Temptation after Baptism #1
Baptism Message No. 4
Luke 4:1-4 (parallel Matthew 4:1-4)
Eric H.H. Chang
Montreal, April 1, 1979
After explaining the Holy Spirit and baptism last Sunday, it is appropriate to speak about temptation today. That is because right after the baptism of the Lord Jesus, the next thing that took place was the temptation of Jesus. So today I would like to expound to you, especially for those who have just been baptized, Luke 4:1-4, but we will read up to verse 5:
And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan (the river where Jesus was baptized) and was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing in those days; and when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” And the devil took him up, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. (RSV)
Jesus’ quotation of Scripture is seen, in extended form, in verse 4 of the parallel passage Matthew 4:1-4:
“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
Right from the start, I would like to say that I am going to study this passage in the light of Jesus’ suffering as expressed in the words of 1 Peter 2:21, “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” In this statement are some important spiritual lessons that we can learn and apply to our daily lives, especially for those who have been baptized.
You become a Christian when you receive God’s Holy Spirit
First, I would like to pick up where we left off last week, speaking about baptism and the Holy Spirit. We saw that a person becomes a Christian when he receives the Holy Spirit of God. Paul says in Romans 8:9, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to him.” In this verse, “the Spirit of God” is a parallel to “the Spirit of Christ.” The Spirit of Christ is the Spirit of God in Christ, just as “the spirit of Elijah” is the Spirit of Yahweh God in Elijah (2Kings 2:14-15).
Hence it is not religion as such that makes you a Christian. It is not going to church that makes you a Christian. It is not doing the things that Christians do, like being active in the CCF (Chinese Christian Fellowship), that makes you a Christian. It is not even believing all the right doctrines that makes you a Christian, though this is good and desirable. It is having the Holy Spirit in you that makes you a Christian.
When do we receive the Holy Spirit?
We immediately asked the question, When do you receive the Holy Spirit specifically as a pledge, as a seal, as an anointing? When do you receive the Holy Spirit in these specific senses? What is the answer from Scripture? We want the answer from the Bible and not from the opinions of people.
We have already seen that the Holy Spirit works in everyone’s heart, even the non-Christian’s heart. In that sense, the Holy Spirit is present with every person, even the non-Christian, for if the Holy Spirit does not work in the non-Christian’s heart, how will he ever become a Christian or come to be saved? Not unless he is able to save himself. The Bible never teaches that he can save himself and thereby gain the Holy Spirit.
So the key issue is not when the Holy Spirit first works in your heart and in your life, for in fact this could even happen since the time you were born! We have also seen that the Lord Jesus himself had the Holy Spirit before he was baptized, and at his baptism the Spirit came down upon him bodily as a dove, signifying his anointing with the Spirit and his being sealed with the Spirit. We also saw that prior to his baptism, Jesus had not yet been anointed with the Spirit or sealed with the Spirit in order to preach the gospel, to be the messenger of the good news, and to be the Savior of the world. So what did he do prior to his baptism? He lived at home. He worked as a carpenter, an honorable job. He functioned in a sort of private life until he was anointed for the task to which he had been called.
We receive the Holy Spirit at baptism
When does a person receive the Holy Spirit as an anointing, as a seal, as a pledge? As we pursue the Scriptural answer to this question, we will see that we receive the Holy Spirit at baptism. Maybe the answer surprised us, but it is certainly Scriptural to say that this is what happens when that baptism is accompanied by faith and repentance. Without faith, nothing is of value. In this case, baptism would be simply a ceremony that is no better than having a bath! But it is faith that makes the difference in baptism. It is when faith is present that the baptism becomes not only meaningful but vital.
I should point out that in my last message, I did not by any means exhaust all the New Testament material available when I was speaking about baptism and the Holy Spirit. We need to briefly look at more evidence on this point before we go on to speak about the temptation that comes after baptism.
For our first point, let us look at John 3:5, a well known passage in which the Lord Jesus says to Nicodemus:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
Notice the importance of water: born of water and the Spirit. I am stressing this particular point because the church has all but downplayed baptism into insignificance.
I knew a certain person at the Bible Institute in Scotland who had given up a very good career in banking to serve God. He had been a Christian for many years, and yet he had never been baptized. One day this dear German brother came to me and said, “You know, Eric, I am now preparing to serve God full-time, but I am not even baptized.”
I asked, “Why haven’t you been baptized?”
He said, “Because I don’t know what baptism means. I thought that it really doesn’t matter.” You see, this is the state of affairs in the church today. Here is a person who was preparing to serve God, yet had not been baptized, which means in Scriptural teaching that he had not been anointed to preach the gospel. He had not been sealed by the Spirit of God and had not received the pledge of the Spirit.
