Temptation and It’s Beneficial Effects
Nowhere is the true significance of temptation more dearly seen than in the historic forty days on the mount of temptation. There "see the Christ stand" we might say with Browning. We watch that tremendous scene, the last Adam, the Word made flesh, come to fight and win the battle that the first Adam lost. We see Him with His human instincts, passions and powers, true Man in spirit, soul and body. We watch the battle raging over forty days. the last word that can be spoken on the subject of temptation and its proper meaning and value. We see this Man complete in manhood’s powers, forty days "tempted of the devil."
Temptation had started before then, of course. We catch a previous glimpse of it, when by a subtle solicitation through the channel of His enlarged and illumined spirit, the young lad of twelve might have been led away by the devil in disguise to follow the trail of false favour in place of filial obedience to His parents. But now He was a Man in the fullness of His power, and the only Man in history to whom those tremendous words had been or could be spoken, but a few hours before: "Thou art My Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."
Consciously anointed by the Holy Ghost, knowing in Himself that the Spirit of the Lord was upon Him to fulfil the greatest commission ever givento man; to be the world’s Saviour, to be the Man of Destiny whose Name had been on the inspired lips of sage and prophet since the world began. the longed-for Messiah, there was still one thing needful: a final, irrecoverable choice of free will, a voluntary self-dedication of every power of spirit. soul and body to this one end. And for that the devil was necessary!
As light cannot be seen to shine except in contrast to darkness, nor heat felt to warm except in contrast to cold, so man cannot know his nature fixed Godward except by his refusal to fix it devilward. So Jesus met Satan on that mount. His body had natural instincts. Only through a right use of theseinstincts could He be preserved fit for its exacting ministry: He must eat, drink, sleep. In the fierceness of the conflict and the choice to be made, He had not eaten food for forty days. He was hungry: and then the suggestion stabbed home to Him: "Your new powers over nature. Use them. Make bread." In a moment the battle was joined. Was His body to be master or servant? Was He to move at its dictates, or was it to move at the dictates of the Spirit who controlled Him? The word was spoken. Not a powerless negative, a mere "No" which leaves the nagging temptation unrelieved; but a triumphant positive that swallows up the negative: "Man lives by every Word of God." That temptation was the highway, the only highway to bodily victory. It "drove" the Saviour to a choice: that Spirit should control body, not body Spirit. It was settled. Henceforth His body was an instrument for God’s glory: His appetites were the natural means by which it could be kept in working order.
Soul greater than body, as spirit than soul. In the soul repose all the vast powers of the personality–to think, to will, to feel. All the mighty achievements of man, in art, in science, in literature, in action, flow from the soul. The genius, the leader, the inventor, the discoverer, have all great souls. And none so great as the human Jesus. Satan knew this; for to only one Man has he offered complete world dominion and promised Him the attainment of His objective. showed Him "all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time"; said to Him "all these will I give Thee." The condition? That He commit Himself into the hands of "the prince of this world" (as He later calls Satan), absorb the spirit that is in the world, and act according to "the wisdom of this world"; for what we worship we assimilate and incarnate.
In other words, all the powers of that greatest of human personalities, mental, emotional, volitional, would become the vehicle of world dictatorship, based on the age-old methods of conquest and compulsion, the only technique of government known to man and the spirit that works in man.
The alternative? The worship and service of God; and that meant the subordination of these same soul-powers to the ways of His Spirit, to the carrying out of an alternative technique of ultimate world dominion which was in the wildest sense improbable and fantastic. and as totally removed from the way of the natural man as light from darkness. Truth, love, self-giving, meekness. faith, expressed through the concentrated soul-forces of a personality totally given to them, without weapon, without possession, without name, without friend at court, involving even the ignominious death of this "self-styled" king, were to establish a kingdom that would swallow up all other kingdoms and crown Him King of all other kings and Lord of all other lords.
What a drama was enacted on that high mountain, worthy of the pen of the greatest of poets. History was in the balance, and that temptation of the human soul was the material from which theplan of the ages took its shape, in which the foundation of the kingdom of God was laid. It was the choice that fixed a destiny; not just His own, but of a multitude which no man can number, of a kingdom that shall never be destroyed.
