The role of the devil in helping us to develop Christian maturity
Christians face persecution all around the world and have done so since the advent of Christianity. Jesus Himself suffered persecution and execution, not to mention the temptations that He endured whilst He was in the wilderness for forty days and nights. And this is where this story begins.
Why did Jesus, The Son of God, allow Himself to be tempted by the devil? After all, the devil was a created being, created by Jesus. The Devil does not have any power over Jesus, yet he was permitted to tempt Jesus. Why? And why does God allow the devil (satan) to tempt us? After all, we are the children of God and should not have to endure such things, right?
Let us first address why Jesus was tempted by the devil before we explore the role of the devil in helping us to develop Christian maturity.
After Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist in the river Jordan, shortly afterwards, He was taken to the wilderness to be tested. The scripture reads:
Jesus Is Tested in the Wilderness (Luke 4:1-13)
1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.
5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.”
8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.
9 The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully;
11 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.
13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.
Why was Jesus led by The Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil for 40 days?
The facts are as follows:
Jesus was first baptised and received The Holy Spirit before He was led into the wilderness to be tempted (verse 1)
Jesus ate nothing for the entire 40 days. Physically, He was weak, hungry and thirsty. (verse 2) This is extremely important as we shall see later in this article
The devil tempted Jesus when Jesus was at His weakest physically (hungry and thirsty) (verse 2)
The devil first tempted Jesus around the natural desire to satisfy the flesh with food when hungry. (verse 2)
The devil then tempted Jesus with material worldly possession, worldly status and world power if only He would worship the devil. (verses 6 and 7)
Finally, the devil wanted to incite Jesus to test God The Father. (verses 9, 10 & 11)
For each of those temptations, Jesus overcame the devil by quoting scripture. He counteracted the devil's propositions through the effective wielding of scripture. (verses 4, 8 & 12)
As to why Jesus allowed Himself to be tempted, I can only conclude that Jesus had to demonstrate His will to be obedient to God when He was at His weakest point in order to show us that no matter what the circumstances are, whether in hunger or poverty, we must not sin and that we can overcome temptation. Jesus showed us all that it was possible to achieve this with and through the power of The Holy Spirit. Remember, He was tested only after He was baptised and filled with The Holy Spirit.
From a spiritual point of view, the devil must have realised that if he couldn't tempt Jesus when Jesus was at His weakest, then he stood no chance to tempt Him at any other time. Nevertheless, scripture tells us that the devil still came back to seek to tempt Jesus at an opportune time. This emphasises the devil’s relentless and persistent attitude to seek to cause Jesus and mankind to sin at whatever cost. He simply doesn't give up seeking to inspire man to sin. That is why we have to take the act of sin and temptation with all seriousness.
Jesus’ ministry began in full earnest after that temptation incident. The devil was already defeated and rendered powerless against Jesus. What else could he offer Jesus and what else could he do to Jesus? Jesus had already demonstrated complete self-control at His weakest physical point. Jesus had mastered (overcome) sin.
We too must master (overcome) sin and temptation
God expects us all (Christians) to also master (overcome) sin and temptation. This is illustrated throughout scripture. However, I have selected two examples.
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
This is the story of the two brothers Cain and Abel. Cain was jealous of Abel because God looked at the offering of Abel favourably. This is because Abel gave of his best offerings to God whilst Cain did not.
God then counselled Cain that he must master (overcome) sin and temptation. If you read the entire story you will learn that Cain did not rule over sin and sin overtook him. As a consequence, he committed murder - killing his own brother because of jealousy and anger.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
We know the outcome of this story. Adam and Eve both disobeyed God and ate of the forbidden fruit. Death was a consequence of their action and man was separated from God. Jesus was then sent by God The Father to die for (pay the price of) the sins of the world and to redeem mankind through the shedding of His own blood. As such, those who believe in Jesus and give their lives to Him through faith in His finished work of salvation, and repent of their sins, they are restored to a rightful relationship with God The Father.
Nevertheless, we still need to, like Jesus, choose to reject sin and temptation by withstanding them through the effective and persistent wielding of The Word of God (scripture) over the sin and temptation. Confession and repentance to God are key for immediate restoration when we do fall.
The devil will never attack you when and where you are strong. He will expose and exploit your vulnerabilities and weaknesses. As such, we are to be sober, on guard and always ready to stand firm in obedience to God at the expense of our flesh (desires), worldly position and status. Whatever situation we find ourselves in, we are not to compromise obedience to Jesus. Jesus has given to Christians His Holy Spirit that through Him we can continuously overcome all sin and temptation, thereby leading us into Christian maturity.