Overcoming Trials and Temptations (III): The Snare of
Based on a sermon series by Aun Quek Chin—Singapore
part of their journey of faith, Christians have to handle trials and
temptations. The first part of this series considered Elder James’ guide on how
to distinguish between trials and temptations; the second part looked at the
joy of trials. In this final part, we focus on how we can avoid the trap of
THE SOURCE OF TEMPTATION
Human Justifications and Excuses
The natural tendency for humans is to look for something
or someone else to blame when they have erred. Many who have fallen to temptation
blame God, the devil, or both!
We are convinced that we are the victims; we blame God for
allowing the devil to harm man. We even justify our first ancestors’ sin! We
reason that without the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve
would not have been enticed. And even if the fruit were there, Adam and Eve
would not have touched it had it not been for the smooth-tongued serpent.
“If God had not allowed the devil to tempt us,
we would not have been tempted to sin and fall.”
“God knew that the devil was out to tempt and
destroy man. Why did God not immediately destroy this evil one? It was God who
allowed the devil to survive and carry on tempting and killing. I should not be
blamed for sinning; it is all God’s fault for permitting this malevolent being
to continue his heinous mission!”
The Origins of Temptation
Enticed by our own desires
Elder James tells us that the above reasoning is wrong. Humans
are tempted and enticed by their own desires (Jas 1:14–15). The origin of sin, and the relationship
between sin and man, stems from man himself, not the devil. Temptation does not
arise from the existence of the forbidden fruit, but from the desire within us.
According to Apostle Paul,
sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin (Rom 5:12). He did
not say that sin entered the world through the devil, and death through the
devil. In short, the apostles were consistent in their teaching—those who sin
should not blame either the forbidden fruit or the devil.
Some insist that temptation would not have arisen had the
fruit not existed or the devil not been present. Such arguments overlook or
deliberately ignore the fact that humans have freedom of choice. The fruit hung
from the tree, but man had choices at different points: of walking toward the
tree, of reaching out to touch it, of plucking it, and of eating it.
It is no sin to look at the fruit or to touch it. But
doing so brings us to the dangerous frontier. The single act of reaching out,
plucking the fruit and eating it would push us over the border into the realm
of disobedience to God, i.e., sin. Clearly, this action is of our own volition.
We can, or should, blame no one else.
The important question that we must consider is why we choose to succumb to our desires.
Did not curb our desires
Some rapists blame their crime on their victim. They claim
that the woman was too beautiful or provocatively dressed. Clearly, no
clear-thinking judge or jury would accept such a rationale! We cannot stop
birds from flying over our heads, but we can stop them from building a nest in
our hair. Similarly, we cannot stop a beautiful woman from walking past us, but
we can stop ourselves from following her with our gaze (Job 31:1).
David was a mighty warrior who defeated the towering
Philistine Goliath in his youth. But as king, he was defeated by his own
uncurbed desires. The sight of beautiful Bathsheba in the bath led him to
inappropriate thoughts and, eventually, sin.
This is often what happens to us. Our first view of inappropriate
material—pornography, for example—may have been pure coincidence. But because
we allow our thoughts to dwell on these images, our desires are aroused. Even
when concerned brethren warn us, we dismiss them, and may even accuse them of
being nosey, overly suspicious, and prudish. We refuse to make a conscious and
concerted effort to curb our desires and avoid these opportunities to sin.
Finally, and fatally, we cross the boundary into sin.
David had a thousand ways to justify inviting Bathsheba to
his palace after that first accidental view: She is a neighbor to whom I should demonstrate hospitality. She is the
wife of my loyal warrior to whom I want to show gratitude. And thus his
desire grew until they both committed adultery.
Therefore, an indispensable spiritual workout for us is to
exercise control over our hearts; to prevent sinful desires from germinating
and drawing us into making choices against the will and commands of God. When
Jesus Christ comes again to judge man, He will judge according to each one's
work (1 Pet 1:13–17). It would be futile then to blame the devil or somebody
THE DEVIL’S METHODS OF TEMPTATION
Nevertheless, it is undeniable that the devil is tireless
in his efforts to tempt man (1 Pet 5:8). There are generally two broad
approaches that he employs.
First, he makes it a huge disincentive for man to remain
faithful to God. This could take the form of extremely difficult circumstances.
For example, both Job and his wife were put through great suffering. While Job
persevered, his wife surrendered her faith in God (Job 2:9).
