Friday, 19 July 2013

"Tempted as we are, yet without sin"

     While the importance of Christ’s deity must never be downplayed, the fact remains that “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14 NKJV) and the overwhelming emphasis of Scripture appears to be on this aspect of his nature.  Jesus is explicitly referred to as “man” no less than thirty-six times in the New Testament, and the designation “son of man” is applied to him an impressive eighty-two times (all but two of which are self-descriptions).  The humanity of our Lord is one of the most significant yet often underappreciated doctrines of the Bible.
     The Hebrews epistle explains that Christ’s brotherhood with man was necessary in order for him to suffer and die for our sins, as well as to help in the human plight, to be a merciful and faithful High Priest, and to sympathize with our struggles, trials, and weaknesses (2:9-18).  But to what extent was he willing to take on our frail human form?  The writer of Hebrews uses the expression kata panta (2:17), “in all things” (NKJV) or “in every respect” (ESV).  The implication is that Jesus, as a result of his incarnation, had no undue advantage over the rest of mankind.  This is emphasized further in 4:15, which states: “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points [kata panta] tempted as we are . . .”  
     To be tempted is to be enticed to sin.  If it were not possible for Christ to have sinned,
the word “tempted” is void of all meaning.  Although God cannot be tempted by evil (James 1:13), Jesus emptied (kenóō) himself (Philippians 2:7) of divine attributes like omniscience (Mark 13:32), omnipresence (John 4:3), and self-sufficiency (John 5:19).  While his inherent oneness with God never ended (John 10:33; 20:28), his assumed oneness with humankind involved giving up the prerogatives and powers of deity, including the inability to be attracted to sin.  And the devil did not limit his alluring schemes to the forty days following Christ’s baptism but continued thereafter searching for malevolent opportunities (Luke 4:13).
     Even though Jesus was confronted with every enticement known to man, Hebrews 4:15 goes on to affirm that he was “without sin.”  But how can this be?  If Jesus were truly like all other human beings, having absolutely no advantage, how was he able to combat temptation so successfully when the rest of us are all too familiar with defeat?  It had nothing to do with his divine nature (since he was tempted) or with supernatural intervention.  Peter, for example, was filled with the Spirit and had the ability to perform miracles, but this did not render him incapable of sinning (cf. Galatians 2:11-14).  The miraculous powers exhibited by Christ were given to him by the Father through the Spirit for the express purpose of confirming his identity and his message (Acts 2:22; 10:38).  But in his daily living as a flesh-and-blood human being, Jesus was like you and me in every way.
     Christ’s sinless perfection was attributable to nothing more than his complete submission to the Father’s will.  Man struggles with sin when he relies too much on his own strength and wisdom and is determined to pursue selfish desires.  Jesus, however, could honestly say, “I can of myself do nothing . . . . I do not seek my own will but the will of the Father who sent me” (John 5:30; cf. 6:38; 8:29).
     A key to overcoming temptation, as practiced and taught by our Lord, is a consistent prayer life (cf. Luke 11:1-4; 22:39-46).  Should we assume that Jesus had more spare time than we do to exclusively devote to prayer?  A casual reading of the Gospels illustrates how extraordinarily busy he was (Mark 1:45; 2:1-2; 3:7-10, 20; 5:24; 6:30-34; et al.), yet he frequently withdrew from his hectic schedule to commune with the heavenly Father (Luke 5:16).  Although the Lord seldom had time to pray, he always took the time to pray, even if it meant getting up earlier in the morning (Mark 1:35) or staying up through the night (Luke 6:12).  One can always find time for things that are really important.  Perhaps we struggle so much with sin because we do not pray as often or as fervently as Jesus did.  We learn from his example that if one is too busy to pray, he is too busy not to pray!     
     Another factor that must surely have aided the Lord in overcoming temptation was his intimate knowledge of Scripture.  Having grown up in a devout Jewish home, from an early age he was well acquainted with the sacred writings (cf. Luke 2:41-52; 4:16-22).  This enabled him to respond to each of the tempter’s allurements in the wilderness with the confident assertion, “It is written . . .” (Matthew 4:1-10).  The psalmist’s prayer, with which Jesus was almost certainly familiar, could easily have been uttered by Christ himself: “Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11).  Developing the habit of reading, studying, memorizing, meditating on, and applying the word of God is indispensable in our fight against sin.
     Jesus also made time for corporate worship and Bible study (Luke 4:16), service to others (Matthew 20:28), and wholesome associations (John 2:2, 12; 12:1-2), all of which were important in resisting the devil’s schemes.  The life of Christ, being the opposite of self-reliance and self-centeredness, was epitomized by unconditional and observable love for God and fellow-man (Luke 2:52; 10:27). 
     Jesus has not only proven that temptation can be conquered in the human life, he has clearly demonstrated how it can be accomplished.  If we are genuinely committed to walking just as he walked (1 John 2:6), we will gladly exchange the impediments of laziness, pride, and selfishness for complete devotion to the will of God, manifested in constancy of prayer and Bible study, regularity in church attendance and work, and faithfulness in serving others and nurturing godly relationships.  The only reason for allowing sin to be victorious in our lives is the foolish choice of neglecting to utilize what is readily available in the Lord.
     Temptation is admittedly a constant threat that will plague us until our last breath is taken.  But because of Christ’s victory over it, the dreadful throne of judgment now becomes the approachable “throne of grace,” from which we may boldly “obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).     
--Kevin L. Moore

First published in Gospel Advocate 147.11 (2005): 14-15 

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