Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Spiritual Warfare and Temptation
Jesus is not only our Savior from sin; He is our Savior from ourselves. Through Him we find the right tactics, guidance, and words to counteract the lies of the devil. In spiritual warfare, it's easy to get off track, to think we're alone, out there playing the Lone Ranger, and it's up to us to succeed or fail. For the Christian, the greatest truth of all in such warfare is that we're not Lone Rangers and we're not alone. Jesus is with us in every trial and every battle, ready to offer counsel, help, and power to overcome. Through Him we'll learn the proper and effective way of dealing with the lies of the enemy. Jesus Temptation in the wilderness. One of the high moments of spiritual warfare in the Bible occurred when Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness. The story is found in Matthew 4:1-11; take a look at it now. As we read the Scripture passage and understand its inputs, we learn one of the greatest truths in fighting the enemy of our souls: Our friend Jesus has fought Satan before in every possible way, and won! This event on the spiritual warfare calendar in Jesus' life occurred shortly after His baptism. Matthew says that the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness "to be tempted by the devil" (Matthew 4:1). Note that happened after the wondrous "mountaintop" experience of Jesus' baptism when the Holy Spirit descended upon Him and God spoke from heaven in the presence of John the Baptist and his disciples (see Matthew 3:13-17). Undoubtedly, this grand moment inspired Jesus, much as a "mountaintop" moment can instill new passion and resolve into our lives today. But that's the danger! Satan often strikes at the moment when we've achieved a great victory for the kingdom of God. Just when we're about to celebrate, Satan begins firing his flaming arrows. Over the years, I have counseled many Christians who have suffered the most grievous attacks just days after major moments in their lives: a conversion, rededication, great ministry, and the like. So it was with Jesus. But in this case, note that Jesus was "led" by the Spirit into the wilderness for the specific purpose of being tested. This says to me that God the Father wanted Jesus to experience the same kinds of temptation all His people go through at times. This is so that we can be sure Jesus has "been there" and thus can offer us stout counsel when we're in the midst of the battle. At the Father's direction, Jesus fasted for forty days, going without food. In that respect, the enemy dueled with Jesus at His weakest moment physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Jesus stood on the edge of starvation. That brought with it all kinds of discomfort, anxiety, and distress. When a person is hungry, he or she ofter loses focus and becomes obsessed with the hunger barely able to think about anything else. The one who has fasted will often grasp at anything that will slake that hunger and thirst. Satan knew Jesus was more likely to be vulnerable at that moment than any other, so that is the moment he chose to sling his best stones at Him. Why did the Father put Jesus in such desperate straits? In spiritual warfare, our worst time is always the enemy's best time. He studies us to expose our points of vulnerability. He looks for the chinks in our armor and always fires his sharpest arrows there. Thus, striking Jesus at His weakest moment physically was not just Satan's strategy; it was God's too. God the Father put Jesus in the absolutely worst situation. Why? Because by being in the worst circumstances, He could completely identify with any trial we may go through. Remember, Jesus was not only tempted to be proven, but also so that we could know He understands precisely what we're facing-having gone through it Himself-and thus find in Him real help. This give us the power to trust Him without question, an essential outlook in any form of warfare. So where did Satan fire his first dart? In an area I like to call "selfism," those issues that involve satisfying and gratifying ourselves without considering God or His purpose for our lives at that moment. As Jesus stood in the shade or a rock in the barren, steaming wilderness, Satan probably hovered nearby. Looking healthy and well fed, the tempted pointed at a a stone at His feet and said, "If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread" (Matthew 4:30). Here we see some most revealing elements of Satan's normal attack strategy: 1. Goad the person into taking personal action, to accomplish things by himself. He started with a sarcastic put-down designed to prod Jesus into action. "If You are the Son of God," Satan began. That was a deliberate attempt to motivate Jesus to prove Himself. Which of us hasn't been goaded into doing something evil to "prove" we're not "goody-goodies" or to show we aren't afraid of some little thing the Bible calls Sin? How many young people have turned to drugs because someone said, "Prove you're man or woman enough," or tough enough, or cool enough? So it is that Satan often appeals to our pride in order to get us to take other sinful steps that could lead to disaster. 2. Urge the person to accomplish something easy to do. The first temptation involved something Jesus could easily do. While no normal person could turn stones into bread, Jesus possessed that power. Similarly, Satan always tries to get us to do something we can do easily and even effortlessly, even though we know it's wrong. This is why the temptation to steal in a time of need, lie in a moment of exertion, or commit other sins in tight situations often looks like the "easy way out." Satan wants it to look that way because then it won't seem so "bad" to do. And even if you give in, you can give a supposedly reasonable excuse: "I just didn't see that much wrong with it!" This is the strategy Satan frequently uses with us. He appeals to what he can do or would like to do, so we can accomplish the goal. What were the real issues at stake here? First, would Jesus obey His Father in a seemingly trivial matter (not eating until given the go ahead)? Second, would Jesus' sense of pride make Him take the quick, sure way to show who He really