He was a fine person, a very loving brother, and we are still very close to this day. Today he is a pastor in the German state church, and he is still devoted to God, so loving and gracious. He was very close to me. In fact this German brother was probably my closest friend in the Bible Institute. He would come with me everywhere I went to preach because he had far fewer preaching assignments for one reason or other. And yet, whenever he preached, there was a noticeable lack of power. I only realized the reason for this when he said he had never been baptized.
I myself was rather ignorant about Scriptural teaching, so I said to him, “I don’t really know how to expound this to you. But I know one thing: the Lord Jesus commanded it and that is good enough for me even if I don’t understand it fully.” He thought about it and said, “Yes, that is good enough reason for me too!” So he got baptized.
Unless you are born of water and the Spirit, you will not enter the kingdom
Since then, as I studied the Word of God more and more, I have come to realize the importance of baptism: “Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5, KJV). Water alone is not enough, baptism alone is not enough, for it has to be “of water and the Spirit” or else “he cannot enter the kingdom of God”. These are Jesus’ words, not mine.
You may try to explain the word “water” away, and there are ingenious ways of doing this. For example, some have argued that water is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. But in this case, you would be born of the Holy Spirit and born of the Holy Spirit—twice! Presumably you may feel that it is not good enough to be born of the Holy Spirit twice, so you need to be born a third time! You can continue in your ingenuity and find a way around the word “water,” but why bother?
The answer is exceedingly simple. Right from the beginning, in Mark 1:8, John the Baptist says, “I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” And Jesus says in John 3:5 that we need to be born of water and the Spirit. In Acts 1:5, Jesus confirms the very thing that John the Baptist had said: “John baptized with water, but before many days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” You need both baptisms. Unless you are baptized with both, you cannot enter the kingdom of God. This point is seen very clearly in the Word of God.
I do not claim the slightest originality in what I have said about baptism and the Holy Spirit. New Testament scholarship is well aware of the important connection of baptism and the Spirit. In fact, recent New Testament scholarship has become even more aware of it. For example, you can look up the word “seal” or “anointing” in The Dictionary of New Testament Theology (ed. Colin Brown), the latest volume of which has just come out. See also James D.G. Dunn’s Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Every New Testament scholar is aware of the fact that baptism and the Holy Spirit are intricately connected.
In fact, if you didn’t listen to my message last week, you might have problems understanding the discussion in The New Testament Dictionary of Theology because it assumes the connection without explaining it. For example, the article “Sealed with the Spirit” simply keeps on mentioning baptism, and you may wonder what is the connection. But if you have listened to my message last week, you would understand the article quite well. New Testament scholars today are well aware of this connection. This goes back to a few years ago when Professor Lampe of Cambridge wrote a book called The Seal of the Spirit which connects the matter of the baptism and the Holy Spirit. So I don’t claim the slightest originality, and don’t wish to be original. I just want to explain to you what the Word of God says.
Today, unfortunately, many church leaders are not aware of the advance of New Testament scholarship in Scriptural teaching, so they think I am saying something unusual. There’s nothing unusual or even original about what I said. It is vitally important to know that unless you are born not only of the Spirit but also of water, you will not enter the kingdom of God.
Jesus cleanses us with the washing of water with faith in God’s Word
Let us look at another example of this in Ephesians 5:26 where baptism is referred to specifically. If this teaching were well understood in the church, I would not need to spend time to expound it. But since it is not well understood, we need to expound it. Ephesians 5:25-26 reads:
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word. (RSV)
Why did Jesus give himself up for the church? To sanctify her “by the washing of water with the word.” Here we see the word “water” again. As I have emphasized, it is not the water alone that matters. Paul brings out this point clearly: Jesus died for the very purpose of cleansing us and making us holy. How are we to be cleansed? With the water of repentance and with faith in the Word of God.
How then does Jesus cleanse us by the water with the Word? In baptism! Paul explains this very point that he had first learned when he first met with Jesus. In Acts 22 Paul gives his testimony of his encounter with Jesus; in fact he gives his testimony three times in Acts. In verse 22:16, Paul recounts what Ananias had said to him, “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” In this case, washing away one’s sins is accomplished in baptism and calling on the name of the Lord in faith. This serves to explain Ephesians 5:26, the verse we just quoted, which says that Jesus died in order that he might cleanse us “by the washing of water with the word.”
I think this matter is simple to understand, being nothing more than the plain teaching of Scripture. We receive the Holy Spirit at baptism (Acts 2:38) when we are cleansed from our sins. Paul—who was earlier called Saul—experienced this very thing in Acts 9:17-18 when he himself was baptized.
So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came, has sent me that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell off his eyes and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized.
Why did the Lord Jesus send Ananias? Two reasons: Firstly, that Saul may regain his sight after being blinded when Jesus appeared to him on the Damascus road; and, secondly, that he may be filled with the Holy Spirit. Saul was filled with the Spirit when Ananias laid his hands on him, and then Saul was immediately baptized. As we study the Scriptures, the importance of baptism and of understanding the connection of baptism and the Holy Spirit is clear.
