The Temptations of Christ: Self-Empowerment (Tempting God)

In this installment of our Lenten Series, let's look at the second temptation of Jesus:

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written: 'He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone'." Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test'." (Matthew 4:1-7)

In an earlier post, we examined how each temptation falls into one of three categories:

Lust of the Flesh (self-gratification)

Pride of Life (self-empowerment)
Lust of the Eyes (self-promotion)

Adam and Jesus faced these temptations head on. Our human forefather failed; Jesus-both man and God-- won the victory, thereby breaking the curse of spiritual death over us and regaining our original authority.

Although temptations continue because satan has yet to be literally bound, he has nevertheless been legally stripped of his authority at the Cross. Any success he garners with mankind must be done through cooperating vessels.

The key is not resisting temptation by ourselves, but remaining in Christ...abiding in the One who already faced the devil and triumphed over every temptation.

Any time we step outside of Christ to act upon a temptation, we step away from our protection and power. This is another way to define "sin"--anything we seek to fulfill in our lives outside of God's Will and God's Way.

The Pride of life causes us to act presumptuously. We become so full of ourselves that we rarely consult God for direction. Highly intelligent and talented people fall easily into this trap. Many anointed men and women with great ministries have become self-enamored and run aground.

For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. Romans 12:3

Pride was the original sin:

How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations.

For thou hast said in thine heart, 'I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High'."
(Isaiah 12:12-14)

How many "I's" of Satan do you count?

Satan was the covering cherub over the Throne of God. He was called Lucifer...so beautiful and stunning as the light bursting through at dawn! His name meant, "Day Star" or "Shining One".

But what was his downfall? Pride.

He was THE Archangel over all the angelic host, yet that wasn't enough. He wanted to take God's place. Pride blinded him into thinking more of himself and his ability...so much so that he actually thought he could defeat God and seize Heaven.

What did God say to this rebel?

Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings. (Ezekiel 28:17)

His strengths--not his weaknesses--caused him to sin.

Struggles keep us desperately dependent upon God, but our impressive strengths can lead us away from Him. Although we may generally pray, worship and read our Bible, we draw upon our own strength (not divine grace) as we encounter daily challenges. It is subtle, and it is dangerous.

Satan lost his ability to correctly reason and grasp reality. Prideful people will be blinded to their own ways and lead others into a ditch, as well.

What is the end result? We will be "thrown to earth". Look at Proverbs 16:18:

Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

Pride and haughtiness go hand in hand. An arrogant attitude reveals a person who often stumbles through life, blaming others whenever things don't pan out as planned.  Such consistent, lofty grandstanding swells the inner pride until some sort of destruction is inevitable.

When we look at the Hebrew meanings for the word destruction--breaking, fracture, crushing, breach, crash, ruin, shattering--we can't help but think of something intense that happens quickly.

With hindsight, all of us can look back and clearly see the warning signs posted prior to a fall, but at the time, we were blinded during our pursuit of self-empowerment. Convinced we had become "ten feet tall and bullet proof", we were just too talented to fail and too smart to get caught.

Christians with successful ministries that grow under a season of blessing can easily forget their source of blessing. The pedestal becomes comfortable, along with the adulation of admirers. The head swells as the heart darkens.

Sins become excusable for these gifted people in "exceptional circumstances." Adultery, cooking the church books, taking money for personal needs from the offerings, spinning lies and constant blame-shifting becomes routine and rationalized to protect one's reputation.

Can't you just hear satan urging Jesus? (my paraphrasing)

Hey, I know that Moses wrote that Psalm for accidental encounters, but you're special. Why, you're God's favored son. You are, aren't you? You of all people ought to be able to take His word and apply it to your situation!

I mean, all this stuff you've been saying and doing...can you back it up? If you're whom you say you are, I bet you can take the ultimate risk and come out fine. Surely, God will make an exception in your case--yes, a man with your calling and anointing, someone as gifted and important as you!

Of course, you may just be blowing smoke. Just another one of those nut jobs claiming to be the Messiah
. We'll never know unless...

Jesus didn't buy it, knowing that to jump would circumvent God's plan for all of humanity. He wasn't thinking about His reputation. His proving would come at the Cross--and not one minute before. In fact, at the precise time in history redemption was empirically secured for all of mankind, Jesus thundered,  "It is finished"!

