His Victory Is Ours: How Jesus Defeats Our Hunger for Sin

Christianity boils down to this: for the Holy Spirit to reproduce the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in and through each of us — so that we may say with John the Baptist and St. Paul, “He must increase [and] I must decrease” (John 3:30); and: “It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

In the Letter to the Hebrews, we read:

“For because he [Jesus] himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted”.  Hebrews 2:18, emphasis mine

The italicized verb here is peirazo, which means “to try, test, or tempt” (after all, a temptation is a kind of trial).

Jesus is merciful because he, too, has been tried and tested; the only difference is that he has succeeded where we have failed. As the Catechism puts it, Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness “recapitulate the temptations of Adam in Paradise and of Israel in the desert” (CCC 538).

In Lent, we enter into this trial and victory of Jesus, as the “Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert” (CCC 540). The entire Christian life is about entering into the life of Christ and allowing his life to be reproduced in us, as the Catechism writes here:

“Christ enables us to live in him all that he himself lived, and he lives it in us.” CCC 521, emphasis original

The Catechism goes on to quote St. John Eudes expressing this great mystery at the heart of Christian faith:

“We must continue to accomplish in ourselves the stages of Jesus’ life and his mysteries and often beg him to perfect and realize them in us and in his whole Church … For it is the plan of the Son of God to make us and the whole Church partake in his mysteries and extend them and continue them in us and in his whole Church. This is his plan for fulfilling his mysteries in us.” cited in CCC 521

The Threefold Concupiscence of Sin

St. John exhorts us in his first letter not to love “the world” (1 John 2:15). The “world” of course has a dual meaning in Scripture: on the one hand, as God’s creation the world is fundamentally “good” (see Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25) — even “very good” after the creation of mankind (1:31). On the other hand, God’s good world has been corrupted by sin, making Satan in fact the “ruler” of this world, as Jesus states in John’s Gospel:

“Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; and I, when I am lifted up from the earth will draw all men to myself.” John 12:31-32, emphasis mine

Immediately after John tells us in his first letter not to “love the world,” he explains his meaning in light of the threefold concupiscence:

“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 2:16, emphasis mine

John’s words here parallel those in the garden, just before Eve takes of the forbidden fruit:

“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 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. emphasis mine

“Lust of the flesh” (1 John 2:16) parallels the recognition that the fruit was good for food (Genesis 3:6); “lust of the eyes” (1 John 2:16) is similar to the description of the fruit as a delight to the eyes (Genesis 3:6); and the “pride of life” (1 John 2:16) is analogous to the perception of the fruit as desirable to make one wise (Genesis 3:6), since here it’s a matter of finding “wisdom” without God — which captures the essence of pride. As the Catechism puts it, Adam and Eve sought to be “like God,” but without God (CCC 398) (Ironically, they already were like God — having been made in his “image and likeness,” see Genesis 1:26-28).

Traditionally, “lust of the eyes” here in 1 John 2:16 is understood as greed: my eyes see and I want.

Thus, both in Genesis 3:6 and St. John’s recounting of the threefold concupiscence, we have a reference to disordered bodily desire, greed, and pride.

Andrew Swafford

Andrew Swafford is Associate Professor of Theology at Benedictine College. He is general editor and contributor to The Great Adventure Catholic Bible published by Ascension Press and host of the video series (and author of the companion books) Hebrews: the New and Eternal Covenant, and Romans: The Gospel of Salvation, both published by Ascension. Andrew is also author of Nature and Grace, John Paul to Aristotle and Back Again; and Spiritual Survival in the Modern World. He holds a doctorate in Sacred Theology from the University of St. Mary of the Lake and a master’s degree in Old Testament & Semitic Languages from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is member of the Society of Biblical Literature, Academy of Catholic Theology, and a senior fellow at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. He lives with his wife Sarah and their five children in Atchison, Kansas.