My Inner Tempter

Subtitle: A Lenten Confession

The text of the sermon, based on Genesis 2.15-17; 3.1-7 and Matthew 4.1-11, preached with the people of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC, on the 1st Sunday in Lent, February 26, 2023.


Genesis with its lush garden and chatty serpent. Matthew with barren wilderness and the devil. Contrasting biblical portraits of temptation.

Temptation. Commonly understood as anything that lures us into doing wrong; leading us away from being right.

However, the Bible encompasses hundreds of years of evolution in the notion of temptation.

In the Book of Job, dating back nearly 2700 years, Satan is a prosecuting attorney in the heavenly court. And temptation, with God’s seal-of-approval, is an essential…expected form of testing to determine whether people (personified by Job) will be faithful.

One hundred years later, the prophet Zechariah has a vision of Satan as an adversarial and false accuser.[1]

Still later,[2] the cosmic conflict between God and evil is clarified. Satan’s sole vocation is to wield the weapon of temptation to entice the faithful to turn away from God.

This is the Satan Jesus meets in the wilderness.

At Jesus’ baptism, God confirmed his messianic calling.[3] Immediately after, Jesus is “led” (in the Greek, shoved) “by the Spirit into the wilderness.” (Again, God has a hand in temptation!) The issue? What kind of Messiah will Jesus be? Will he turn stones to bread to satisfy first and foremost himself? Will he leap from Jerusalem’s Temple pinnacle to attract followers through amazing deeds? Will he establish a temporal kingdom, selling out for the sake of worldly possession and power?

So, for Jesus, so, for us. In our daily living, we face ever-present temptation to turn away from God and our best selves. Seeking Godly guidance, we might ask, “What would Jesus do?”

Today, in this Lenten season of self-examination, I share with you what I do…

Nearly fifty years ago, I read a book that, over time, has changed my life. Erich Neumann’s Depth Psychology and the New Ethic.[4] Neumann, wrestling with the problem of evil, looked at what he considered “the old ethic,” which, based on Judeo-Christian principles, calls us to deny our dark side, our shadow-self; so, to separate, liberate ourselves from what is negative, bad, unholy. Neumann, conversely, encouraged our acknowledgement of the dark side as an integral part of ourselves. In accepting, integrating our shadow, we might discover the health of wholeness.

In the paradoxical light of my dark side, my shadow, I have reclaimed for myself the more ancient notion of temptation. Less a satanic seduction to abandon God and more a truth-telling testing within my relationship with God.[5] Less a sinister summons to do evil and more an inner call to show me where I stand in relation to my ever-evolving self.

For example…

When I feel hurt by you, I’m tempted to hide behind my smiling silence. Or to withdraw, to absent myself. To avoid the risk of greater rejection. That temptation calls me to see again and to address again my deepest woundedness and fear that go back years and have nothing to do with my instant moment of hurt…

When I’m angry with you, I’m tempted either to camouflage my wrath to avoid greater confrontation or, in self-righteousness, to lash out at you. These temptations call me, valuing our relationship, to pray the Spirit, so to engage with you in tranquil honesty…

When we disagree about a choice and, in the course of circumstance and consequence, I’m proven “right”, I’m tempted to lord it over you, so to confirm my value. That temptation calls me to claim again my need of humility and our essential equality.

My inner tempter speaks to me in the garden and wilderness of my soul. And, in learning to listen, I see God more clearly, love God more dearly, follow God more nearly, and, therefore, love you more, day by day.[6]

© 2023 PRA


Adam and Eve (1504), Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528)

Jesus tempted in the wilderness, James Tissot (1836-1902)

[1] See Zechariah 3.1-2.

[2] In the intertestamental period between the last writing of the Old Testament and the first writing of the New Testament.

[3] See Matthew 3.13-17.

[4] Harper Torchbooks (1969); original title, Tiefenpsychologie und neue Ethik (1949)

[5] In the Genesis story, the serpent in the garden is a creature of God’s creation and, as Matthew tells it, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit (of God) into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Thus, in a vital sense, God is involved in the fact and the act of temptation.

[6] An allusion to the words, “Day by day, dear Lord, of thee three things I pray…”, attributed to Richard of Chichester (1197-1253).

2 thoughts on “My Inner Tempter

  1. Paul,

    Your examples in this sermon are so on point!! I think we all have to control our interactions with Satan!! My grandmother used to say “Satan you will not win today, no Sir!” And then she’d proceed to respond accordingly to whatever was going on in our lives, in effect showing us how to respond correctly to Satan’s deeds. Often in my life when I’m facing something, much like what you shared in your examples I first think “what would grandma say / do”…. I think that even before I would think that old saying “what would Jesus do” cause to some degree I still want to please her, and Jesus too!



  2. Your grandmother was a wise soul. Bless her!



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