Satan’s Three Great Temptations

Do Muslims have an Awareness of Sinfulness?

The Bible does not regard wrongdoing as simply the act of committing a sin against God which can be cancelled out by a good deed, nor does it regard human beings as having the freedom, from a neutral position, to choose between good and evil. As we have seen, it regards all of humankind, since the sin of the first man Adam, as being under the power of sin and needing an act of redemption to restore its relationship with God. Original Sin is the name or title given to this definition, meaning that all the sons of Adam are in a state of sinfulness, with a tendency to evil, as slaves to sin and bound to do its bidding (John 8:34), with a deadening effect on the soul (Ephesians 2:1) resulting in the eventual death of the body.

Islam does not take the effect of sin to such extremes. It regards wrongdoing as a very serious matter but does not teach that all men and women are held in sin’s destructive, deadly grip and cannot be forgiven or saved unless God himself activates a redeeming work from his side to remedy the situation. The Qur’an does teach that there is an enmity between God and man and that sin and wrongdoing have had a devastating effect on the human race. "Indeed man is in ruin," it declares (Surah 103:3) and to some extent it confirms the Biblical concept of sinfulness in this verse:

I do not claim that my soul is innocent for man is prone to evil. Surah 12:53

Yet Muslims scholars have always taught that sins are no more than acts of wrongdoing, breaches of the laws of Islam, which can be remedied by good deeds, repentance and the forgiveness of Allah. Sinfulness, as a state of the soul motivating mankind instinctively towards evil, does not come into the Islamic equation. The Qur’an uses two words which are usually translated simply as "sin," namely dhanb and khati’ah, and also often uses the word dhulm meaning "wrong." To these scholars, once a man professes Islam and lives as a Muslim, all evil deeds, thoughts and words are only transgressions of the law to be punished or forgiven. Sure, the enemies of Allah are said to have a sickness in their hearts (Surah 8:49), but this is not a state of sinfulness but rather an attitude of ill-will towards Muslim believers with the intention of misleading and beguiling them away from Islam.

Muslims have traditionally distinguished between two types of sin, kabirah – the "great" sins, and saghirah – the "little" sins. The first are serious misdemeanours which, if not repented of, will lead to punishment, and the second are venial errors which are common to all believers and will be forgiven more easily. The Hadith records teach that Muhammad regarded seven sins as more heinous than all others, as in this text:

Abu Hurairah reported the Apostle of Allah (saw) as saying: Refrain from seven (sins) which cause destruction. He was asked, What are they, Apostle of Allah? He replied: To assign a partner to Allah, magic, to kill a soul (man) which is prohibited by Allah except for which is due, to take usury, to consume the property of an orphan, to retreat on the day of battle, and to slander chaste women, indiscreet but believing. Sunan Abu Dawud, Vol.2, p.809

Other records in the Hadith show that, in Islam, acts of wrongdoing can be compensated or expiated by acts of repentance, good deeds, righteous works and enduring the legal punishments prescribed by Islamic law. This tradition is typical of those that regard sin in Islam as no more than wilful acts of wrongdoing rather than evidences of a sinful heart in need of redemption:

Narrated ‘Ubada bin As-Samit: I gave the pledge of allegiance to the Prophet (saw) with a group of people and he said, "I take your pledge that you will not worship anything besides Allah, will not steal, will not commit infanticide, will not slander others by forging false statements and spreading it, and will not disobey me in anything good. And whoever among you fulfils all these, his reward is with Allah. And whoever commits any of the above crimes and received his legal punishment in this world, that will be his expiation and purification. But if Allah screens his sin, it will be up to Allah, Who will either punish or forgive him according to his wish." Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol.8, p.518

In the light of all these teachings you would not expect Muslims to have an awareness of sinfulness, yet it has been my experience that most of them do. I have often been impressed with their consciousness, which they freely express, that a tendency to sin resides deep within their souls. When challenged about their lives, they will openly admit that sin is so prevalent that at times they may not even be aware of it. "You know, there are so many times when we sin we don’t even realise we are doing it. We don’t always know what is wrong and what isn’t." How often I have heard that kind of statement.

Often it runs deeper. Addiction to habits, such as smoking, swearing, abusiveness and the like, make them aware of a bondage to sin from within their beings that is not easy to overcome. When I have challenged them about their sins, they regularly reply "Oh, but we know Allah is forgiving and we pray to him and trust he will forgive us. You must just determine not to commit that sin again." I have then asked: "But all wrongdoing is sin. Why simply declare that you will not commit one specific sin again? What about all the others?" Sure, they agree, you have to repent of all sins. Then I have asked the key question: "If you know sinning is wrong and that you are disobeying the laws of God, why don’t you wake up tomorrow morning and, before doing anything else, pray to God and say you know all sins are wrong, so from this moment on you’ll never sin again in your life. You’ll obey his laws perfectly, all the time."

