It has been said that a second person must have been present, tempting Christ with ideas, since ‘the suggestions were evil suggestions, out of a carnal mind, and this could not possibly have been generated from the mind of Christ.’ In other words, the thoughts were the thoughts of a carnal mind and Christ did not have a carnal mind. This position is based on the premise that ‘Christ, possessing the Holy Spirit, would not entertain any thoughts contrary to the will of God.’
It is correct that Christ was indeed endowed with the Holy Spirit and did not entertain any thought contrary to God’s will. The key word here is ‘entertain’. One definition is: to take into consideration. It may be said that Christ did not take into consideration ideas contrary to God’s will, but that does not mean that such thoughts did not, briefly, pass through his mind, only to be rejected.
A careful examination of the Scriptures regarding temptations in the wilderness and other places in Scripture will show that, indeed, such thoughts did pass through his mind. Temptation itself is not sin. Sin does not occur until one yields to that temptation, and that is what Christ never did.
We know that Christ was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin (Heb4:15). This means that he had the same mind as we have, feeling the same desires and fleshly impulses that we feel. This actually means that he did have a carnal mind, meaning: ‘relating to the desires and appetites of the flesh or body’ (The American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition). To say otherwise is to deny the statements of Scripture (e.g., Heb2:14). Also, James tells us:
“Every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed” (James1:14).
In order for both James and the writer to the Hebrews to be right, Christ must have been “drawn away” by his own lust.
As a matter of fact, “lust” is not a bad word; it just has a bad connotation. The Greek word translated “lust” in James 1:14,15 is “epithumia”. This same word is translated “desire” in Matthew 13:17:
“Many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see”;
“With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you”;
“For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ”;
and 1 Thessalonians2:17:
“For we brethren… endeavored the more abundantly to see your face with great desire.”
We can see from these references that the words “lust” and “desire” are used interchangeably. Which word was employed was dependent on the impression the translators wished to convey.
Let’s replace the word “lust” with the word “desire” in James 1:14; the translators have already shown this is a viable option. In fact the NIV takes this option, even though they also insert the word “evil”, which is unnecessary and potentially misleading. Making a similar substitution, we may read the verse thus:
“Every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own desire and enticed.”
This reading has a very different feel. It now coincides with what John says about temptation in 1 John 2:16, that it is:
“…the desire of the eye, the desire of the flesh and the pride of life.”
All temptation must by its very nature be internal, regardless of what first stimulates the thought. The serpent in the garden reminded Eve of a fact regarding the tree of knowledge of good and evil. But Eve and Adam, exercising their free will, yielded to the desire which arose from within themselves to partake of the fruit. The choice either to consider or to reject the thought presented by the serpent was theirs alone. The serpent had no effect on what decision they made. That alone was their responsibility. They chose to consider the idea.
The Gospels record three distinct temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. Only one (turning stones into bread) could credibly have been presented by a second individual. The second temptation requires us to believe that Christ passively accompanied an individual from the wilderness toJerusalemand then went up onto the pinnacle of the temple, whereas there is no indication that Christ, physically, ever left the wilderness. The third temptation has the same difficulty. There is no place on earth where an external tempter would be able to take Christ and show him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. All these temptations must have been thoughts of the mind of the flesh, thoughts which passed through the mind Christ but were immediately rejected as not in keeping with his mission — to glorify the name of God.
Having a desire to do something is in itself not a sin. It only becomes a sin if that desire does not glorify God and if we allow ourselves to indulge in it:
“When lust (desire) hath conceived it bringeth forth sin” (James1:15).
Christ’s greatest temptation came in the garden following the last supper. There we find him all alone in agony, sweating as it were great drops of blood. What are his words?
“O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Luke22:42).
There was no one else present with him to suggest those words. They came from within. These are the words of a man who is having a tremendous emotional battle. Christ during his short life had seen many men being crucified. It was not a pleasant sight. Knowing this form of execution was to be his lot, he would naturally experience a battle between his flesh and the spirit. One of the strongest impulses of natural man is the desire to live. An animal, even one which is normally quite docile, when he is cornered, is extremely dangerous because he is battling for his life; he does not want to die. Christ, in the garden, was having to overcome the natural desire of all living creatures to live. He desired that the “cup” pass from him, but again, as he had done in the wilderness, he rejected the idea:
“Nevertheless not my will, but thine be done” (Matt 26:39, 42; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42).
His will was to live, but yielding to such a desire would not glorify God. No wonder he was in such agony, battling the fleshly desire to avoid a slow painful death and to live. We find at least twice he had to keep overcoming this desire to live, asking God to let it pass. But the spirit did prevail and the flesh was defeated. He was able to say, “I have overcome.” His desire to serve the LORD overcame his fleshly desire to serve himself. It was a difficult battle and it was fought entirely within the mind of Christ.
We too are constantly engaged in this same battle. We have a carnal mind, that is, a mind of the flesh. Christ had the same mind. Christ knows what we are going through, since he fought exactly the same battle. It is a continuous struggle, the mind of the spirit warring against the mind of the flesh. We must keep our focus on the end prize, God’s gift of eternal life, and remain steadfast in prayer, as Christ did, so that we can overcome the thinking of the flesh and be awarded the prize we so eagerly seek, a place in the Kingdom of God.