Dr. D. A. Carson – Spiritual Disciplines

Almost two decades ago I wrote an essay titled " When Is Spirituality Spiritual? Reflections on Some Problems of Definition ." 1 I would like to follow up on one aspect of that topic here.

The broader framework of the discussion needs to be remembered. "Spiritual" and "spirituality" have become notoriously fuzzy words. In common usage they almost always have positive overtones, but rarely does their meaning range within the sphere of biblical usage. People think of themselves as "spiritual" because they have certain aesthetic sensibilities, or because they feel some kind of mystical connection with nature, or because they espouse some highly privatized version of one of any number of religions (but "religion" tends to be a word with negative connotations while "spirituality" has positive overtones). Under the terms of the new covenant, however, the only "spiritual" person is the person who has the Holy Spirit, poured out on individuals in regeneration. The alternative, in Paul's terminology, is to be "natural"—merely human—and not "spiritual" (1 Cor 2:14). For the Christian whose vocabulary and concepts on this topic are shaped by Scripture, only the Christian is spiritual. Then, by an obvious extension, those Christians who display Christian virtues are spiritual, since these virtues are the fruit of the Spirit. Those who are "mere infants in Christ" (1 Cor 3:1), if they truly are in Christ, are spiritual inasmuch as they are indwelt by the Spirit, but their lives may leave much to be desired. 2 Nevertheless the NT does not label immature Christians as unspiritual as if the category "spiritual" should be reserved only for the most mature, the elite of the elect: that is an error common to much of the Roman Catholic tradition of spirituality, in which the spiritual life and the spiritual traditions are often tied up with believers who want to transcend the ordinary. Such "spiritual" life is often bound up with asceticism and sometimes mysticism, with orders of nuns and monks, and with a variety of techniques that go beyond ordinary Joe or Mary Christian.

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Herman Witsius – A Treatise on Christian Faith

witsius_0 “Without Faith, it is impossible to please GOD” – Hebrews. 11:6

PREFACE

OF all enquiries, which employ the minds of men, I know not any that can be reckoned important, in comparison of that which was once made by a trembling jaylor at Philippi, viz. What Shall I do to be saved? And I suppose there can hardly be found one thinking Man, let his sentiments in other respects be what they may, but will join with me in saying, that the salvation of the soul, is the most awful of all concerns. This being the case, I need an apology for laying extract before the be for the homely dress I have put upon my author: it must be remembered that I have changed his language in order to bring the unlearned to an acquaintance with him, and the better to carry on this design, have made him speak as plain as I possibly could.

As for the subject matter of this little treatise, I think I may venture to recommend it, because the book from whence it was taken has met with the approbation of many learned and excellent divines, who mention the name of Witsius with peculiar and distinguished reverence; but even this ought to have but little weight with the reader, did not our author’s sentiments exactly comport with the divine mind and will, as revealed in the word of God, the only infallible standard of all saving truth.

It is clear from the answer Paul gave the trembling querist above-mentioned, that the only mean of salvation is faith: surely then it must be an acceptable thing, at least to every serious mind, to meet with a plain and truly scriptural account of the only way of deliverance for a sinful soul; especially as we live in a time, when it is much misunderstood, or wholly unknown, when presumption on the one hand, and despair on the other, are spreading their nets for the feet of the ignorant and unwary: but this ever was, and will be the case, whenever God is pleased to revive his work: the grand desire of our ghostly enemy is to keep us in sin and ignorance, therefore when truth puts forth its lovely face, and shines with its native heavenly lustre, as satan cannot eclipse its brightness by outward and direct opposition, he will endeavour to set up false lights, in order to mislead the unwary traveller; yea, rather than fail, will transform himself into an angel of light, 2 Cor. 11:14.

Hence is is that many are deceived in their notions of faith, are led to think it something which it is not; the legalist is for mixing the impure leaven of his own imperfect works, with the bread of God, and must have something in himself to recommend him to the favour of God, in order to merit, in a measure at least, the forgiveness of his sins.—The Antinomians, who are most vile and wicked perverters of the right ways of the Lord, are resting in something they call faith, which hath nothing of salvation, but the sorest condemnation in it, to which, saith the apostle, they were of old ordained, Jude 4. Add to these the number of well-meaning serious people, who by taking the marks of faith too high, are labouring under the most fearful apprehensions of their state before God, and by thinking the essence of faith consisteth in frames and feelings, are blind to that happiness, which, the real work of God within them, would otherwise put them in possession of.