Without exception the response has always been the same. "That’s impossible! No one can proclaim to God that he will never sin again. You can’t make a promise like that for even one day, never mind a lifetime. Often you’re sinning without even knowing it." Yes, Muslims have a very definite awareness of their own sinfulness. The reason is simple – the Biblical assessment of sin and its effect on human nature is the correct one. Whatever the Qur’an, the Hadith or Muslim scholars may teach, human sinfulness and the tendency to evil are inherently part of every man’s nature. Many a Muslim painfully knows the meaning of these words:

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it? I the Lord search the mind and try the heart, to give to every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings. Jeremiah 17:9-10

It has often been said that sin has created a Christ-shaped vacuum in every man’s heart. This is absolutely true and, no matter what a Muslim may be taught to believe about himself, it’s true of him too. Only Jesus Christ can fill the dark void in the depths of the heart caused by the devastating effect of human sinfulness. Only the Spirit of Christ can enliven any soul dead in its trespasses and sins.

Here is an area where any Christian can witness effectively to Muslims of God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ. In the last chapter we saw how to impress on Muslims that the first transgression of Adam and Eve had devastating consequences. Here, by drawing them out on the inner motives, passions, jealousies, angers, lusts, unholy desires and evil promptings that surge from the depths of their being, a Christian can show them how God has resolved this problem and how, by believing in Jesus who died to deliver us not only from the guilt of sin but also its power, they can be reconciled to God and be given fulness of life in receiving the Holy Spirit.

There is one very important comparison in the Bible that can be raised in this context and used to emphasise just who Jesus was, how he conquered the power of sin, and how he can deliver any man from its deadly effects.

Eve’s Capitulation to Satan’s Threefold Temptation

Only one woman is named in the Qur’an, Mary the mother of Jesus. Eve (named Hawwa in Islam) is mentioned simply as the wife of Adam (Surah 2:35, 7:19), and no mention is made of the fact that Satan first tempted her before she persuaded her husband to eat of the forbidden fruit. In the Qur’an Satan tempts them both at the same time, whispering suggestions and swearing he was their sincere adviser (Surah 7:20-21). Muslims, generally, do not object to the Biblical record of their fall, however, and it is very useful to analyse the true nature of the devil’s temptation. We read:

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desired to make one wise, she took of its food and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate. Genesis 3:6

It was not just a simple enticement to eat the fruit. It was a comprehensive temptation directed at the core of her being and, as the passage shows, had a threefold character. Firstly, Eve saw that the tree was "good for food." This meant it was obviously tasty, in good shape and would benefit her physical body if she ate of it. There was nothing wrong with the fruit itself. It had no worms! Satan succeeded in misleading her because he got her to focus on the fruit itself rather than the God who had simply forbidden her to eat of it.

Muslims are aware that many temptations to sin cause them to fall simply because the action itself does not appear to carry negative consequences. The end result often appears profitable as long as the declared will of God is ignored. Pornography, drug-taking, financial corruption in business and sexual immorality can all be very appetising and seem harmless as long as no one else knows what you are doing. It’s only when they lead to rape, indecent assault, AIDS, criminal prosecution, job losses, drug addiction, venereal diseases, divorce and other unwanted consequences that the wrongdoing becomes apparent for what it really is. All these come from desires for immediate physical gratification and there is not a Muslim in the world that does not know this level of temptation.

Secondly, Eve saw the food was "a delight to the eyes." God had said "do not touch it," but Eve, disregarding the commandment again, judged the fruit purely by its appearance. It looked good. There was nothing obviously wrong with it. In fact, once you looked at it closely, it appeared to be an object of great beauty. Her sin did not consist in choosing to pick and eat an object which was inedible or poisonous, it was in simply defying the will of her Creator who had commanded her not to eat it. Once again, by disrespecting his will and asserting her own, she fell. Many a Muslim knows the outcome of focusing on the beauty of something lawfully beyond his reach – another man’s wife, a luxury car he cannot afford, an X-rated TV program he shouldn’t watch – and falling for its beauty without recognising the identity of the devil persuading him to pursue it.

Thirdly, Eve perceived that the food was "to be desired to make one wise." She believed Satan when he suggested that, by taking it, she would become "like God, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5). She was fooled into thinking she would advance her status and become like the deity himself, not recognising the perfidy of the one who spoke to her. Instead she fell and became like the devil, knowing the power and presence of evil. Muslims know the meaning of the proverb "Pride comes before a fall." History, both Muslim and non-Muslim, testifies to the ultimate end of all power-mad rulers who pursue their arrogant ambitions and seek to become their own gods over the people they control.

