The Key to Overcoming

Then Jesus said to His disciples, If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”

Matthew 16:24

Ellen White’s book Confrontation deals in great detail not only with the wilderness temptations of Christ, it also explains how Christ came off victorious as Satan used every means imaginable in his efforts to cause Him to fail in His mission, and shows how Christ’s success in resisting and overcoming can be ours.

In the wilderness, we know that Christ’s victories were gained through “Thus saith the Lord.” And of course, that is how we are to gain the victory over temptation as well.

However, it is clear from the details presented in this book that Christ did more than quote scripture in His constant confrontations with the enemy—He continually denied self.

In His assumed humanity, Christ faced the same temptations we face. “Appetite and passion, the love of the world, and presumptuous sins were the great branches of evil out of which every species of crime, violence, and corruption grew.” Op. cit., 47

That being the case, we can quickly and easily recognize that by overcoming those three temptations—also referred to in inspired writings as the world, the flesh, and the devil and in John’s first epistle as the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—by gaining the victory in these three critical areas, we are well advanced on the narrow way to the kingdom of glory.

There is no temptation faced by man that is as severe as the temptations Christ endured after forty days of fasting.

It is important to remember that not only during His wilderness trial but throughout His life, “He did not for a single moment doubt His heavenly Father’s love, although He was bowed down with inexpressible anguish. Satan’s temptations, though skillfully devised, did not move the integrity of God’s dear Son. His abiding confidence in His Father could not be shaken.” Op. cit., 41

If we are to come off victorious, we must have that same abiding confidence, a confidence that will give us the victory in every daily trial.

On page 43, is this interesting statement: “Although Christ was suffering the keenest pangs of hunger, He withstood the temptation. He repulsed Satan with the same scripture He had given Moses to repeat to rebellious Israel when their diet was restricted and they were clamoring for flesh meats in the wilderness, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.’ In this declaration, and also by His example, Christ would show man that hunger for temporal food was not the greatest calamity that could befall him.”

Think about that final sentence for a moment. Although Christ quoted the words that He had instructed Moses to give to the children of Israel when they were murmuring and complaining about their diet, Inspiration says that this statement applies to a much broader area than just temporal food. When we are living by “every word” of God, the application goes well beyond mere hunger for temporal food.

To get a broader understanding of our challenge to overcome appetite, we need to analyze a sentence from pages 50 and 51: “Our Saviour fasted nearly six weeks that He might gain for man the victory upon the point of appetite. How can professed Christians with enlightened consciences, and with Christ before them as their pattern, yield to the indulgence of those appetites which have an enervating influence upon the mind and body? It is a painful fact that habits of self-gratification at the expense of health and moral power are at the present time holding a large share of the Christian world in the bonds of slavery.”

Let’s break down that passage a little. Notice that it states, “… yield to the indulgence of those appetites,” plural.

We commonly think of appetite in terms of a desire for temporal food. However, the dictionary defines appetite as “a strong desire or liking for something, a craving.” Thus in its broadest application, our appetites include food, certainly, but also a craving for any number of things, such as fashion, conspicuous consumption in all its varied forms, preeminence, power, wealth. A hard look in a mirror will reveal more than just the wrinkles we have acquired as we have aged—especially in the mirror of God’s law.

Another word in that passage we need to understand is enervating. It might initially be assumed that it means energizing. However, it means just the opposite: “to cause [someone] to feel drained of energy or vitality; to weaken.”

With this understanding, let’s rephrase the rhetorical question asked in the passage quoted from pages 50 and 51: How can professed Christians yield to the indulgence of cravings that deplete the mind and body of energy?

In order to enable us to resist those cravings, Christ left heaven. There is a wonderful explanation of the victory He gained for us by leaving heaven and how it can be ours.

