Christ and Temptation

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. (Luke 4:1-2)

Adam faced temptation as the representative of humanity, and when he sinned, the whole human race fell with him. But God showed mercy toward his chosen people, and immediately promised a Savior who would rescue a select number from sin and condemnation. Before its fulfillment, men were saved through faith in the coming Savior. Now that the promise has been fulfilled, men are saved through faith in this Savior who has come and accomplished redemption.

This is the gift of salvation. Yet the gift is not like the trespass – there is no exact correspondence. It is true that Jesus succeeded where Adam failed, but the Lord did not take up the same command given to man and merely fulfilled it. The two did not operate on the same terms. Adam represented the whole human race, but Jesus represented only the chosen ones, or those whom God has chosen to save, and whom he has determined to grant the gift of faith. God’s judgment followed the one sin of Adam, but God’s grace through Jesus Christ covers the many sins, of many men, committed over the course of many centuries.

Contrary to the farfetched arguments of theologians, Adam was never promised heavenly life for obedience, but only death for disobedience. It is said that there was a covenant, but there is no evidence of this. And even if there was a covenant, a threat in a covenant does not imply a corresponding reward. And even if there was a promised reward, of which there is no evidence or even a trace of an implication, it could not be the one that Jesus attained, for in his role as mediator he became the Lord of Glory, a position that receives worship and that is suited only to divinity.

If it is said that Jesus received greater promises that overlapped with those supposedly given to Adam, then the doctrine amounts to a supposed covenant, with a supposed reward, with a supposed correspondence, and then a supposed addendum. If this is theology, then let us suppose that the whole thing is worthless and throw it out the window, as many frustrated believers have done. Some theologians are very jealous for this false doctrine, but since they have no biblical case, even if they refuse to recant, they cannot prevent us from walking away. We can spit on them and laugh at them, and they can do nothing about it. Human tradition has no authority over our faith and conscience.

Jesus Christ acted as the champion for God’s people, and he faced temptations for us, not only here in Luke 4, but throughout his life. It is said that God understands our sufferings and temptations because he came to us in human form and lived among us. Hebrews 4:15 seems to be in line with this idea: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.” However, we must not construe this in a manner that diminishes the omniscience of God, or to suggest that even omniscience does not extend to human experiences and feelings, so that the Godhead learned something new by the incarnation of Christ, or that this new knowledge incited sympathy toward men that was not there before.

God had always known what human sufferings and temptations were like, even what they feel like. Even though he had no human organ to experience them, by his omniscience he knew these things exhaustively, and in an infinitely superior sense and degree than what could be registered on human flesh. The incarnation taught the Godhead nothing. Rather, Hebrews 4:15 and related verses refer to the experience of Christ as mediator and high priest, who in this capacity indeed sympathizes with us. This does not mean that God was ignorant of our plight before the incarnation, but only that as we focus on Jesus Christ, we are reminded that in his human nature he has experienced our sufferings and has successfully overcome temptations. We may have confidence in him even when we are weak in faith, and as if divine omniscience leaves room for any excuse, the incarnation makes it even more evident that we cannot say God does not grasp our difficulties.

What is temptation? First we need to distinguish between the author of sin and the tempter to sin. God exercises total and direct control over all things, and since there is sin in his creation, this means that he must be the author of sin. He must be the total and direct cause of sin in the metaphysical sense, although he does not approve of it in the moral sense. That is, he has defined certain thoughts and actions as morally reprehensible, but left to themselves, mere creatures cannot initiate anything, good or evil. Sin occurs because God directly causes his creatures to transgress his moral laws. There is no contradiction, because one relates to metaphysics and the other to ethics. One has to do with determination, and the other has to do with definition. And this does not undermine moral responsibility, since responsibility has to do with moral definition only, and not metaphysical causation.

The metaphysical perspective tells us why, as in the cause and the power, a creature transgresses the defined moral standard, but this has nothing to do with responsibility. Rather, moral responsibility has to do with the fact that the creature has transgressed. The metaphysical “why” is irrelevant. Tradition refuses to acknowledge that God is the author of sin because it fails to grasp this most elementary but necessary distinction. As a result, it assigns the direct metaphysical cause to the creature, and the product is the heresy of dualism or finite godism. Let this be clear: if a person does not admit that God is the sovereign and righteous author of sin, he commits blasphemy and cannot consistently affirm the Christian God.

The same distinction applies to God himself. For God to cause sin in his creatures is not the same as to commit sin. To commit sin, God would have to define it as sin to be the author of sin. In other words, he would have to do something that he has forbidden himself to do. There is no evidence that God has forbidden himself to do anything, including to directly cause and control sin. Rather, the Bible reveals a God who is sovereign over sin and still calls himself good. Therefore, the standard of good when it comes to whether it is good for God to be the author of sin is in what he actually does. And since he is directly sovereign over all things, which means that he is directly sovereign over sin, this means that it is good for him to be directly sovereign over sin. As long as he does what he wants, he does what is good.

