Desert of Trial

Because he knew the true and living God, the heart behind the Scriptures, he could recognize the forger, the fraud — Satan — who tried to distort and misuse truth and Scripture.

Most likely, you have been there. You find yourself trapped in a mess, a trial, a temptation, a torturous time that felt unbearable. You somehow knew some unseen unfairness, some malevolent force, some crushingly inescapable evil, had chosen to target you. No matter what you call these suffocating confrontations — temptations, trials, testings — is not relevant. What is essential, however, is surviving and escaping this time.

This desert of trials and temptations which we face as mortals is so much a part of our humanity that the Bible said that Jesus HAD (divinely necessary) to go through something similar or he really couldn’t be our Savior:

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil — and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. … For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (Hebrews 2:14-18 Bold added for emphasis.).

Temptations and trials are so pervasive, so universal, that Jesus faced them, too. More accurately stated: Jesus had to face these times of testing so that we could know that he understands our struggles, and he is ready to help us in our times of weakness.

Satan sends trials and temptations our way to wear us down and entice us away from God. He comes to us as a liar wanting to destroy us as he pulls us away from God and our trust in God’s goodness. As Jesus said, Satan is a liar and the father of lies, a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44). The evil one often presents his counterfeit reality to us in ways that lure us into his death trap. His enticements look real, and we can fall for them because he is a forger, an artist of counterfeit truth. He makes sure that our times of hardship seem unending to suggest that God isn’t real, doesn’t care, or is withholding something from us that we deserve. So how can we recognize Satan’s lies, his deceitful counterfeit truth?

There are several ways we can be alert to the evil one’s lies, his forgery, and intentional distortion of God’s word, goodness, and love.

James points us to spiritual disciplines. These disciplines, these spiritual practices are one of the ways we can overcome trials and temptations, these forgeries of God’s good intentions. The spiritual practices James mentioned are prayer, Bible reading, fasting, and time alone with God in contemplation.

After Jesus’ baptism and before Satan arrived on the scene, we know that Jesus had engaged in those spiritual practices. Because he knew the Scriptures, Jesus quickly corrected Satan’s distortion of the truth. Because he had spent time alone in the desert being with God, Jesus knew God and was committed to God’s purposes and will for his life. His spiritual practices had well prepared him to face Satan’s forgeries of God’s truth.

The evil one’s words may have sounded biblical, and he may have seemed concerned for Jesus’ well being, but Christ knew that the evil one was lying. The Lord knew that Satan’s words were not valid because he knew the Scriptures and could identify Satan’s forgeries. Each time Satan distorted the truth (Matthew 4:3, 5, 8), Jesus answered with Scripture to refute him (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10). In the end, Jesus ordered the evil one to leave, and he emerged victoriously from that time of confrontation with the evil one. He had exposed Satan for the fraud he is.

However, Jesus didn’t just know the Scriptures; he also had a close relationship with his Father. Because he knew the true and living God, the heart behind the Scriptures, he could recognize the forger, the fraud. Jesus knew God as his loving Father, who could be trusted. At Jesus’ baptism, the Father had declared:

“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).

Knowing Scripture is vitally necessary for us as God’s children. However, if we don’t understand the heart of God, if we don’t know our sacrificial Father behind the Scriptures, the words of the Bible can be used against us. We must have a genuine relationship with God through Jesus, our Immanuel — God with us (Matthew 1:23) — if we are going to survive both temptation and trial.

If knowing the Scriptures is a vital tool in our toolbox of faith, then having a relationship with God as our loving Father becomes the power to use the Scriptures properly. These two resources — spiritual practices and a genuine relationship with God — help us resist temptation and survive times of trial. They are indispensable. Jesus used them, and so must we to defeat our enemy, our adversary.

In addition to those two resources, we can add a third tool to our toolbox of faith: trust that Jesus is our Lord, Savior, and intercessor.

Knowing Jesus (Matthew 1:23), living in genuine fellowship with other believers (Matthew 18:20), sharing with those in need compassionately (Matthew 25:40), and reaching out to others to make disciples of all people (Matthew 28:18-20) enable us to experience Jesus’ presence. He was not only “here” — on earth as one of us — during his earthly ministry, but he is also “here” for us as our helper in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Jesus is both our example and pioneer (Hebrews 2:10; 10:22) showing us how to navigate the temptations and trials of life, today. He loves us and is “here” for us in our times of trial and temptation. Jesus cares for us as one who knows what it is like to be human like us. He even endured the cross to show his love for us (Romans 5:6-11). Jesus will never abandon us or leave us and will bring us to ultimate victory with him (Romans 8:32-39). The temptations and trials we face now are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us at the Lord’s return (Romans 8:18). Until that return, however, Jesus lives to intercede for us and help us in our times of temptation and trial to bring us his full salvation (Hebrews 7:25).

But, what happens when we falter, fall, and fail during our times of trials and temptations?

We each have a fourth tool in our toolbox when dealing with trials and temptations: confession, forgiveness, and purification. Sin cannot have us if we continue to share our hearts with our Lord, who went to the cross for us! Listen to what the beloved apostle John told early believers:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8).

Because of Jesus, God not only forgives our sin — our falterings, fallings, and failures — he also purifies us. We stand before the Lord, forgiven, and cleansed. God has forgotten and removed our sin and erased every vestige of our failure. There is one thing God cannot do because it is something he will not do: God does not remember or hold against us the sins he has forgiven and purified! They are gone!

In sum, we have four tools in our toolbox of faith to help us survive our trials and overcome our temptations:

  1. Spiritual Practices — prayer, fasting, Bible reading, and time alone with God.
  2. Loving Relationship — God is our father who has given everything to love and adopt us so that we can know the heart behind the Scriptures.
  3. Constant Intercession — Jesus lives to be there for us and intercede for us before the Father.
  4. Forgiveness and Cleansing — We can have our sins forgiven and cleansed because of the loving sacrifice of our older brother and Savior, the Lord Jesus!

So, isn’t it time for us to do what Jesus did at the end of his temptations? Let’s order Satan out of our lives and away from us in the name of Jesus!

J Nored & P Ware