Let all such read and mark the plain simple account of faith which (I doubt not in exact conformity to the scriptures) is exhibited to view in this book, and the more they compare their own experience with it, the more clearly will they be enabled to discern the true state of their souls. But the clearest light is nothing to the blind; therefore let every reader go to the throne of Grace, for the seeing eye, and the understanding heart, and then they may expect a blessing from what they read.

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Austin Gohn – 3 Reasons We Must Not Forget the Psalms

10363472_10204003720160126_4019985009339916109_o A few weeks ago, someone asked me, “How can I be a disciple if I must endure highs and lows, faith and doubt, trust and fear? I feel like I must doing something wrong.” If someone had asked me that question a year ago, I would have responded with a solution and a relevant quote. But that day, I suggested we read the Psalms.

This was not my relationship with the Psalms twelve months ago. Before this past year, I only read the Psalms to complete my Bible reading plan. I decided that I was too left-brained to enjoy the Psalms and that maybe they were only helpful for the more creative-types.

Then, as I was reading and studying, I started to notice a recurring theme — almost everyone I admired was into the Psalms from George Muller to J. Hudson Taylor to Eugene Peterson to Tim Keller. As I was reading the gospels, I noticed Jesus was into the Psalms as well—quoting or alluding to them in hillside teachings, temple courts, and from the cross.

The same thought kept nagging at me—if I am learning to live like Jesus, how can I ignore the Psalms? I began to realize that true gospel-centered discipleship requires us to become friends with David, Asaph, Solomon, the Sons of Korah, Moses, Ethan the Ezrahite, and the dozens of other unknown Psalmists.

In response, I started reading and praying the Psalms as an integral part of my own discipleship. Before long, the Psalms influenced the way I discipled others—especially in the way the Psalms validate our emotions, shape our imaginations, and teach us to pray.

1. THE PSALMS VALIDATE OUR EMOTIONS

From the cross Jesus cried out Psalm 22:1, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Not only did Jesus have the Psalms so rooted in him that they were his words in the most agonizing moment of his life, he experienced abandonment—a feeling shared with the author of Psalm 22.

When I started ministry, people (including my wife) would approach me with emotions they were experiencing. I made the rookie mistake of subtly (and not so subtly) downplaying the truth of their emotions. “Sadness and abandonment didn’t line up with the truth of the gospel,” I would tell them. The more time I spent in the Psalms, though, the more I realized that the gospel is roomy enough for all human emotions.

As a pastor to young adult, I’ve seen how liberating it is for their emotions to find a home in the Psalms. In a letter titled “On the Interpretation of the Psalms” Athanasius writes, “You find depicted in [the Psalms] all the movements of your soul, all its changes, its ups and downs, its failures and recoveries.” You cannot read the Psalms without seeing delight (Ps. 1:2) and depression (Ps. 42:5), gratitude (Ps. 100:4) and grief (Ps. 42:3), and nearly every other emotion (John Piper has a good list). The Psalms teach us that it’s okay to ask God why (Ps. 10:1) or how long (Ps. 13:1-2) and to be honest with how you feel.

The Psalms don’t leave our emotions as they are though. They shape our emotions and give them proper context. I had professor in college who said, “The Psalms provide direction for our emotions without repressing them or giving full vent to them. The Psalms help you learn how to feel.” Each of the Psalms has its own rhythm. We enter these through our emotions and are carried into deeper emotions. Although this rhythm may be compressed into a few verses in a Psalm, our experience may last days or even years.

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Book Review – Slaying the Debt Dragon

SlayingTheDebtDragon-FINAL Bills, Bills, Bills. I am not referring to a room full of men named William, but rather to the mountains of debt most Americans find themselves drowning under these days. The statistics are staggering as to how much the weight of debt rests on the shoulders of the average family to include college loans, credit cards, car loans, department store credit cards, and mortgage debt. Is living with the burden of debt really how God desires us to operate? Is there a way out and a method to take a hacksaw to the shackles of debt most all of us find ourselves chained to? Cherie Lowe in her very helpful book Slaying the Debt Dragon shares that piles of debt is not God’s methodology for handling money and yes there is a way out from under the crushing burden of debt.

Paying off $127,000 of debt in four years. Sound like a pipedream? It seemed that way to Cherie Lowe and her husband Brian. Much like most people these days, they thought that incurring debt and making payments into eternity was just the way life was supposed to be lived. After coming to grips with the giant hole they had dug themselves into, they decided to make a change in their approach to money that would forever change their lives. After buckling down and after four years of hard work and major adjustments in their lifestyle, that $127,000 dragon of a debt was slain, never to return.