was, or was He willing not to defend Himself and let God take care of that matter? For us, similar temptations arise whenever we: Feel compelled to defend ourselves in wrong ways. Think obeying God in a little thing isn't that important. Believe we should take matters into our own hands instead of waiting on God's timing. The actual sin, of course, occurs when we give in to those feelings, thoughts, and beliefs. Jesus countered Satan's suggestions with as deft quote of Scripture from the book of Deuteronomy: "Man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord" (8:3). Jesus didn't reach for common sense, public opinion, or even the modern findings of the "experts," the Pharisees and Sadducee's. No, He went straight to the best source of all, the Bible, chose a verse appropriate to the situation as a source of guidance, quoted it, and obeyed it. That's a very simple procedure and of us can easily follow. It also reveals how important it is to know and apply God's Word in dealing with the enemy. A second temptation: Let God deliver you. The second temptation concerning Jesus flinging Himself off the pinnacle (highest point) of the Temple in Jerusalem. Satan used the "If You are the Son of God" goad again, and then added that God would send His angels to catch Him before He struck bottom. Again, we see a couple of elements in Satan's strategy: 1. Goad more. If at first Satan doesn't succeed, he'll try, try again. 2. Quote Scripture. Perhaps Satan figured that if Jesus wanted to use the Bible then so could he, even though what he said was slightly out of context and left out certain words. This may indicate a subtle trick on his part, or a cavalier attitude toward Scripture; both were probably true. But what was the real temptation here? It was the issue of trust. Would Jesus trust His Father implicitly, or would He "test" His Father by doing something to force God into action to protect or save Him? We are similarly tempted when we consider doing the following: Take wrong actions rather than wait on God in a serious matter. Tell God we won't believe in Him unless He does something we consider important to "prove" Himself. Do something that is probably wrong because we believe God really wants to help us and will forgive us anyway. This happened with Abby, a single woman who had prayed for a husband for many years. All through Bible college she prayed, "Lord, please bring Your choice of a husband to me." However, Mr. Right never showed up. Abby entered the workforce and began climbing the corporate ladder. She also became active in a large church. However, she still longed for the contentment she believed a husband would bring to her life. As she entered her thirties, she began to grow bitter toward God. As an attractive, intelligent woman, why would God withhold from her the only thing her heart truly desired? In the midst of her despair she met Preston. In her words, "Preston was sort of charming and sort of strange." She went on to explain. "The positive thing about him was that he claimed to be a Christian, and he attended church regularly. The negative that I should have seen but overlooked was that he had been through three divorces. More that that, none of his children wanted anything to do with him." Withing weeks after their wedding, Abby said, "I understood why three other women divorced him. He would qualify for Hitler's younger brother." Preston's affair with a high school girl was the final straw that brought Abby to my office. Abby said, "I gave up on God and decided to create my own life. I really believed Preston would become the loving husband I dreamed of. Instead, I now believe that I know what it means to live a life that is hell on earth," Abby believed the enemy's lie that she could create a kingdom for herself apart for the will of God. In time, Abby repented of her bitterness and willfulness. Preston repented of his adultery and a list of other sins too long to list. They are still together as husband and wife, and I believe God by His grace will strengthen their relationship. Abby says she has hope. "It will take a lot of work and grace to bring us up to the place where a relationship ordained by God should start." Abby believed that if she made a jump (got married), God would have to catch her (make the marriage the wonderful relationship she always dreamed of).It didn't work that way. Jesus' response in the wilderness reminds Abby-and us-of the solution: Draw on the Scriptures for guidance."It is written again. You shall not tempt the Lord your God," Jesus told Satan (Matthew 4:7), citing Deuteronomy 6:16. While Satan "rolls with the punches" and changes tactics to suit his purposes. Jesus is strong and steady, not veering from His successful counter punching. A third temptation: Get what you want-without God. Satan was clearly reeling and frustrated, so he decided to go for the big one. He took Jesus to a mountain and "showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory" (verse 8). Then he said if Jesus would only fall down and worship him, He could have it all. This was the classic "power play." Satan was "giving it everything he had."This is a pattern in spiritual warfare, too. When you refuse to give into "lesser" offerings, Satan will up the ante and try to snare you with bigger and better trinkets in his bag, so long as you do it without God. You won't give in to pornography, so he'll throw wealth or power at you. You're not buying that "you're a dope" line, so he'll nail you with an attack on your pride as you overhear someone "commenting" on your skills or integrity. What was the real temptation here? Satan wanted Jesus to get God's results without following God's plan. Jesus came to take back the ground Satan had stolen-the whole world. In that wilderness meeting, Jesus could have taken it all back in one little act of worship. He wouldn't have to endure the pain of the cross or any of the other indignities He faced at the end of His life. No, He would get the world back for one small genuflection toward Satan. Of course, worshiping Satan meant giving up His soud to Satan, too. But the devil didn't really want Jesus to think about that! How does Satan tempt us in this way? By offering us something-pleasure, power, wealth, prestige, honor, popularity-through