Have you ever been in a situation where you thought everything was fine—until something shocks you to reality? Maybe you’re talking to the attractive barista at Starbucks and then your spouse walks in. Maybe you’re talking to your coworker and realize your conversation is getting way too personal. How do you react when that happens, when you realize you were caught in the trap of temptation? How do you explain what’s going on in your mind? You’ve not sinned, but you feel like you’ve failed a test.
You know that the Bible says that “we do not have a high priest”—Jesus—”who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15), but sometimes you wonder, has He really been tempted in every way that I have? Jesus didn’t have the same kind of unbridled sexual imagery being forced upon Him day in and day out, for example. Yet, Hebrews says he “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” That’s why in Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ, Russell Moore examines Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness and why His triumph means we can overcome temptation, too.
Moore is one of the kinds of writers I have a love/hate relationship with. He seems so comfortable telling a story that it, frankly, makes me a little jealous. What makes it worse for me is the wallop that his illustrations pack (even when you know exactly where they’re going). The opening illustration in chapter one is a perfect example. As he relates the tale of him chatting with the clerk at a hotel and kind of getting lost in it for a minute. Until his son snaps him back into reality that is. What makes the illustration work so well is how honestly Moore is able to convey his emotions regarding the event. Even though he’d not committed any sin, just the fact that he’d been so lost in those moments scared him:
I was scared not by what actually happened but by a glimpse into what could have happened. What if I hand’t been on a road trip with my family but on a business trip alone, as I often am? What if she’d been interested in me? For a moment, just a moment, I’d forgotten who I was, who I am. Husband. Pastor. Son. Christian. Daddy. I was struck by the thought, It starts like this, doesn’t it? (p. 17)
Temptation is subtle. It’s sneaky. That’s why it’s so devastating if we’re not prepared to deal with it. We overestimate it or underestimate it, forgetting that we’re experiencing temptation right now even if it doesn’t seem like it. For example, as I’ve been attempting to write this review, I’ve been constantly tempted (and given in more than I’d care to admit) to distraction. I’ve opened and closed Twitter and Facebook multiple times, gone and read a post on fire drill mishaps that my wife thought was funny (and she was right), and checked my email even as I wrote this sentence. Why? Because that’s easier than writing this book review.
Moore reminds readers that the Bible describes temptation in multiple ways. It describes the relationship between the tempter and tempted as being like predator and prey (see Gen. 4:7 for example), but also as a rancher and livestock. “You are not just being tracked down—you are also being cultivated,” Moore writes. “The path of temptation is gradual and intelligent, not as sudden and random as it seems” (p. 27). This is why we need Jesus to help us overcome temptation.
When Jesus was baptized, Moore explains that it was not only the inauguration of Jesus’ kingship, but also a declaration of war against the devil—and they would do battle in the desert. There, Jesus faced three temptations, which first and foremost questioned Christ’s identity. “If you are the Son of God,” the serpent says (Matt. 4:3). Every temptation that Jesus faced—turning stones to bread, jumping from the top of the Temple and accepting authority over all of creation without submitting Himself to death on the cross—touched on His identity. The same is true for us. Our problem in temptation is not that we do not have the ability to overcome them, it’s that we forget who we are. This leads to a confusion of desires, which leads to our stumbling and falling.
Devoting three chapters to the temptations Jesus faced, Moore describes gets to the heart of what Hebrews 4:15. When Jesus was tempted to sin by turning stones into bread, it was really a temptation to give into His appetite. This is perhaps the most obvious temptation we see all around us every day. I can’t take more than a few steps into the mall, for example, before I’m confronted by larger than life images of women in their underwear. I can’t go to one of my favorite restaurants without having to deal with the waitresses wearing t-shirts as dresses (fortunately there have been enough complaints from patrons that these poor girls are starting to wear clothes again). This is the temptation to indulge the sexual appetite, even if it’s just in the mind. And it’s deadly. But worse for me is my enjoyment of food stuffs, particularly baked goods. I’ve also got a wicked sweet tooth. And my mother owns a bakery. My personality type is also one that, when I’m in the grip of stress, tends to run to sensual pleasures (like food) to feel better. This is not a good combination, as you can imagine.
To defeat this temptation to lose control over our appetites requires not only discipline, but embracing the gratitude which fuels our self-control. “Man shall not live by bread alone,” said Jesus, “but by every every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Regular cycles of fasting and prayer, says Moore, reminds us of God’s sovereignty and goodness. It helps us to recognize the blessings that He provides every day that we so often take for granted.
The second temptation, that of throwing Himself off the top of the Temple, is, according to Moore, about self-vindication. Through this action, Jesus would have revealed Himself as the Messiah He said He was—and no one would have been able to question Him. After all, they would have seen angels catch Him. But, Moore writes, Jesus knew “that self-directed vindication is no vindication at all” (p. 118). Think about how you react in an argument? Do you do all you can to win (I know I tend to) or do you get to a point where you just have to say, “I’m not going to continue with this”? What about when your reputation is being attacked? Or when peers mock you for your faith? What do you do? Is it better to with the argument than to allow God to vindicate you in the end?
The third temptation boils down to one thing: Pride. The devil wanted Jesus to worship him—and in exchange, he was willing to give Jesus what was already His. That is, if He went to the cross.
This would have been so much easier, wouldn’t it? Yet it’s the same with us today. We know that the best thing to do is to be ethical in how we work, but if we’re willing to look the other way on one or two things, we can get the promotion. We know the book’s got a lot of bad theology, but we can make a lot of money selling it. No doubt you can think of any number of examples. The heart of this temptation is seeing ourselves magnified now rather than glorified when Christ returns. This is perhaps the one that I’m most watchful for in my own life. I’ve had a couple of things happen recently that have made me start feeling really good about myself, and I’m a bit uncomfortable because of it; because I know how prideful I can be (especially when I’m trying to be humble), I must be vigilant. “The self-exalting ego cannot enter the reign of God, no matter how powerful it seems right now, no matter how normal it seems in the present. Narcissism is satanism. Self-exaltation is devil worship. Satan’s power will only stand for a flash of time, and that time is growing shorter (Rev. 12:12),” writes Moore.
So what do we do? Moore’s explains well that there is no temptation that the Bible doesn’t address; indeed, every temptation we face is a “personality-specific variation of those universally common entry points for sin, the places where our Lord Jesus was tempted in the desert” (p. 177). His application, although somewhat brief, allows us a great deal of room to develop equally personality-specific solutions. Essentially, what Moore says is that we must take our desires seriously—as seriously as Scripture does. ”Just don’t do it” might work for a while, but eventually it’s going to let you down. Therefore, we need to seek wisdom, maturity and self-control in order to discipline our desires, to conform them to Christ’s. But even in that, we have to remember: The struggle is never going to end, at least not while we still draw breath. Every day, we will face temptation, until the day Jesus returns. But as we cling to Christ, as we wait for the day that He finally comes again to crush the serpents head once and for all, we find the strength to persevere.
Tempted and Tried is one of the hardest books you’re going to read this year. It will force you to confront your temptations. It will cause you to dig into how react. But it will also give you great hope as you remember that there is no temptation that Christ has not overcome, and in that you can rejoice as you continue the battle.
Title: Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ
Author: Russell D. Moore
Publisher: Crossway (2011)
A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes by the publisher