Now many might look at the story Cherie Lowe shares in this book and think to themselves, “I do not have nearly that much debt and thus I can handle things just fine.” To some degree that was the approach my wife and I had for many years. We by no means have $127,000 of debt; however, we do have a number of “ankle-biter” bills we have accumulated that just seem to never go away. We decided last year it was time for a change and we set forth on our own debt slaying journey, much like the Lowes did and have shared in this excellent book.

The concepts regarding how to tackle debt that are noted by Cherie Lowe are very reminiscent of what one would find in books by Dave Ramsey or Larry Burkett. In fact, Cherie Lowe pays homage and rightly so to both of those men for their financial insight and assistance in helping Cherie and her husband pay off their debt in a purposeful and timely manner. What is different between the books by Dave Ramsey and Larry Burkett and the information shared in Slaying the Debt Dragon is Cherie Lowe outlines a number of family oriented principles for finance.

For instance, she notes the importance of involving your children in the debt slaying process so they have a better understanding of why the family is ceasing going out to eat every night or why that new electronic device or toy purchase will have to wait until the budget allows for such an expenditure. Cherie Lowe rightly notes, “Your belt tightening will provide your children with many real-life lessons that can help them avoid your financial missteps and blunders.” She outlines a number of ways children can be involved in the family budget such as meal planning, grocery shopping, and finding ways to stay-vacation that are fun while not breaking the budget or incurring additional debt for the thrill of the moment.

I also appreciated the fact Cherie Lowe shared that getting out of debt is not all about piling up money for a rainy day. While ridding yourself of the dragon (or whatever name you call the debt you will rid yourself of) does allow for more financial breathing room and flexibility to enjoy life, getting out from under this burden also allows believers to do that which God desires of His people to be about doing, namely assisting the less fortunate and those in need. Far too many people are so encumbered by debt they have no ability to be giving.

Throughout this helpful book, Cherie Lowe shares the stories of fellow debt slayers including why those families decided to embark on their debt destroying journey, what surprised them about paying off their debt, the challenges they faced, how they celebrated when the debt was paid off, any encouragement and advice they have for the reader, and how paying off their debt impacted their marriage. I was truly amazed at the amount of debt that had been paid off and it gave me encouragement and an extra push and sense of urgency for my own family to complete our debt removal journey, something we anticipate taking place late summer of this year. Maybe we will call into Dave Ramsey’s show and declare “We are debt free”!

I highly recommend and encourage everyone to read this book. Whether our debt is small or seemingly insurmountable, you need to start on your debt slaying journey today. Why wait or put it off? By reading this book you will find yourself challenged, motivated, and encouraged. The paradigm shift in our life that will take place as you embark on your journey may be painful at times and people may think you are crazy, but as Cherie Lowe has so wonderfully outlined in this book, it is well worth the effort.

This book is available for purchase from Tyndale by clicking here.

I received this book for free from Tyndale for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Michael Boling – Reflections on Deuteronomy 28-29

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Deuteronomy 28-29

In case the people of Israel had not caught on to God’s repeated statements about the connection of obedience to His commands and being blessed in the land of promise, He repeats that construct once again. God tells His people rather clearly, “if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the Lord your God will set you high above all nations of the earth.”

In chapter 28, God outlines the various ways He would bless them if they kept His commands carefully and faithfully. Now there are some passages in this chapter that many in the prosperity gospel movement twist and manipulate to fit their false teaching. For instance, verse 6 states, “bless shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.” Additionally, verse 13 states, “the Lord will make you the head and not the tail; you shall be above only, and not be beneath.” Of course those who use those passages out of context fail to mention the stipulation for those statements of blessing, namely that of obedience to God’s commands.

If the people failed to heed carefully and faithfully the commands of God, they would be cursed. Chapter 28 also outlines in stark detail the many ways in which God would curse the people and the land if Israel did not remain faithful. It is interesting that the list of curses is longer than the list of blessings, thus demonstrating the seriousness God takes to His people being holy as He is holy and serving Him in loving obedience.

