Satan and his demons are constantly tempting human beings to sin against God, and the Bible gives us many examples. The devil “prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Satan fills people’s hearts with lies (Acts 5:3). He is “the tempter” (1 Thessalonians 3:5).
In Satan’s temptation of Eve in Genesis 3 and in his temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4, we see the tactics he used and still uses with us. While varied in their details, most temptations fall into one of three categories listed in 1 John 2:16: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.
In Satan’s first temptation of Jesus, he appealed to the lust of the flesh. Jesus was very hungry, and Satan tempted Him to use His power to make bread for Himself. Jesus resisted the temptation, but the encounter shows that Satan does not play fair. He exploits our physical weaknesses and kicks us when we’re down. He knows the weak places in our flesh and looks for opportunities to stir illicit passions inside our hearts.
When Satan tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, he suggested to her that the Lord was keeping something delicious from her (Genesis 3:6). When he tempts us with the lust of the flesh, he points to a natural desire and suggests that we should meet it in our own selfish way. Eve’s natural desire for food was not wrong, but Satan exploited it. That desire became sin when she fulfilled it in an ungodly way. Sexual immorality begins with a natural desire for intimacy. But if we have not allowed Jesus to become a greater passion, the tempter may convince us that we must meet this need our own way.
The second way Satan tempts us is through the lust of the eyes. Eve’s eyes told her something about the fruit that conflicted with what God had said about it. Eve’s eyes rebelled against God’s commandment and “saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye” (Genesis 3:6). Our eyes play a major role in our decision-making. We see something we want, and our flesh agrees that we must have it. In this age of visual overstimulation, our eyes take in millions of bits of information through the day, and, unless we filter that information through a pure heart (Matthew 5:8; Psalm 24:4), our eyes will lead us into sin.
Samson started his downhill slide with the lust of the eyes. Judges 14—16 details Samson’s flirtation with sin and the tragic results. As God’s chosen leader, Samson had no business hanging out in Philistine territory, much less flirting with their women. But his eyes led him into sin: “Then Samson went down to Timnah and saw . . . one of the daughters of the Philistines. So he came back and told his father and mother, ‘I saw a woman. . . . Get her for me, for she looks good to me” (Judges 14:1–3, emphasis added, NASB).
When Satan tempted Jesus, he tried to get the Son of God to lust with His eyes, showing the Lord all the kingdoms of the world and offering to give Him everything—without the cross. Jesus defeated Satan’s temptation with the Word of God (Luke 4:8; cf. Deuteronomy 6:13). Despite what His eyes saw, Jesus would not be swayed by it. Therefore, in Jesus’ case, Satan could not exploit the lust of the eyes.
The pride of life is a weakness we all succumb to at times. Satan tempts us with the desire to be our own gods, and he is adept at stroking our ego. Eve’s desire to be made wise led her to sin in Genesis 3. In her pride of life, she rejected the Lord’s right to rule over her and chose instead to make her own decisions. In essence, she became her own god. Christians can play into Satan’s hands when we hold out on full surrender to the lordship of Jesus. We tend to give more consideration to pleasing other people than to pleasing God. We like to retain “veto power,” just in case God wants us to do something we don’t want to do.
Satan tempted Jesus with the pride of life in Luke 4:9–11. He gave Jesus an opportunity to “show off” and publicly prove that He was the Son of God. The act would involve a spectacular miracle, the Father’s care, and many angels. Jesus’ response to Satan’s third temptation was to again quote Scripture (Luke 4:12; cf. Deuteronomy 6:16).
Satan tempts us in many ways, but “we are not unaware of his schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:11). We know he masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), trying to make evil look good. We know he manipulates with false guilt, exploits natural weaknesses, and twists Scripture. We know he deceives and distracts and destroys. He has many fiery darts, but they are all quenched with the shield of faith (Ephesians 6:16). We can overcome the temptations of Satan, because “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
Satan may tempt us through the lust of the flesh, but we “do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4). Satan may tempt us through the lust of the eyes, but our prayer is “Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word” (Psalm 119:37). Satan may tempt us through the pride of life, but we humble ourselves continually before the Lord (1 Peter 5:6; James 4:10).