“Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” ~ Ephesians 6:17
Before Jesus began his public ministry, he had an appointment with the devil. “And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit…was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.” (Luke 4:1).
Life all on its own throws tests at us, because this world is broken. But there are also times when God specifically appoints trials for us, especially when he is preparing to bring us into a season of growth. Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert. Three months into my first pastorate, an arsonist visited our country church and nearly burned it to the ground. Welcome to ministry!
Why does God do this? Remember what we read yesterday about the Father pruning us? This is what it looks like. The gardener strips away living parts of the plant – so it hurts – but the plant ends up healthier and stronger. Jesus began his trial full of the Spirit, Luke tells us. He then tells us how it ended. “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee” (vs.14). Luke intends us to draw a distinction here. Jesus is stronger for the experience. (BTW: Our little church doubled in size the following year.)
Since facing tests is part of true spiritual growth, we need to pay close attention to how Jesus faced this trial. His strategy is clear. His weapon of choice in facing down the devil was to stand defiantly on the Word of God. Satan made three separate assaults on Jesus, lashing Jesus’ naked will with three very compelling temptations. Each time, Jesus held the line by quoting Scriptures that he had memorized.
The Bible is essential to our spiritual power and freedom. Paul called it the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17). It is the weapon the Holy Spirit uses to defend us from spiritual enemies outside us, and the scalpel he uses to cut away the sin within us. John Bunyan, author of the classic Pilgrim’s Progress said, “Either this book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this book.”
Jesus told us that to abide in him, his words had to abide in us (John 15:7). The very way that Jesus says it is telling. Of course, I’m to abide in his words – meaning I’m to read them, hear them, study them, memorize them. But the work isn’t completed until his words abide in me. They are to become a dynamic, living part of me; I’m to breathe them in and out like the very air in my lungs.
How does Jesus demonstrate that God’s Word abides in him? In his combat with Satan, he shows three deepening layers of scriptural knowledge we should strive to obtain.
First, we should learn to think biblically.
Jesus shows he has a knowledge of the words. He knows his way around the Book and can reel off verses that he remembers. Sadly, way too many Christians can’t even demonstrate basic Bible literacy. So when someone comes along and says, “But Jesus never said a word about premarital sex or pornography,” they start picking lint out of their navels.
If you’re new to this, your first order of business is to just start gobbling up the book. Don’t be shy. Put on a bib and stuff your face full of it. Don’t feel like you have to start with Genesis, because you’ll get a flat tire by Leviticus. Better to start with a gospel and read directly of Jesus first. Read a proverb in the morning and a psalm at night. Make sure you go to Bible studies. (Get in food fights with other believers.) Devour sermons. If reading is a challenge for you, put the Bible on your playlist plate. You have to get the words and stories into your short-term memory first so that they can then march their way into your working-memory, which is when most of the magic starts to happen.
Speaking of memory – I cannot stress enough the importance of memorizing the Bible verses we provide for you at the end of each reading.
After all, if Jesus did it, then who are you to think you can do without it? I urge you to print them out, or write them on index cards, or put them on post-it notes – and then repeat them over and over again, until you can recite them word perfect along with the specific location.
The psalmist said, “I have stored up your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11). I’ve learned from experience that when I’m tempted, and dark, enticing thoughts start to fill up my mind, the mere act of reciting scripture verses that I’ve memorized serves as a block to those thoughts. Then as I keep it up, the verses begin to break those thoughts apart, the way sunlight diffuses fog, and if I just hang in there a short while longer, the temptation retreats. “Resist the devil and he will flee from you,” James declared. “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” (4:7-8).
Unless of course you want to sin, in which case ignore the last two paragraphs.
Second, we should learn to think theologically.
Jesus had a knowledge of the words, but also of the doctrine of the words – what they meant. If someone asks you why you believe something, and you reply, “The Bible tells me so,” you’re only thinking biblically. Now it’s time to step up your game.
When Satan pulled his own Bible verse out of the hat (and out of context), he hoped to trip Jesus up. But Jesus had none of it. The word of God so abided in him that he knew how its teachings were all intertwined together in a beautiful tapestry of truth. This may surprise you, but the 66 books of the Bible actually tell one beautiful epic story (spoiler alert: it’s all about Jesus.)
How do you begin to flex your theological muscles? Don’t just read, but also reflect. God invites you to worship him with your mind, as well as with your heart, soul and strength. “Come, let us reason together,” he says (Isaiah 1:18). He invites scrutiny and questions. He’s a big boy; he can handle it.
Case in point: If you really start to think deeply about what the Bible teaches about sexuality, in time you will stand back and marvel at the creativity and genius of God. But if you just drift thoughtlessly along with the current of culture, accepting its logic, you’ll become a danger to yourself and little use to God.
Learning to think theologically will deepen your faith as few things can. It will give you the courage to hold the line when Hollywood or Washington D.C. tells you to give it up. When someone comes along like the devil did, spouting gibberish with a Bible verse attached to it, you’ll spot it at once. But only repeated readings and deeper thinking over time will bring you to this place. So what are you waiting for?
Third, we should learn to think transformationally.
Jesus had a knowledge of the spirit of the words. He knew what the words were meant to produce. The Bible was not given to fill your head full of data but to fill your heart full of the love of God. And it was the love he had for God his Father that kept Jesus resolute and pure.
Peter said, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:16). If while I am growing in the knowledge of Christ I do not also grow in the grace, love and character of Christ then I am missing the point of it all.
How to I reach this point of growth? I have to read, reflect, then respond. Jesus said, it’s the one who hears his words and puts them into practice that will become like a house built on rock. If I come to the Bible with my own agenda, ‘looking for loopholes’ like W.C. Fields, prepared to spin it in a way that suits me, I will never experience the transforming power of God’s Word.
What ideas in this reading did you find helpful or challenging?
Complete the following sentence: If Jesus needed to use the Word of God to push back evil in his life then…
What are the three levels of scriptural knowledge which Jesus showed, and how do I grow in each of them?
Prayer and Worship
“Father, I thank you for…”
“Father, please help me with…”
“Father, please be with…”
“In the name of Jesus, who died for my sins, who rose from the dead and who is with me now through the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
Today’s Worship Suggestion: “Thy Word” (Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith)
This Week’s Memory Verses
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.” ~ Psalm 51:10-11
“Flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” ~ 2 Timothy 2:22