Our first parents succumbed to temptation in the garden, choosing to do something expressly forbidden, in the belief that somehow God was withholding the best from them, despite all evidence to the contrary in the form of literal paradise and plentiful physical and spiritual provision. Our forefathers succumbed to temptation in the desert, grumbling aloud about how much better past enslavement was than present wandering, failing to accept and lay full claim to the sureness of future abundance. Meanwhile, our Savior was exposed to but did not break in the presence of great temptation, in the form of challenges to His identity, promises of future power, and even seemingly plausible interpretations of Scripture.
What about us? We are made of the same stuff as our fellow humans, we look to the same Savior, and are assailed by the same tempter. When we are tempted - to lust, to cheat, to grasp at something that isn't ours - what lessons can we draw from these past markers? It seems clear to me that I would do better to remember the following:
1. Our adversary is wily and he doesn't play fair. It helps to remember this, rather than be surprised by it.
2. It may sound trite - in fact, I think I may have seen a bumper sticker to this effect - but we can anchor ourselves against the winds of temptation by remembering who we are and whose we are. When we doubt our identity as children of God, and His identity as our protecting and providing Father, there is an opening to act in ways that reflect that we know better what is best for us. In other words, trouble awaits.
3. To elaborate on that point, there is a past, present, and future element to that anchoring. We claim a relationship as a child of God as a result of a past act - the work of Jesus to not only pass this early temptation test, but get Himself all the way to the cross and to the redemptive act achieved in His crucifixion. We look to a future exaltation and perfection, which buffets against false present outlets for exalting or pleasing ourselves. And yet, for all the importance of look back and look forward, we can only live in the present, and so we must daily, constantly secure ourselves to a living belief that to take the straight and narrow path is in fact the most life-giving, rewarding, and secure way to go.
As John Piper aptly points out, no one sins out of duty. We sin because we believe in the moment that that choice is in our best interest. Sexual sin satisfies our bodies' response to physical pleasure, cheating holds the promise of quick gain, and self-exaltation makes us feel good about ourselves. The problem with such responses to temptation is not that there is nothing to gain from them; it is that such gains are temporal, false, and destructive, and that they poorly substitute for other gains that are ours to be had if we will believe in the goodness of the provision and presence of God.
Easier said than done. We will never cease to be assailed by temptation from now until the end of time, and many times we will fail. But, considering these past instances of temptation - in the garden, the desert, and the wilderness - let us be caught off guard less often, about the wiles of the enemy of our souls, the ways in which we can be motivated to respond incorrectly, and the anchors that we instead should secure ourselves to so as to be in the best position possible to respond correctly, and to truly live right lives as a result.