following anything other than God's methods. That's what happened to Mark, a seemingly successful pastor, yet a shattered man with broken dreams. His story came out in bursts of protracted sobbing. In his words, "As a child I was short, over weight, and not very smart. I worked frantically to earn good grades in college and seminary. After graduation my wife and I were called to a small church in a growing city. I always felt overwhelmingly inferior. Shortly after taking my first pastorate, my older brother came for a visit. He was serving on the pastoral staff of a three-thousand member church. His parting comment to me was "You are wasting your time pastoring a two-bit church." "I was crushed. I idolized my brother, and his mockery was almost more than I could bear." Mark then explained how he thought of a plan the very day his brother left. The plan was simple and workable. It unfolded as follows: "You will become somebody when the church attendance reaches a thousand. You will feel good about yourself; your brother will finally accept you. All you have to do is triple the size of the church auditorium, start a Christian school, add a number of new programs, and purchase three more buses." It sounded rather awesome to me, but it happened. In the next eighteen months most of Mark's dreams came true. "On one 'big day' the attendance was over 1,200," Mark recalled, "My brother and a lot of other people took notice. I was frequently asked to speak on how to build a big church. Finally I had become somebody." However, this kind of success can carry a tremendous price tag. "I built a monstrosity," mark said, "The ministry grew far too quickly; I became nervous and driven. The church had become like a huge machine that demanded my constant attention. I was working eighteen to twenty hours a day. I constantly criticized my wife and children. I was blind to what was happening in my own family." Mark was learning that when we allow the devil to crawl into the vehicle of our life, the Evil One will often say either, "Put the pedal to the metal" or "Put the brake to the floor." Either one can kill you on the freeway of life. Satan, the god out of balance. "When my wife filed for divorce, I woke up," Mark said, "I snapped out of my dream world only to embrace disaster." Mark's wife refused to reconcile, and the divorce went through. In counseling Mark repented of taking total control of his life with hardly a thought about God and His will. He began to ponder passages of Scripture that gave him understanding about who he is in Jesus Christ. During one session he exclaimed, "Flesh, flesh, everything I was doing was in the flesh!" Today Mark works behind the scene with a mission agency. He raises funds and helps with administration. He is living a balanced, relaxed and productive life in the will of God. In contrast, we see Jesus in the wilderness avoiding all the trouble of carrying out personal plans without God. He did so by simply following Scripture. When the devil offered Him everything in the world (as he did to Mark above), Jesus quoted another verse from Deuteronomy (6:13) and said, "Away with you, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord you God, and Him only you shall serve.'" Jesus' strategy. From Jesus' wilderness temptation we see several elements of Christ's overall strategy for counteracting the enemy during spiritual warfare. First, He relied not on His own common sense, wisdom or personal integrity to deal with Satan's attacks; no, He relied solely on Scripture. From that we see that a working knowledge of the Bible is essential in our warfare with the devil. The Word of God is the sword that the Holy Spirit uses (Ephesians 6:17). Second, we note that Jesus actually quoted the Bible aloud to Satan. Even when the enemy's temptations are mere thoughts in our minds, it may be wise to quote the Word verbally to repel a taunt. Third, and most important, Jesus obeyed what the Bible said. He not only knew it and quoted it; He acted on it. Even the most knowledgeable Christian, when he fails to act on what God has said, sets himself up for failure. Melissa had come to me because she was struggling with her thoughts. A psychologist diagnosed her with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Months of therapy did nothing to relieve her condition. As we talked, Melissa explained that she began having thoughts about performing repetitious behaviors after her mother died. Two nights after her mother's death she walked into the house and a thought entered her mind that said, "Turn the light switch on and off twice or someone else will die." The next day while driving onto the freeway the thought came, "Turn your signal off and on twice or someone will have an accident." In time, Melissa became completely controlled by her obsessive thoughts. "I would have an unsettled emotional pain until I would switch, check, and wash everything again and again. Then peace would come, but it would never last." I explained that the enemy wanted to control Melissa's drives. The enemy was seeking to control her with the lie that she had to do things a second or third time to obtain peace. This all changed as Melissa learned to combat these lies with God's truth. She later told me, "When I quote appropriate Scriptures such as 'All things are lawful for me but I will not be brought under the power of any' (I Corinthians 6:12), God's peace does come. As I draw closer to the Lord and verbally take my stand against the enemy, I live in Christ's victory." Melissa recited the truths of Scripture whenever such obsessive thoughts came. Through such verbal "stands," Melissa learned the power of the Word in her daily battle with the enemy. As a result she no longer suffers from OCD. What is the lesson here? Scripture, rightly used, is a powerful weapon against lies; it declares the truth to us and to the accuser of our souls. This is what Jesus did during His three temptations. When we follow Jesus' example, we are following someone who has "been there" and found the Word of God reliable. Jesus, the friend who sticks closer than a brother, is the source of our hope and insight. Dr. Ken Copley is available for counseling, conferences, and local church meetings.