Temptation is the enticement to do something that is wrong, immoral, or harmful. To give into temptation is to commit a sin. Sin offends against God, neighbor, and self, and it leads to injury, guilt, shame, alienation, unhappiness, and spiritual ruin.
The first words of Jesus’ public ministry are the same words used for the signing on Ash Wednesday, “Turn away from sin” (Mk 1:15b). Ideally, Jesus wants us to resist temptation with all our might, to stop sin before it ever starts. But if we should fall into sin, as we often do, to take the season of Lent as a time to face our sin humbly and honestly, admit our wrongdoing, ask God for pardon, and renew our intention to live good and holy lives.
The gospel for the First Sunday of Lent (Mt 4:1-11) is troubling. The devil is sly and bold. The temptations came not once, but three times, and at a moment of weakness, when Jesus was hungry, lonely, and tired. Worse yet, the devil is persistent and does not give up easily. Even though Jesus fended off all three temptations, the devil did not leave permanently. As Luke observed, the devil departed from him, but only “for a time” (Lk 4:13).
The gospel is ominous. There will be future attacks. The battle with temptation lasts a lifetime. The devil is prowling like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour (1 Pt 5:8). We need to resist the devil and the devil’s temptations, steadfast in the faith (1 Pt 5:9).
Jesus repelled temptation. He told the devil, “Get away, Satan!” (Mt 4:10). He spent his entire life saying, “Get behind me, Satan” (Mt 8:33). Jesus prepared for the assault waves of temptation in four ways, with solitude, prayer, fasting, and Scripture reading, and if we hope to repel Satan and temptation, we must do the same.
Solitary time is very important. Life is jam-packed. We are hyper-busy with so many places to go, things to do, and people to see. Occasionally, at the very least, God deserves our full and undivided attention without distractions. Quiet time with God is absolutely essential.
Our quiet time should not be spent idly, but in prayer, in conversation with God. “The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful” (James 5:16b), so powerful, in fact, that when the devil attacks, the prayerful person is strong and determined enough to repel the temptation and say, “Get away, Satan!”
Some form of fasting is spiritually indispensable. Luke states this most emphatically, “He [Jesus] ate nothing during those days” (Lk 4:2). Jesus practiced self-denial. Food and drink represent the desires of our bodies. God, not our bodies, ought to be in charge. Those who master their bodies are better able to say “yes” to God and “no” to temptation and the devil.
Finally, Scripture reading plays a key role in a person’s ability to repel temptation. Jesus quoted Scripture not once, but three times, to conquer temptation and keep Satan away (Mt 4:4,7,10). Those who are well-versed in God’s Word are well-armed to go to battle with the Satan and succeed. Lent is a time to open our Bibles, read Scripture, and meditate on God’s holy Word. Then, whenever temptation comes our way or the devil attacks, we, like Jesus, will be able to repel the temptation and say, “Get away, Satan!” (Mt 4:10).