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5. Temptation After Baptism #1

Chapter 5

Temptation After Baptism #1

Luke 4:1-4 (Parallel Matthew 4:1-4)
Montreal, April 1, 1979

 

Last week we looked at the deep connection between baptism and the Holy Spirit in Scriptural teaching. Hence it is fitting for us to study the temptation of Jesus in today’s message, for it was right after he had been baptized that he was tempted by Satan in the wilderness. The tempt­ation account in Luke 4:1-4 is rich in application for Christians, especially those who have just been bap­tized:

1 And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit 2 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. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” 4 And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” (Luke 4:1-4, RSV)

The statement that Jesus quotes from Scripture—“Man shall not live by bread alone”—is expanded in the parallel verse, Matthew 4:4: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”.

We will examine Luke 4:1-4 also from the angle of Jesus’ suffer­ing which in 1 Peter 2:21 is depicted as being deeply relevant to our lives: “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” These are spiritual principles that we, and those who have just been baptized, can apply to our daily lives.

You become a Christian when you receive the Spirit

I would like to pick up from where we left off last week on the topic of baptism and the Holy Spirit. The present recap will serve as a natural progression to today’s discussion on the temptation of Jesus.

We saw last time that one becomes a Christian when he or she receives the Holy Spirit:

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. (Romans 8:9, ESV) [1]

What makes you a true Christian is not religion per se, or going to church, or being active in the campus fellow­ship, or even believing in the right doctrines, though that is good and desirable. It is having the Holy Spirit dwelling in you that makes you a Christian.

We then asked, When does one receive the Holy Spirit in the specific sense of an anointing, a seal, and a pledge? The answer from Scripture is clear: It is at baptism, accompanied by faith and repent­ance, that we re­ceive the Spirit in these three specific aspects. It is faith that makes baptism meaningful and efficacious, for without faith, baptism would be an empty ceremony that is little more than taking a bath.

The receiving of the Spirit at baptism does not, however, rule out the Spirit’s prior work in our hearts. We have seen that the Holy Spirit works even in the heart of the non-Christian. In that specific sense, the Holy Spirit is present with everyone, even the non-Christ­ian, for if the Spirit does not work in the non-Christian’s heart, how could he or she ever be saved or become a Christian? The Bible never teaches that we can save ourselves or gain the Spirit by our own means and power.

Jesus certainly had the Holy Spirit before he was baptized, but it was at his baptism that the Spirit came down bodily on him like a dove, signify­ing his being anointed and sealed with the Spirit. Be­fore he was baptized, Jesus had not yet been sealed or anointed with the Spirit for the ministry of preaching the gospel, or for fulfilling his call to be the Savior of the world. Before he was baptized, Jesus worked as a carpent­er, an honor­able occupation. He lived a low-key life in relative obscurity until he was anointed by the Spirit for the task to which he had been called.

Unless you are born of water and the Spirit, you will not enter the kingdom

My last message on the connection between baptism and the Holy Spirit did not exhaust the New Testament material by any means. We still need to mention a few more biblical details before proceed­ing to the question of post-baptismal temptation.

One of these is Jesus’ famous statement to Nicodemus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).

The Lord here stresses the importance of water: we cannot enter the kingdom unless we are born of water and the Spirit. This truth needs to be put forward because a good portion of the church today down­plays the importance of baptism.

When I was studying at the Bible Institute in Scotland, I became friends with someone who had given up a good banking career to serve God. He had been a Christian for many years, yet had never been bap­tized. One day this dear German brother came up to me and said, “Eric, I am preparing to serve God full-time, yet I am not even baptized.”

I asked him why he hadn’t been baptized, and he said, “Because I don’t know the meaning of baptism. I have always thought that baptism doesn’t matter.”

Given the state of affairs in the church today, it is not surprising that here was someone who was preparing himself to serve God, yet was not even baptized. In Scriptural teaching, it means that he had not yet been anointed to preach the gospel, since he had neither been sealed with the Spirit nor received the pledge of the Spirit.

He is a fine person, a very loving and gracious brother, and we are still very close to this day. Today he is serving as a pastor in the German state church with deep devotion to God.