But we buy into it, don't we? How many times have we stepped off the ledge in an effort to prove or protect ourselves, only to find that God didn't shield us from the consequences after all!

He didn't pretend not to notice; God didn't wink an understanding eye in our direction. And compounding the calamity are the innocent people around us who often suffer from our follies.

We tempted God to make an exception to His Word!

Whatever the idol, therein is the fall--fame, money, beauty, ministry, power, status, a successful business or career, the attention and praise of others. These inordinate desires tempt us to take more and more risks to obtain them--even tempting God in the arena of life and death where He alone is sovereign.

If the object of your devotion (and the matter you often pray about) looms bigger in your vision than the One you are praying to, read what happens:

Now some of the elders of Israel came to me and sat before me. And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, "Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their hearts, and put before them that which causes them to stumble into iniquity. Should I let Myself be inquired of at all by them?

Therefore speak to them, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: 'Everyone of the house of Israel who sets up his idols in his heart, and puts before him what causes him to stumble into iniquity, and then comes to the prophet, I the LORD will answer him who comes, according to the multitude of his idols'."
(Ezekiel 14:1-4)

In other words, you may hear exactly what you want to hear! God turns you over to your own devices. He gets out of the way, and lets your idol "answer" your prayers!

Years ago, a young, single man in our church appeared very dedicated to God. An attractive graduate student started attending services, and he became smitten with her beauty and godliness.

He tried for months to ask Traci out on a date, but she was just not interested in him. She was concentrating on getting her degree and going into overseas missions.

One day Steve announced to her that he had seen the two of them together on the mission field in a "vision". Alarmed, she left the fellowship.

Steve was handsome, smart, and gifted. There were many single girls in the fellowship, but he often commented that he didn't feel any of them were "compatible" with his level of spiritual maturity.

Honestly, I think this was the first time Steve had been outright dismissed by someone on his "level". The embarrassing rejection continued to torment him.

Traci would not return his calls. Not long afterward, she graduated and moved out of town. He totally dropped out of sight after hearing that only after a year in Brazil, Traci married.

About two years passed. One Sunday, Steve showed up for the morning service. Afterward, he lingered up front near the leadership and announced to us that he had some good news to share. He said God had set him free from the heaviness he had carried for years about Traci.

We thought our prayers had been answered, but then Steve went on to exuberantly explain that God assured him in another vision that Traci's marriage would soon end and the two of them could finally be together. Steve refused all requests for counseling by the church elders.

His reasoning? Ponds may have a "No Fishing" sign posted (referring to God's written Word), but if the one doing the fishing is the son of the owner, the rules don't apply under certain circumstances. At that, we summarily escorted him out the door and shook the dust from our sandals!

A nut case? For sure. Yet, Steve didn't start out that way. He was handsome--an extraordinary musician, full of charisma, and...reeking with pride. Eventually his reason became terribly corrupted (Proverbs 16:18), and this once seemingly stable and promising young man shipwrecked.

Steve's story dramatically shows exactly what can happen to any of us when our "idols" (including ourselves) are bigger than God. Our situations don't have to be as extreme as Steve's to place ourselves and others in jeopardy.

Just recall the numerous headlines involving church-related sexual and financial scandals, and you will agree people will try to justify anything to consume their lusts...even claiming divine permission or immunity.

"For if any person thinks himself to be somebody when he is nobody [of superiority except in his own estimation], he deceives and deludes and cheats himself." (
Galatians 6:3)

There are many examples in the Bible of the sin of self-empowerment--the Pride of Life:

Abram and Sarai
tried to figure out how God was going to give them a child in their old age. As time passed, they finally cooked up their own plan to bring God's will to pass. Sarai gave her handmaid, Hagar, to Abram so that a legal child could be born.

Later on, God supernaturally energized the couple's bodies and Isaac, the child of promise was born. However, the previous son of his own strength and scheming, Ishmael, became a bitter enemy to his brother.

was successfully conquering Canaan. The nearby Gibeonites heard of his campaign and feared for their lives. They came up with a clever ruse. Dressed in dirty, worn clothing and carrying old food, they approached Joshua's camp as ambassadors from a far away country.

