Defeating the devil
Have one God and you will have no devil.
—Mary Baker Eddy, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 252
As we go along through life, we all have to deal with temptation. Temptations might appear in different forms for each one of us, but anything that would attempt to pull us away from the purity, love, and obedience that God imparts is a type of evil that needs to be overcome.
It is a cause for great rejoicing, then, to know that all temptation can be overcome through the grace and power of God. That’s because God is always expressing through His children, who are made in His image and likeness, the courage, strength, and goodness that triumph over “the world, the flesh, and the devil” (Book of Common Prayer, 1662 edition).
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Undoubtedly, our blessed Master, Jesus Christ, was the greatest human example of overcoming temptation. In fact, his whole life was a triumphant mosaic of facing down one challenge right after the other. Each time Jesus came up against temptation, he recognized that it was only an attempt of evil, or the devil, to present a false claim about God’s spiritual creation. He knew that the devil is “a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44). Reasoning from a spiritual standpoint, Jesus understood that at no point is a lie ever true, and that without any truth, a lie has no substance and can never be real. Therefore, Jesus saw that the devil is unreal and so without power to oppose God’s creation.
There was a specific moment, though, early in Jesus’ healing ministry when the devil (or “animal magnetism” as it is called in Christian Science [see Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 103]) came to tempt him with three alluring propositions.
In Matthew 4, verse 1, we read that Jesus was “led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.” Reading this literally, we might think that the Holy Spirit—the firm yet loving presence of God—has led Jesus into the wilderness to be tested by the devil.
But would God ever lead His “only begotten Son” (John 1:18) or any of His other children into temptation? Never! The Bible says, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man” (James 1:13).
So to me it might be more accurate to think of Jesus’ encounter with the devil as God helping Jesus out of temptation rather than leading him into temptation. In Psalms we read that God is “him which led his people through the wilderness” (136:16). Thus we could say that the Spirit was leading Jesus through and out of the wilderness when the devilish temptations came. And this wonderful spiritual fact is true for all God’s children. God never leads us into temptation; instead He empowers us to triumph over it.
Jesus’ time in the wilderness raises an obvious question—what did he learn there that strengthened him to meet the devil’s temptations? We can find a helpful answer in Science and Health. Mrs. Eddy gives a definition for the word wilderness in the Glossary of her book: “… the vestibule in which a material sense of things disappears, and spiritual sense unfolds the great facts of existence” (p. 597).
So we might say that the wilderness is a place where a mortal sense of creation, including evil in all its forms, is found to be unreal and where the true sense of God and His spiritual creation is revealed and understood. To use the language of Paul, the wilderness is a place or state of consciousness where we learn to “put off the old man [material man] with his deeds; and . . . put on the new man [spiritual man]” (Colossians 3:9, 10).
Therefore, when the Holy Spirit was leading Jesus through his time in the wilderness, it was to commune with God and affirm “the great facts of existence.” My sense is that Jesus must have been praying to see the unreality of an imperfect material creation, while he simultaneously felt the allness of divine Spirit, his Father-Mother God. Following this example, we too can feel the power and presence of God in the wilderness or whenever we feel like we are being tempted.
It is also helpful to note that part of Mrs. Eddy’s definition of wilderness refers to it as a “vestibule.” What is a vestibule? Biblically speaking, the vestibule was the outer court of the temple where God’s laws were adjudicated by priests and holy men. The Bible explains the function of the vestibule of King Solomon’s magnificent temple in this way: “Then he made a porch [vestibule] for the throne where he might judge, even the porch [vestibule] of judgment” (I Kings 7:7).
Jesus’ whole life was a triumphant mosaic of facing down one challenge right after the other.
So as we think about the wilderness as a vestibule, perhaps a helpful image to consider is a courtroom. We enter into the wilderness not to be judged or condemned as imperfect mortals sentenced to till the soil of a doleful material existence. But instead, the wilderness can be a place where we find nearness to God, who lovingly judges each one of us as His precious children, and where the devil, or evil, is condemned to its own nothingness.
Since the wilderness functions like a courtroom, we might infer that Jesus is going to the wilderness to prepare for a trial. In the holy precincts of his own exalted consciousness, Jesus prepares his case by aligning himself with the infallible laws of God that reveal man’s true spiritual nature. In fact, the Greek word for tempted used in this story is peirazo, which comes from a word that the King James Version of the Bible renders “trial” in Hebrews 11:36 (see Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible). So after spending 40 days in the wilderness affirming his own unity with God, Jesus is ready for the trial.
One important question remains, though. Who is it that is on trial when the devil comes to tempt Jesus? Doesn’t it seem like it must be Jesus who is on trial? The intense onslaught of persecution in this story certainly seems to come from the devil. But let’s think back to how the story starts out. How did Jesus get into the “wilderness courtroom” in the first place? He was “led up of the Spirit.” Therefore, the Holy Spirit is initiating this trial to expose the devil’s, evil’s, powerlessness—and the devil is the one being prosecuted! The devil claims that it has come to attack the Christ; however, it is divine Spirit that is leading these proceedings.
Despite what it claims, evil can never really instigate conflict with God’s children, because Spirit, God, alone possesses all power and initiates all action! Mrs. Eddy’s teachings confirm this to be true when she says: “Science has inaugurated the irrepressible conflict between sense and Soul. Mortal thought wars with this sense as one that beateth the air, but Science outmasters it, and ends the warfare” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 102). So it is Christian Science, the spiritual laws of God, that both begins and ends all warfare with the devil and its supposititious material suggestions.
Knowing this changes everything. It means that every trial or temptation that we face is not really our own persecution. It is instead God causing error to come to the surface so evil’s spurious claims can be destroyed. The devil lies about being the aggressor. It gives itself an inflated status that it never had, and it’s in the wilderness that we learn to see through the devil’s pretense. As the Holy Spirit leads each one of us into a fuller understanding of the power and presence of God, a false material sense of creation must inevitably disappear.
So when human life seems to place us in uncertain or unpleasant circumstances, and even if we feel like we are wandering about in a barren wilderness, we can always trust that we are not alone. Jesus proved for all mankind that even when we are in the wilderness, the Holy Spirit is with us, leading us closer to God. Because God loves us, it is only natural that He would be with us in the wilderness, helping us to rise above anything that is unlike good and bringing out the highest expression of our true Christlike nature.
Remember, the wilderness is a “vestibule,” which likens it to the porch of the temple of God. So each time we have a triumphant experience in the wilderness and face down material temptations through the strength and power of God, we gain spiritual understanding and are enabled to enter the holy temple itself. Mrs. Eddy speaks of this phenomenon in Science and Health: “The understanding, even in a degree, of the divine All-power destroys fear, and plants the feet in the true path,—the path which leads to the house built without hands ‘eternal in the heavens’ ” (p. 454).
This is, to me, what it means to be “led up of the Spirit into the wilderness.” Because the Holy Spirit is with us in the wilderness during every trial, the devil has lost its case before it even opens its lying mouth, and Christ is ever victorious!