“Because man fallen could not overcome Satan with his human strength, Christ came from the royal courts of heaven to help him with His human and divine strength combined. Christ knew that Adam in Eden with his superior advantages might have withstood the temptations of Satan and conquered him. He also knew that it was not possible for man out of Eden, separated from the light and love of God since the fall, to resist the temptations of Satan in his own strength. In order to bring hope to man, and save him from complete ruin, He humbled Himself to take man’s nature, that with His divine power combined with the human He might reach man where he is. He obtained for the fallen sons and daughters of Adam that strength which it is impossible for them to gain for themselves, that in His name they might overcome the temptations of Satan.” Op. cit., 45

It is abundantly and encouragingly clear from this paragraph that we are entirely dependent on Christ for the ultimate victory.

On page 57, in the section entitled “Christian Temperance,” we find much guidance regarding temperance versus intemperance. The initial paragraphs are especially powerful.

“God gives man no permission to violate the laws of his being. But man, through yielding to Satan’s temptations to indulge intemperance, brings the higher faculties in subjection to the animal appetites and passions, and when these gain the ascendancy, man, who was created a little lower than the angels—with faculties susceptible of the highest cultivation—surrenders to the control of Satan. And he gains easy access to those who are in bondage to appetite. Through intemperance, some sacrifice one half, and others two thirds, of their physical, mental, and moral powers, and become playthings for the enemy.

“Those who would have clear minds to discern Satan’s devices must have their physical appetites under the control of reason and conscience. The moral and vigorous action of the higher powers of the mind are essential to the perfection of Christian character, and the strength or the weakness of the mind has very much to do with our usefulness in this world and with our final salvation. The ignorance that has prevailed in regard to God’s law in our physical nature is deplorable. Intemperance of any kind is a violation of the laws of our being.”

“The great enemy knows that if appetite and passion predominate, the health of body and strength of intellect are sacrificed upon the altar of self-gratification, and man is brought to speedy ruin. If enlightened intellect holds the reins, controlling the animal propensities and keeping them in subjection to the moral powers, Satan well knows that his power to overcome with his temptations is very small.” Op. cit., 58

“Sin drove man from paradise; and sin was the cause of the removal of paradise from the earth. In consequence of transgression of God’s law, Adam lost paradise. In obedience to the Father’s law, and through faith in the atoning blood of His Son, paradise may be regained.” Op. cit., 15

“The indulgence [of appetite] … counteracts the force of truth, and weakens moral power to resist and overcome temptation. …

“The adversary of souls is working in these last days with greater power than ever before, to accomplish the ruin of man through the indulgence of appetite and passions. … Unnatural desires for these indulgences are not controlled by reason or judgment.” Op. cit., 60

“Men and women indulge appetite at the expense of health and their powers of intellect, so that they cannot appreciate the plan of salvation. What appreciation can such have of the temptation of Christ in the wilderness, and of the victory He gained upon the point of appetite. It is impossible for them to have exalted views of God, and to realize the claims of His law.” Op. cit., 62

Note well this sentence: “The scene of trial with Christ in the wilderness was the foundation of the plan of salvation, and gives to fallen man the key whereby he, in Christ’s name, may overcome.” Op. cit., 63

Now contemplate this question: After being presented with all of this wonderful light from the pen of Ellen White, what is the foundation of the plan of salvation and the key whereby we, in Christ’s name, may overcome? That foundation and that key is nothing other than self-denial.

Throughout His life, Christ manifested self-denial to perfection. If you think back through the details we are given of His daily confrontations, His perfect self-denial gave Him the victory every time.

He could indeed have turned the stones to bread to satisfy His hunger. He could have given Satan evidence of His heavenly Father’s loving watchcare by jumping from the top of the temple. He could have accepted all the kingdoms of the world offered Him by Satan (though in truth, they were already His, even after they had fallen under the sway of the enemy). He could have wiped the bloody sweat from His brow in the garden of Gethsemane and returned to His heavenly throne. He could have come down from the cross when taunted to do so by His enemies.

But to our eternal benefit, He denied self at every opportunity. By emulating His selflessness, His self-denial, we, too, can be victorious.

Op. cit. – all quotations are taken from the source first identified – Confrontation

John R. Pearson is the office manager and a board member of Steps to Life. He may be contacted by email at: