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One of the things that bothers me about Evangelical Christianity in America is the way it's marketed. Walk into any popular Christian bookstore and you'll be bombarded with best sellers on how Christianity helps you to overcome this or that bad habit; or how Christianity helps you to overcome depression, anxiety, fear, doubt; or how Christianity will help you to have purpose, or a better life now. I don't want to burst any bubbles, but Christianity is so much more than life improvement. Yes, Christianity helps you overcome bad habits. Yes, Christianity helps you conquer doubts, fears and depression. Yes, Christianity can help you have a better life. However, all of these miss the true point in Christianity, which is reconciliation between a sinner and the holy God he or she has offended. We do Christianity as a whole, and the gospel in particular, when we reduce Christianity to self-help or life improvement.
If anything, Jesus promised the exact opposite when a person turns away from his old life to pursue and follow Jesus. In the Upper Room Discourse (John 13-17), Jesus tells his disciples that "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:18-19). When a person, by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God, turns from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God's beloved Son, he incurs the enmity of the world. The world, the flesh and the devil all become aligned against the follower of Christ and seek to disrupt the communion between the believer and Christ. Far from one's life getting better, it's about to get more difficult.
Consider temptation. Before becoming a follower of Christ, sin was not a problem. You might receive a remote twinge of conscience in performing certain acts, but for the most part, the unbeliever engages in sin without any remorse. However, once that person becomes a Christian, the conscience, once dead but now revitalized by the Spirit, begins to sound the alarm constantly. Things that were once effortless to engage in now produce guilt and motivate repentance. The believer fights a constant war with the world, the flesh and the devil all the days of his life. That is why in the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9-15) we are told to pray "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."
So how does the believer handle temptation? The short answer is: Through the Word of God. That is how our Lord handled his temptation in the wilderness in Matthew 4:1-11. Now, before looking at this text, it is important to understand this passage both contextually and theologically. The context of this passage appears right after the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist and right before the beginning of Jesus' public ministry. Matthew's gospel is concerned with demonstrating to the Jewish mind that Jesus is the promised King and Messiah. At his baptism, Jesus is recognized by God the Father when a voice from heaven announces, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17). Immediately after this event, Jesus is lead by the Spirit into the wilderness for testing -- the coming King is about to be tried in the furnace of affliction. It is only after40 days of fasting in the wilderness that Satan comes to tempt him, and he begins like he did with Eve in the Garden by casting doubt over what God as said, "If you are the Son of God..."
Theologically, this passage is reflective of the testing of man back in the Garden. Adam, as the covenant head of mankind, was tested in paradise with obedience to God and he failed. Jesus, as the covenant head of a redeemed mankind, was tested in a barren wilderness after 40 days of fasting with obedience to God and he succeeded. Jesus succeeded where Adam failed, and secured for us the righteousness that we need to stand accepted before God; a righteousness that is ours through faith!
The point for our discussion is that Jesus succeeded because he heeded and obeyed the Word of God. Adam failed because he did not heed or obey the Word of God. Notice how Jesus fought back Satan's temptations. Three times Satan tempted Jesus to disobey God and three times Jesus retreated to God's Word and resisted Satan. The psalmist writes, "I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you" (Psalm 119:11). To be sure, Jesus was tempted in ways that only the God-man can be tempted. Yet the method for handling temptation is the same: Through the Word of God. This is not some prescription for reciting the Word of God like a mantra, but in the recognition that God's Word is truthand that Satan is the father of lies.
Bottom Line: How do we apply this in our lives? There are several applications depending on who you are. If you're a pastor, then it is your solemn duty to feed your flock a steady diet of the Word of God. Stop treating the Bible as a source book for pithy quotes to support the latest Christian self-help fad. The people of God are sanctified through the application of the Word of God. As Paul exhorted Timothy, "I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching" (2 Timothy 4:1-2).
If you're a believer in Christ, then you must know the Word of God. Read it devotionally and study it for edification and sanctification. Seek to live your life by its precepts. There is no excuse for a believer to be ignorant of God's Word. The Apostle Peter writes, "Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation — if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good" (1 Peter 2:2-3). We are to desire the Word like a newborn craves his mother's milk. This will be different in different people, but the desire for God's Word should be there.
Finally, pray! As mentioned earlier, we are to pray to not be lead into temptation and to be delivered from evil. Paul says in Romans 7 that the believer desires to do what is right, but does not have the power within himself to do it. We must acknowledge our dependence on God for our sanctification and trust in faith that the Holy Spirit will conform us all into the image of Jesus Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria!