A quick look through the best-selling books will quickly reveal our obsession with strategies for fixing our current problems: a new strategy for dieting, a new plan to fix our ailing marriages, or another scheme to help us achieve financial success.
We love strategies and thrive off of our abilities to execute the perfect game plan.
The same is true when it comes to “spiritual things.” In the face of temptations, we will develop our battle strategies. We devise a plan with a list of Bible verses that are guaranteed to overcome any attack we might face.
The problem is that the battle plans don’t really work. We want a silver bullet that guarantees victory over temptation, but we never get it. Instead we have well-meaning yet broken plans and a strategy that sounded good until it actually got put to the test.
Let’s take a look at one of Jesus’ battles against the devil:
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,
“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
At this point, many of us turn Jesus’ temptation into our own battle strategies against temptation. After all, if it worked for Jesus it should work for us.
Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Knowing my own weaknesses and temptations, I often want to read this scripture as a new strategy to overcome temptation. I think to myself, “Jesus responds to temptation, I should do the same.” While this might be helpful… it is not a magic formula against temptation and definitely not what Matthew is trying to call our attention to.
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,
“‘You shall worship the Lord your God
and him only shall you serve.’”
Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.
(Matthew 4:1-11 ESV)
Here’s what’s true about my own life and probably yours too. I’m a wreck. I’m so depraved that I can have scripture memorized and even have it in my head at the time of an attack, and I’m still drawn into sin. I can be in church singing all the right words and my mind goes somewhere else, somewhere full of evil, broken thoughts.
Thus, the problem is with the battle plan. I’m not very good at executing them.
Despite my best efforts at following the plan just right, I still end up with a black eye and a broken nose because I can’t dodge the right hook of the devil. Oscar Wilde said, “I can resist anything but temptation.” This is the story of my life. Over and over again, I find myself failing. I’m arrogant. I’m prideful. I’m filled with lust. I gossip. I lie to cover for myself.
But my hope isn’t found in my battle strategy.
Notice the point of Jesus’ temptations in the desert. Jesus isn’t tempted in the desert to simply model to us a plan for overcoming temptation. Jesus is tempted in the desert on our behalf. Jesus, in the desert, does what we fail to do. Jesus wins the fight we always lose. Jesus isn’t modeling for us an approach to temptation. He is actually taking the punches for us.
My hope isn’t found in my own ability to fight stronger, fight smarter, and fight harder. Instead my hope is in the reality that Jesus fights for me. He wins the fight. He is the victory.
And so in your own temptation, you might feel exhausted, worn out, and beaten up. And as you try to muster up all you got to take a stand against the devil’s attacks, you might feel like you are just a failure.
Because you just can’t win.
But Jesus didn’t come for those of us who are winning the fight against temptation. He came for the losers.
“Grace doesn't sell; you can hardly even give it away, because it works only for losers and no one wants to stand in their line. -Robert Capon
Jesus said, “I didn’t come for the healthy, I came for the sick.” Jesus wins the fight we always lose. Jesus fights for the losers. Our hope is not in our own strength or our own goodness, but in the strength and goodness of Jesus. Jesus is too strong and too good to let you be defeated by your sin. He is too strong to let your sins defeat you and he is too good to let your temptations get the last word.