He was probably my closest friend at the Bible Institute. He would accompany me wherever I go to preach because, for one reason or an­other, he had far fewer preaching as­signments. But wherever he preached, there was a noticeable lack of power. I could not pinpoint the cause until he told me he had not been baptized.

I myself was rather ignorant of the Scriptural teaching on bap­tism, so I said to him, “I don’t know how to expound baptism to you, but I know one thing for sure: 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.

Over the years, having studied God’s word on baptism, I have come to see the importance of baptism: “Except a man be born of water and of 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 one must be born of water and the Spirit before he can enter the kingdom of God.

Some try to explain away the significance of the water, and there are ingenious ways of doing this. Some have argued, for example, that water is nothing more than a symbol of the Holy Spirit. But if that is the case, you will need to be born of the Spirit and of the Spirit—twice!

But why expend so much effort to come up with a clever circum­vent­ion of “water” when the truth is exceedingly simple? Right from the start, in Mark 1:8, John the Baptist says, I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit,” which comple­ments “born of water and the Spirit” in John 3:5, indicating that “born of water” refers to water baptism.

After Jesus was resurrected, he reaffirmed the ministry of John the Baptist: “John bap­tized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5).

It is clear from Scripture that you need both baptisms to enter the kingdom of God. I claim no originality in what I have said about baptism and the Holy Spirit. New Testament scholarship is well aware of the vital connection of baptism and the Spirit as for exam­ple in the final volume of Diction­ary of New Testament Theology (ed. Colin Brown), under “Seal” or “Anointing”. See also James D.G. Dunn’s Baptism in the Holy Spirit: A Re-examination of the New Testament on the Gift of the Spirit. Every New Testament scholar is aware of the intricate connection between baptism and the Spirit.

In fact, if you hadn’t heard my last message on baptism and the Holy Spirit, you may have difficulty following the discussion in New Testament Diction­ary of Theology because it presupposes the connect­ion without mentioning it. The article “Sealed with the Spirit” repeatedly mentions baptism and the Holy Spirit in a way that may leave you unsure of the connect­ion between the two. But you would understand the article very well if you had heard my message last week.

New Testament scholars are well aware of this connection especially from the time of Professor G.H. Lampe of Cambridge, who draws a deep connection between baptism and the Holy Spirit in The Seal of the Spirit: A Study in the Doctrine of Baptism (1951). So I don’t claim the slightest originality on this topic, and I have no desire to be original. I only want to explain what the word of God says.

Some church leaders today are unaware of the advances in New Testa­ment scholarship, so they think that what I am saying is unus­ual when in fact there is nothing unusual or original about what I have said. The vital truth still remains: Unless you are born of the Spirit but also of water, you will not enter the kingdom of God.

Cleansing by the washing of water with the word

Let’s look at another passage, Ephesians 5:25-26, which makes a reference to baptism. If the church had understood the connection of baptism and the Spirit, there wouldn’t be any need for me to expound this passage:

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. (Ephesians 5:25-26, RSV)

Jesus gave himself up for the church in order to sanctify her “by the wash­ing of water with the word.” Again the “water”. But not water alone, for we need both the water of repentance and “the word”—the Word of God. It is at baptism that Jesus cleanses us by the water with the word.

Paul learned this vital truth from his Damascus Road exper­ience. Acts records three instances of Paul giving a testimony of his dramatic encounter with the Lord Jesus. In 22:16, Paul recalls what Ananias had said to him soon afterwards: “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” Here it is said that the washing away of sins is effected through baptism and the call­ing on the name of the Lord in faith. It throws light on what we have just read in Ephesians 5:26, that Jesus died that he might cleanse us “by the washing of water with the word”—that is, faith with, and in, the word of God.

It is at baptism that we receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38) and are cleansed from our sins. Paul, then called Saul, experienced this very thing 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 from his eyes and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized. (Acts 9:17-18, RSV)

The Lord sent Ananias to Saul for two things: First, that Saul may regain his sight after being blinded on the Damascus Road. Second, that Saul may be filled with the Holy Spirit. These were done after Ananias had laid hands on him, with baptism follow­ing immediate­ly. As we study the Script­ures, the connection of baptism and the Spirit will become increasingly clear.

