The purpose of temptation

He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Mark 1:13

Remember the children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are? Maurice Sendak tells the story of Max, a boy who learns to manage his anger by entering his imagination and taming the wild things he finds there. Max went to the place where the wild things ruled, Jesus went to the wilderness where the wild beasts lived; we must look within and deal with the wild beasts we meet roaming and ruling the uncivilized places of our soul.

It was in the wilderness that Jesus faced down the primary temptations that would attempt to pull him off course. He met the temptations, wrestled with their attraction, and willfully decided to trust God. This is the formula for transformation, it is this process that shapes our character into the image of Jesus.

What are our wild beasts? Simply speaking, anything that tempts us to not trust God. They take many forms and sometimes hide in plain sight. I’m sure ours are variations of the tricks Satan used to tempt Jesus in Matthew 4:1-11. Here’s one way of looking at Satan’s provocative invitations to leave the Kingdom.

I will be tempted to:

  1.  provide for myself, take care of my own needs
  2. keep myself protected and unharmed by controlling my environment and relationships.
  3. make sure I’m noticed, appreciated, elevated.

The first is about sustenance, the next about safety, and the third is about significance.

All of the temptations are rooted in Satan’s attempts to nullify our identity as God’s children and demean God’s character. “If you are the son of God…” “If God was a loving God…” “If God’s so powerful, then why…”

These are the wild beasts we must tame. How do we do this? First, we have to want it. Do you want to be transformed into the image of Jesus? Then keep in mind that Jesus was driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. You don’t have to go looking for the wild beasts, God’s love allows them to cross your path so you can wrestle with these temptations. This is where you make choices that lead you from death to life.

Ask God for eyes to see the wild beasts (they are pretty good at camouflaging themselves). The eyes of faith exposes them. Learn to notice when you have the feeling that it’s all up to you to provide, protect or insure your reputation. These are the wild beasts you must face. Like Jesus, hide yourself in God’s word and in God’s presence and dismiss the impulse, naming it for what it is – Satan’s attempt to lure you from God’s love.

Jesus resisted the temptations perfectly, we won’t. So be as patient with yourself as God is with you. Commit yourself again to saying, “no” to Satan’s suggestions; and begin again, and again, and again. I take great comfort in the fact that “God’s mercies are new every morning.” We can always begin afresh.

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5 thoughts on “The purpose of temptation

    • It is good to remember that all experiences are redeemable by God’s grace, even failed engages with temptation. Through them we see our lack of trust, God’s faithful mercy and have an opportunity to recommit to walk according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh. God can make our paths straight.

  1. “God can make our paths straight.” I need this reminder again and again… it is going on the refrigerator door. Thank you, Debby.

  2. Just read this again and it hits home, right where I need it this morning. Scary how easy it is to forget…Such good news God knows how to tame our beasts and will help us. thank you so much, Debby.

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