Thus God is the author of sin, but the Bible says that he is not the tempter. One person said to me that this needs to be reconciled. He said that temptation is persuasion to do wrong. But if it is God who actively hardens a sinner, such as Pharaoh, then it appears that he indeed persuades someone to do wrong. So how can he be the author but not the tempter? This is very foolish. Temptation is indeed a form of persuasion, but in the light of his confusion, should also be called suggestion or communication. This is because he thought of persuasion as effective persuasion, and it can sometimes take on this meaning, but not in this context. On the other hand, to actively harden someone refers to causation, and in itself does not need to include any persuasion, suggestion, or communication.

If I say, “Satan persuaded Tom to sin,” the persuasion is indeed effective persuasion, but this is because the result has been specified. However, persuasion itself does not include the guarantee of success, but refers to the attempt, or that act of suggestion or communication. Even when we refer to effective persuasion, the persuasion itself is still distinguished from the metaphysical cause of its effectiveness. The persuasion still does not touch metaphysics, but causation refers to metaphysics. If Satan successfully persuaded Tom to sin, it means that there is a metaphysical power that caused Tom to accept the demonic enticement. This power could be associated with one who communicates, but not necessarily so. And in the Christian worldview, this power is completely absent in Satan, or in any creature, but it is solely in the hands of Almighty God.

I made the distinction clear in my reply, and included the illustration of the preaching of the gospel and the conversion of a sinner. When persuasion is used in the sense of suggestion or communication, it is the preacher who persuades, whether he succeeds or not, and it is God who causes the hearer either to believe or to be hardened. Again, he replied, how can this be, for is it not Christ who persuades and causes a person to believe? So even though it was explained to him, he persisted in identifying persuasion with causation. How, then, can I describe the preaching? I hope not all Christians are this stupid, but I am often disappointed.

If one insists that “persuasion” is always successful, if this is how he used the English word, then we should not use the word in this context, but we should replace it with “suggestion” or “communication,” or some similar word instead. Satan communicated with Christ, but he could not cause Christ to sin. He told Christ to make bread, which Christ refused, but he could not possess Christ, cause him to make bread, and then stuff the bread down his throat. He suggested that Christ should do it, and this counted as temptation. He told Christ to worship him, which Christ refused, but he could not possess Christ’s heart to make him adore the devil, and to bow his knees to him. He told Christ to jump from the temple, but he could not possess Christ and make him throw himself off, nor could Satan push him down.

To actively perform a work in one’s heart or to actively cause someone to perform an action is clearly different from persuasion to do wrong, in the sense of mere suggestion or communication. It is ridiculous that we even need to discuss this. If temptation, or persuasion to do wrong, is identified with causation, then it means that either Satan did not tempt Christ, or it means that Satan successfully tempted Christ, so that Christ indeed committed sin, including devil worship. As usual, there is nothing to reconcile in the biblical doctrines, but we need to reconcile how this idiot could call himself a Christian, unless the truth is that he was not.

God is not the tempter because he does not suggest that people should do wrong. Whenever he speaks or communicates, he commands people to do right, and warns them against sin. And his word constitutes the standard, or the definition, of good and evil. But God is the author of sin because he directly causes people to transgress this standard whenever it suits his purpose. If he does not do this, no sin can ever happen, since no creature has power within itself to act apart from God. He could cause sin on the occasion of temptation, that is, temptation that he causes some other creature to perform, but the cause in itself is independent from the temptation, so that he could even cause a creature to sin without any temptation. Whether he does that or not is a separate issue. Indeed, God is never the tempter, because his word defines right and wrong. If he were to suggest that a person should do something, then it would by definition be the right thing to do.

Temptation is talk, whether in the literal or figurative sense. And if temptation is talk, it means that we can talk back to it. This in turn suggests that the way to overcome temptation does not rest merely in the exercise of willpower, but also in the exercise of our intelligence, and our intelligence needs to be informed by the word of God. In this, Jesus Christ is our supreme example. He countered each temptation with a relevant biblical teaching. When Satan saw that Christ was anchored on God’s word, he appealed to Psalm 91 in his final attempt. But Christ refuted him with Deuteronomy 6.

There is no conflict between the two portions of Scripture, and it would be pure ignorance to suggest, as some tend to do, that this shows how the Bible could be manipulated to say whatever a person wishes. Psalm 91 is a promise of protection, but it does not command a person to needlessly put himself in danger. On the other hand, Deuteronomy 6 refers to a command that would govern how Psalm 91 ought to be applied. Thus in using Scripture to overcome temptation, we maintain that the only proper use is an intelligent use, and not one that treats the holy book as a collection of spells and mantras.