God is never the source of temptation to sin. Instead, the cycle begins with strong desires in our hearts. So perhaps you’re wondering if the devil is involved at all. Yes, he is.
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being
tempted by the devil. . . . And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.
(Luke 4:1–2, 13)
We learn much from Satan’s tempting of Jesus. Though Jesus did not have a sin nature as we do, the devil struck at his humanity with full force, and yet Jesus endured. From the devil’s attacks and Jesus’s obedience despite them, we learn five ways Satan is involved in tempting us to sin. We also notice the chief means to resist the devil as our Savior did.
1.) Satan attacks when you’re most vulnerable. The devil’s first temptation appealed to a legitimate physical need for food. Jesus “was hungry” after his forty-day fast (Luke 4:2). Like a shrewd hunter, Satan aimed his arrow at the bull’s-eye of Jesus’s vulnerability. Philip Ryken explains, “What Jesus suffered in the wilderness would have killed a weaker man. His condition was critical. At the end of forty days he was closer to death than at any other point in his life, except the crucifixion.”(1) Be mindful of your weakness and watch out when you are most susceptible to Satan’s attacks.
2.) Satan casts doubt on God’s Word. The devil planted a big “If” in the mind of the Savior: “If you are the Son of God” was a subtle attack on the integrity of God’s words (4:3). God had just declared Jesus to be his Son at his baptism (see Matt. 3:17), but now the devil challenged that word. Satan hasn’t changed. He’s the same sneaky serpent who successfully used an identical tactic on Eve: “Did God actually say?” (Gen. 3:1). As he attempted with both Jesus and Eve, the devil plants the seed of doubt concerning Scripture.
3.) Satan feeds fleshly pride. Jesus successfully resisted Satan’s first attack, so the devil tempted him to break the first commandment by worshipping another god (see Ex. 20:3). Satan appealed to humanity’s innate desire for position and power by showing Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and promising, “If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours” (Luke 4:7). This was an attempt to get the Son of God to grab what rightfully belonged to him before it was time and without having to suffer. But this temptation was a lie! God’s plan to exalt his Son throughout the world required the cross. No cross, no crown. No humiliation, no exaltation (see Phil. 2:8–11). When tempted to act in self-will, remember that you are making a choice of who to worship.
4.) Satan encourages us to test God. In the third temptation, the devil tried to manipulate Jesus into foolishly misapplying Scripture by taking a five-hundred-foot “leap of faith.” Satan took him to the pinnacle of the temple and said, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written . . .” and then he quoted two Bible verses out of context (Luke 4:9–10; see also v. 11). But the living Word answered the devil by properly quoting from Deuteronomy, where we read of how Israel put God to the test by demanding that Moses produce water for them. If you are tempted to put God to the test, remind yourself of his many promises, as well as his commands to trust him instead.
5.) Satan never gives up. When “the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from [Jesus] until an opportune time.” The devil is relentless. Just as he hounded Jesus all the way to the cross, so he never tires of tempting you. He’s always on the hunt, always waiting for an opportune time. You must “resist him, firm in your faith” (1 Peter 5:9), the same way Jesus did.
Three times, the devil tempted Jesus. Three times, Jesus answered, “It is written” (Luke 4:4, 8, 12). We can fight the deceiver’s lies with “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17).*
*This post is an adapted excerpt from Paul’s new book, Remade: Embracing Your Complete Identity in Christ and is shared with permission from P&R Publishing.