There’s a verse in the New Testament that defines this threefold temptation as emphatically and clearly as it could possibly be put. It is:

For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but of the world. 1 John 2:16

The "lust of the flesh" made Eve see that the tree was good for food, the "lust of the eye" that it was attractive to the sight, and "the pride of life" that it was to be desired to make one wise. Built into one temptation were evil characteristics that she had formerly never known or even thought possible – greed, covetousness, pride, arrogance, selfishness, shame and dishonour – and in the centuries to come these were to grow to enormous proportions in the billions of her offspring who would choose to listen to the devil rather than the God of all the Universe. One awful, comprehensive temptation fully absorbing all three of the desires John mentions, brought about the downfall of the human race.

By identifying these three causes of all sinful actions, the Christian can witness very effectively to Muslims of God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ. We turn to a time when the devil, up to the same tricks, tried the same threefold temptation on him.

The Obedience of the One Man Jesus Christ

The Qur’an does not mention a very important promise God made shortly after Adam and Eve had eaten of the forbidden fruit. He said to Satan:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. Genesis 3:15

He promised that one of her offspring, just one, would rise in an age to come who would not be affected by their fall, who would not be like the devil but would in fact be his sworn and mortal enemy. He would be on God’s side and, though bruised in the conflict, would conquer Satan and eventually destroy him. The man was Jesus Christ and Satan recognised him. For the first thirty years he grew up and lived an ordinary life as a carpenter’s son in Nazareth, a humble village. His neighbours, during this time, saw nothing unusual about him (Mark 6:2-3). Satan, however, marked him – especially what he particularly noticed and that was that he was the first and only man to live on earth without sin in complete obedience to God (1 Peter 2:22-23).

Jesus finally came into the open when he was baptised by John and the Spirit of God descended on him in bodily form, as a dove (Matthew 3:16). Immediately afterwards, just as God had driven Adam and Eve from the Garden into a decaying world full of thorns, so Jesus was driven away from his normal countryside into the wilderness (Mark 1:12). There he fasted forty days and nights. Satan must have wondered at his purpose but, despite not being able to identify it, did perceive that, at the end of the forty days, Jesus was about as weak as a human being could be. Hunger strikers usually die after about sixty-five days and after forty days are almost at the point of no return. Satan knew his best chance of catching Jesus in a moment of complete physical weakness, when he had no natural strength to resist him, was right now.

There is so much to compare between the three temptations that followed and the similar temptation to Eve. Here is a wonderful opportunity to show Muslims how Jesus resisted temptation to sin at its fullest intensity, how he conquered the power of sin, and how he can be our strength today. There are no parallels in the life of Muhammad. The first temptation of the devil went like this:

If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread. Luke 4:3

There was a vast difference between this temptation and the one Eve had faced. She was in a beautiful garden, Jesus was in a barren desert. She had ample access to all the food she could possibly desire, Jesus had none and had not eaten for forty days. He was emaciated with hunger. It was as if Satan was mocking him. "You are supposed to be the Son of God, yet here you perish with hunger. Look how your Father treats you. He has made you the hungriest and weakest man on all the earth. Now, if you will just listen to me, I’ll show you how to save yourself. Turn these stones into loaves of bread."

The fruit Eve ate was a delicacy, good for food and delight to the eyes. Jesus desperately needed just a piece of staple diet, a loaf of bread, to survive. Satan offered Jesus the Midas touch, as it were, yet Jesus resisted him, saying, "Man shall not live by bread alone" (Luke 4:4). He stood by his commitment to live by every word of God, no matter where it might lead him.

The contrast between Eve and Jesus is striking – two extremes, to be precise. She had no need to eat but did. He desperately needed food but declined to use his powers against his Father’s will to satisfy himself. At his weakest he resisted the temptation to indulge the "lust of the flesh" at its fullest extent and intensity. So Satan tried his second temptation, showing him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and saying:

To you I will give all this authority and their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it shall all be yours. Luke 4:6-7

Again Jesus resisted the temptation, saying to Satan, "You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve" (Luke 4:8). This time Satan attempted to make Jesus fall through the "lust of the eye," dazzling his vision with a display of all the kingdoms of the earth. Once again it was as if he was mocking Jesus, saying, "Your Father has also made you the poorest man on earth in this wilderness. You have nothing you can call your own. But if you will listen to me, I will make you the richest man on earth. I’ll show you how to use your powers to possess everything on earth for yourself. Just listen to me and, like Eve, ignore the will of your Father."