Jesus himself was anointed when he was baptized by John, with the Spirit descending on him bodily like a dove. It was only after the anointing that Jesus went forth to preach the gospel. Quoting Isaiah 61:1-2, Jesus said of himself: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18). It is only now, having been anointed, that Jesus begins to preach the gospel. Previously he did not preach the gospel because he had not yet been anointed.

Temptation will come after baptism

This leads us to Luke chapter 4, and to the heart of today’s message. What will happen to you after you have been baptized and your sins have been washed away? You will face temptation right after your baptism as was the case with Jesus for whom intense tempta­tion came after, not before, his baptism.

Earlier today when I praying with some of you before your baptism, you knew that being a Christian is no easy thing. I must remind you that soon after your baptism, the enemy will start putting the pressure on you. It is this pressure that has caused many Christians to fall away after baptism, especially those who have not been taught about this danger. Satan’s attacks on the newly baptized creates deep an­xieties in me and many other pastors, and this could be one of the reasons that many downplay the importance of baptism.

God allows you to be tempted so that you may learn obedience and grow strong

Immediately after Jesus was baptized and was full of the Holy Spirit, he was “led” by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan (Luke 4:1).

God protects His people, but not by way of sheltering them from exposure to temptation and difficulties. But why would God allow you to be tempted after baptism? There are many reasons for this, but above all that you may be strengthened and learn obedience through suffering. But you need to know this fact as soon as possible because your profess­ion of commit­ment to God will be tested right after your baptism. If you are unwill­ing to commit totally to God or to enter into spiritual warfare, or if you lack the courage of faith, then don’t get baptized because baptism is not for cowards. There is no place in the Christian life for cowards. Those of you who were baptized just now are already in spirit­ual warfare.

On the other hand, you don’t need to be afraid. I am not telling you all this to scare you, but in the hope that when your faith is tested, you will see how strong you are by God’s grace. It is in winning spiritual battles that you grow strong and grow spiritually. God doesn’t want a church full of spiritual babes.

It was not because of any personal need that Jesus went through the tempt­ation. God allowed it to happen to him in order to give us an example to follow, since we too are the children of God.

Immediately after his baptism, Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted and to face intense spiritual conflict. But you don’t need to be scared over this because you will discover as one of the joys of knowing God that the armies fighting on your side are far greater than the armies on the enemy’s side.

I always delight in telling the story of Elisha when he was surrounded by the vast and powerful Syrian army (2Kings 6:15-18). Elisha had a disciple, also his servant, who saw the Syrian army and cried out, “Alas, my master, what shall we do? They will wipe us out!” He could not fathom why Elisha was so calm, walking about as if there were no danger. The servant prob­ably said something like, “Let me say my final prayers because the Syrians are surrounding us.” But Elisha prayed for him, “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.” [2] So God opened the servant’s eyes to see that the spiritual armies are far greater than the armies of the enemy.

How did Elisha perceive these spiritual realities? By studying the Bible? By putting on special glasses that can see spiritual things? None of these, for Elisha was a man of God. Through years of spiritual warfare and temptat­ion in the wilder­ness, he knew that God would never let His people down. When you depend on God, you will win every battle. You may get a bruising, but you will win all the same, bruise or no bruise.

This is the second point to keep in mind, that after baptism comes temptation. And when it arrives, be spiritually and mentally pre­pared for it. Keep in mind that after every spiritual blessing, the enemy will strike. Anyone who is experienced in spirit­ual warfare knows this very well. This is second nature to me. Every time a blessing comes, I would say, “Get ready for the attack.”

After every spiritual blessing comes Satan’s attack

I have shared with you that back in 1960, we had an Easter conference in Kent, England, in a little place called Chislehurst. At the conference, the Spirit of God came down upon us with such enormous power that all our lives were changed. Fifty of us were sitting in a room, and we experienced Pentecost!

This happened on the last day of the conference as we assembled together. The Spirit of God came down upon us with such power that there was not one in the room who was not seized by the Spirit of God, not one who was not convicted of sins, not one who was not filled with the Spirit. It was a revival! And after the conference, our small church back in London exploded in numbers!