Moses gathered the people and reminded them of all God had done, how He had delivered them from Egypt, sustained them for forty years in the wilderness, and how He had delivered Sihon king of Heshbon and Og king of Bashan into their hands. Moses urged the people to remain faithful to the covenant God had made with them so that He may establish them as His people, a loving and committed people to the oaths and promises they had made to obey God’s commands. Moses also reminded the people that God blesses those whose hearts are towards Him and curses those who turn their hearts away from Him in blatant disobedience. He concludes chapter 29 by noting that the secret things belong to God; however, God has made His commands quite clear and they were to be obeyed with a loving heart and loving mind.

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Horatius Bonar – Bruised for Our Iniquities

Horatius Bonar

We were one day conversing with an unbeliever who lay on a bed of suffering and was murmuring against the God that made him. He put the question in an angry tone,

“Where did this pain come from?”
“From sin,” we answered.
“But why should pain follow sin?”
“Because God is a righteous God.”
“How does that prove that where there is pain there must have been sin?”
“Because a righteous God must punish what is wrong.”
“Why must He?’
“Because if He did not the universe would go to pieces.”
“How so?”
“Just as a kingdom would go to wreck if the ruler did not punish evil doers, so the whole universe would go into disorder if God did not attach punishment to sin.”
The sufferer thought a little, and then admitted that this was right, and that pain ought to be the consequent of sin, for the sake of preserving the universe in order and happiness.

Again he asked,

“What do you mean by sacrifice, and why was it necessary?”
“Because sin must be punished.”
“What has that to do with sacrifice?”
“Much every way; chiefly this, that sacrifice is punishment—the punishment of one instead of another—for it is impossible that there can be sin without punishment.”
“But is that just?”
“Quite just, if he who is to bear the punishment undertakes it of his own free will, and is not
compelled.”
“How so?”
“In this way: If you were in debt and I were compelled to pay your debts, there would be great
injustice; but if I came forward and did it willingly, there would be no injustice to any one, and the law
would be maintained.”

He thought a little, and then said calmly and distinctly,

“Yes, I see that; there would be no injustice then.”
“Just so is it,” we said, “with the payment of our debts by the Son of God. He came forward and presented His sufferings to God instead of ours, His life instead of ours, His death instead of ours.”

The sufferer was greatly interested, and the light seemed to break into his dark soul, as we then spoke to him of Christ “bearing our sins in His own body on the tree,” “suffering, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.”

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Charles Spurgeon – A Caution to the Presumptuous

charles_spurgeon

“Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” 1 Corinthians 10:12

t is a singular fact, but nevertheless most certain, that the vices are the counterfeits of virtues. Whenever God sends from the mint of heaven a precious coin of genuine metal, Satan will imitate the impress, and utter a vile production of no value. God gives love; it is his nature and his essence. Satan also fashioneth a thing which he calls love, but it is lust. God bestows courage; and it is a good thing to be able to look one’s fellow in the face, fearless of all men in doing our duty. Satan inspires fool-hardiness, styles it courage, and bids the man rush to the cannon’s mouth for “bubble reputation.” God creates in man holy fear. Satan gives him unbelief, and we often mistake the one for the other. So with the best of virtues, the saving grace of faith, when it comes to its perfection it ripens into confidence, and there is nothing so comfortable and so desirable to the Christian, as the full assurance of faith. Hence, we find Satan, when he sees this good coin, at once takes the metal of the bottomless pit, imitates the heavenly image and superscription of assurance, and palms upon us the vice of presumption.

We are astonished, perhaps, as Calvinistic Christians, to find Paul saying, “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall;” but we need not be astonished, for though we have a great right to believe that we stand, if we think we stand through the power of God — though we cannot be too confident of the might of the Most High, there is a thing so near akin to true confidence, that unless you use the greatest discernment you cannot tell the difference Unholy presumption — it is against that which I am to speak this morning. Let me not be misunderstood. I shall not utter one word against the strongest faith. I wish all Little-Faiths were Strong-Faiths, that all Fearings were made Valiants-for-Truth, and the Ready-to-Halts made Asahel’s Nimble-of-Foot, that they might all run in their Master’s work. I speak not against strong faith or full assurance; God giveth it to us; it is the holiest, happiest thing that a Christian can have, and there is no state so desirable as that of being able to say, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him.” It is not against that I speak, but I warn you against that evil thing, a false confidence and presumption which creepeth over a Christian, like the cold death-sleep on the mountain-top, from which, if he is not awakened, as God will see that he shall be, death will be the inevitable consequence. “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”

I shall this morning attempt first, to find out the character; secondly, to show the danger; and thirdly, to give the counsel. The character is, the man who thinks he stands; the danger is, that he may fall; and the counsel is, “let him take heed.”