Again there is a marked contrast between Eve and Jesus. She fell for a piece of fruit – Jesus resisted an offer to obtain the whole world. When Eve ate the fruit, sin and human sinfulness had only just begun to affect mankind. It had only just been conceived. In the fulness of time, however, when Jesus appeared on earth, it had reached its pitch. The Bible shows how sin grows to maturity in these words:

Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death. James 1:15

By Jesus’ time the emperors of Rome, such as Julius and Augustus Caesar, were seeking to gain the whole world for themselves. Others, like Alexander the Great, had also attempted this before them. "They are only men, you are the Son of God. Use your divine powers to fulfil your own desires and you can do it," Satan was saying to Jesus. Once again sin and temptation had come a long way, from one extreme to the other. Jesus resisted the temptation to indulge the lust of his eyes to its fullest possible extent. So Satan tried his third and last temptation:

If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here; for it is written, "He will give his angels charge over you to guard you," and "On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone." Luke 4:9-11

For the third time Jesus resisted, saying, "It is said, You shall not tempt the Lord your God" (Luke 4:12). This was the temptation to "the pride of life." This time Satan was saying to him, "On top of it all, your Father has made you the loneliest man on earth. No one knows where you are, no one cares. If you died, who would be concerned? You are the hungriest, poorest and loneliest man on earth, a travesty of humanity. Now, if you will only listen to me, I will show you how to become the greatest and most popular man who ever lived. I will give you the obedience of the nations."

Eve fell for a temptation just to become wiser, Jesus resisted a temptation to become the greatest man on all the earth. Once again sin had been taken to its fullest extremes, and Jesus resisted it at its greatest extent. Roman rulers, not content to possess everything on earth, were also endeavouring to force their subjects to honour them as divine rulers. Sin had indeed become full-grown.

The method Satan used here to tempt Jesus can be likened to the Hajj Pilgrimage in Islam. Every year hundreds of thousands of Muslim pilgrims come to Mecca from all over the world to encircle the Ka’aba seven times. In 1979 a group of rebels occupied the mosque precincts, declaring one of their number to be the long-awaited Imam Mehdi, a Messianic figure anticipated by Shiah Muslims as well as many Sunnis. The coup failed, however, and the surviving rebels were beheaded in public disgrace. If, however, the pretender had declared, "I am Imam Mehdi and to prove it I will jump off the Ka’aba and you will see God’s angels come down to protect me," and had accomplished this with a visible rescue by a host of angels from heaven, I have little doubt they would have all been persuaded!

Jesus was tempted by Satan in the same way. The devil gave him a vision of monotheistic believers from all over the earth gathered to worship at God’s holy house and tempted him to win their allegiance by a public display of his divine authority. That such a temptation could come from Satan is indicative of the corrupt allegiance of the Jewish nation to the God of Israel at the time. Very significantly, when Jesus did finally come to the Temple, he did the opposite of what Satan had suggested and drove all the moneychangers and pigeon-sellers out of the Temple, making himself most unpopular in the process (John 2:15-20).

The comparisons and contrasts between the three forms of temptation are obvious. What’s more, Eve faced only one temptation which embedded all three desires. Jesus faced three separate temptations, stretched to their fullest possible range and magnitude, and effectively resisted them all. In all three cases Satan tempted him as he had baited Adam and Eve – to assert himself independently of his Father’s will. He returned to his people and, having conquered the power of sin, prepared himself to conquer its guilt at the cross and so complete the work of redemption. He had bruised the head of Satan. He had "condemned sin in the flesh" (Romans 8:3), he had triumphed over it in its chosen lair, the human body, the source of all sin and wrongdoing. He had discerned the implication of Satan’s command, "Throw yourself down" (Luke 4:9). He knew this was all men would ever do by heeding his suggestions.

Christians here have a powerful basis to witness to Muslims aware of their own sinfulness. Jesus said the Holy Spirit would come to convict the world of sin (John 16:8) and, by praying for Muslims and witnessing to them, Christians can depend on the Spirit working with them to open the hearts of Muslims to see the degree of their own sinfulness and their need of redemption. Jesus dealt with sin once for all in the wilderness and at the cross. He now releases the power to all his followers to overcome its force and effects as well.

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:3

Many Muslims, having like Pilgrim in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, become aware of the burden of their sins and the inner controlling sinfulness of their hearts, seek more than a religion, book or way of life to deliver them. Christians, here, are well-equipped to lead them to the Saviour of the world, the Lord Jesus Christ.

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