Pentecostals seek spirit­ual experiences, yet not many of them have experienced what we by God’s grace were granted to experience in Chislehurst. None of the fifty of us will ever forget it! Within a few weeks, our church in London was packed to the doors, for many had heard the news that the Spirit of God had come into our church.

Soon after that powerful experience, I said to the brothers and sisters in the church, “We have been granted a signal blessing. So watch for Satan’s attacks!” And we didn’t have to wait long. Within two weeks, the attack was on. The fierceness of spiritual warfare is well known to those who like Elisha have served God.

Resist the devil and he will flee from you

At the Bible Institute in Scotland, every academic year we would set aside one day for prayer. On one of the prayer days, the presence of the Enemy—Satan—was so thick in the building that we felt phy­sically suffocated! It was an incredible experience. On the one hand, I have exper­ienced the power and the outpouring of the Spirit; yet on the other, I have 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 James says: “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Don’t give Satan an inch, for you are a child of God. If you stand firm, Satan can do nothing to you. He will try to intimidate you, but he cannot knock you out. He may knock you down, but not out. He doesn’t have that kind of power because God won’t allow it.

Paul says, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1Cor.10:13, ESV). In His care for you, God may allow you to get your arms twisted a bit in order to be trained in spiritual warfare, but He won’t let you get destroyed. God never intends that Christ lay down his life to get you destroyed, but will watch over you as the apple of His eye. But bear in mind the reality of spiritual warfare.

Satan wants you to exercise your God-given authority the wrong way

This takes us to the next point: the nature of Satan’s attack. How does Satan attack us? It is crucial to understand the nature of his attacks so that we can fight them off.

To excel in boxing, how important is it to get some training? After all, you already know how to clench your fist and hit back when some­one punches you. You don’t need boxing lessons to punch a guy. So what exactly do you learn in judo or boxing acad­emies? The whole point is to learn to anticipate what your opponent is going to do in a certain situation. You are ready for him because you are trained to anticipate his moves. But if you are not trained, you won’t know your opponent’s next move. He possesses the skills and training to make the next strike against you.

It is crucial for us to know not only that Satan will tempt us but how he will tempt us. What tactics does Satan use against us?

In Luke 4:3 but also in 4:9, Satan says to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God …” The word if does not mean that Satan does not know that Jesus is the Son of God. The words could be better translated, “Since you are the Son of God,” a rendering that brings out the basis of Satan’s proposal to Jesus. Satan’s point is this: “Since you are the Son of God, you are entitled or author­ized to do certain things.” This line of reasoning applies to us too because we too are the children of God.

One of the blessings that we receive in the anointing of the Spirit is a certain authority from God. A king who is anointed receives the authority from God to rule. A priest who is anointed receives the authority to minister at the temple and the altar. A prophet who is anointed receives the authority to hear and to speak God’s word.

What blessing did you receive at baptism when you were anointed and given the Holy Spirit? Among other things, the authority to become child­ren of God. John 1:12 says, “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Here the Greek word for “right” (exousia) means authority. You have been given the right and the authority to become children of God.

First temptation: Using one’s spiritual standing to put the material above the spiritual

There is a right way of exercising your authority and a wrong way. The whole point of Satan’s temptation is to get you to exercise your authority in the wrong way. What then is the wrong way?

Satan goes on to say to Jesus, “Command this stone to become bread” (Luke 4:3). We can picture Satan pointing to a particular stone and say­ing, “Command this stone to become bread.” His temptations are concrete and appeal to the eye: “Jesus, Son of God, you are hungry. So command this stone to become bread.” If the temptations were vague, they would be less enticing. But Satan knows what is the best way to tempt you, by appealing to your eye and even your stomach. The first type of tempt­ation that Jesus faced is specific to Christians, especially the newly baptized: Use your new status as a child of God to your physical benefit. Use the author­ity of your anointing to obtain a material benefit to meet a legitimate need.

