only to tell us how much He loves us but to what degree He desire’s His love for us to be experienced- in a spiritual way. And so the love of Christ is irresistible, captivating, heart arresting and lavish! He pursues us at all costs. When we realize that the hand of a jealous Creator is reaching out with yearning and longing for your intimacy the seductions of false loves will lose their power to captivate us. I think you get the idea if I may say that He desires us with a kind of holy seduction? After all the Lord is competing against worldly seductions (temptations) that enrapture the hearts of mankind. If His love is not the more alluring, what would bring us to His loving side? Once the consummating action of the indwelling Spirit of God is united to our being we begin to produce. What is produced are the characteristics of Christ himself in and through us. It is primarily the work of the Spirit that is involved in this character shaping process, what the bible calls sanctification. It is a lifelong process and one that affects all parts of our being. Overcoming temptations that lead to sinful habits, attitudes and living is only possible by the grace of God in a lovingly surrendered heart. When we as His wife in effect say “I do” to Him we are spiritually bound and our love is consummated by the outpouring of His Spirit in our hearts, resulting in the offspring or fruit of this covenantal union.
“God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Romans 5:5
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Galatians 5:22-24
Armoring oneself to do battle with the enemy’s temptations requires, according to Ephesians 6:10-18 complete protection.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”
Here’s a list of the various types of protective equipment noted:
1. Belt of Truth
2. Breastplate of Righteousness
3. Feet fitted with Readiness
4. Shield of Faith
5. Helmet of Salvation
6. Sword is the Word of God
7. Prayers in the Spirit
Obviously there is nothing in this arsenal that is of a material nature. It is all about gearing up on the inside – at the very core of one’s being or the heart as we have come to understand it. All these are components of the transformed life. And the transformed life is the one that is able to overcome the temptations of this world. These aforementioned pieces of equipment are designed to empower us for the battles we will face inwardly as well as outwardly in life around us. But once again, all this gear is mounted on the inside. Now it is not my intention to go through every piece of the armor, but in speaking of temptation I would like for us to look at the helmet of salvation. This speaks about the protection of the mind. It is the salvation secured by Jesus that grants in the new man, a new way of thinking. Our minds must be guarded. It is the gate that leads to our hearts. Once the gates have fallen the heart is ransacked. Not suiting up daily will leave us unprotected and will result in a barrage of temptations. The mind is the battlefield of our soul. The war is won or lost here. To entertain these temptations that assault our mind is to surely lose the fight. We must constantly recall the battle plan, which is the word of God. No matter how intense the temptation to retreat or surrender, we must strictly adhere to our commander’s marching orders. Perhaps the most vital piece of battle gear listed is the helmet. We are made secure by the helmet of salvation, but that does not mean that the enemy will still not take aim at our heads (minds), he will do all he can to destroy this life preserving equipment. To remove this protection is to leave us exposed to a deadly volley of temptations; arrows of the enemy custom crafted to destroy our unique head gear. At the heart of these assaults are the distracting attempts to get us to consider other options other than our Captain’s commands. Other options that come in the form of the tempter’s challenge, “Did God really say…” Genesis 3:1. When we are faced with a compromising thought you can bet that the devil is starting to roar. Any option other than God’s word is a strike at your helmet. We’ve no choice but to stand ready for a spiritual battle and draw our sword against this beast of hell.
Stone to bread
Jesus was coming to the end of His 40 day fast and prayer. The devil had been a taunting adversary throughout this time, strategically placing on the table of opportunity many alluring enticements and options. But now, at the end, Satan would offer his greatest temptations. He would first appeal to the natural need to fuel the body.
