Debating with the Devil
Reasoning with Satan betrays an open posture toward following his schemes and designs. Jesus admits no discussion, but declines the temptation with a decisive appeal to Scripture. By this, Jesus intimates that God has spoken, so that nothing more needs to be said. This is a closed posture toward temptation—the only godly posture toward sin that we can take.
When we compare the temptation of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 against Jesus’ temptation in Matthew 4, we discover a number of fascinating contrasts. I have written about some of them here:
Beyond these, we should also notice that Jesus’ manner of responding is just as important as the content. Unlike Eve, Jesus does not enter into a dialogue with Satan, debating and reasoning with him about the boundaries and limitations of obedience. In Satan’s debate with Eve, the point of contention almost seems to revolve around the question, “How much could I do before sinning?” (Gen. 3:1–5).
In stark contrast with this, Jesus utters hardly anything in his own temptation beyond the words of the Bible: “It is written….Again it is written….Be gone, Satan! For it is written….” (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10). The only time Jesus adds new words to the Scriptures, he directly commands Satan to leave his presence.
What should we learn from our Savior’s posture toward temptation?
The Danger of Entering into Temptation
First, we should discern from this just how dangerous temptation is. The Puritan John Owen (1616–1683) has an invaluable treatise about this subject, called Of Temptation: The Nature and Power of It. In it, he gives an incisive definition of what it means to “fall into temptation” (1 Tim. 6:9).
While Owen observes that all of us (Jesus included) must be tempted, he carefully shows that it is a different thing to enter into temptation. Jesus warns us explicitly about the dangers of entering into temptation twice: (1) when he teaches us to pray that God might “lead us not into temptation” (Matt. 6:13), and (2) when he urges us to “watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Matt. 26:41).
Owen writes this:
When we suffer a temptation to enter into us, then we “enter into temptation.” While it knocks at the door we are at liberty; but when any temptation comes in and parleys [“discusses (especially with an enemy)”] with the heart, reasons with the mind, entices and allures the affections, be it a long or a short time, do it thus insensibly and imperceptibly, or do the soul take notice of it, we “enter into temptation.”1