Jesus preached the gospel after he had been anointed by the Holy Spirit in baptism
When was the Lord Jesus himself anointed? He was anointed in the River Jordan when he was baptized by John the Baptist; then the Holy Spirit descended upon him bodily. And what happened afterwards? The Lord Jesus went forth to preach the gospel.
Quoting Isaiah 61:1-2, Jesus says: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel” (Luke 4:18, KJV). It is only now that Jesus preaches the gospel, for it is now he has been anointed to preach the gospel. Before that he did not preach the gospel because he had not been anointed yet. I trust that this should be very clear now.
Temptation will come after baptism
We move on to the next point in Luke chapter 4. What happens after you have been baptized and your sins have been washed away as you commit yourself totally to God and the Lord Jesus Christ? After the baptism comes temptation. In the case of Jesus, the temptation did not come before but after his baptism.
While I was praying and talking with you before your baptism, many of you were well aware that being a Christian is no easy thing. I must remind you that soon after your baptism, the enemy will start putting pressure on you. This is the reason many Christians who have not been taught properly before they were baptized fall away soon after their baptism. This worries me and worries many pastors. Maybe that is one reason for downplaying the importance of baptism. But you cannot play around with God’s Word like this.
God allows temptation to learn obedience and grow strong
Right after Jesus had been baptized, he was “led” by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan (Lk.4:1).
God protects His people but not in the sense of preventing us from being exposed to problems and temptations. Why does God allow you to be tempted after baptism? There are many reasons, but above all that you may be strengthened and may learn obedience through suffering. You will have to learn this quickly because your profession of commitment to God is going to be tested. As I have said, if you don’t want to commit totally to God or to join in the spiritual warfare, or if you lack the courage of faith, don’t get baptized because baptism is not for cowards.
Do you remember that I had told you that? You are newly baptized and now you are already in spiritual warfare. This is no place in the Christian life for cowards, but neither is there any need for you to be afraid. I am not telling you this to scare you, no, not at all! It is only when your strength is put to the test that you realize how strong you are by God’s grace. It is through winning spiritual battles that you grow spiritually. God doesn’t want the church to be full of spiritual babies. How are you going to grow spiritually? Through spiritual conflict!
After baptism, Jesus was immediately led into the wilderness to be tempted, and to face the realities of spiritual conflict. But don’t be afraid and don’t tremble because you are going to discover—and this is the joy of knowing God—that the armies fighting on your side are much greater than the armies that fight on the enemy’s side.
I never cease to share with those in training the story of Elisha when he was surrounded by the Syrian armies (2Kings 6:15-18). Do you recall that in this story, Elisha had a disciple, often spoken of as his servant or apprentice? The servant saw the Syrian armies and said, “Alas, master, what shall we do? The Syrians will wipe us off!” He could not understand why Elisha was so calm and peaceful, walking around as if there were no threat or danger. His servant probably said something like: “I had better kneel and say my last prayer because the Syrians are everywhere.” Finally Elisha said, “O Yahweh, please open his eyes so that he may see that those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” God opened the servant’s eyes and he saw the vast spiritual armies which are far greater than the armies of the enemy.
How did Elisha know these spiritual realities? By studying the Bible diligently? By putting on special glasses that help you see spiritual things? No, for Elisha was a man of God. He had gone through intense spiritual warfare and temptation in the wilderness, yet he also knew from spiritual experience that God never lets down His own people. When you depend on Him, you will win every battle. It doesn’t mean that you will never get a scratch, but you will win all the same, scratch or no scratch.
So this is the second point I would like you to bear in mind, that after baptism comes temptation. Be spiritually and mentally ready for it when it comes. Likewise, be aware that after every spiritual blessing, the enemy will attack. Anyone who has been in spiritual warfare knows that. To me, it is second nature. Every time a blessing comes, I would say, “The attack is coming. Get ready for it.”
After every spiritual blessing comes an attack
I have shared with some of you that way back in 1960, we had an Easter conference in England, in a little place called Chislehurst in Kent. At that conference, the Spirit of God came down upon us with an enormous power that changed all our lives. Fifty of us were sitting in a room, and we experienced Pentecost!
As we gathered on the last day of the conference, the Spirit of God came down upon us with such power that there was not one person in the room who was not seized by the Spirit of God, not one who was not convicted to repentance, not one who was not filled with the Spirit. That was a revival! Immediately after the conference, our little church in London exploded in numbers! I know exactly what the Pentecostals seek, though many of them have not actually experienced what we, by God’s grace, were granted to experience in Chislehurst. And none of the fifty of us will ever forget this! Within a few weeks, our church was packed right through the doors. Suddenly everybody had heard that the Spirit of God had come into that church!