Yet spirit is deeper than soul. It is the inner ego. It is the essence of a man. It is that which expresses itself through body and soul. It is the "I" which talks about myself. God is a Spirit. and the Father of spirits. It is the spirits of just men made perfect who dwell with Him. It is the centre of my being where God walks and talks with me; His Spirit bearing witness with my spirit, joined unto the Lord. one spirit. And if body and soul must be fixed in God through the stabilizing processes of temptation, so also must the spirit. Body and soul may be in God’s service, yet even in fulfilling His will in our innermost spirit we may still seek to be in the centre of the picture; glory must come to us; people must be drawn to us; our honour and dignity, must be upheld: and the impress of the servant, more than of his Lord who sent him, is left on the service rendered.
So Satan sought to reach the spirit of the Saviour, when he could not touch body or soul. Let them flock around Him as the miracle worker, as He descends through the air upheld by supernatural power. Let them all see who He is: the Son of God with power. The masses will be at His feet. The ear of the nation will be open to Him. They will be as clay in His hands, to be moulded to His pattern. The alternative? To give Himself to show forth Another as life’s final meaning; to point to Another; so that from thought and word and action stands forth the outline, not of the visible Jesus, but of the invisible Father. "He that bath seen Me hath seenthe Father"; "I have manifested Thy Name unto the men Thou gayest Me…I have given them the words Thou gayest Me…and they have known surely that I came out from Thee, and they believe that Thou didst send Me."
To worship any flesh, even the flesh of Jesus, is idolatry. To revere the human Jesus as provider of bread and healer of sicknesses would save no souls. found no new kingdom of the Spirit. To do this, in His flesh. His words, His works, they must see not a man, but God the Spirit, the Word made flesh. And so, on the one hand, He even tried to distract attention from Himself as a miracle worker; on the other, when at last acknowledged by Peter as Son of the Living God, the triumphant cry burst from Him: "Blessed art thou, Simon, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in Heaven"; adding, as He foresaw through the centuries the world-wide Church which was to be founded on that same principle of inner revelation: "And I say also unto thee, thou art Peter, and upon this rock (a man who has by revelation concerning Christ penetrated through flesh to Spirit) will I build My Church: and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
Thus, on the pinnacle of the temple, that final battle of the spirit was fought and won. Satan’s weapon of temptation was turned to his own confusion and made the means of confirming the Son as the Servant of the Father. The high road to man’s salvation was now opened. The body was not for self-indulgence, nor the soul for self-aggrandizement, nor the spirit for self-exaltation: but the whole Man. Christ Jesus, driven by the Spirit to face Satan’s plausible alternatives, by virtue of the very conflict and the choices entailed, came out of that forty days confirmed in His own consciousness and declared before heaven and hell, in spirit, soul and body, to be the Son of God with power, His Father’s willing Servant and the world’s Saviour. Only once more had such a battle to be fought; shorter, sharper. even fiercer, in three hours of bloody sweat; this time to gather strength by conflict and conquest to be the offering for the sin of the world.
From this one perfect insight given us into the meaning and mastery of temptation, we learn several important points. One is that temptations met and mastered are the only high road to stabilization of character and spiritual progress. Temptations always touch the vulnerable point. That is their chief use, as well as their great danger. In a two-way world, laid open to the illegal knowledge and contrasting claims of good and evil, every instinct of body. soul and spirit has to go through the crucible of temptation. and go there again and again, until it can come out purified and fixed in God.
We may be sure that every temptation that comes to us comes because it exactly suits our condition, for we are only temptable at the points where we are sensitive to that particular type of appeal. In fact, in one sense we draw our temptations to ourselves. Out of all life’s innumerable stimuli which reach out a beckoning hand to us, we automatically select and respond to those with which we have affinity. They draw us.
But for every attraction in one direction, in the nature of things there is a counter-attraction in the other. If one is of the flesh, the other is of the Spirit, orvice versa. Thus a choice is forced upon us. We make it. If we know the secret of the Spirit, we do not meet the pull of the carnal with an ineffective "No" (the "thou shalt not" of the law), which leaves the conflict unresolved, or at best gives victory only by the skin of the teeth; but we meet it with the positive, sublimating alternative of the gospel, the "Christ hath delivered us from the curse of the law": the ringing declaration that the "I" who might respond to the temptation is "crucified with Christ." and now "Christ liveth in me."
A victory is won which is real and complete; the draw of the temptation disappears, swallowed up in the greater attraction to the soul of the Living Christ. The instincts of soul or body which were previously divided, part drawn out in affection to the lower and part to the higher, are now all centred and satisfied in Christ. There are none left still to feel the pull of the lower. The temptation has disappeared, not that the stimuli are not still present in the world or the capacity to respond in soul or body not still there, but the counter-attraction of Christ has occupied the whole man. The joy of the Lord is his strength.
