The Expository Files


 The Devil’s Always In On It

 Matthew 4:3

“NOW, WHEN THE tempter came …” (Matthew 4:3, NKJV). It’s not a question of “if he comes.” Sooner or later, he always does. And when he comes, a critical time has come for the soul. James says, “… each of us is tempted …” (James 1:14). And John tells us in 1 John 2:16 the avenues of temptation: (1) the lust of the flesh, natural desire; (2) the lust of the eyes, that which appeals to the senses; and (3) the pride of life, the desire to be looked up to and praised.

The Bible does not tell us all that our curiosity might lead us to ask about the origin of Satan, but it does indicate that he is the “father” of lying, murder and other sin (John 8:44; Matthew 13:38).

As the Scriptures unfold for us the story of creation, Satan soon appears on the scene, using the serpent to entice Eve to sin. Once Eve had sinned, the devil was able to use her to tempt Adam (Genesis 3:1–6). Since that time, he has never had a shortage of human servants, enticing and encouraging one another to sin. Each of us has sometimes been involved in such devilish activity.

In ages past, the devil had the ability to overpower some individuals against their will and afflict them with demon possession. Jesus, however, during His earthly ministry, began to restrict or bind Satan in this particular area, casting out the demons and assigning them to the abyss (Matthew 12:28–29; Luke 8:31; 2 Peter 2:4). After He ascended to heaven, the Lord empowered His apostles to finish this task, and by the time the New Testament revelation was completed, confirmed and committed to writing, the evil spirit had been subdued and the special miraculous powers given to God’s servants had served their purposes and ceased (1 Corinthians 13:8–10; Zechariah 13:2).

Even though Satan no longer possesses the power to control folks against their will, he still has no scarcity of servants. He exercises a powerful influence (1 Corinthians 7:5). He is a master of deception (2 Corinthians 2:11; 11:14). Simon Peter warns us: “Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). We are also mindful of the warning Peter himself had received from Jesus in Luke 22:31. Satan would like to sift us as wheat, sifting out the good and leaving the bad.

And so there is good news and bad news. The good news is that Satan has been bound to the point that he absolutely cannot overpower and control us without our own cooperation. Paul writes, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way to escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). James encourages us, “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Note that God won’t allow the devil to tempt us beyond our ability to resist. God will supply the ability for us to overcome the devil’s enticements and escape. But we must do the resisting and the escaping.

The bad news is that the devil is well aware of our weaknesses, both moral and intellectual, and he appeals to us in our weakest areas and at the times when we are least likely to be prepared and on guard. He uses the same three avenues of temptation with which he so successfully overcame Eve. He knows our appetites, our weakness for that which appeals to the senses, and our desire for worldly success and attainment.

Jesus’ victory over Satan in the wilderness of temptation must serve as our example of how to resist and escape the devil’s snares. Satan unsuccessfully used the same three areas of temptation in trying to appeal to Jesus that he had used before with Eve. These temptations are the ones he uses repeatedly against us. Two principles assured Jesus of victory. (1) He knew God’s will. When tempted, He responded by saying, “It is written …” (2) He was totally committed to seeking the will of the heavenly Father above any desire that life in the flesh might produce. (See Matthew 4:1–11; 26:36–44). Jesus is the only person with whom the devil has met with complete failure. He will also fail with us, to the extent that we follow the Lord’s example.

On the other hand, to the extent that we fail to learn God’s will, or fail to put that will above our own, the devil will succeed in leading us astray. And sometimes we all fail. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us … If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:8, 10).

A few years ago, a popular comedian made millions with the slogan, “The devil made me do it.” The truth of the matter is, the devil can’t make me sin. But he can entice me. He can persuade me. And often, he leads me to want to do things that do not harmonize with the will of God. “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (James 1:14–15). When temptation comes, the devil is always in on it, but he can’t defeat us without our own cooperation. So, “resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:7–8).
Johnson, C. R. (1987). The Devil’s Always In On It: The Problem of Temptation. In B. Lewis (Ed.), Christianity Magazine: March 1987, Volume 4, Number 3 (B. Lewis, Ed.) (14). Jacksonville, FL: Christianity Magazine.

By Clarence R. Johnson
From Expository Files 20.2; February 2013