Immediately after that remarkable experience, I said to the brothers and sisters in the church, “We have been granted a signal blessing, and Satan is going to attack us. Watch for it!” We didn’t have long to wait. Within two weeks, the attack was on. Oh, yes! All who serve God, as did Elisha, would understand spiritual warfare very well.
Resist the devil and he will flee from you
In the Bible Institute in Scotland, every term we would set aside a day for prayer only. On one of these days of prayer, the presence of the Enemy—Satan—was so thick in the building that you would feel almost physically suffocated! It was an incredible experience. So, on the one hand, I have experienced the power and outpouring of the Spirit; yet on the other hand, I have also experienced the power and the presence of the Enemy who is quite capable of oppressing you physically. I know of people who have been attacked physically by the Evil One.
But remember what the apostle James says: “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Do not give him one inch of ground! You are a child of God. If you stand firm, there is absolutely nothing Satan can do to you. He will try to intimidate you, but there is nothing he can do to knock you out. Sometimes he might succeed in knocking you down, but not knock you out. He doesn’t have the power to do that because God won’t allow him. Paul says that “God will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able to bear” (1Cor.10:13). God cares for you. He may let you get your arms or your neck twisted a bit, since that is the way to learn spiritual warfare, but He won’t let you get destroyed. No! God does not intend that Christ will lay down his life to get you destroyed. Instead, God will watch over you as the apple of His eye. But bear in mind the reality of spiritual warfare.
Understand Satan’s attacks in order to anticipate them
This takes us to the next point: the nature of Satan’s attack. How does Satan attack us? We talk a lot about temptation, but do we really understand its nature? How does Satan attack us? It is very important to understand the nature of his attacks so that you will know how to ward them off.
If you want to go deep into boxing, does it matter whether you learn boxing or not? You already know how to clench your fist and hit back if somebody punches you. You don’t need boxing lessons or judo lessons to learn how to punch a guy. So what do you learn in boxing school? Or karate school or judo school? The whole point of the training is to learn how to anticipate what your opponent is going to do when he puts himself into a certain position. Then you are ready for it, because you have been trained to anticipate moves. But if you are not trained, you wouldn’t know your opponent’s next move. Your opponent has the skills and the training, and he knows what he is going to do. But you don’t know his next move, and that is how he gets you.
So it is crucial to know not only that you will be tempted but how you will be tempted. How does it benefit you to know you are going to be hit unless you know where your opponent will strike, so that you can defend yourself? If I know how Satan will strike, I will know how to ward him off.
Satan tempts you to exercise your God-given authority in the wrong way
What tactic does Satan use? In Luke 4:3, he says to Jesus, “If you are God’s Son …” Now, Satan is not so foolish as to not know that Jesus is God’s Son. The words could be better translated, “Since you are God’s Son,” from which Satan comes up with a proposal to Jesus. Satan’s point is: “Since you are God’s Son, you can do certain things.” This applies directly to us precisely because we too are God’s children.
Jesus did not go through temptation due to any personal need for temptation. God allowed all these things to happen to him in order to give us an example that we may follow in his steps. The example applies to us because we are also God’s children.
You would recall that one aspect of the anointing is that God gives you a certain authority. When a king is anointed, he receives authority from God to reign. When a priest is anointed, he receives authority to minister at the temple and the altar. And a prophet is anointed to preach God’s words with power from God.
When you were anointed—and received the gift of the Holy Spirit at baptism—what did you get? Well, among other things, the authority to become a child of God. That is what John says in John 1:12, “As many as believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” In the Greek, the word “right” means “authority”. You have been given the right to become children of God. You can exercise that right.
Now, there is a right way of exercising your anointing and there is a wrong way. The whole point of Satan’s temptation is to get you to exercise it in the wrong way. Understand that very carefully.
First temptation: Use one’s spiritual standing to put the material over the spiritual
What then is the wrong way of exercising that authority? Satan goes on to say to Jesus, “Command this stone to become bread.” You can almost picture Satan pointing to a stone and saying, “Command this stone to become bread.” Satan is very specific. In this case he appeals to the eye, saying, “You are hungry. Here is a stone. Command it to become bread.” If his temptation were vague, it would be a bit hard to entice us. But he knows the exact way to approach you. He appeals to your eye, or to your stomach. That is the whole point of temptation. What is the first temptation that Jesus faced? To use your new spiritual status as a child of God to your material advantage, to use your new spiritual power of anointing to obtain a material benefit to meet a legitimate need.
That is a very serious temptation, for it makes the flesh dominate the spirit, such that the flesh becomes the main motivation in whatever you do. lf you fall for that temptation, you are back into the world where you used to be. You are under sin again, and have come back under the control of the flesh. That is Satan’s subtle temptation, to let the flesh determine your actions!
