The Temptation of ChristAry Scheffer, 1854

Man’s Battle with Temptation in the Old Testament

The Old Testament chronicles the constant failings of men in the battle with temptation. In the beginning, Adam fails to protect Eve, choosing the rebellious temptations of Satan and then immediately is tempted by lust (Gen 3:7). Noah falls into a drunken stupor, allowing Ham to carry out maternal incest (Gen 9:21-22). Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed by God as punishment for men’s homosexual acts (Gen 19:12-29). Lot is tempted by alcohol and commits incest with his daughters (Gen 19:30-38). Abraham, encouraged by his barren wife Sarah, commits adultery with the maid Hagar (Gen 16:1-4) and is rebuked by God with circumcision as a daily reminder against sexual sin (Gen 17:10). While Moses is receiving the 10 Commandments from God, the people of Israel have a drunken, idolatrous orgy in front of the Golden Calf (Exod 32:6). King David commits adultery with Bathsheba and when she becomes pregnant, kills her just and chaste husband, Uriah (2 Sam 11:1-27).

Today’s Losing Battle with Temptation

The Church teaches that temptation is rooted in concupiscence, defined as “Human appetites or desires which remain disordered due to the temporal consequences of original sin, which remain even after Baptism and which produce an inclination to sin” (CCC 1264; 1426; 2515). The chief cause of temptation is Satan, “the tempter” (Matt 4:3) who is committed to man’s eternal ruin (Eph 6:11-13).

Turning away from God, today’s men are losing the battle with Temptation. Lust is an epidemic, fueled by porn, contraception and promiscuity, has suppressed marriage, increased divorce and led to the holocaust of abortion. Gluttony is widespread with additions to alcohol and food yielding an epidemic of obesity. Sloth has led to an abandonment of spiritual commitment and social engagement.

Jesus Christ and the Battle with Temptation

Born without sin (1 Pet 2:22; 2 Cor 5:21), Jesus submits to temptation for the sake of men. Jesus:

Demonstrates how to overcome Temptation in the Wilderness – In solidarity with Man (Heb 4:15), Jesus is tempted while in a weakened state after fasting for 40 days in the Wilderness (Matt 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13) and unlike Adam’s failure, Jesus defeats Satan (CCC 538):

Refuses to give Satan an inch – The ever-cunning Satan makes appeals to pride, greed and hunger, using miraculous visions, the twisting of Scripture and casting doubts about the Father to tempt Jesus. Jesus recognizes Satan and refuses to be tempted.

Refuses the temptation for sensual pleasure – Despite being famished, Jesus demonstrates the importance of not allowing Satan to tempt with sensual pleasure (i.e. to miraculously make bread).

Refuses temptations of pride and false use of power – Jesus, though able to cast Satan into Hell, refuses to respond to Satan’s temptations to a prideful use of power.

Makes the obedience to God primary – In each rebuke of Satan, Jesus uses Scripture to make clear His absolute reliance and obedience to God the Father, refusing to tempt the Father (CCC 2119).

Reliance on angels – Christ, after defeating Satan in the Wilderness, relies on angels to minister to Him (Mark 4:11). After defeating Satan in Gethsemane, He is strengthened by angels (Luke 22:43).

Instructs men as to how to deal with temptation – Jesus teaches men how to deal with temptation:

Makes it clear that Satan is the tempter who never stops – In the Lord’s Prayer, Christ instructs men to pray, “…and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One” (Matt 6:13). After failing to tempt Jesus in the wilderness, Satan patiently waits for a more opportune time (Luke 4:13), returning to tempt in the Passion (Luke 22:53; John 14:30). Jesus explicitly warns the Apostles about Satan: To Peter, Christ says “behold, Satan has claimed power over you all, so that he can sift you like wheat” (Luke 22:28) and in Gethsemane: “Watch and pray, that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing enough, but the flesh is weak” (Matt 26:41).

Is vehement about battling sexual temptation – The perfect chastity of Mary, Joseph and Jesus underscores the need for sexual purity for all people. Christ uses strong words to men about sexual purity, anticipating modern pornography (Matt 5:27-30): “You have heard that it was said, `You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully [pornography] has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin [viewing pornography], pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into Hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin [masturbation], cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

Emphasizes watchfulness – Being watchful and resisting temptation is critical, for if men resist temptation they do not sin (CCC 2846). Christ emphasizes the nearness of the Kingdom (Mark 1:15) to motivate men and that all men must be vigilant in keeping watch (CCC 2612; Matt 24:42-44, 25:1-13; Mark 13:33; Luke 12:35-40) and rejecting false prophets (Matt 7:15, 24:4-5; Luke 17:1-3) who would lead men into temptations.

Emphasizes prayer – Christ sets the example of the need to pray, praying in solitude (Mark 1:25; Luke 5:16), through the night (Luke 6:12), in the early morning (Matt 14:23) and especially when tempted (Matt 4:1-11; Luke 22: 39-46). Jesus teaches that prayer is an absolute necessity (Matt 7:7-11; Mark 9:23; Luke 11:5-13, 18:1-8, 18:9-14) in the battle with temptation.

Endows the Church to teach men to battle temptation – The Church offers wise counsel:

The Apostles teach that temptation is a “trial” – James says, “Blessed is he who endures under trials. When he has proved his worth, he will win that crown of life” (James 1:12). Peter says, “The Lord does not find it difficult to save his true worshippers from their trials, while the wrong-doers must await the day of judgment, marked down for torment” (2 Pet 2:9). Paul prays that men are not tempted beyond their strength (1 Cor 10:13).

Men must use the power of the Sign of the Cross – As a man awakens, he is to make the sign of the Cross, dedicating his day to the Trinity, which strengthens him against temptation (CCC 21570).

Engage in spiritual disciplines – To resist temptation, men are exhorted to examine their consciences, practice fasting, keep the 10 Commandments, cultivate the moral virtues and pray with fidelity to grow in faith (CCC 2340; 2732-33), relying on the Holy Spirit (CCC 2847) and to frequently go to Confession (CCC 1469) and receive the Eucharist (CCC 1391).