Attacking our identity

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone. ’” (Luke 4:1)

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. ’” Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test. ’” (Luke 4:9-12)

I have been thinking a lot lately about a certain song by Chris Tomlin, Good Good Father, which has the following lyrics:

You’re a Good, Good Father
It’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are
And I’m loved by you
It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am.

Its a simple song, and rather repetitive, and yet it contains a statement of truth which I so easily forget: I am loved by God, who is a Good Father. This is all about identity: God’s identity as Father, and my identity as loved. The more I think about it the more I realise that this is the very essence of who I am, and indeed that there is nothing else as important as this for me as I negotiate the struggles of life. Because God loves me I am worth loving.

And that goes not just for me but for the billions of others who live in this world. We have value because we are valued. I have heard it said before that a thing is worth as much as a person is willing to pay for it, and God our Father was willing to pay the highest imaginable price for us – the sacrifice of his only Son, the suffering and death of himself. This reality makes me and every other human being on this planet of inestimable worth. Not just to God, but to every other one of us. It makes it worthwhile to care for the sick. It makes it worth fighting for human rights. It makes it worth speaking up for the helpless. It makes it worth telling people about Jesus. Because no matter how poor, or how ugly, or how ignorant, or even how bad, a person may seem in the eyes of the world, in Gods’ eyes he or she is worth as much as every other one that he died for.

But the devil attacks this truth continually. He attacked Jesus by trying to sow the seeds of doubt into his heart and mind with these words: “If you are the Son of God…” Twice he repeats himself, in this record by Luke. The devil challenged Jesus’ identity. As if he was saying, “Don’t fool yourself, you know this is delusional, God doesn’t love you, where does this crazy idea of being God’s son come from? Would you be suffering this much if God loved you, would God cause such pain for his son? God is not even there, you are not special, you are nothing. All this God stuff is just a product of wishful thinking, fantasy, imagination. Get real.”

Then, knowing Jesus’ unshakeable certainty that he is who he says he is, the devil pushes him to prove it. “Turn stones into bread! Do something spectacular, throw yourself off the temple!” As if he is saying, “even if you know who you are no-one is going to believe you unless you perform some magical sign, and without that whatever you believe is useless, because its only if people believe in you that all this God stuff is believable.”

Jesus, of course, is unmoved. He doesn’t even get into a discussion about whether he is the Son of God or not. He doesn’t waste his time. He responds to the devil on quite another issue. Do not test God, he says.

We are not as strong as Jesus, not as sure. The devil exploits our weakness. He tempts us in the same way. He wants us to test God. He says to us, “If God really loved you he would do this or that… test him and see if he comes through.” It is easy for us to be sucked in. It is easy for us to begin to doubt. It is easy for us to begin to think the way the devil wants: “if God really loved me surely he would fix this, or fix that problem in my life. Surely he would show me in some unmistakeable way that he is there, that he loves me.”

Such thoughts are understandable in the face of the struggles of life. What can we do when we find ourselves drawn into such thinking? I believe that God does give us signs of his love, often and in unusual ways. But there are times when we see nothing, we experience nothing. At those times God gives us nothing but the cross of Jesus, and asks us to trust him. “I died for you,” he says. “Because I love you. Just that. Nothing else.” It is up to us whether we will take him at his word. It is up to us whether we will be drawn into the trickery of the devil, or whether we will hold up the cross before the devil and say, “look, here it is, the ultimate truth. Now go away!”

Chris Tomlin’s song is really just an expression of that truth. It is a statement of truth in the spiritual realms. It is a declaration of spiritual warfare. It is worth singing, and a bit of repetition in such a situation never goes astray.

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