Your needs may indeed be legitimate
But it is more subtle than that! Notice that the temptation appeals to a legitimate physical need. There is nothing sinful about being hungry or about meeting that hunger. But the enticement goes further: “You are in the wilderness and you don’t expect to find a bakery at the next corner. Nobody is going to come by with a basket on his shoulder and sell you bread. How are you going to get the bread to meet your hunger, a legitimate need? Well, since you are the Son of God, turn this stone into bread!” Notice that Satan is working on a very legitimate line. The temptation is not obvious, and this is what makes it dangerous. The temptation is dangerous because it is not an appeal to do something obviously evil. It is to use something that is not bad in itself to slowly draw your spiritual life into the control of your physical desires and needs.
What about your career?
We are living in the 21st century, so why not put your career above serving God? After all, everybody needs to have a career. We all need to make a living. So let your career come first. Let the considerations of your material well-being decide your spiritual walk.
I cannot count how many Christians have fallen for that temptation and have, as a result, come under the flesh. I can say to you honestly that I myself have been tempted many times along those lines. I have said to myself just as you have said to yourself, “I can get a good job and serve God too.” If you can do it, why can’t I? What is the difference between you and me? Has someone dragged me out and put a stamp on me—“Preacher of the gospel”—to indicate that I am not allowed to do anything else? What prevents me from taking a good job? I see my friends getting a good monthly salary, twice my salary, or three times my salary. I could say to myself, “What am I doing? I must be the only crazy guy around here!” Then they would say, “You see, you are dedicated to God.” But why can’t they be dedicated? Why should I be dedicated? Is it written in the Bible, “Eric Chang is only allowed to preach the gospel”? I don’t see this anywhere, and I was trained in other things. This is precisely where Satan begins to get at you.
When I was in England, I encountered this temptation again in the form of a university teaching job which is exactly in line with my training. I thought to myself, “Why not be a university lecturer, and I can serve God at the same time? Is there any human reason against it? No, for it is the most sensible thing to do. In fact I am a better preacher than the preacher in the church. He is paid a salary, so he is a financial burden to the church but I am not a burden to the church.”
Brothers and sisters, you are not a financial burden to the church. Only I am. So you are better than me in this respect. Why shouldn’t I go get a job too? I can get a job, and sometimes come to church to preach.
When I saw that advertisement in a journal, I discussed it with Helen my wife. I said to her, “What about me taking this job in Edinburgh? They have opened a new department there.” I knew there were not many people in this particular line in England. My chances of getting this job were quite good. So I thought to myself, “I will write to the University of Edinburgh and apply for the job.” But do you know what? Before I could even hold my pen, the convicting of the Holy Spirit came, saying, “Eric, what are you doing?”
I said, “Well, it is like this.”
“I guess it is like … the flesh dominating the spirit.”
I just could not fill out the form.
A kind, well-meaning friend sent me a pile of application forms from Hong Kong University. He said, “There is a job for you in Hong Kong!” And do you know what I had to do? Drop them in the garbage bin! I could not proceed because I knew that Satan was again tempting me to put my legitimate needs first. Remember “legitimate”! I would not have committed any sin in meeting my physical or material needs, but I would be committing sin in putting these needs above God’s ministry.
Serve God by knowing what He wants for you
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that a person who is not preaching the gospel is materialistic. That is not the point. I have said elsewhere that serving God is a matter of a gift. You may very much want to serve God, but that is not your gift. Or not your time. For me, my gift and my time had arrived, so there was no way to get out of it without sinning in some way, that is, letting the flesh dominate the spirit. Your time and your gift may not have arrived yet. It may come one of these days, or it may never. It may be that you are meant to stay where you are. Even though you may tell God that you are willing to serve Him, He may say, “I know you are willing to serve Me, but just stay where you are right now.” So what I am saying is not meant to be a criticism of any person. I am not here to judge any man. My task is to expound a principle of temptation.
The principle of temptation is to tempt you to put the material above the spiritual, and to use your spiritual standing to achieve just that. That could happen if I preach the gospel in order to make a good living for myself.
I receive all kinds of Christian magazines and journals, and I recently received one which says, “Pastor Required”. I looked at the salary and said, “Hey! I could do with that salary! And I would still be serving God. What am I doing in Montreal when this other church needs a pastor, and is willing to pay more than double what I am getting now?” Well, do you have any objection to my applying for this pastorate? Would I be committing sin? After all, they want a pastor with such and such experience. I think I can meet their experience requirements. I stand a good chance to be hired. So why didn’t I send in my application? Because I know that God’s task for me is here at the moment, not because it is wrong for me to get double the salary, or to go to a better climate. Winter in Montreal is very long; those of you returning to Hong Kong are fortunate. Every winter here is another six months of snow! Let us go down to Florida or at least Hong Kong!
How to overcome Satan’s temptation?