Second, the devil instigates man to go against the word of
God. This second approach is more complex and insidious. Many have
fallen by this strategy. The devil used this to tempt the Lord Jesus. In fact,
he tried three times to use the word of God to tempt Jesus to go against God!
The First Temptation: Challenging Our Identity
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.’ ”
This first temptation is a challenge to prove our
identity. It was no mere test of Jesus’ ability to perform miracles. What was
the devil’s true intent?
Just before the Lord Jesus was led into the wilderness by
the Spirit, He had been baptized. When Jesus came out of the water, the
heavenly Father proclaimed that Jesus was His Son, and sent His Holy Spirit to
prove that Jesus was His Son (Mt 3:16–17). By challenging Jesus to
perform a miracle, the devil was implying that the heavenly Father’s
endorsement of Jesus’ identity was not enough; the devil wanted Jesus to prove
His own identity by demonstrating His power.
The devil knew Jesus had fasted for forty days and was
hungry. So he tried to drive a wedge between Jesus and His Father by suggesting
that his way was superior to the heavenly Father’s method. By turning the
stones to bread, Jesus not only proves His identity but also feeds Himself.
This was the devil’s stratagem. He provided an incentive
for Jesus to go against the word of God; he challenged Jesus to use a miracle
to prove that He was the Son of God, and to resolve the problem of hunger. As
humans, we would find the devil’s reasoning logical and appealing. If Jesus was
truly the Son of God, God would not allow or want Him to go hungry. Performing
a miracle both proves Jesus’ divine power and status, and generates food. The
devil could then be silenced.
But Jesus immediately rejected the temptation, saying, “Man
shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God” (Lk 4:4b). By this,
Jesus was emphasizing that He would rather forego miracles and food than cast
doubt on the heavenly Father’s testament to His sonship. Jesus’ priority was to
affirm and submit to His Father’s words.
Had the Lord Jesus yielded to the natural human impulse of
performing a miracle in order to kill two birds with one stone, He would have
effectively obeyed the devil, rather than His heavenly Father. He would have
denied the Father’s wisdom and way, and the sufficiency of the Holy Spirit’s
We may also encounter a similar temptation today. God uses
the truth and the Holy Spirit to testify that we are children of God. The truth
that saves tells us that baptism in the name of Jesus washes away our sins,
making us the sons of God. Then when we pray for and receive the promised Holy
Spirit, this Spirit of sonship will prove that we are children of God (Gal
4:6). However, in our afflictions (e.g., poverty, unemployment, illness) the
devil tempts us with insinuations that God has abandoned us: “Are you really a
son of God? Then why are you hungry? Why are you so ill? If you are truly a
child whom God loves, you should pray and ask God to perform a miracle, to
resolve all your problems, to heal your sickness! If God heeds your request,
you have proved that you truly are a child of God!” The unspoken corollary
hangs in the air: “But if God does not heal, are you truly the son of God? Does
God really love you? Perhaps He’s not the right God for you ….”
While this may sound farfetched when we are strong in
faith, many Christians have yielded to doubt; many have left to pursue other
beliefs that can bestow more and immediate “blessings” (2 Tim 4:10). The truth
they know—sin-cleansing baptism, the testimony of the Holy Spirit, etc.—is cast
aside. These Christians need miracles to prove that they are children of God.
Miracles have usurped the truth and the Holy Spirit as primary testators.
Hence, we must be alert to the devil’s lure. Counter him
as Jesus did: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that
proceeds from the mouth of God.” We believe and affirm whatever God has said
and whichever approach He chooses. We are not deterred by the absence of
miracles, lack of food, or impending death. The heavenly Father has given us
the truth and the Holy Spirit to testify that we are children of God and we are
saved—this is enough.
The Second Temptation: Challenging Our Physical
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,’
‘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.’ ”
This second temptation is a challenge to our physical
wellbeing. The devil taunted Jesus with “God will protect you." The
reference to Psalm 91:11–12 shows that the devil had not misquoted Scripture. However, he
misinterpreted and misapplied it. The complete Psalm 91:11 is “For He shall give His angels
charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.” The phrase “all
your ways” refers to ways which are according to the word of God. It definitely
excludes situations where we choose to go against the word of God. If we walk
according to the word of God, and walk on His path, He will protect us. But if
we deliberately defy Him by walking on the wrong path, how can we demand God’s
The devil was implying that the Son of God deserved God’s
protection in every way even if Jesus deliberately threw Himself off the
pinnacle of the temple—because it had been recorded that God would protect Him.
