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The Benefits of Temptation :: Book Introduction

Updated: Feb 18, 2023

If we are to benefit from the story of Jesus’ temptations, we need to start in the beginning. Or, to be more specific, just before the beginning.


Imagine a movie opens with an aerial shot of a massive, endless desert landscape. And as the camera gradually zooms in, we see a solitary man, carrying nothing, walking resolutely into the wide-open wilderness. Then the camera angle changes to a close-up side view of the man’s ankles. We watch his feet sink into the sand as he takes step after step. We can hear him breathing. And we notice a surprising contrast to the dusty desert surroundings: as the man walks, he leaves wet footprints. As the camera slowly pulls away, we realize this man is Jesus, heading into battle with the devil, the waters of baptism still dripping from his body.

The wisdom invested in the formation of the Church calendar is revealed in the placement of the season of Epiphany, when Christ’s identity is clearly revealed, directly before the season of Lent, when Christ’s identity is severely tested. This arrangement accurately reflects the critical connection between two scenes which, in modern preaching, are often treated as unrelated.

Immediately preceding one of the most significant scenes in Jesus’ life: the forty days of temptation in the desert, is an even more significant scene: his baptism in the Jordan River. All three biblical accounts of these stories, in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, have Jesus stepping out of the Jordan River and walking immediately into the desert.


To decouple these scenes is a mistake. It’s an understandable one, since the questions prompted by both Jesus’ baptism and by his forty days of temptation are many. Each of these massively significant scenes contains more theological content than can be addressed in many weeks of thirty-minute sermons. It’s easy to see how we’ve allowed the two stories to stand alone. However, we miss a major point of the story of Jesus’ temptations if we unhinge it from the immediately preceding account of his baptism.

In this little book we’ll explore the three specific temptations of Christ because there is so much to discover from this forty-day period of Jesus’ story.


We’ll consider deception, which we experience in varying degrees just about every day of our lives, though we rarely recognize it in the moment. We’ll take a look at evil and our common hesitation to believe in it even though we see its effects all around us. And we’ll reflect often on identity, initially Jesus’ identity but also our own identities, because that’s what’s under siege. That’s where the real battle rages.


The temptations of Jesus are dramatic, mysterious, and rich with content that has fueled many books and sermons. But unlike most of these works which (often appropriately) sound the alarm in order to warn us of the dangers of temptation, I want to consider its benefits. In other words, I want to walk along the jagged edge of some admittedly thin ice so we can peer beneath the surface into the deep, dark mysteries of passion and desire, hopes and fears, doubt and faith. Why? Because by staring into the pale faces of our personal demons and considering their morally vacant and theologically misguided claims, we can gain valuable insights into our own souls. More than a quick peek into the devil’s playbook, the study of our own temptations will expose the detailed contours of our personal patterns of sin and will reveal practical pathways to wholehearted devotion.


In nearly three decades of pastoral ministry, I’ve shared countless conversations about temptation. Most have focused on applying spiritual disciplines (like prayer, confession, and accountability) to the question, How can I resist temptation? The clear understanding behind this question is that temptation can lead to sin which is dishonoring to God and destructive to others and should, therefore, be avoided.


But there is another question about temptation which I find even more interesting. And it’s this question that catalyzed this book. What do our temptations reveal? In other words, how can our personal experiences with temptation teach us? These insights into our own souls are so valuable, not just in the specific challenge of resisting temptation, but in the larger process of spiritual formation. These insights into our souls, these discoveries of the roots of doubt, these honest revelations of true desire and actual fear—these are the benefits of temptation to which we will finally turn in chapter 8 after carefully considering Jesus’ specific experiences. (You may feel tempted to turn there now, and that would be OK).


This is not a safe book, but if you’re willing to walk into the wilderness and to face whatever—or whoever—you’ll find there, I believe, in the end, this book will be good for your soul.




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