Be filled with God’s Holy Spirit in order to do His will
We must not allow our physical and material desires to control our spiritual life, or use our spiritual standing to gain material benefit. We can do that quite easily, which is what makes the temptation potent. I hope you will grasp this principle because Satan is going to tempt you along those lines from time to time. And it is going to be a struggle every time until you can honestly say, “God, I will do whatever You want me to do.”
When you graduate this year, should you do a Master’s or a doctorate? Is there anything inherently wrong with doing a Ph.D.? Of course not. So you will get a Ph.D., right? Whether the answer is “yes” or “no” depends on your relationship to God.
I ask those who have been baptized to remember their pledge to God to be totally committed. What does it mean? That means to honestly say to God, “God, I will do whatever You want me to do. If You want me to do the Ph.D., I will do it. If You don’t want me to do it, then God please grant that my material and worldly ambitions will never be allowed to dominate my spiritual life. The decision is Yours, not mine.” Do you see what I mean?
Now God may lead you to do a Master’s or a Ph.D. Never think that doing a Ph.D. is less spiritual than preaching the gospel, or that God will not let you do a Ph.D. It might not yet be your time to preach the gospel, so He leads you to do a Ph.D. That is possible. God may have His own reasons for you to have this particular qualification. With some of us, the reverse is true.
I have always been willing to let God do whatever He wanted with me. I was willing to have a degree or no degree. Either way, it did not matter to me in the slightest. Is a degree worldly or not? It could be worldly or it might not be. It depends on what God wills. It was God’s will to send me to university even though I did not pursue it. God is my witness that I did not pursue it for one moment. I said, “God, if You don’t want me to study at university, I would be happy to stay out of it.” But God said ‘”Go!” and so I went.
At university, I was quite happy not to graduate with a degree. It meant nothing to me. Just two months before I was due to graduate, I was preaching the gospel at a conference when I should have been studying for my first class honors, which my professor very much expected me to get. But what was I doing? I was preaching the gospel because I had been invited to preach, and I had to make a choice: Shall I preach the gospel, or shall I study for my exams and get my first class honors? If I let my worldly ambitions dominate, I would of course go for first class honors and say, “I will preach at your conference next year, not this year. My finals are coming up!” I was caught between the two, so what should I do? I had to decide between the spiritual needs of the people and my own academic success. I chose to preach the gospel and ended up with second class honors, not first class honors. But it made no difference to me because I wanted to do God’s will. I didn’t care about getting the honors.
After I graduated, I was thinking, “I don’t know what God wants me to do. Maybe I should do a doctorate.” So I applied to Switzerland for doctoral studies and I was accepted there. That was when the Lord said “No”.
But I said, “But Lord, the doctorate will be good for You, for I will be Dr. Eric Chang! When I preach the gospel, I will be introduced as Dr. Chang whereas now I am only Mr. Chang.” I was so ambitious that I wrote my thesis even before I got there, some 330 or 340 pages long. It means that I was doing my doctorate as an undergraduate in my spare time! In fact a few years later, another person did a doctorate on the exact same subject as my thesis. I could have said to him, “Just take my thesis and get the doctorate. It will save you three years of work.”
After I was accepted at Zurich, God said, “No, you stop here.” It was a struggle for me because my flesh, my personal ambition, wanted me to go on! But God said, “No.” So I submitted to His will.
I say to those of you who are baptized: God may lead you to do a Master’s or a doctorate, or He might not. Are you willing to let Him decide? If you are totally committed, you will do His will. If one of these days, God says to me, “I want you to do this doctorate,” I will be off, and you won’t see me here. I will pick up my thesis from the shelf, blow off the dust, and go to the university: “Here is my doctoral thesis. Hang a degree around me!”
But God knows each one of us, and knows how to deal with us. You will fall for Satan’s temptation if you don’t follow God’s way, but allow your personal, material, secular, worldly, and fleshly desire to get the better of you. This is how Satan is going to attack you. This is the message of today’s passage.
Obedience brings God’s power into your life
How then do we deal with this? I have given you part of the answer. Just tell God: “God, I desire nothing but Your will.” But if you go contrary to God’s will, if I had gone for a doctorate contrary to His will, do you know what would have happened to me? I would have been finished! God would never look at me again! When God puts you aside, you are finished. You can have five doctorates yet be useless to God. I know lots of people with doctorates and God doesn’t even look at them. They are absolutely useless to God, and I am not exaggerating. I know people with doctorates who are preaching in near-empty churches. I have been to one church where the preacher has a doctorate, and there were only three people in the congregation because he had no spiritual power. The moment your power is gone, you are finished no matter how many doctorates you have.
You might not have a doctorate, or a degree, or a high school education, or even a primary school education, but if you have the Spirit of God, the world will shake! D.L. Moody did not even have primary school education, yet when he went forth to preach the Word of God, the people broke down. The Spirit of God moved in every heart. People were convicted of sin. They fell on their faces before God. You don’t need a doctorate to preach the gospel, believe me. The Lord Jesus chose a group of uneducated fishermen and with them he shook the world.