That kind of temptation is very potent, and its aim is to make the flesh dom­inate the spirit such that it becomes the main motivat­ion in all that you do. lf you fall for it, you will be back in the world where you used to be. You will fall back into sin and the flesh’s control. It is Satan’s subtle temptation to let the flesh govern your actions.

But it is even more subtle than that because the temptation appeals to a legitimate physical need. There is nothing sinful about being hungry or meeting that hunger. But the enticement is subtle and goes deeper. If you are stranded in the wilder­ness, who will pass by with a basket on his shoulders to sell you fresh bread? How are you going to satisfy your hunger, which is a legiti­mate need? “Since you are the Son of God, turn this stone into bread!” Satan is working along a legitimate line. The temptation is not obvious, and this is what makes it dangerous. Satan is not asking you to do some­thing that is obviously evil. The nature of temptation is to entire you to do something which is not necessarily evil in itself, to put your spiritual life under the control of your physical needs and desires.

What about your career?

We live in the 21st century, so why don’t you put your career above serving God? After all, everyone needs a career to make a living. Let your material well-being guide your spirit­ual walk.

I cannot count how many Christians have fallen for that tempt­ation, and have, as a result, come under the control of the flesh. Let me tell you honestly that I myself have been tempted along those lines many times. I have said to myself just as you may have said to your­self, “I can get a good job and serve God at the same time.” If you can do that, why can’t I do that as a preacher? What is the difference between you and me? Did some­one drag me out in order to stamp on my hand the words, “Preacher of the Gospel,” to forbid me from having a secular career? What stops me from taking a good job? My friends are making two or three times my salary. I could have said to my­self, “What am I doing here? I must be the fool here!” Then they will say to me, “It is because you are dedicated to God.” But why can’t they be dedicated? Why should I be the one? Where does the Bible say that Eric Chang is limited to preaching the gospel? I don’t see this anywhere in the Bible, and I was trained in other things too. This is precisely where Satan begins to work on you.

In England, I faced this tempt­ation in the form of a university teach­ing job post which was exactly in line with my training. I said to myself, “Why can’t I be a university lecturer and serve God at the same time? Is there anything wrong with that? No, it is the most sensible thing to do. I can preach just like the church minister. He has a salary and is a financial burden to the church, but I won’t be a burden.”

Brothers and sisters, you are not a financial burden to the church but I am. So in this respect, you are better than I. Why shouldn’t I get a job too? I can still preach at church every Sunday.

When I saw the teaching position advertised in a journal, I discussed it with Helen my wife. I said, “What if I go for this job in Edinburgh? They have recently opened a new department.” There were not many people in England in this particu­lar line, so my chances of getting this job were quite good. 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 pick up my pen, the convict­ing of the Holy Spirit came, saying, “Eric, what are you doing?”

“Well, it is like this.”

“Like what?”

“I guess it is like … the flesh dominating the spirit.”

I just could not fill out the form.

On another occasion, a kind and well-meaning friend sent me a stack of application forms from the University of Hong Kong. He said, “There is a job for you in Hong Kong!” And do you know what I did? I dumped the forms into the garbage bin! I didn’t go ahead because I knew that Satan was tempt­ing me to put my legitimate needs first. Note “legitimate”. I would not have sinned in meeting my physical or material needs, but I would be sinning by putting those needs above God’s ministry.

Know what God wants for you

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that the person who is not preaching the gospel is materialistic. That is not my point. I have said elsewhere that serving God is a matter of a gift. You may 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 for me to escape from it without sinning in some way, that is, by letting the flesh dominate the spirit. Your time and your gift might not have arrived. It may come one of these days, or it may never. It may be that you are meant to stay where you are. Even if you tell God that you are willing to serve Him, He may say, “I know you are willing to serve Me, but stay where you are for the time being.” So what I am saying is not meant to be a criticism of anyone. My task today is not to judge anyone, but to expound a vital principle of temptation.

The aim of temptation is to entice you to put the material above the spiritual by means of your spiritual standing. That could happen if I preach the gospel for the purpose of making a good living for myself.

