Before His public ministry began, and just after His baptism by John, Jesus was sent into the desert. Most of us are familiar with the events that took place while the Lord was alone with Satan. We know that each time He was approached and made an offer, He answered back with Scripture. We understand how important it is, as the psalmist writes, to have “…hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11). We know that Hebrews tells us, describing Jesus as, “…one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet without sin” (4:15). But we don’t often linger at that first verse, and wonder at its message and its implications.
We know temptation is inevitable. Paul was right when he penned: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man” (1 Corinthians 10:13). But to be deliberately led by the Spirit of God toward an encounter with Satan and temptation? Why would God do that?
The Lord’s prayer, recorded in Matthew 6, says, “…lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (vs. 13) implies that God does lead us, as Jesus was led, into situations where our faith and our faithfulness will be tested. Obviously we don’t go looking for trouble—otherwise we wouldn’t ask in our prayers to NOT be led into a situation what would test us. Anyone who is self-aware understands his frailties when it comes to doing wrong instead of right. But, at the same time, the prayer almost reads like this, “Please don’t put me into a situation where I might be tempted to do something that I shouldn’t do, but when and if you do, keep me true to you and strong in the faith.”
It sounds odd. In fact, it almost sounds heretical to think that God would place us in these spiritually precarious positions. But take Job as an example. The man had no idea what was going on, or why, but God gave Satan permission to test Job’s faith and his faithfulness (Job 1:6-12, 2:1-6). God does not incite us to evil. But He knows our natures. He knows that under certain circumstances we will be tempted to be unfaithful to Him. James tells us, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desires, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:13-15).
In a very real sense, what doesn’t kill us spiritually, makes us stronger spiritually. We need the tests. We never know where our faith needs to be strengthened, or where we are weak spiritually until we are tested. We don’t go looking for tests—it’s God’s prerogative to pick and choose what is right for us and what we can handle, not ours.
This is why Paul writes: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13, emphasis mine).
Notice the last statement. There is no reason for us to give into the temptation. The devil doesn’t make us do anything—despise the phrase that was popular a number of years ago. No one forces us but ourselves—as James makes clear. Sin is not a product of heredity or environment. We either choose to embrace it, or we walk away from it. And God provides the means for us to walk away.
Jesus’ temptation becomes a model for us. As His resolve was tested, so ours is tested. But that test is always under the sovereign hand of God, and there is always an escape route.