How do you solve a problem like temptation?

March 1, 2017
A reflection for the First Sunday of Lent
It seems almost scandalous to think that Jesus experienced temptation. We think of temptation as something shameful, something that only happens to us and not to others, something that distances us from God.
But in the Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent we see Jesus tempted in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11). Jesus is led into the desert and there He is subjected to the confusing and manipulative tactics of the Enemy.
Jesus was like us in every way except sin. But sin and temptation are not the same thing. Jesus was tempted, He did not sin. What can we take from this for our own fight against temptation? How do we avoid sin even when we experience temptation?
Living with God is not a cakewalk. Sometimes we can have an image of the Church as a place of sweet-sounding hymns and sweet-smelling flowers, where the holy and the pious congregate to polish their perfection and venerate great saints whose lives seem impossibly heroic. But this is not the spiritual life.
The spiritual life is a combat. It is tough. It is hard work. We are not God, but God wants to make us more and more like Himself. This brings tremendous joy, but also growing pains. It requires effort on our part, but most importantly it requires grace. We will be tempted, but this does not scandalize God. God wants to help us overcome our temptations to make us better. God does not tempt us; God brings us through temptation. We cannot do it alone; we need God.
After Jesus rejects the devil’s seductive advances the third time, we read: “Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him” (Matthew 4:11). The punchline of this Gospel is that temptation is not endless. God has the last word. His grace will always prevail. The devil will not win in the end: the angels are on their way.
Encouraged by this Gospel reading, there are three practical ways that can help us avoid and overcome temptation throughout this Lenten season.
First, pray to God. Pray for His grace to help through whatever is tempting. Ask for His mercy. God is with you and He loves you. He is not scandalized or discouraged by imperfection. Praying not only opens us to receiving God’s help, it will also bring us closer to God.
Second, take practical steps. For temptations that recur time and time again, finding concrete ways to overcome and avoid can be a huge help. Eating a banana split is no longer tempting when we’re no longer staring it right in the face. Take the banana split away. Walk away from the banana split. Find ways of avoiding the banana split. See it for what it really is: some semi-solidified cold milk with a random fruit and some gooey liquid that increases your chances for diabetes. This may seem extreme when speaking of dairy desserts, but it can come in handy.
Third, see with God’s perspective. See that you are a child of God. See that God wants you to be holy. “His patience is in the direction of our salvation” (2 Peter 3:9). See that your holiness is far more valuable than whatever appears attractive in your temptation. The value of gold increases when it is tested by fire, it does not diminish. Overcoming temptation makes us stronger not weaker. Temptation becomes a sin when use our will and say “yes.” Otherwise, we should simply do as Taylor Swift does and “Shake it off.” The fact that a thought enters our mind is not sin. Being attracted to something evil is not sin. Saying yes to this evil attraction is sin.
And even when we do sin, we are not without hope. We have a Saviour who has been tempted Himself. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16). May Jesus strengthen our resolve to be holy and bring us His mercy throughout this season of Lent. Especially when we are most in need, let us approach His throne of grace with boldness. The Lord is there to help us in the battle. He has already won the war.
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