Mark’s Gospel tells us that after Jesus was baptized, “Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan” (Mark 1:12–13). The church has patterned the season of Lent after this event in the life of Jesus, with 40 days of focus on all that Jesus endured to achieve our salvation from sin and death.
One of the main themes of the season of Lent is a renewed call to repent of sin, to turn away from doing wrong and to turn to God for His loving help.
If we are going to fight sin in our lives, it’s important to understand where it comes from. Mark’s Gospel says that Jesus’ temptation came from Satan, the great spiritual enemy of God and humanity. James in his letter makes clear, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone” (James 1:13). God wants only good for us, so the commandments He gives us are not given because He wants to control us, but because He wants to point us to the way to live that will be the best for us and for others.
But it’s not completely accurate to put all the blame for our sin on Satan. Saying that “The devil made me do it” is not a valid excuse before God. Satan all too often finds a willing partner in us when he whispers his temptations in our ears. As James explains, “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” (James 1:14–15). All of us are born with a sinful nature, with desires to do things that are against God’s commands, and with desires to take things that God has not given us. Temptation inflames those sinful desires, leading us into sinful actions. And because of those sinful actions, we all deserve to die as punishment for failing to live up to God’s standards.
Because we all sin (Romans 3:23), we all deserve death (Romans 6:23a), but “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23b). It was part of God’s good plan to save us from sin that Jesus should be tempted by Satan. “For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus knows what is like to be tempted, so He can help us when we are tempted. He can help us see through the devil’s tricks and distortions by helping us hold onto the truth God reveals to us in the Bible. He can also share His own strength with us to stand against the devil’s schemes.
But even more than helping us when temptations come our way, Jesus is able to help us for all those times we’ve given in to temptation. He is able to forgive our sin. “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7). Jesus’ prayer as He hung on the cross was really for all of us: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).
May Jesus’ victory over sin and temptation be yours as you trust in Him to save you this Lenten season and always.