If Jesus overcame temptation by quoting Scripture, why does the same thing not work so well for us?

Or maybe I should only presume to speak for myself: Why hasn’t the same thing always worked for me?

Remembering truth from Scripture helps us to overcome temptation, but from my experience, I’m not sure it’s the whole solution. While the powerful forces at work in our souls require Scripture, they may also require other factors to be in place before we can overcome as Jesus did. I’d like to explore one such factor.

When we see Jesus quoting Scripture in the face of temptation, it’s easy to miss another element in the story: what happens to Jesus just before the temptation. He hears God’s voice, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). Scripture did its work for Jesus when Satan tempted him, but the context of the passage tells us that Jesus went into those temptations grounded in the love of the Father.

What if we went into times of temptation fully assured of God’s love? What if, like Jesus, we were firmly rooted in our identity as children of God?

To overcome temptation, in addition to Scripture, we need what the apostle Paul describes in Romans 8:16: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” When we cultivate our relationship with the Spirit of God who lives inside us, we get more firmly rooted in the reality that we are God’s beloved children. And then we have a better shot at loving our Father more than the sin that entices us.

In the letter to the Ephesians, just before we get to the chapters that tell the believers how to live, we find a prayer that they will be strengthened by the Holy Spirit in their inner being, that they will be rooted and grounded in love, and that they will know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. Those last few verses of chapter 3 prepare believers for the commands to live the Christian life in chapters 4 to 6. The Christian life works best – and perhaps only – when it’s lived as a response to God’s love.

As Jesus overcame temptation, so can we. But part of how he overcame was by being grounded in God’s love. Let’s pray to hear the Spirit telling us we are God’s beloved children, so that we, too, are rooted and established in the love of God.

I’ve offered something that I think can help in overcoming temptation, but much more could be said. Feel free to share more that can reinforce our stand in the face of temptation.

Who is responsible for temptations and trials?

A pastor friend and former student asked me a question: Do trials and temptations come from God or from Satan? And does the word in Greek (peirasmos, peirazō, in Arabic ELTAGROBA) say if it’s God or the devil? Here is a reply, but feel free to add to the discussion.

The first part of the question isn’t easy to answer, because the New Testament describes God, Satan, and the human heart – all three – as involved, but it doesn’t say that God actually tempts us to sin. Here is a quick survey of ways the New Testament uses the Greek word (peirasmos, peirazō) behind the English word “temptation”: Matthew 4:1 is difficult, because the Holy Spirit leads Jesus to a place to be tempted by the devil. This shows God’s involvement, though he does not actually tempt. In Luke 4:13, temptation comes from the devil. Hebrews 11:17 is an interesting case, because it implies that God tests Abraham’s faith. But it’s not temptation to sin; rather, a test of his faith comes from God. That may be the clearest time that this word is used with God as the implied subject. In 1 Cor 10:13, God does not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear. So he is involved, making sure that the temptation is not more than we can handle. 2 Peter 2:9 teaches that God is the one who rescues us from these trials. Revelation 3:10 teaches that God is able to keep us from a time of testing (the same idea is behind Jesus’ encouragement to ask that God not lead us into temptation). But honestly, I’m not sure why the Lord’s prayer asks God not to lead us into testing (Matt 6:13). Frequently it’s the human heart that is the problem, such as 1 Tim 6:9 says with respect to wealth. James 1:2 states that Christians face trials; it doesn’t say where they come from. James 1:13 clarifies that God tempts no-one toward evil, but that our own desires bring temptations (1:14). 1 Peter 1:6-7 and James 1:2-4 teach that very good fruit can come from these trials, which suggests that God is involved, but not that God tempts us toward evil. 1 Peter 4:12 says we shouldn’t be surprised by tests, and the next verse suggests they come because of our relationship and union with Jesus Christ.

To conclude, I would say God never tempts us to sin, but he is involved in our being put into places where we will be tempted and tested by our own hearts and by the evil one. He gives us a way to avoid sin. And when we overcome, this strengthens our faith, which is God’s desire. So, in a way, God does use Satan’s ability to tempt us, though he does not tempt us himself.