I receive all kinds of Christian journals and magazines, and I recently received one which says, “Pastor Required”. I looked at the salary and said, “Hey, I could use that salary! And I would still be serving God. What am I doing here in Montreal when this other church needs a pastor, and is willing to pay more than double my current salary?” Do you have any object­ions to my applying for this position? Would it be a sin? After all, they want a pastor with such and such experience, and I think I meet their requirements.

I think I stood a good chance of being hired, so why didn’t I send in my application? It is because God has a task for me right here at the moment, even though it would not be a sin for me to go for a higher salary or a warmer climate. Winter in Montreal is long, with five months of snow, so let us go to Florida!

How to overcome Satan’s temptation?

Be filled with God’s 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 for material benefits. We can easily do that if we wanted, which is what makes the temptation so potent. I hope that you 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.”

After you graduate, will your next step be to go for a Master’s degree or perhaps a doctorate? Is there anything inherently sinful about doing a doctorate? Of course not. In that case, you will go for a Ph.D., right? Whether the answer is “yes” or “no” depends on your relationship with God.

I ask those who have been baptized to remember their pledge to be totally committed to God. It means that we say honestly to God, “I will do whatever You want me to do. If You want me to do a Ph.D., I will do it. If You don’t want me to do it, please grant that my worldly ambitions will not dominate my spirit­ual life. The decision is Yours, not mine, to make.” 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 be your time to preach the gospel, so He may lead you to do a Ph.D. That is possible. God may have His own reasons for you to have this particular academic qualification. For some of us, the opposite is true.

I have always been willing to let God do with me as He wished. I was happy to have a degree or no degree. Either way, it did not matter to me in the slightest. Is a degree worldly? It could be worldly or it might not be. It depends on what God’s will is. It was His will to send me to univer­sity even though I didn’t pursue it. God is my witness that I didn’t pursue it for one moment. I said, “God, if You don’t want me to study at univer­sity, I would be happy to stay away from it.” But God said “Go!” and so I went.

At university I was quite happy not to get a degree. It meant nothing to me. In fact, just two months before I was due to grad­uate, I was preach­ing at a conference when I should have been study­ing for my first class honors, which my professor had very much expected me to get. But what was I doing? I was preaching the gospel because I had been invited to. I had to make a choice: Shall I preach the gospel, or shall I study for my exams and get first class honors? If I let my worldly ambitions domin­ate, I would of course go for first class honors. I would tell the organizers, “I will preach at your conference next year because my finals are coming up.” I was caught between the two, so 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. It made no differ­ence to me because I only wanted to do God’s will.

After I graduated, I said to myself, “I don’t know what God wants me to do. Maybe I can do a doctorate.” I applied to Switzerland for doctoral studies and was accepted. That was when the Lord said “No”.

I said, “But Lord, the doctorate will be good for You. Wherever I preach the gospel, I will be introduced as Dr. Eric Chang whereas now I am only Mr. Eric Chang.” I was so ambitious that I wrote my doctoral thesis, some 330 or 340 pages, even before heading off. I was actually doing my doctorate as an undergraduate in my spare time! A few years later, someone else did a doctorate on the exact same topic as my thesis. I could have said to him, “Here, take my thesis, get the doctorate, and save yourself three years of work.”

After I was accepted at Zurich, God said, “No, you stop right there.” It was a struggle for me because my flesh, my personal ambit­ions, wanted me to go on. But God said “No,” so I submitted to His will.

I say to you who have been baptized: God might 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 take off, and you won’t see me here. I will collect my thesis from the shelf, blow off the dust, and run straight to the university: “Here is my doctoral thesis!”

But God knows each one of us, and how to deal with us. If you don’t follow God’s way, but allow your personal, material, worldly, and fleshly desires to get the better of you, you will fall for Satan’s temptations. That is how Satan will strike you. This is the message of Luke’s account of the temptation of Jesus.

Obedience brings God’s power into your life

How then do we apply this principle? I have given you part of the answer. Just tell God, “I desire nothing but to do Your will.” If I had gone against God’s will and did a doctorate, do you know what would have hap­pened to me? I would have been finished! God will 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 once visited a church whose minister has a doctorate, yet there were only three people in the congregation because he lacked spiritual power and authority. The moment your power is gone, you are finished no matter how many doctorates you have.