His choice, stirred into action by the temptation at the point at which his nature was still responsive to that particular temptation, has integrated or reintegrated his nature in God. A further stage forward has been taken in the formation of spiritual character, a further release given for spiritual service, an invisible victory won which undoubtedly has its hidden repercussions through the whole world, and reverberates through eternal history, for "he that ruleth his spirit is better than he that taketh a city."
In some instances, in one great contest with temptation, as with Christ on the Mount, a choice of such magnitude and intensity is made that the soul passes completely out of the range of that temptation, and in that matter becomes fully fixed in God. In others, particularly in the lesser temptations of daily living, repeated contests and choices, often interspersed with defeats, form a gradually ascending pathway to habitual victory and ultimate immunity. At the same time, we are clearly warned that many assaults of temptation are our own fault. If we maintained a close walk with God, our hearts would remain so filled and thrilled with His presence that there would be immunity in the moment of assault. "Watch and pray lest ye enter into temptation." Christ wrestled while the disciples slept, and, when the awful moment came, Christ was in calm mastery over His very captors, while the disciples fled.
It is right to fear temptation and not meet it, still less welcome it, in a spirit of bravado, lest it overwhelm us with the suddenness of a cloudburst; daily we are to pray: "Lead us not into temptation"; but, at the same time, we can learn and see that temptation is our battleground and opportunity. Such an understanding will give us a healthy, hopeful, not repressed, defeatist or resentful, attitude to life’s conflicts.
Temptation or Sin?
One other point is of great importance. It is to have a clear insight into the fact that temptation must by no means be confused with sin. In no case is the actual temptation sin, even though at times we have come within its influence through neglect. We have tried to make it clear that all human instincts and capacities are by their nature neutral, neither good nor evil in themselves. The good or evil resides in the heart and will that governs and directs the instincts. Thus, to be drawn by an instinct (whose function is always to respond to stimuli and thus originate action) is natural and normal; whether it be by fear or its substitute faith; anger. or its substitute gentleness; pride, or its substitute praise of another; lust, or its substitute love. It all depends on the choice made. It is at that point that the sin comes in.
James, the analyst of human nature, makes this plain. Temptation. he says, comes from an evil source: it is a legacy of the fall. Man is in the environment and atmosphere of this evil thing, proceeding from an evil being, the devil, through his evilly-infected agent, the world. The way temptation works upon us, then, is this, says James: an instinct, a natural desire (called in the text a "lust," which can give a wrong impression. for the word "lust" is in the original just a neutral "strong desire," not necessarily evil or good) is stimulated by some object. It "draws" the man and entices him. No wrong in this, except it be the general wrong of a fallen condition which has corrupted man’s instincts and made them all too prone to "inordinate affections." But, continues James, the crisis is in the choice: not in the instinct which draws and entices, but in the will of the man who either responds to the temptation or alternatively cleaves to the highest stimulus of an indwelling Christ, and thus lifts his troublesome appetite on to a new spiritual plane of satisfaction in Him. It is here, he says, that sin enters: "When lust hath conceived"; in other words, when man’s free will, his power of choice, has been married to the enticing instinct; when he has consented to it, joined himself to it, then the child of that marriage is sin.
This is a liberating thought for many Christians. for many endure much inner condemnation and bondage through constantly feeling that they have guilty desires, and that as a consequence their Christian profession is hypocrisy because their inner condition is a secret contradiction to it. Not so. It is natural for instincts to be the instrument for temptation. The tempter is the evil one. The sin is in the response, not in the instincts; but, alternatively, victory in the temptation fixes those instincts more and more definitely as agents for revealing God to the world. Let us, then, be free and unafraid in Christ, healthily recognizing what is the battleground. what the enemy, what the weapon of victory, and what the outcome.
More Articles from The Intercessor, Vol 23 No 4
- What About Temptation and Sin?
- Editor’s Note
- Every Man is Tempted
- Victory in the Every Day
- Adversity or Adventure?
- Quick Down, Quick Up
- Dealing With Temptation–In the Home
- Bible Study: Real Deliverance From Sin: Is It Possible?
- Temptation and It’s Beneficial Effects
- Free At Last!
- False Condemnation
- It Remains Tough
- Words to Live By
- No temptation too great…