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Russell Moore – Women, Stop Submitting to Men?

russell_moore Those of us who hold to so-called “traditional gender roles” are often assumed to believe that women should submit to men. This isn’t true.

Indeed, a primary problem in our culture and in our churches isn’t that women aren’t submissive enough to men, but instead that they are far too submissive.

First of all, it just isn’t so that women are called to submit while men are not. In Scripture, every creature is called to submit, often in different ways and at different times. Children are to submit to their parents, although this is certainly a different sort of submission than that envisioned for marriage. Church members are to submit to faithful pastors (Heb. 13:17). All of us are to submit to the governing authorities (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-17). Of course, we are all to submit, as creatures, to our God (Jas. 4:7).

And, yes, wives are called to submit to their husbands (Eph. 5:22; 1 Pet. 3:1-6). But that’s just the point. In the Bible, it is not that women, generally, are to submit to men, generally. Instead, “wives” are to submit “to your own husbands” (1 Pet. 3:1).

Too often in our culture, women and girls are pressured to submit to men, as a category. This is the reason so many women, even feminist women, are consumed with what men, in general, think of them. This is the reason a woman’s value in our society, too often, is defined in terms of sexual attractiveness and availability. Is it any wonder that so many of our girls and women are destroyed by a predatory patriarchy that demeans the dignity and glory of what it means to be a woman?

Submitting to men in general renders it impossible to submit to one’s “own husband.” Submission to one’s husband means faithfulness to him, and to him alone, which means saying “no” to other suitors.

Submission to a right authority always means a corresponding refusal to submit to a false authority. Eve’s submission to the Serpent’s word meant she refused to submit to God’s. On the other hand, Mary’s submission to God’s word about the child within her meant she refused to submit to Herod’s. God repeatedly charges his Bride, the people of Israel, with a refusal to submit to him because they have submitted to the advances of other lovers. The freedom of the gospel means, the apostle tells us, that we “do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).

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Book Review – Preaching the Word: Psalms 1-41

The-Psalms-Vol-1-1-41 The Psalms have long been a favorite portion of God’s Words. They form the basis for many songs we sing in worship and they are a definite source of hope, comfort, and inspiration when the good and bad situations of life come our way. The Psalms offer to the believer far more than just words to be put to song or a pick me up when you are feeling down. Throughout the Psalms, we see the picture of God as King. James Johnston, in his commentary on Psalms 1-41 rightly subtitled Rejoice, the Lord is King, focuses his salient exegesis on this important element of the first portion of the Psalms.

This commentary is part of the highly readable and accessible Preaching the Word series. Intended as a tool for pastors to be better equipped to take the truth of Scripture and to share those truths with their congregations, this particular commentary series is focused not on examining every nuance of language or culture (although such things are noted), but rather on looking at the meat of a passage so that biblical sustenance can be provided to God’s people. Johnston’s contribution to this series is no different.

Johnston begins this commentary with some needed background information on the Psalms to include its overall composition, genre, its place in the Torah (an important point to make), the fact the Psalms is the Old Testament book most often quoted in the New Testament (an interesting bit of trivia), and the reality they are a collection of Psalms that forms a book, one that points to the Messiah, a book that tells a story of God’s dealings with His people and His sovereignty in carrying out His divine plan.

Building on that all important foundation, Johnston then proceeds to walk the reader through the first forty-one Psalms. I found the exegesis of the Psalms to be pointed, focused, and quite helpful. I have a large number of commentaries in my library on the Psalms as a result of taking a course on the Psalms in Seminary. Many of those commentaries seem to be bogged down in the theological, linguistic, and cultural minutia of the text. While such things are important to a large degree, there is a need for a commentary that takes an in-depth look at the text without swimming too far and too often into the deep end of the theological pool. Johnston’s commentary does wade into the deep end when needed, yet spends most of its time providing sound practical application of the text, something sorely needed in the world of commentaries.

Each Psalm in this commentary is examined in great detail, noting the background/historical items of interest that led to the writing of that particular Psalm. Johnston then concludes his discussion of that particular Psalm with come closing comments, encapsulating in a paragraph or to the “so what” of the discussion points. Interspersed in his commentary are personal examples and relevant stories that demonstrate using everyday examples the truths demonstrated in the text.