You might not have a doctorate or a bachelor’s degree, or a high school diploma, or even primary school education, but if you have the Spirit of God, the world will shake! D.L. Moody lacked primary school education, yet wherever he went to preach the Word of God, the people broke down. The Spirit of God moved in every heart. People were convicted of sin, and fell on their faces before God. Believe me, you don’t need a doctorate to preach the gospel. Jesus chose a group of uneducated fishermen to shake the world.

If you want to serve God, the only thing that matters is that God is real in your life. Don’t envy Pastor so-and-so with multiple degrees after his name. That’s meaningless. Have nothing to do with it! Seek the power of the Spirit. That is what I look for.

If I had disobeyed God and gone for a doctorate, I would have Th.D. after my name. But God would have shelved me for the rest of my life, and I would be finished. What will I do with a Th.D. when God has no work for me to do? I would be down the drain! The cost of obedience may be high, but the cost of disobed­ience is absolutely incalculable. You cannot afford the luxury of disobed­ience.

Fast to bring your body under control

Jesus fasted forty days in the wilderness to fight off Satan’s temptat­ions. In today’s mediocre Christianity, people have no use for fasting or spiritual disci­pline. The church is full of woolly people who come “only for the beer,” as one would say in England, that is, going to church for what they can get out of it. There is no self-discipline and no spiritual drive.

But what did the Lord Jesus do in battling temptation? He fasted through­out the forty days of temptation.

If you don’t know what the purpose of fasting is, you may think that fasting will only intensify the temptation, making it easier for Satan to tempt Jesus. That was exactly my understanding when I was a young Christian: “How strange! Why is the Lord weakening himself with fasting, giving Satan an advan­tage? If one is weak and hungry, how can he resist Satan? Satan will have a field day with him.” But Jesus was not fast­ing to give Satan a more effective means of tempt­ing him. The Christian life is hard enough without making it more diffi­cult.

In fact the whole purpose of fasting is to weaken Satan’s tempt­ations. You would grasp this if you had understood my prev­ious point, that Satan tempts you through your flesh. To deal with temptat­ion, you must bring the flesh under control. That is what fasting is about, to bring the flesh under control. When you control the flesh through fasting, Satan’s attack will be greatly weakened because you have disciplined the flesh. The undisciplined flesh is Satan’s surest weapon to knock out the Christian. He works on your flesh, but the spirit­ual man disciplines the flesh. Paul pom­mels his body in order to bring his flesh under control (1Cor.9:27).

Learn to fast. Don’t worry, it won’t kill you. In fact you will live, and live better. I have touched on the topic of fasting at various conferences and also in this church. Learn to bring your flesh under control. The lack of self-discipline among Christians today is tragic. I wonder how many have ever fasted.

Of course I advise caution. I don’t mean that you start with forty days. I don’t want to lose you! For the time being, start with one day. If you cannot manage a day, skip a meal. By supper time, you may feel that you are starving to death. But you will survive. Then try fasting for one day, and by evening you will feel that you won’t make to next morn­ing! Your arms and knees will feel weak. But you won’t die. You’ll be fine next morning. But I don’t advise you to fast too long to begin with.

Jesus fasted forty days because he was trained to fast. The Son of God knew what it was to discipline the flesh, so he prevailed in spiritual warfare with Satan. Satan tempted him not just at the end of the forty days but through­out the forty days (Lk.4:2; Mk.1:13). Jesus fasted all that time, shutting off his flesh from the attacks of the enemy, and greatly weakening Satan’s power against him. It is hard to bring down a man of God who has the flesh under control.

Those in the ministry training have learned to fast for a few days, to put the flesh under control. Gradually, as time goes on, you can increase the duration. But be realistic. Don’t set an unrealistic goal that you cannot keep, such as aiming for a week when your capacity is two days, by which time you feel that you are about to die. So be realistic. In the beginning, don’t attempt the imposs­ible. Don’t run before you learn to walk. One day will be enough to start with.

Don’t fast if your health is poor. My own health is not that good, yet fasting has never done me any harm but a lot of good.

Jesus fasted forty days, but it is never said that he refrained from taking water. When you fast, you normally drink water.