Disobedience robs you of God’s presence in your life
If you want to serve God, the only thing that matters as a disciple is that God is in your life. Do not envy those who are “Pastor so and so” with multiple degrees behind their names. It’s meaningless. Have nothing to do with it! Look for the power of the Spirit. That is what I look for. That is what I desire.
If I had disobeyed God and gone ahead with a doctorate, I would have a “D.Th.” behind my name, and God would have put me on the shelf for the rest of my life, and I would be finished and wiped out! What am I going to do with a “D.Th.” when God has no more time for me? I would be down the drain! Understand that the cost of disobedience is incalculable! The cost of obedience is high, but the cost of disobedience is incalculable. You cannot afford the luxury of disobedience.
Fast to bring your body under control
The next thing to notice in the battle against temptation is that Jesus fasted in the wilderness. In our mediocre Christianity today, people have no use for fasting or spiritual self-discipline. We have a church full of woolly people who come “only for the beer,” as they say in England. They are here only for what they can get out of it. There is no self-discipline, no spiritual determination, no spiritual drive.
What did the Lord Jesus do to deal with the temptation? He was tempted over a period of forty days and He fasted during those forty days. If you don’t understand the meaning of fasting, you may think that it is to intensify the temptation, thereby giving Satan an easier time in tempting him. When I was a young Christian, that was exactly what I thought: “How strange! Why is the Lord Jesus weakening himself through fasting, giving Satan an advantage? If Jesus is weak and hungry, how can he stand up to Satan? Satan will have a field day with him.” But Jesus was not fasting in order to give Satan a better means of attacking him. That would be ridiculous. The Christian life is hard enough without making it more difficult. The whole meaning of fasting is in fact to make Satan’s temptations less effective.
You would understand this if you had understood my previous point. Satan attacks you through your flesh. So how do you deal with temptation? You bring the flesh under control. That is what fasting is all about. To put it very simply, fasting brings the flesh under control. Once you learn to control the flesh through fasting, Satan’s attack will be greatly reduced because you will have disciplined the flesh. The undisciplined flesh is the surest weapon in Satan’s hands to knock out one Christian after another. Satan uses your flesh to get you, but the spiritual man disciplines the flesh. Paul says in 1Cor.9:27 that he gives himself black eyes to bring his flesh under control.
Learn to fast for one day at first
Learn to fast! It won’t kill you. Don’t worry, you won’t die. On the contrary, you will live and live better. It is tragic to see the lack of spiritual self-discipline today. I wonder how many have ever fasted. I have touched on this subject at conferences and also in this church from time to time. Learn to bring your flesh under control. That was what the Lord Jesus did.
Of course, I advise caution. I don’t mean that you should fast for forty days. I don’t want to lose you! The Lord Jesus did not eat for forty days (Luke 4:2), but it doesn’t not say that he didn’t not drink for forty days. That point is very important and practical. When you fast, you normally drink water. And the other thing I would like to mention is: don’t try to fast for forty days, at least not right now.
Start with one day. If you cannot manage one day, skip one meal. I am sure that by supper time, you will feel that you are starving to death. But you will survive, don’t worry. Then try fasting for one day, and I am sure that by night time you will feel that you cannot survive to next morning! Your arms and knees will feel weak, but don’t worry, you won’t die. You will be fine by next morning. But I would not advise you to fast too long to begin with.
Jesus fasted forty days because he was a man trained to fast. The Son of God knew what it is to discipline the flesh. That was why he could fight the spiritual warfare against Satan so effectively. He was tempted throughout the forty days (Lk.4:2; Mk.1:13). Throughout the forty days of temptation, He fasted, shutting off his flesh from the attacks of the enemy, thus greatly reducing Satan’s power against him. The man of God is hard to attack because he has his flesh under control.
I hope those in training have been learning something about fasting. They have learned to fast for a few days occasionally, learning to put the flesh under control. Gradually as time goes on, you can extend the period. But be realistic. Don’t set an unrealistic objective for yourself and then cannot keep it. You may say, “I am going to fast one week,” but by the second day you already feel you are about to die. You feel you cannot continue with five more days to go. So be realistic. In the beginning, don’t try the impossible. Don’t run before you can walk. A day will be enough to start with.
Fasting benefits spiritually and physically
Of course, don’t fast if your health is poor. I don’t want to have problems with the doctors. But my health is not that good and fasting has not done me any harm. In fact it does me a lot of good.
As I said, fasting is a subject that is not understood in our woolly, weak, and undisciplined church today. We don’t have an army of Christians. All we have in the church are tourists who come to look at the scenery. They have not come to join the spiritual war. We need more people with spiritual discipline!
There are one or two recent books on fasting, including Arthur Wallis’s God’s Chosen Fast that you may have seen in bookstores. That is about all that I can find. There are very few such books in our woolly, sloppy western churches. In the west we know nothing about spiritual self-discipline.
