Temptation & the Law

In Matthew 4 (and Luke 4), Jesus is in the wilderness being tempted by Satan.

And how He responded should be instructive for us in a number of ways.

It is often pointed out (and rightly so) that He fought temptation with Scripture.  Three times he replies to Satan by saying “It is written”, followed by a quote from the Old Testament.

What is not often pointed out is that all three (3) of the quotations He chose were from the book of Deuteronomy.  In other words, He quotes from the Law.

Now the law does not justify.  And many have pointed out that the Law does not give us the power to obey, and that (as Paul tells us in Romans 7:7-12) the law can actually stir up sin in the unregenerate heart.  But the problem was never the law (which Paul says is “holy and righteous and good” – Romans 7:12), but rather sin itself, which reacts in rebellion against God’s law.

But the way that Jesus used the Law of God when He was being tempted should show us the goodness and downright helpfulness of the law in the lives of  believers.  Are you fighting against temptation?  Then do not neglect the role of the law.

While we certainly need more than law when tempted – we need the grace of God & the power of His Spirit – we must not conclude that the law is a thing to be avoided.

The Psalmist writes,

    I have stored up your word in my heart,
        that I might not sin against you.  (Psalm 119:11 ESV)

There should be no doubt that much of the Word that the Psalmist stored up in his heart was from the law.  In fact, Psalm 1 speaks of the blessings of delighting in the law of God and meditating upon it day and night (v.1-3).

So don’t rely solely on the law in your fight against temptation, but don’t neglect it either!  And next time your daily Bible reading plan finds you in the book of Deuteronomy, think about the example of Jesus in the wilderness and how He used that particular book to ward off the temptations of the evil one.



  1. I never thought of it that way before! So the law keeps showing us what God wants. As we try to do that and mess up, then grace tells us we are still loved?

  2. Theologians often speak of three (3) uses of the Law. The first is the civil or civic use of the law. This speaks of the way that God’s Law restrains sin in a society in general. The second is commonly referred to as the pedagogical use of the Law. This refers to the way that God’s commandments reveal to us our need for Christ by revealing our sin to us. (Paul speaks of this in Galatians 3:21-26.)

    The third use of the Law is commonly referred to as the normative use. This is the use of the Law in the life of believers. (This is probably the most neglected or misunderstood use of the Law.) This refers to the way that the Law, while not justifying us, shows us how we are to live for the Lord out of gratitude for the salvation He has freely given us in Jesus Christ.

    This, interestingly enough, is why the Heidelberg Catechism places its treatment of the 10 Commandments not in the first section (the “Guilt” section – Q.1-11), nor the second section (the “Grace” section – Q.12-85), but rather the third section (the “Gratitude” section – Q.86-128). The Heidelberg wisely follows the outline or flow of the gospel itself (just like the book of Romans, which is Paul’s exposition of the gospel).

    So we Christians are not saved by the law (although we are saved by Christ’s obedience to it & fulfillment of it on our behalf), but we do not disregard the Law. Far from it! We are now free to obey Him from the heart. This is why John says “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3 ESV).

    I hope that helps. (Thanks for the comment!)

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