Lent Season is coming up in few months time. We’re going to be encouraged to spend more time in intimate conversation with God, to do without some pleasurable things like certain foods or forms of entertainment, and to give a bit more of our money and resources to those in need.
But why does the Church suggest these practices? Why are we persuaded to focus on these three specifically?. Moreover, let’s take a look at just one of those reasons, one that comes straight from the pages of Scripture and that spans the entirety of salvation history.
The Three Temptations
These three spiritual practices assist in empowering us against the various temptations we face day by day. To understand how let’s start by looking at the way the New Testament explains those temptations: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. 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 is of the world.” (1 John 2:15-16) When John says “the world” in this passage, he is not saying about the entirety of creation. Instead, he is using it in a very specific sense: he is talking about everything that is opposed to God. Actually, he points out three things, three sources of temptation that totally sums up everything in the world that is opposed to God.
Firstly, we have “the lust of the flesh.” While that may make us think of sexual sins, John’s meaning is bigger than just that. He’s talking about any bodily pleasure that tempts us to sin, whether sexual or not. For instance, we may be tempted to steal so we can afford to feast on the best food money can buy, and that would fall under this area.
Secondly, we have “the lust of the eyes.” This refers to things that look nice. Any time we are tempted to sin just to have nice things, we are passing through “the lust of the eyes.” Finally, there is “the pride of life,” which is exactly what it sounds like: it’s pride. If, for instance, we act like we’re better than everyone else, then we have given in to this kind of temptation.
Adam and Eve
And it’s not just that one passage that presents temptation this way. If we turn to the story of the Fall of mankind, we see that the forbidden fruit Adam and Eve ate is described in a way that matches the New Testament’s explanation of temptation more clearly:
“Now 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 to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate.” (Genesis 3:6).
The three ways that this verse explains the fruit correspond to the three sources of temptation that John lays out for us in his letter. First, it “was good for food,” which is the lust of the flesh; secondly, “it was a delight to the eyes,” which is the lust of the eyes; and
thirdly, it “was to be desired to make one wise” (and as the snake says in the previous verse, this means that it will make them like God), which is the pride of life. In other words, Adam and Eve were tempted to disobey God for three reasons, and these three reasons correspond exactly to the three sources of temptation John lays out for us in the New Testament.
Jesus in the Desert
Also, when we turn to the Gospels, we see that when Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert, he faced these same three temptations as well. First, Satan tempted him to break his fast and turn rocks into bread (Matthew 4:3), which is the lust of the flesh. Next, Satan tempted him to jump off the roof of the temple in Jerusalem. He said that because Jesus was the Son of God, the angels would save him (Matthew 4:5-6). In other words, Satan wanted Jesus to exercise his divine prerogatives just because he could; he wanted Jesus to display his status as God’s Son, which is the pride of life. Thirdly, Satan tempted Jesus to worship him in return for rule over all the kingdoms in the world (Matthew 4:8-9), which is a combination of the pride of life and the lust of the eyes. Being the king of the world evidently appeals to pride, but it also implies having a lot of nice things as well.
Subsequently, when we look throughout the Bible, we can see that these really are the main temptations we face in life. They were present at both the Fall of mankind and Jesus’ testing in the desert, two of Scripture’s similar stories about temptation. Moreover, when we look at our own lives and the world around us, we find verification of this.
Anytime we or someone else is tempted to sin, it’s often because of one or more of these three things. We want some sort of bodily pleasure, something that looks nice, or something that makes us better than other people.
Battling These Temptations
And what does this have to do with prayer, fasting, and almsgiving? Each of these patterns directly fights one of these three sources of temptation. For instance, when we pray, we call to mind the greatness of God and our complete trust in him. It assists us to discover how less powerful we are in the face of both the needs that we pray for and the God that we call upon to assist us. Similarly, when we fast, we deprive ourselves of bodily pleasure (usually food, but we can fast from other things as well). The more we do this, the more we become familiar with not having these pleasures, so we’ll be tempted by them less. Lastly, when we give alms, we give away our money, so we are depriving ourselves of the ability to buy the nicest things we can offer.
When we look at prayer, fasting, and almsgiving in this manner, we can see that prayer fights against the pride of life, fasting fights against the lust of the flesh, and almsgiving fights against the lust of the eyes. And that’s part of the reason why these three pious practices are especially recommended during Lent (and, in truth, they are essential parts of our spiritual lives all year round). Yes, there are many reasons why we should engage in all three of them, but one of those reasons is that they help strengthen us against the three principal forms of temptation we all experience in this world.