If morality was all that Christ desired for the lives of his followers, the cross would be superfluous. Christ’s response, when tempted in the wilderness, wasn’t “that would be immoral,” but, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”
Theologian J.P. Lange explains; “To tempt God is to involve oneself in four contradictions: (1) faith without obedience, (2) prayer without self-surrender, (3) action without warrant from on high, and (4) success without comfort or assurance.”
To tempt God is to give the appearance of spiritual vitality, as Lange points out, but still live unfaithfully. Jesus’ success in temptation shows how broken we are. The Christian experience isn’t just about doing the right things—if we cultivate righteousness under our own power, we still miss relationship with God.
Now both these things continue while we live here. We are accused, exercised with temptations, oppressed with heaviness and sorrow, and bruised by the law with its demands of active righteousness. These attacks fall upon our flesh—the part of our heart that still seeks to earn our salvation.
There is no middle ground between Christian righteousness and works-righteousness. There is no other alternative to Christian righteousness but works-righteousness; if you do not build your confidence on the work of Christ you must build your confidence on your own work. On this truth and only on this truth the church is built and has its being.This distinction is easy to utter in words, but in use and experience it is very hard. For in times of struggle, the devil will seek to terrify us by using against us our past record, the wrath, and law of God. So learn to speak to one’s heart and to the Law. When the law creeps into your conscience, learn to be a cunning logician—learn to use arguments of the gospel against it.