Fasting is not something that is understood in the weak, woolly, and undisciplined church today. What we have in the church is not an army of Christ­ians but a flock of tour­ists who come to view the scen­ery rat­her than enter the spiritual war. We need more people with spiritual discipline!

There are a few recent books on fasting such as Arthur Wallis’s God’s Chosen Fast: A Spiritual and Practical Guide to Fasting that you may have seen in bookstores.

Fasting is not dangerous. It does you no harm but in fact does you much good by purifying your system. Paul Bragg, a nutritionist, wrote a good book which I’ve read called The Miracle of Fasting: Proven Through­out History for Physical, Mental & Spiritual Nutrition. Bragg is not writing as a Christ­ian and is not suggesting that fasting is good for your soul, but that it is good for your body. Fasting purifies your body such that you feel healthier and stronger.

I have noticed that after a few days of fasting, my mind becomes amaz­ingly clear. It is quite an experience! Your thinking becomes intellectually sharper and faster. I suppose that the brain becomes dull when the system is clogged with sugars, cholesterol, and the like. What fast­ing does for your intellectual capacity is remarkable, assuming that you can survive a few days.

But I am not concerned about the physical benefits of fasting as much as bringing the flesh under control. To use Paul’s concept, if you are to run the spiritual race as an athlete, you must discip­line your body as an athlete (1Cor.9:24-27). I have previously dealt with this passage, and am men­tioning it again for the newly baptized. You can also jog, cycle, or do light weight­lifting to discipline your body, to get your body under control.

Feed on God’s Word

Our final point is brought out in verse 4 of today’s passage, Luke 4:1-4, where Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3 to counter Satan with the Word of God. In the parallel verse, 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)

I don’t have time today to expound this important verse, but will only touch on a few points.

First, just as your body needs physical food to live, so your spiritual life needs God’s Word to survive. You are not just a body but also a spirit. If you prefer the word “soul,” that is fine (“spirit” is more biblical, and I have expounded on its meaning at a commun­ion ser­vice). Just as you live physically by eating physical food, so you live spirit­ually by eating spiritual food, the Word of God.

Second, in the physical life, it is not enough for you just to be born. To continue living and growing, you need to eat. Similarly, in the spirit­ual life, it is not enough just to be “born again,” which many preachers depict as a finished event in the sense that once you are born again, you will be fine forever after that. But a baby needs food to grow. If the baby doesn’t eat, he or she will die. You have been born physically, but if you don’t eat, you will die. It is the same with being born again. It is wonderful to be born spirit­ually, but if you are going to survive spirit­ually, you will have to feed on God’s Word: “Like newborn babies, long for the pure spiritual milk” (1Peter 2:2), which is the Word of God.

What does it mean to feed on God’s Word? We are intellect­ual people by nature, so I need to point out that feeding on God’s Word does not mean just reading the Bible. All too often we think of feeding on God’s Word as reading the Bible. That is only part of it. Feeding on God’s Word means applying it, not just reading it. You don’t live spiritually unless you live by God’s Word. You may read the Bible, but Satan 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 you who have just been baptized: conform your life to what is taught in God’s Word. That is more important than reading Bible com­ment­aries. When you read a Bible passage, ask yourself, “Does my life con­form to it? How do I apply it to my life?” If you do that, you are living by God’s Word and feeding on it. Read the Bible every day. It doesn’t matter how many chapters you read. That is not the point. Some Christ­ians are concerned about reading a daily quota of chapters, but I would rather that you read three sentences and live by them. What is the use of reading three chapters and not applying them in your daily life? It would be better to read three sentences and apply them to your life right ­away. Then you are truly feeding on God’s Word.



[1] In this verse, “the Spirit of God” is parallel to “the Spirit of Christ,” that is, the Spirit of God in Christ, just as “the spirit of Elijah” is the Spirit of Yahweh in Elijah (2Kings 2:14-15).

[2] In the present book, when we quote from the Hebrew Bible (what Christians call the “Old Testament”), we would sometimes preserve God’s personal name Yahweh where it is found in the Hebrew text, for the sake of biblical accuracy.

 

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