‘At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted[a] by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.’
How real is spiritual conflict? Is there a difference between temptation that comes from a natural alienation from God’s ways, in other words simply conforming to the pattern of the world around us and spiritual evil? Is it relevant to contemporary Christian life? Hasn’t modern psychology replaced concepts of evil and temptation?
For the Christian the place to first look to answer these questions would be the bible and specifically Jesus’ life. Jesus differed from all other humans in that he was the only one who did not have what is known as a fallen nature. That can be thought of as a natural inclination to reject God and God’s ways. The purpose of Jesus’ coming was to restore the relationship between humanity and God. The angel explained to Joseph following Mary’s conception with Jesus that Mary will bear a son, ‘and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ Mathew 1.22 Jesus though experienced temptation that could not have come from a fallen nature. Mark tells us he was tempted by Satan.
Does that mean that all temptation, even most temptation comes from some spiritual source of evil? Paul recognises that even after his conversion, having personally had a vision of Jesus, having learnt great spiritual insights from the Holy Spirit and in human terms an incredible ministry, he still wrestled with the sin within himself. He graphically describes this inner wrestling, ‘For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.’ Romans7.17-18
There does therefore appear to be a difference between what might be termed an inner temptation and spiritual opposition including temptation that comes from outside the individual. In Jesus case as Jesus was preparing for his ministry through fasting and prayer, Satan tempted him. Mark 1.13 The objective of Satan was to prevent the spread of the gospel or God’s word, he was trying to attack it at source. Through the bible this is a recurring theme starting at the very beginning where in the Garden of Eden account the devil was seeking disobedience to God’s word.
Revelation 12.9 calls Satan, the great deceiver. Paul in 2 Corinthians 4.4 referring to those who have refused to believe says, ‘In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.’ Mathew in retelling the parable of the sower, where the seed is the word of God, says the weeds who choke the new seedlings are, ‘the sons of the evil one.’ Matthew13.38 Deception to blind people to the truth of Jesus takes many forms including those that disguise themselves with apparent goodness. Paul warns the Corinthians that, ‘Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.’ 2 Corinthians 11.14
Jesus in Mark’s gospel clearly recognises spiritual forces of evil and they also recognise who he is. Jesus is shown to have authority over them. The culmination of Jesus’ victory is through his death and resurrection.
When sharing the gospel do we underestimate spiritual opposition?
Jesus spent dedicated time in prayer and applying God’s word. Do we follow his example?
To live is Christ – Sidewalk Prophets