The #1 Way to Overcome Temptation
When was the last time you were tempted? I mean, really tempted to do something that you knew was wrong; that you knew would hurt other people; that you knew was destructive to you, to others; that you knew would absolutely not help you become the best version of yourself? The biggest thing about temptation that has changed in our culture is that we no longer consider temptation to be temptation. We live in a culture that says, "Do whatever you feel like doing." We live in a culture that says, "Oh, you should just freely express yourself however it is you want to freely express yourself." We live in a culture that's confused about the difference between good and bad, right and wrong, light and darkness. We live in a culture that essentially says good and bad is the same thing, light and darkness is the same thing, right and wrong are the same thing. So you can imagine how confused children are growing up in this culture. But the reality is, as adults we are also becoming very confused. And spiritually, one of the ways we measure that confusion is: how sensitive are we to things that squash our life? Things that don't help us become the best version of ourselves. Things that we do know are destructive to ourselves and others. And of course, traditionally, in spirituality we've called that concept temptation.
And this Sunday we hear a reading we hear every year. We hear it every year during Lent. And it is the temptation of Jesus. It's from Chapter 4-- the opening of Chapter 4 of Matthew's Gospel. "Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And He fasted 40 days and 40 nights. And afterward He was hungry. And the tempter came to Him and said, 'If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.' But Jesus answered, '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 to the holy city and 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 will give his angels charge of you and on their hands they will bear you up lest you strike your foot against the stone.' And Jesus said to him again, 'It is written: You shall not tempt the Lord your God.' Again the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them. And he said to Him, 'All these I will give you if you fall down and worship me.' And then Jesus said to him, "Be gone, Satan. For it is written: You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.' Then the devil left Him and behold angels came and ministered to Him."
It's fascinating reading. It's fascinating from the life-of-Jesus perspective. It's fascinating from our own quest-- our own spiritual quest. The first thing to recognize is that this can only happen because God-- Jesus is fully God and fully man. I think sometimes we forget about the fully-man bit. And what we see here is the humanity of Jesus being tested. I think very often when we think about Jesus, we think about, "Okay. Jesus is God. Jesus is divine." We think about all His spiritual powers, we think about that. But we very often brush aside His humanity. We very often discount His humanity we don't think of him as necessarily fully human. We don't necessarily think of him as having to overcome things that we have to overcome, that we have to struggle with on a daily basis. What we see here is three temptations, okay? And what's very interesting is that essentially, the devil says this to Jesus. And the first time that the devil says it, what does Jesus do? He quotes scripture back to the devil, okay? And he knows there's power in that obviously. But then what happens with the second temptation? What do we see? We see how cunning the devil is because now the devil starts quoting scripture. He says, "If you're the son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written in the scriptures, He, God, will give his angels charge over you, Jesus, the Messiah, and on their hands will bear you up lest you strike your foot against a star." He's saying, "Hey, Jesus, the scriptures say nothing's going to happen to you. God's watching over you. He's got his angels watching over you. Go ahead. Throw yourself down. Let's see if these scriptures are really true." And so we see the cunningness of temptation. And of course, what does Jesus do again? He quotes the scriptures back to him. And then the third time, the devil comes to him and says, "I'll give it to you all. Just worship me."
And so the three types of temptation here. The first temptation is concerned for the body. He's fasting for 40 days. You'd be hungry, right? You'd be really, really hungry. And you think about how concerned we are about our bodies. Think about how much time we think about taking care of our body, feeding our body, bathing our body, tanning our body. All sorts of things, concern for the body. And so the first temptation is true concern for the body and Jesus swats that one away. The second temptation is a fascinating one because it's a temptation to test God, it's a temptation of pride, it's a temptation-- okay, if you really are who you say you are, if you really are who you pretend to be, then these scriptures are true and let's test if these scriptures are true. And what is it? It's a temptation to not trust God. It's a temptation to step away from trust and into a place of doubt, into a place of questioning, into a place of, okay, let's test this thing and see if it's really true.
And then the third temptation's a very worldly temptation. It's for power. It's control. It's for glory. And there are power dynamics at play all the time in our lives. We do things to assert power over people and situations all the time. We may be aware of them. We may not be aware of them. Sometimes they're necessary, right? You don't want your kids to run in front of the car. Do you want to take your child's free will away? No. But do you want them to run in front of the car? No. So we are going to assert some power and not let the child run in front of the car. But in lots of different ways, in lots of relationships, we do things to exert power. We do things to exert control. And we do things to puff ourselves up to seek glory, to give ourselves glory, very often and very common in ordinary ways. It's not about being out in the public eye and doing something big and spectacular. We do these things in our ordinary relationships and the question is, are we aware of them? Because there is always a temptation to these things. There's always a temptation to puff ourselves up. Are we aware of that or are we blowing straight past that because our spiritual senses have been numbed, have been dulled?
So temptation. When it comes to temptation, how do we deal with temptation? We experience it all the time. A great spiritual director who used to talk to me about the fathers of the church and the great spiritual mystics of our tradition and one of the things he shared with me- I think it's from [inaudible] or might be from John of the Cross but it's from one or the other- and it's this phrase, "Don't dialog with the devil." Do not enter into a conversation with temptation because you will not win that conversation. As soon as you start that conversation, you have already lost because the reality is is that temptation is cunning. Temptation is persistent. Temptation will wear you down, it will wear you out, it will confuse your mind, it will sow doubts in your mind, it will get you questioning yourself, it will get you questioning reality, it will get you questioning everything. And so the surest way, the one immutable truth when it comes to temptation is don't dialog. Don't begin the dialog. Step away from it as soon as you realize it's there. Step away from it because what you're entering into is a psychological spiritual warfare and you're entering into it with an opponent that is a thousand times more cunning than you are. We all experience temptation every day. Question is are we sensitive to it, are we aware of it, and do we have a strategy for dealing with it.