Thursday, March 16, 2006


Quoting Scripture When Tempted

Lots of books and sermons advise us to follow Jesus’ example of resisting temptation by quoting Scripture. Many Bible teachers leave us hanging, or mislead us, about how this actually works.

1. Quoting the Bible to Satan is not like a magician’s magic words. The God-given resource against sin is not an abracadabra. It must be accompanied by some understanding of both temptation and God’s word.

2. Bible verses do not convince Satan of the truth and cause him to therefore stop tempting us. When Jesus said, “It is written” and gave a Biblical principle during his temptation (recorded in Matthew 4 and Luke 4), Satan did not respond, “Oh man, how could I have been so stupid. I see it now. Thanks for enlightening me. Never again will I ask anyone to confuse physical food with the greater need for spiritual nourishment.” Quoting the Bible is not a means of changing Satan’s mind. We need not argue with the temptation.

3. I have heard preachers say that God’s words are so contrary to Satan’s thinking that they actually hurt him when they are spoken. In the presence of such holy words, they say, he covers his singed ears and runs away. This explanation, along with the previous ones, is refuted by the fact that Eve in the garden of Eden quoted God’s words. Her quotation had none of the effects that Jesus’ quotations had.

By the way, I would make much less of her “addition” to what God told Adam (“neither can we touch it”) and of her “subtraction” (“freely”) than many commentators do. After all, Jesus added “only” to his quotation of Deuteronomy and made other adaptations to his own context.

Why did quoting God back to Satan work for Jesus and not for Eve? If we know the answer to this question, we will be more likely to find success when we do it.

When Jesus quoted Scripture, he made it clear not only that he saw the lie embedded in the truthful statements of the temptation, but that he rejected the lie and was committed to the truth of the Scripture he quoted. Jesus didn’t change Satan’s mind, but he persuaded Satan that his own mind was made up to follow the revealed will of his Father.

Eve, on the other hand, made it clear that she was open minded about the fruit. She wanted the lie to be true (if she even knew it was a lie). She wanted to make her own judgment about the subject. We get in trouble with sin when we fail to discern the lie and when we put God’s truth on an equal basis with other “evidence” to consider.

Quoting appropriate Bible verses when we are tempted is a key resource. But it is effective to the extent that we reject temptation’s lie and fully accept God’s corresponding truth.

Let’s read with our eyes open.

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