They claimed that had come to make a pact of servanthood based on their admiration for all they had heard about God and His people. Joshua, blinded by his military successes, overconfident and puffed up, made a snap decision based on natural perception, rather than consulting God as before.

When the deception was exposed, it was too late. The Covenant had already been made. The Gibeonites were spared from destruction, and Joshua's decision stood in defiance to God's preceding word to thoroughly cleanse the land of all idolaters. (Joshua 9)

Moses, after leading a rebellious and stiff-necked people out of Egypt and through the wilderness, succumbed to pressure and stepped outside of his reliance on God to handle a challenging position. The people once again complained about being abandoned by God to thirst, although once before the Lord supernaturally provided water from a rock.

God instructed Moses to speak to the rock and water would flow to satisfy the wandering nation. However, angered over their constant murmurings, Moses picked up his staff and struck the rock instead, saying, "Hear now you rebels; must WE fetch you water out of the rock?"

This action cost Moses his entrance into the Land of Promise because he "believed Me not, to sanctify ME in the eyes of the children of Israel." (Number 20)

When we rashly strike out in exalted self-empowerment--even to meet legitimate needs--we deny God the credit, thereby failing to sanctify Him in the eyes of those watching us.

was a judge of Israel. An angel appeared to his barren mother and announced a son would be born, but that he must never cut his hair. This was part of the Nazarite Vow that separates a person unto a special work for God).

The extremely strong Samson was smitten with a prostitute named Delilah. His enemies paid her to find out the secret of her lover's strength.

Delilah's continuous probing was like a game to Samson. He ignored the danger signals in order to be with her, believing as God's chosen man, he was insulated from any real harm. One night he finally gave into Delilah's pleadings and told her the truth.

As he lay asleep in her arms, she had a man cut Samson's hair. His enemies crept in and began to hit him. Startled, he awoke and rose to fend them off as before, but found himself powerless before his attackers. He was taken captive, his eyes were poked out, and he was publicly mocked. (Judges 13-16)

was Israel's first king. Because of his position and earlier popularity, he justified his disobedience to the Lord, claiming that his willful adjustments were actually intended to bring greater glory to the Lord.

Even after a rebuke from the prophet Samuel, Saul still asked the man of God to walk with him out of the tent to make the people think everything was okay. His anointing was removed, and a demonic spirit filled the void that corrupted his reasoning and reduced him to paranoia and violent outbursts. (1 Samuel 13, 15)

was well acquainted with God's Word; he was the sweet psalmist of Israel. Yet, he coveted Urriah's wife Bathsheba. He stepped outside of God's Law to commit adultery with her while her husband was far away on the battlefield.

When she became pregnant, David took matters into his own hands and had Urriah placed in the hottest point of the battle where, according to plan, he died. David then took Bathsheba as his wife. David's pride and lust had so blinded him that he felt no conviction for his sins!

He was oblivious to the fact that everyone around him--even neighboring nations--was fully aware of his deeds and mocked him as a "godly leader". Only after a cunning confrontation by the prophet Nathan did David repent. (2 Samuel 11, 12)

"Therefore humble yourselves [demote, lower yourselves in your own estimation] under the mighty hand of God, that in due time He may exalt you."
(1 Peter 5:6)

Up next in our series: Self-Promotion

Thank you for journeying with me during this season of Lent
as we prepare ourselves for the Lord's Passion.

Only through a willingness to examine our lives in the light of Christ
can the Holy Spirit bring us to embrace afresh the power of the Cross,
and the Resurrection that follows.

Look for the special Lenten articles on the sidebar under
THE GREAT EXCHANGE: Our Fig Leaves for His Righteousness


Angie Van De Merwe said...

I don't think we have to be "spiritually directed" to understand our limitations or our proneness to presume or assume. "Self reflection" was one of the values of the philosophers, "Know thyself". Philosophy asks questions, but doesn't presume answers. It proposes answers, but doubts, still. This is why I like philosophy more than "facts of science". Even with the "facts of science" what do you do with those facts? And that gets into ethics, political philosophy, etc.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

"Self empowerment" is known in our society as taking responsibility. It is the act of growing up and becoming an adult. It is seeking education or knowledge from those that have it, to make wise decisions.

It is not sin to do these things, and yet, you are painting a picture that it is.