But this is wrong. Putting ourselves in harm’s way in order to compel God to
demonstrate His love for us is tempting God. If God does not protect us, He
will be accused of not keeping His word. But if He stretches out His hands to
protect us, we have treated the Lord of the Universe as a servant whom we have
compelled to fulfil our whim in our foolish desire to refute the devil’s taunt.
But Jesus was wise enough to see through the devil’s manipulation and
unequivocally rejected him with “It is
written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’ ”
Today, we may unknowingly fall into the devil’s trap. For
example, someone may challenge us to pray for a seriously ill person, with the
words: “If he recovers, I will believe, because it proves that God is with
you.” In our eagerness to prove that our God is true, we quickly accept the
challenge, and then proclaim a fast-and-pray drive. In our prayer, we tell the
Creator what a wonderful opportunity this is for evangelism and order the
Creator to perform this miracle of healing. And if after countless
announcements and prayer sessions, the potential convert is not healed and
leaves to join another religion or Christian denomination, are we tempted to
secretly rebuke God? Are we tempted to demand that God helps us to keep up with
churches of other denominations whose pastors appear to be performing so many
miracles that they attract new believers by the thousands? Indeed, the Lord
Jesus promised that signs, miracles and wonders will accompany our evangelism
(Mk 16:15–18), but these are performed as and when God wills; not as and when
to rebut the devil’s challenge.
The Third Temptation: Buying Our Loyalty
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.’ ”
This third temptation is the attempt to buy loyalty. The
devil knew that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; he sought to bribe Him
with the highest price possible. The devil offered no mere billions or
trillions, but all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory—literally, the
whole world. But Jesus was terse: “Away with you Satan! For it is written, ‘You
shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ ”
The devil—through people in the world—will try to bribe us
by offering us the world and all its pleasures. Can we reject these glittering
prizes as Jesus did? Jesus dismissed the devil’s offer without a second thought
because He knew that only one Being is worthy of worship. Similarly, our
ability to reject such a proposition ultimately depends on whom or what we
allow to have power over us.
Logically, the authority over all life—absolute sovereignty—belongs
to God since He is the Creator of man and the source of all man has. However,
the loving God gave man the freedom of choice. Hence we can decide whom we want
to worship and to whom we cede control over our lives. The devil will try to
persuade us not to worship God by warning us that following Christ means having
to bear the cross. He will remind us of Jesus’ words—those who believe in Him
will be rebuked for His name’s sake; persecution, imprisonment and even death
are likely outcomes (Jn 15:18–21; Mt 24:9). It takes a lot of willpower to
choose the narrow path of Jesus when the devil dangles a smooth and easy way
before us. It would seem insane to turn down glory, honor and riches for
persecution and death.
Another of the devil’s favorite tactics is to strengthen
his offer with visual allure. When the devil attempted to buy Jesus’ loyalty,
instead of just describing the reward he was offering, the devil took Jesus up
to an exceedingly high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world
and their glory. Looking down, Jesus certainly saw all the world’s glory, honor
and riches. But Jesus also saw beyond that. Jesus saw a world that would
ultimately be destroyed when the kingdom of God comes. Hence He could reject
The secret to help us reject the bribe
offered by the devil is the ability to see the ultimate destruction of this
world, no matter how glittering and attractive it appears at present. The
kingdom of heaven often seems an abstract and nebulous concept compared to the
concrete reality of everyday life. This is exactly what the devil is tirelessly
trying to convince us: to exchange the incorruptible, immutable, but
invisible, heaven for immediate material gain. So we need to see further and perceive what is the most
precious; we need to see through the devil’s wiles. We need the Holy Spirit to
help us believe and trust in the eternal glory that God can offer. In His
incorruptible kingdom, we can enjoy everlasting life. So God is the only One
worth ceding the authority over our lives to (Eph 1:18).
To overcome the snare of temptations, it is not enough to
know God’s word. We must believe in and hold fast to the words of the Lord
Jesus. We must also be ever vigilant against attempts by the devil to sow doubt
in us regarding God’s promises. We must not yield to the devil’s instigation to
prove our identity, secure our physical wellbeing, or gain the world at the
expense of losing our Savior.
In our weakness, we may go astray occasionally. But we
must not allow ourselves to be mired in this weakness or push the blame for our
transgression onto others. Instead we must quickly realize our mistakes, ask
God to forgive us, to help us walk on the right path once again, and no longer
succumb to temptation and sin.