“And He [Jesus] ate nothing during those days, and when they had ended, He became hungry.” Luke 4:2
He tempts Jesus by the suggestion to take Divine action into His own hands. Once again, the design of the temptation is inward, in the mind. A choice, an option is presented to Him. It is a natural thing for the body to need food after being hungry, especially for this length of time. It is also an easy remedy for the One who created all things out of nothing to miraculously create bread out of stone. And Satan obviously knew who this was and what He was capable of doing. He knew this was no ordinary born man. The devil had in essence appealed to both Jesus’ humanity and his divinity. It would be natural for him to eat and just as natural for him to turn stones into bread. What could be wrong with that? They are both very natural things for Jesus to do. But Jesus never concedes to either impulse- to remedy his hunger or divinely create bread because his mission is not about Him. To satisfy a non sinful need (nourishing the body) for a moment would bring perilous results for countless souls. How? To prematurely end the fast at the signal of the devil’s challenge would have brought eternal disaster to mankind. It was the goal of redeeming mankind and fulfilling the will of His Father that Jesus was committed to. Jesus succumbs to neither the temptation towards his divinity or his humanity and instead answers with the scriptures, and so reaffirms His dependence on the word of God and not on the needs of the flesh or His Divine power. And Jesus answered him,
“It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE.’” Luke 4:4
Here again, the Savior identifies with humanity and not His divinity. He demonstrates that humankind, when submitted to the heavenly Father and engaged in a spiritual discipline; in Jesus’ case, fasting, can overcome the needs of the flesh and totally rely on the resident power of God’s word. It is not the nourishment of the body alone that constitutes ‘life’. But nourishment to the soul, by feeding upon the Word of God and heeding it, is what gives us real ‘life’. Unlike our first parents, who fell into the satisfying of the flesh by the forbidden fruit, the appeal to satisfy a natural hunger was abated by Jesus once surrender to God’s word was made the only choice. This alternate option suggested by the devil was not a consideration for Jesus. He would not allow the devil to manipulate him into using his Divine power for self remedy or self satisfaction. Jesus would not resort to cheapening the grace and power of God at behest of the devil. In his book ‘Renovation of the Heart’ Dallas Willard has this to say about overcoming temptation, “The Spirit can come upon a person to do a supernatural work or even overcome a temptation. But a transformed life on the inside is the greatest stance of faith a person can have when confronting temptation. The working of the Spirit’s power in the inner man changes a person’s character and behavior. It is not a momentary victory but a freedom from a relentless sin.
 Willard, Dallas. Renovation of the Heart. Pg.46. NavPress: Colorado Springs, CO. 2002
 Matthew 4:2-3 reads, “And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. 3 And the tempter came…” And so it is that when we too prepare ourselves upon an important spiritual mission, and have labored with all strength of heart and mind, that when the completion of our readiness to enter into the work that the Lord has so destined us for, the enemy comes to make a swift end of it. He seizes upon us at our weakest moments in order to abort the great ones.
 Greek scholar A.T Robertson is careful to translate the Lukian passage so that it literally reads, “The Son of God” Huios tou Theou. The devil assumes that Jesus IS the Son of God.(from Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament, Electronic Database. Copyright © 1997, 2003, 2005, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament. Copyright © 1985 by Broadman Press.) Though Satan is testing Jesus he is not really having Jesus prove that he is the Son of God, for he certainly understood his status by the proclamation from God at his baptism.
 I realize that some commentators show that the terms “Son of God” and “Son of Man” are virtually the same. However, it is of interest to note that Jesus never used the title “Son of God” to describe himself. Cults and others point to this as a way of saying that Jesus never saw himself as or said he was God. The issue however is not one of deity, but of his mission as humanity’s representative. He chose to set aside his divine right to act independently and instead live as a human being under the direction of his heavenly Father. Therefore, Jesus’ use of the title “Son of Man” was a more fitting term in keeping with his mission as a humble servant. This in no way, however, removes the knowledge that he had of himself, while on earth, as the “Son of God”.
 1 John 2:14 says, “I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” Some churches teach that all we need to do is speak the word to combat temptation. While I agree that the word of God is a powerful weapon in spiritual combat, it is not a piece of magic. A kind of mantra that once spoken can dispel evil. The apostle indicates that the word of God must live in a person. This is much more than verse recitation; it is a deep and abiding presence of the word in us that is the instrument and power to change the inner heart and thus the life. So that when the word is spoken it is empowered by the one who is living according to God’s commands.
Copyright © Steve Covarrubias 2010