Jesus was and is God. John 1:14 tells us, “So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.”[i] We know the Word that became human was God because John tells us in verse 1 that the “Word” was God.
John 1:14 proclaims that the Word became human. A more literal translation of the word John uses in place of human is the word “flesh.” God took on a physical body.
Hebrews 2:14-15 tells us why He did this. It says:
14Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. 15Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying. ESV[ii]
There is another reason listed in Hebrews 4:15.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. ESV
He was tempted as we are in every respect. This helps us in two ways. First, we know He understands. Second, we know temptation can be defeated.
Luke 4:1-13 gives an account of Jesus being tempted. While Luke does not tell all of the tests that Jesus faced, from what he does tell us we know that Jesus faced testing in the fullest. There could not have been more thorough or complete testing devised.
Luke 4:2 tells us that Jesus was tempted for a full 40 days. And, verse 13 tells us the devil went away until the next opportunity came. This is evidence that Luke is not trying to tell us every temptation Jesus faced. However, by listing three temptations, Luke gives us an example of the three types of temptations we face as human beings. Temptations fall into three categories. We can learn from Jesus, and in the process, we can better understand our own temptations. In addition, we can learn how to better deal with these temptations.
However, this raises the question of whether or not Jesus was tempted in the same way we are. After all, He is God. Since Jesus is God, was this a meaningful test? Could He have sinned?
In answer to this line of questioning, there is some help to be found in the passage we are looking at.
First, Jesus is said to be full of the Holy Spirit, and second, the Holy Spirit led Him into the wilderness. Since Jesus is God, why does He need the Holy Spirit? Why does He need to pray and fast? Why did He make a habit of praying throughout His ministry?
The simplest answer is because He was human. The Word became human. Philippians 2:7 says, “. . . but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” ESV
The process by which the Son of God took on human flesh is called the incarnation. The incarnation will forever remain a mystery. However, God has revealed to us that part of the process involved the Son emptying Himself. In this way, he was able to become fully human. It is in this manner that He became dependent on the Holy Spirit the same as you and I are dependent on the Holy Spirit. It is in this way that it became necessary for Him to rely on prayer for intimacy with the Father. He was and is fully God, but during the time He dwelt among us, He was subject to temptation, tiredness, hunger and appetites just like the rest of humanity.
With this understanding, let’s consider how Jesus defeated temptation.
To help us remember, I have listed three strategies all starting with “d”: depend, devote and deny.
Three categories of temptation form the basis of these three strategies.
1 John 2:16 lists all that is in the world. It says, “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.” (ESV) This list categorizes temptation into three types: the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life.
Luke lists three temptations. Each temptation fits into one of these categories.
The first temptation was the desires of the flesh. The desires of the flesh are the appetites of the body.
Dr. William Struthers in his book, Wired for Intimacy, says:
The hypothalamus is the brain’s primary drive center. The three primary drives (eating, drinking and sex) are directed by the functioning of specialized nuclei (clusters of neurons) in the hypothalamus.[iii]
Notice that the primary drives of the body are eating, drinking and sex. If you do not eat, you will die. If you do not drink, you will die. If you do not have sex, you will not die. However, the physical sensation originates in the same place. Therefore, if you do not eat, you will feel like you are going to die. If you do not drink, you will feel like you are going to die. And, yes, if you do not have sex, you will feel like you are going to die.
In Jesus’s case, if he did not eat, he would die. He had not eaten for 40 days. This is the human body’s limit. I know a couple of people who have fasted this long. The Bible tells us that Moses fasted for 40 days. There is a point beyond which fasting becomes dangerous and can be fatal. I do not recommend fasting beyond 1 or 2 days without medical supervision. In other words, fasting beyond 1 or 2 days without talking to your doctor can be dangerous.
Jesus’s temptation was at its fullest or strongest because of extreme hunger. This physical drive had been denied for 40 days and was now at its strongest.
The temptation was to meet his own needs in a way not sanctioned by God.
We are most often tempted in this category in the area of sex. We know that even looking at a person to satisfy our sexual desires is sin. Jesus said, “I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28, NLT)
Jesus answered this temptation with Scripture when he said, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone.’”
He is quoting Deuteronomy 8:3. “Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”
This is where I get the word depend. The way to defeat the desires of the flesh is to depend on God. Depend on God for His provision. We must not excuse ourselves and think that the illicit shot of dopamine we get from looking at someone else’s wife is harmless and okay with God. When we meet our needs apart from the ways God has sanctioned, we sin. When we remain obedient, we depend on God to provide.
The second temptation Luke tells us about is the desires of the eyes.
Luke 4:4-8 gives the account. The devil took Jesus to a high place and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and promised to give them to Jesus. This temptation was visual. The devil let Jesus see what could be His.
The desires of our eyes are our connection to this physical world. What we see seems more real to us than things we cannot see.
In Matthew 6:19-33, Jesus teaches about possession. In verse 21, He says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Then, in verse 24, He says, “You cannot serve God and money.” Between these two statements, He says something that seems unrelated. He says, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.” (Matthew 6:22-23, ESV) Our eyes deceive us. To our eyes, the abundance of our possessions is our life. However, Jesus admonishes us, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15, ESV)
The devil connected this to worship. And, Jesus answered, “The Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the LORD your God and serve only him.’” (Luke 4:8, NLT)
This is where I get the word devote.
Jesus instructed us: “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” (Matthew 6:33, NLT)
The first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God. We are to be more devoted to Him than to the world and all that it offers. The competing interest is the desires of our eyes, and the answer is to be completely devoted to God.
The third temptation Luke tells us about is the pride of life.
Luke tells us that the devil took Jesus to the highest point of the temple and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order his angels to protect and guard you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’” (Luke 4:9-11, NLT)
Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord you God.’” (Luke 4:12, NLT)
Jesus understood this temptation to be putting God to the test.
God’s word can be relied on. It is sure and unshakeable. If God says it, there is no question as to its truth and reliability. The problem with what the devil is suggesting is that it is manipulating God for one’s own purposes. In this case, Jesus would have been manipulating God to prove His own point.
Jesus did things that proved He was God’s Son. However, He did these things at the Father’s command. He said, “I can do nothing on my own. I judge as God tells me. Therefore, my judgment is just, because I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will.” (John 5:30, NLT)
The pride of life shows itself in manipulating people and circumstances for our own purposes. Another word for this is control. The ultimate manipulation is to try to manipulate God. This is when we put God to the test. We try to control God.
“God, if your word is true, you will heal me.” Really? God’s word is true. What is meant by if? This is a manipulative statement; trying to force God to do my will. Do I know everything…that I should be able to tell God what He would do if His word is true?
Here is where the truth must come in. I am not God. I am not a god. I am a human. This is where I get the word deny. We must deny that we are God. It helps to tell ourselves, “I am not God.” Even Jesus, who was God, practiced this truth in His humanity. He only did what the Father told Him to do. He did nothing of His own initiative.
So much pain and suffering could be avoided if we would just learn to do what Jesus did, depend, devote and deny.
Depend on God in everything.
Devote ourselves totally to God.
Deny that we ourselves are God.
[i] Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
[ii] Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version) copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
[iii] Struthers, William M. "Your Brain on Porn." Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2009. Nook pg. 74