The Gospel in my Temptation

Monday, September 25, 2006


Sometime back I explored the necessity of The Vicarious Substitution of Christ in Overcoming Temptation. Recently, I was challenged again on this same subject by Mark Lauterbach at Gospel-Driven Life, in his post A Complete Picture of the Savior Part 2. I commented there that this thought provoked me to further thinking.

As my own post indicates I would side with Mark on the subject of substitution as a necessity for handling temptation. The account of Jesus dealing with Satan in the wilderness are not primarily examples of how we should handle temptation in our own lives. First and foremost, they are testimonies to the fact that our Savior handled the Devil's full onslaught of temptation when Jesus was at His weakest. And at His weakest our greatest strength will never compare. Instead, it will always contrast...which is the primary point of the narrative. Even at my strongest I could never respond to those temptations the way Jesus. But He did. And that means I need Him to represent me before the Father as Christus Victor over my own temptations.

However, further analysis is required, for various splinters in the form of texts and theological concepts prick my mind for a "balance." What a strange word - "balance" - for it carries westernized-cultural baggage for many that wreaks of non-commitment to Jesus and lacadaisical living. But it serves us well for the word demands that every text be allowed to speak for itself. And they should rightly bark out in our minds when they are being dragged to a theological pen to which they do not belong. It is obvious to anyone who reads him regularly that my dear friend Mark has not done this. I speak of the barking texts in my own mind, to be sure, which may be easily dragged into a theological pen to which they do not completely belong - to a purely substitutionary, redemptive mould.

To be sure, the substitution represented in the Scriptures when it comes to temptation - whether it is the type of Christ in Joseph, or in the fulfillment in Christ Himself - is primary, as said before. This primary truth is the one from which all other truths about this subject spring. And Mark is right in his implication that unless the way we handle temptation flows out of and back into this one truth, any "no" we give to temptation will amount to nothing more than "just say no."

Mark and I both have pointed out in no uncertain terms that, "Jesus hand to hand combat with the Evil One is not an example, but a representative obedience." As I pointed out in my own post with Machen's words, I too am so thankful for the active obedience of Jesus Christ, for without it there is no hope. And as Mark further stated, "Only after seeing this do I see his example....He is not my example until he is my Savior." So then, what else do the Scriptures say about these examples of Joseph and Jesus when it comes to temptation? Is there legitimacy to viewing them as examples, and if so is there anything else to draw from them about how to handle temptation?

IF Jesus is truly our substitute, and not just at one point in history when we were justified, but in a living, breathing, ongoing, presently-active faith, then the examples of Jesus in particular are absolutely ours to follow and learn from. Peter proclaims the gospel along these lines in his first epistle when he writes to believers being tempted in the midst of persecution. We find this truth in 2:21-25. In verse 21 our attention is called back to verse 20 where doing good and suffering for it with endurance finds favor with God. This is the life to which we were called, "since Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in his steps."

Beginning then with this in mind - example - Peter points our attention to how we should respond when tempted amidst persecution. We should not respond as Peter seems to indicate in 2:11-12. Nor should we respond as he implies in verse 20. Rather, we like Christ are not to commit sin nor be found with any deceit in our mouths. Rather, when we are maligned (hearkening back to v. 12) we are not to answer back. When we suffer, we are to threaten "no retaliation, but commit ourselves to God who judges justly" (v. 23). So there it is for us...the example we are to follow in handling temptation, especially when it comes in the form of unjust persecution.

Yet this text is not finished, is it? It finds completion in something which serves as the source and origin for the example represented in the previous verses. Peter's sentence here is much akin to the length and complexity of some of Paul's sentences, the most famous of which is found in Ephesians 1. For that reason, some translations have broken up the verses to reflect new sentences. But this is not so in the original with verses 21-24 form a complete sentence. And verse 24 in particular begins with an antecedant - referring back to Christ in verse 21 - that sums up the reason for the example.

We should respond to temptation with the example of Jesus Christ because of His substitution. "He Himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we may cease from sinning and live for righteousness. By His wounds you were healed" (v. 24). Jesus bore our sins on the cross. That's substitutionary talk. And we can't follow His example, obviously, unless He is our substitute.

Perhaps this is why it is so difficult for so many, including myself so often, to defeat temptation. How awkward must look -for it sure feels that way - when I'm trying to follow someone who I am not appropriating by faith as my substitute and Savior. Such an attempt is a weak-willed and powerless over evil as a UN Peacekeeper. There they stand, representative of something conceptually greater, yet actually belonging to no one, and thus rendered powerless to affect anything at all. How many times have we all felt that defeating temptation feels like walking with a third leg, trying to throw a football without a thumb, or trying to drive on the wrong side of the road when visiting the UK? That's because we make our initial approach into the land of temptation without Jesus. Or better yet, it could be because we make the initial approach instead of pleading the active obedience and subsequent victory over temptation by faith in Jesus Christ. If He is not our substitute He cannot be our victor.

So then, like Jesus, we are to respond to the Devil with "it is written" turning to the Scriptures as our reply to our Great Foe. Along this vein of thought, Paul writes in Ephesians 6 that part of our spiritual armor in the fight against Satan and his doomed efforts is "the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God" (6:17). From our hearts and mouths against the fiery darts of the enemy should not come a legalistic attempt at boosting my own self-image and pride in conquering the devil. Rather, by faith embracing Jesus' conquering of temptation and obedience to God I respond with Michael the Archangel, "May the LORD rebuke you!" (Jude 9). I stand in Him, beside Him, behind Him, under Him...but never in front of Him.

And when we stand in need of grace and help in time of need, we should approach the throne of grace boldly to get it. But this action we must take only comes because our high priest, our substitute before the Father, sympathizes with our weaknesses as one who was tempted in every way just as we were...yet without sin. We approach temptation with an approach to the throne of grace where our Savior stands ready to sympathize and offer certain victory out of and because of His own victory over temptation. As I said in a previous post, we cannot say "no" to sin unless we first say "yes" to Jesus by faith in what He has done for us when He face temptation.

Substitutionary atonement, I find, often takes the sting out of temptation. It seems to lose some if not much of its power when Jesus faces it on my behalf. To be sure, I'm not talking about some Keswick theology form of "Let Go and Let God." I am speaking of a full-on, Reformed theology of "be killing sin or sin will be killing you." But that killing, as is discussed in Romans 8:13 is all rooted in the entire chapter which is the application of Christ's substitution to my life. He is my Victor before I can have victory. Therefore, it is only on the basis of a consistent, persistent meditation on the Savior that I will remember that He has conquered sin and temptation because I could not. And because He did, and because He has elected to serve as my substitute out of His own sovereign mercy, and because I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me, I am destined for victory over temptation and sin. Conversely, a failure to live by faith in this Son of God, in the active obedience of Jesus Christ and victory over temptation and sin, guarantees a fall to sin.

This is the One to whom I will look. And when I fail to look, He does not fail to continue to look upon me with favor. When I am faithless, He remains faithful. If I deny Him, He cannot deny Himself. Praise to our substitute and Savior.

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