For instance, in his examination of the most famous Psalm of them all, that of Psalm 23, Johnston walks the reader through the reality that as King of Israel, David was to be the shepherd of his people. Even then, “David is also a sheep – the Lord is his Shepherd. A greater Shepherd cares for him.” Taking that truth, Johnston then aptly notes how this idea of a great Shepherd for God’s people is beautifully and notably revealed in the life of Christ. Johnston comments “Like David, Christ was both a sheep and a shepherd. As the Lamb of God, Christ trusted his Father with his life.” He goes on to also correctly note, “Christ is not only a sheep, he is also our Shepherd. God took on flesh to become a Lamb to save us and a King to rule over us.” This has a daily application for us as believers, something Johnston also ensures the reader clearly understands. As our Great Shepherd, “He guards and guides us through this life”, even as we maneuver through those rocky and dark places, God is always with us.

It is this high quality and useful exegesis and application that gives me no qualms about highly recommending this commentary. Those who love the Psalms will find this commentary to be a treasure trove of sound biblical information on this beloved book of the Bible. This is a tool both pastors and laymen will be able to use in their daily Bible study, in particular when they are spending time discovering or perhaps re-discovering Psalms 1-41. I look forward to the other volumes in the Psalms commentaries in the Preaching the Wordseries.

This book is available for purchase from Crossway Books by clicking here.

I received this book for free from Crossway Books for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Mark Johnston – Tempted, Tried, but Never Failing

Beach RESIZED_0 The temptations of Christ are recorded in three out of the four Gospels, so clearly they are meant to highlight a significant component of Jesus’ mission to save. But, despite their prominence in the Gospels, they have been subjected to a range of interpretations – some of which tend towards misinterpretation.

The most common misinterpretation – or at least one that manages to shift the main focus of this episode away from its central significance – is to regard Jesus as model of how to deal with temptation. So, when Satan tempts us to sin, like Jesus we should have a suitable arsenal of Bible verses at our fingertips with which to resist his overtures.

Although there is undoubtedly some truth in that approach, it fails to do justice to the passages that record this incident and the weight they attach to it. The Gospels present it as an integral part of what Jesus had to accomplish to secure redemption. Each Evangelist deals with the event from a slightly different angle, but with a view to highlighting the far-reaching import not only of what Christ was exposed to in his encounter with Satan, but what he actually proved and achieved through it all. Far from being forced into a defensive mode through the devil’s advances, he showed himself from the very outset to be the One God had promised to send to fulfil his promise to Adam in the protoevangelium (Ge 3.15).

Luke’s account in particular provides some penetrating insights into the way this episode in Jesus’ personal history becomes a vital component of redemptive history. A number of little details in particular bring this into focus for us.

Luke (in line with Matthew and Mark) points to the fact that Jesus went into the wilderness because the Holy Spirit led him (Lk 4.1), but he adds two significant details. The first is that Jesus was ‘full of the Holy Spirit’.

Luke, more than any other Gospel writer, has a special interest in the role of the Holy Spirit in the life and ministry of Christ. From the moment and manner of his miraculous conception (1.35) through the source of the prophetic pronouncement by Zechariah (1.67) and the encounter with Simeon in the Temple (2.25-27), the Messianic promise of John the Baptist (3.16) and the graphic revelation of the Spirit in Jesus’ baptism (3.22), the Holy Spirit is intimately involved with the mission of Christ through all its stages.

So here, as Jesus is about to be led into the wilderness, for Luke to note that he was ‘full of the Holy Spirit’ (4.1) signals that he is about to face something of a different order than anything he has faced so far during his earthly life. More than that, the fact Luke glosses the preposition used by Matthew and Mark to say that Jesus was not merely led ‘into’ the desert by the Spirit (as though to be abandoned there) but, rather, was led ‘in’ the desert points to his ongoing support throughout the wilderness ordeal.

Another significant detail in Luke’s account is his choice of ‘the devil’ diabolos to identify the tempter (4.2). The name ‘devil’ carries the connotation of ‘slanderer’ and suggests that the evil one’s intent through this encounter was to discredit Jesus on the very threshold his mission and so sabotage the mission as a whole. The reference to Jesus’ being in the desert ‘for forty days’ in this context would also not have slipped the attention of a 1st Century reader of the Gospel – certainly not one who was familiar with the Hebrew Bible, as Theophilus, the first recipient of this Gospel almost certainly have been. The recurring references in the Old Testament to ‘forty’ periods of time – either days, years, or even the ten 40’s of the Egyptian captivity – almost always pointed to a significant chapter in God’s programme of redemption. So at the start of the most significant chapter of all in his redemptive programme, it is hardly surprising to see that marker being laid down once more.

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