Don’t think that fasting is dangerous. It does you no harm at all. In fact it does you a lot of good by purifying your system. Recently, a medical doctor has written a book with the title or subtitle The Best Diet Is No Diet (I don’t remember the exact title). Another nutritionist, Paul Bragg, wrote a good book which I’ve read called The Miracle of Fasting. He is not a Christian, and is not suggesting that fasting is good for your soul. He is saying that fasting is good for your body. It purifies your body. You feel healthier and stronger.
I have noticed that after fasting a few days, my mind becomes incredibly clear. It is a strange experience! Your thinking seems to function faster than usual, and intellectually you see things a lot faster. I guess the brain becomes dull when the system is clogged with cholesterol and sugars and the like. You cannot think clearly anymore. It is remarkable what fasting does even for your intellectual powers, assuming that you can survive a few days. It will not hurt you. Just drink lots of water.
But I am not concerned about the physical benefits of fasting. I am concerned with what Paul speaks of as bringing the flesh under control. If you want to run a race like an athlete, what does an athlete do? He disciplines his body. That is what 1Cor.9:24-27 is speaking of. I have dealt with this passage on one or two occasions, but I am mentioning it again for the benefit of those who have been baptized.
Feed constantly on God’s Word
We come to our final point which is found in verse 4 of our present passage (Luke 4:1-4), where Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3 to answer Satan from the Word of God. In the parallel verse in Matthew 4:4, Jesus says:
“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Mt.4:4)
This is a very important passage but I don’t have time to expound it fully today. I will only touch on a few points.
You depend on God’s Word to live spiritually
The first point is this: Just as your body depends on physical food to live, so your spiritual life depends on God’s Word to live. You are not just a body, you are also a spirit. If you prefer the word “soul,” you can use it too. “Spirit” is more Scriptural, and I have expounded the meaning of “spirit” at one of the communion services. Just as you live physically by eating physical food, so you live spiritually by eating food which is the Word of God.
You must eat God’s Word to live and grow
Secondly, in order to live, it is not enough to just be born. If you are to continue living and growing, you need to eat. It means that it is not enough just to be “born again” in the spiritual life. Preachers today often speak of being born again as though it is the end of the matter, that once you are born again, you are going to be alright forever thereafter. Not at all! A baby needs food to grow. What will happen if you don’t eat? You will die. You may have been born physically, but you are going to die if you don’t eat. This is the same with being born again. It is wonderful to be born spiritually, but if you are going to survive, you will have to eat and feed on God’s Word. If you don’t feed on God’s Word, you will die. The apostle Peter says, “Like newborn babes, long for the pure spiritual milk” (1Pet.2:2). That milk is the Word of God! That is the means of living and growing.
Do God’s Word
What does it mean to feed on God’s Word? We tend to be intellectuals, and I have to warn you that feeding on God’s Word does not mean just reading it. All too often, feeding on God’s Word is understood as merely reading the Bible. That is only part of it. Feeding upon God’s Word means doing it, not just reading it. You don’t live spiritually unless you live according to God’s Word. You may read the Bible, but Satan also reads the Bible. He also knows the Bible, so why doesn’t he live? Because he doesn’t do it. Feeding on God’s Word is not just understanding it or knowing it, but to live it!
I say to all of you who have been baptized: conform your life to what is taught in God’s Word. That is more important than looking at commentaries. When you read a Bible passage, ask yourself, “How does my life conform to this? How do I apply it into my life?” When you do that, you are living by God’s Word. You are feeding on His Word. So read the Bible every day. It does not matter how many chapters you read. That is not the point. Many people are concerned about reading many chapters. I would rather that you read three sentences and live by them. What is the use of reading three chapters and not seeing what it has to do with your daily life? It is better to read three sentences and apply them into your life straightaway. Then you are feeding on it.
There will be temptation after baptism. God allows us to be tested, but not more than we can bear, so that we will learn obedience through suffering, and grow strong through spiritual conflict.
In the first type of temptation, Satan tempts you to use your spiritual status as a child of God to your material advantage; it is to use your new spiritual anointing to gain material benefit to meet a legitimate need.
How then shall we confront the temptation? First, by being filled with the Holy Spirit. Remember these words:
And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil. (Luke 4:1-2a)
We do not fight the spiritual warfare in our own strength. We are granted the Holy Spirit to overcome temptation.
The second thing is to bring your body under control. Fasting is a very useful means to that end. It is not the only means but a useful one. You can jogging or exercising. Exercising is a way of disciplining your body. Do you let yourself get sloppy? Jog! Cycle! Run! Do some light weightlifting if you like. Whatever it is, get your body under control. The athlete controls his body. But fast wisely and moderately to bring the body under control.
Finally, feed constantly on God’s Word. Apply it in your life. Then you will know His power in your life.
(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church